Long ago, in a magical time called the 1970s, people threw key parties. At these sordid, drunken soirees, male guests threw their keys into a pot, and the female guests picked a set at random, pairing up with the owner of the keys. Debauchery followed.
Today, lock-and-key parties (a British speed-dating phenomenon in which men try to match their keys to women's locks) are all the rage. But who wants to walk around with a lock all night waiting for some dude to open it when you could be tossing back Singapore Slings and getting busy with the neighbor?
Recently, my editors asked me to resurrect the legend (some say urban legend) of the key party. Is there a chance that in this lame-ass era I can recapture the good times of the "Me Decade"? Or, like a junior-high school dance, will my key party be an uncomfortable disaster?
Please list all the materials required for this experiment (including, if applicable, how they were obtained).
– Giant cheese ball (one)
– Ritz crackers
– Chex Mix
– Singapore Slings (four pitchers)
– Tom Collins (one pitcher)
– Blue Nun (two bottles)
– Matues (one bottle)
– Beer (several cases)
– Cuervo Tequila (one bottle)
– Gordon's Gin (one bottle)
– Assorted other beverages
In this portion of your report, you must describe, step-by-step, what you did in your lab. It should be specific enough that someone who has not seen the lab can follow the directions and recreate the same lab.
For research purposes, it was suggested I watch The Ice Storm, a film set in 1973 suburban Connecticut. It involves two well-to-do families whose lives unravel as one husband (Kevin Kline) carries on an affair with someone else's wife (Sigourney Weaver). The shit hits the fan when both married couples attend a key party at a fabulous suburban home. When Kline tries to rig the key ceremony, he is snubbed by Sigourney, who picks another man's keys. Meanwhile, an ice storm covers Connecticut and a horrible death ensues.
Overall, not exactly an advertisement for key parties. Still, I was inspired by the '70s fashions and décor.
There were some obstacles. For starters, I don't live in a fancy New Canaan home, but rather a six-floor walkup tenement on the Lower East Side where the bathtub is in a closet in my kitchen. There is barely space for my roommate, my Chihuahua and me; let alone a bunch of partygoers.
My friends aren't swingers, but they are drunks.
Also, my friends aren't swingers. Some are even in monogamous relationships they don't want to jeopardize with experimentation. It's bad enough these friends have had to endure my stripping debut and Sex and the City marathon; asking them to swing could be crossing the line.
"I'm not sure this is going to work," I told my editor. "I might alienate my friends with this one."
"Just throw it and see what happens," Ada said. "And Michael thinks it's imperative you dress like Sigourney Weaver."
Reluctantly, I typed an e-vite explaining the key-party concept. I asked guests to choose an appropriate pseudonym and to dress in something reflective of '70s swingers. In conclusion, I promised copious amounts of booze. My friends aren't swingers, but they are drunks.
Expecting horrified responses, I sent the evite to an assortment of friends. To my surprise, they were thrilled with the concept — not so much the swinging, but the dressing up in ridiculous outfits.
My friend Jen offered to help make the appetizers since her mother was a caterer in the early '70s and she's got a million retro recipes. The night before the party we hit Key Food. (A cheese ball needs twenty-four hours for the flavor to sink in.)
"We've got to get Chex cereal for the Chex Mix," Jen noted.
"It's 2006. We can buy Chex Mix," I said.
"Trust me," she said confidently, "it's nowhere near as good." (Later I did a taste test — she's right.)
We whizzed past the gourmet cheese aisle. "Those cheeses are way too highbrow," I observed. "We need Velveeta."
Loading our baskets with supplies, we wandered into the beer aisle where we found Schlitz and Gennesee Cream Ale.
"They still make this stuff?" Jen gasped, holding up the Schlitz like we'd uncovered a skull of Neanderthal man.
"Maybe it's been here since the '70s."
We grabbed what we could carry and checked out.
At home I molded the cheese ball like it was dough and became nauseated. Jen shredded the parsley, which I then rolled the cheese ball in. Luckily I had Palmolive and was able to soak in it afterward. Cheese ball and Chex Mix complete, Jen left and I spent several hours compiling a "key party playlist" containing disco greats like the Bee Gees and KC & the Sunshine Band along with classier artists like Burt Bacharach.
The next morning I popped out of bed at 8 a.m., giddy with anticipation. Initially I'd been dreading the party, but now I felt that anything could happen. As I began my pre-party errands, déjà vu overwhelmed me. I was flooded with memories of being a child in the '70s, seeing several neighbors passed out on a pile of coats on my parents' bed.
The first stop was the liquor store, where I picked up Blue Nun and Gordon's.
Considering my crib already has a groovy aesthetic, decorating was easy. If it weren't for my George Foreman Grill and iBook, guests might think it's actually 1973. However, I did make a sign that said "Keys" in red marker with flames rising off the letters and taped it to a large Tupperware bowl. This I placed at the entrance alongside a pile of "Hello My Name Is" stickers and a Sharpie. I then created another sign that announced, "Hot Tub Inside" and taped it to the door to the bathtub in the kitchen.
"Maybe people can blow through straws to make it more like a hot tub," my friend Tom suggested.
At 8 p.m., I changed into a Sigourney Weaver-esque black halter pantsuit and requisite wooden beads. Popping open a can of Schlitz, I awaited the first swinger.
Quantify the effects of the experiment.
The debauched spirit of the '70s hung in the air like a heavy dose of Enjoli.
