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Monday, October 2

Gapers Block

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In a glorious display of patronage, Mayor Richard M. Daley hosted the sixth annual Halloween Ball benefit on Friday. For some reason, Gapers Block was invited; I was dispatched with photographer Nathaniel Grotte. This story needs no editorialization; these are simply the facts, as coherently as we can remember them.

Click here to view the photo essay » by Nathaniel Grotte

Arriving at 6:45, we met with media relations attaché Kennan Brown. Our correspondence had led us to believe we were dealing with an older man; and then, after a directed "Miss Kennan Brown" sign-off in an e-mail, an older woman. We were surprised to meet a young woman with apparent energy and ambition, roughly within the demographic of, say, Gapers Block. Mystery solved. With a quick tongue and an aesthetic right out of Run Lola Run (which may have been only for the ball; it seemed gauche to ask), she gave us a brief but thorough tour of the Cultural Center. Simply put, the place is magnificent. The building, if you don't know, is fantastic, all marble-y and decadent, housing the largest Tiffany dome in the world. The decorations were of the typical Halloween variety (skeletons, scarecrows, rats, pumpkins and everything else one would imagine) everywhere — absolutely everywhere. There were carved pumpkins, animatronic displays and gargantuan light projections. Even for a reporter this deeply cynical and affected, it was impressive. Miss Brown, seeing much of it for the first time herself, noted, "Wow. This is a lot more than they've done in previous years."

We went back to the cocktail hour beneath the Brobdingnagian dome, and tried to collect ourselves. As we were two of the first to arrive, all the appetizers flowed in our direction. Trying to look professional, we waited until the room filled out a bit before indulging in healthy numbers of coconut shrimp, ginger-mint spring rolls, an odd-yet-wonderful bean strudel, and an interesting mushroom and cheese creation. All of this, of course, in the name of an informed public.

Early entertainment during the cocktail hour included a knife juggler, a wolf-man (who spent much of the time running on all fours, which was impressive), multiple stilt walkers, witches and a slew of others. I found myself wondering where one would hire a wolf-man. Seriously: was he an actor? A struggling acrobat? A general circus jobber? Simply a Halloween enthusiast?

Three bars triangulated the room, pouring, from the looks of it, mostly vodka, gin, and scotch. Standing near each bar for long periods at a time, vodka on the rocks appeared to be the weapon of choice for this crowd, maybe because they didn't have Red Bull. As music selections ranged from Michael Jackson's Thriller to the Halloween soundtrack to "Don't Fear the Reaper," paranoia started to overtake me. I began fearing that we would be defrauded at any minute, perhaps by someone yelling, "Hey, who are you, and why aren't you wearing a tux?" I mean, these people paid $500 per ticket to come to this ball, presumably to enjoy an evening away from bothersome outsider journos chronicling their drinking habits.

Roughly half of the guests showed up in costume, or at least a hybrid costume. There were abundant tuxedo-and-afro-wig-with-sunglasses and evening-gown-with-autumnal-decorations-and-leaf-crown type outfits. Some took their costumes more seriously; a large group of adults dressed as penguins deserve mention; I assume it was a play on the black-tie requirement. Even more impressive was the 10-plus-strong Olympic team, with "Chicago 2016" jackets. Interestingly, we overheard they were lobbyists working on that specific project, but we can't say for sure if that's true, but we'd like to believe it. Tom, a personal injury attorney of Lincoln Park, was dressed as a biker. I thought it was a bit ironic and asked him if he worked with cyclists, to which he responded, as if speaking for all lawyers throughout the approximation of time, "as many as I can." Miss Brown informed us that, at one point in the night, Dennis Rodman's limo pulled up. Apparently, Rodman got out, wondered what the hell was going on, and was asked to join the party before his caretaker/publicist made him leave. That would've been something to see.

Towards the end of the cocktail hour (time was passing unusually slow), the mayor and Mrs. Daley arrived. Could this have been any better? He appeared in the best of spirits, wearing a tuxedo vest adorned in pumpkins and drinking red wine. I've always wondered if he looked as intensely confident in person as on television. He does, and it made for an inspired moment.

It should be noted that we were explicitly instructed not to bother mayor. It's Journalism 201: when you are told not to do something by that somebody's media wrangler, you can only get away with doing a little of what you were told not to do. With all this in mind, I posed the probing question, "Mr. Mayor, can I get a picture?" Always in the trenches, always evening the score.

Dazed after my moment with Dick the Builder's son, we were suddenly flanked by a six-piece brass band parading throughout the room. This was the signal to enter the dining hall, and it's when things started to get a little crazy. "Two Johnnie Walkers, rocks, generous" was our direction, and suddenly we were off, following the parade into uncharted waters.

Miss Brown tracked us down on our way through the maze to the dining hall, bringing over two guests who were not completely offended by the idea of speaking with the media (and e-media at that). Jay, a securities investor, and Jim, a real estate appraiser who wore a tuxedo and a gorilla mask the entire evening, are regular partners at the Halloween Balls. "We've been to all six. Every year is fascinating and unpredictable, and it's our favorite holiday," Jay told me. They told me that each year's distinction from the previous was the true incentive for them as well as others they knew who'd attended more than one. I continued with some questions, but between the crowd, the brass band's machine gun snare drum and Gillespie trumpet, and Jim speaking to me through a gorilla mask, we were forced to cut it short.

We were instructed not to photograph guests while they were eating, as it can make for an unsightly snap. Not wanting to disturb the dining politicians, captains of industry, and all others possessing sophisticated virtu, we occupied ourselves with drinks. Mrs. Daley, dressed as a witch, approached the microphone with Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg (see Malcolm Gladwell's Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg). After much deserved congratulations and applause, and after reminding us that Chicago has the nation's only free cultural center, they declared the sixth annual Halloween Ball, "the best ball, ever!" Mrs. Daley, I couldn't agree more. They introduced the band The Gentlemen of Leisure (who provide "a musical smorgasbord to sate even the most discrete of pallets" [sic]), and after professional consideration of a few flawless Motown renditions, it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement — and so, we didn't.

Nathaniel Grotte contributed to this article.


About the Author(s)

Andrew Kachel is a dangerously overworked publicist. Nathaniel Grotte is a Gapers Block staff member and frequent photographer of stuff.

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