day of the dead (part one)

I can hardly sleep the night before. That's how excited I am - like a child waiting to wake up and go to Disneyland. I'm going to an amusement park of sorts, too. I really am going to a park, after all, and my body and mind will be amused. Greatly so. In some ways they'll be the amusement park.

Sleep comes finally, though very late, and I don't wake up until a couple of hours before the festival starts. But that's ok, because events like this are one of the rare things in my life that I prepare for ahead of time. I've cleaned my entire loft, so that when I come home and crash, hard, for two days - sore, exhausted, dehydrated, and depleted of serotonin - a messy apartment is one less thing I'll have to worry about. I've stocked up on groceries - including lots of juice and fruit - so I won't have to go to the store. And my sheets, blankets, and comforter are all freshly laundered. And I've used extra fabric softener.

My outfit and everything I need is already laid out, ready to go. I put on my jeans and tennis shoes first, then slip into a cropped cotton eyelet bustier. It's tricky to catch the back hook-and-eye closures myself, and I consider knocking on my neighbor's door for help, but I eventually manage it, and zip up a hoodie over the top. I stuff my metro card, ID, cash, and keys into one pocket, my lip gloss and gum into another. I check that Chaucer has water and that his favorite toys are within reach. Finally, I carefully safety pin a tiny baggy containing two white capsules to the front of my underwear, just below the button of my jeans. Then I grab my phone and headphones, lock the door behind me, and head for the train.

There are a few festival goers at my stop, but it isn't until I get to Union Station that I see the hordes. To me, they all look like teenagers, though I know they're not. I know some of them are in their mid- to late-twenties, though to my eye, they all look heartbreakingly young. I also know that there will be some people closer to my age at the festival, but they'll be few and far between.

Almost all of the kids are dressed in costumes. Those that aren't in recognizable Halloween get-ups are in festival wear of some kind: neon, lace, spandex, lycra, fur boot covers. And lots and lots of glitter and facepaint.

I'm used to the girls by now, and how shockingly little the really young ones wear. Forget tight and short. Think next to nothing. Many don't wear shorts or pants at all.  They wear actual underwear, usually hip huggers or tangas, though sometimes thongs. And up top - bras, bra tops, and bikinis. So much skin, it would be downright lurid, if these were girls who had grown into the sexuality they're putting on the display.

Most of them, however, have not.

Most of them are stick-legged, hipless, gawky things, with hunched shoulders and nervous eyes. Their bodies don't display the curves and muscle tone that will come in a few years, making them self-aware and self-conscious. They haven't yet reached the age where keeping those curves and that muscle tone takes work. They haven't had enough experience with the opposite sex to appreciate precisely what powers they possess, simply by virtue of their chromosomal makeup. And few of them have developed the confidence to put their shoulders back, hold their heads up, and boldly meet the gaze of onlookers.

And those that have? Terrifying.

But for now, they're mostly just shy teenagers in the standard festival uniform, clustered in groups of the same, and more or less oblivious to the effect they have on the adult men sharing their train car.

We get to the festival grounds, and several hundred people pour out of the subway to join the thousands of others already streaming in.

It's carefully organized, strictly monitored mayhem.

Cops. Lots and lots of cops. Drug-sniffing dogs. Barricades and gates that take several minutes to get through. We are shown a video while we wait in line: a pretty woman in a lab coat lists prohibited items (including purses, wigs, candy, pacifiers, pens, stuffed animals, stickers, eye drops, and unsealed/open gum, tampons, or cigarettes) and makes sexually explicit jokes as she encourages us to enjoy ourselves. We empty our pockets, take off our shoes and hats, and hold still for a cursory pat down from a gloved festival employee, before gaining admittance.

Once through security, I head straight for the furthest stage.

It's still pretty light out and I'm stone cold sober, but I'm ready to go.