Droves of men and women arrived wearing elaborate '70s gear. They adopted wacky swinger personalities along with pseudonyms, which they wore on the "Hello My Name Is" stickers. Among the names chosen were Lee, Donna, Alice, Trip, Sal, Burt, Reagan, B.B, Carol, Ginger, Laverne, Bud, Dee-Dee, Debbi (dotted with a heart), Barry, Banacek, Maurice, Spencer and Bambi, among others. I chose Janey — again a nod to Sigourney Weaver's Ice Storm character.
The costumes and fake names had a transformative effect. Suddenly we were these people. Everyone called each other by their fake name. No one talked about work, Bush or the Cheney shooting. Instead, conversation focused on astrology and partying. It was as if we'd time traveled.
"Who's ready to party?" Carol rhetorically asked the crowd.
"How are the kids, Debbie?" Spencer inquired.
"You know, not growin' up fast enough."
None of us actually had kids.
I served the first pitcher of Singapore Slings. Guests noted they were strong as hell.
For an hour, my buzzer rang repeatedly until my apartment was packed.
A bowl of Chex Mix was knocked over. The first of many glasses was broken. A dude in aviator shades reclined in my bathtub. A couple made out in the corner. A dance party got down in my bedroom. Ginger waltzed by in a bra with my copy of Concerning the Spiritual in Art stuffed down the back of her pants.
Debbie and Reagan stood in my bedroom playing "the mirror game" — looking at and mirroring each other, but not touching. Meanwhile, Sal had decided it was a shame that no one could see his new bright blue, Speedo-style underwear. After a few drinks, he took off his pants.
But the true lunacy began when regular I Did it for Science guest stars Tobly and Bob arrived and adopted the very un-groovy pseudonyms "Cancer" and "Clunt." They'd been there for less than twenty minutes when a guest exclaimed, "Uh oh, Cancer and Clunt are getting in the hot tub!"
I found Cancer completely naked and Clunt in a fetching red panty-and-bra ensemble. I poured bubble bath in the running water.
"Get in!" they urged.
Banacek, who was standing nearby, stripped down to his Calvin Klein briefs and hopped in. Inspired, I ran into my bedroom and changed into a Charlie's Angels-inspired bathing suit.
Clunt, Cancer, Banacek and I lounged in the hot tub while chatting with the crowd in the kitchen. Others wanted to hang in the hot tub, so Banacek and I went to my room, where we toweled off. Several people milled about while Sal reclined on top of a pile of coats on my bed, wearing his Speedo underwear, a white T-shirt and red sweatshirt. He looked like a member of the 1976 Olympic swim team. Banacek and I lay down next to him where we were joined by Dee-Dee, the resident hippie chick.
The debauched spirit of the '70s hung in the air like a heavy dose of Enjoli. Sal and I began kissing as Dee-Dee and Banacek made out. Wig-clad partygoers hovered over us watching.
Chex Mix and broken glass crunched under our shoes.
Straddling Sal, I ran my hands over his body. Our retro swimsuits pressed together like a pornographic American Apparel ad. Dee-Dee removed Banacek's "swimsuit" while I slid Sal's Speedo down his thighs. In the background the Brothers Gibb cooed, "Nobody gets too much love anymore" as Dee-Dee and I did our best to prove them wrong, performing simultaneous fellatio upon the delighted recipients. Banacek pulled off Dee-Dee's panties and began licking her while I used my free hand to pleasure Banacek, who in turn licked me while Sal and Banacek took turns kissing Dee-Dee and me.
By way of the key party experiment, I discovered a greater pastime — the four-way! However, the fun was quickly interrupted when half a dozen people wandered into the room. Dee-Dee couldn't find her underwear, which Banacek had flung halfway across the room. A small panty-search party was formed while I changed out of my bathing suit and into a mini-dress sans panties. The atmosphere of liberation moved me to go commando.
In the kitchen, the gathering had devolved into pure madness. An unidentified guest had just eaten a Cheeto out of Cancer's foreskin. People danced and made out and every few minutes someone turned out the lights. The sound of things crashing and breaking mingled with sweet disco sounds. Dee-Dee moved on from Banacek and was dancing closely with a hippie dude no one knew.
The madness went on for hours and was so rockin' no one wanted to leave, even for sex. The key drawing didn't occur until approximately 3 a.m. It would have happened at 2:30 a.m., but I couldn't find the keys. I lose my own keys on a daily basis; I don't know what made me think I could be responsible for other peoples'. When I finally found them, Barry, that crazy prankster, had linked all of the keys together forming one giant key. In my inebriated state it took a good fifteen minutes to separate them.
Because almost no one in New York drives and because subway Metrocards look exactly alike, guests put apartment keys rather than vehicle keys in the pot. I noticed there were straight, gay and bisexual guests hovering over the bowl. It wasn't as simple as The Ice Storm, where everyone was straight and married. How would this ever work out?
Yvonne, a gorgeous, bisexual woman, went first and chose Clunt, a lesbian. Success! Everyone cheered. Dennis, a straight dude, reached in and chose Cancer, a bisexual man. Not so appropriate. The two made out anyway. Up next, Dee-Dee plunged her hand into the pot and chose the unidentified hippie's keys. They gave each other a knowing glance and it became clear they'd cheated. They happily left for a prearranged tryst in Brooklyn. Sticking my hand in, I realized I probably couldn't leave with anyone because people were passed out all over my apartment. I chose Bambi and Bud's keys. Sadly, I handed them back to the blonde, bubbly Bambi and she promised me a "rain check — anytime." A few other guests drew keys that were grossly inappropriate before leaving for the night.
The next morning, amazingly, I awoke without a hangover, probably because I was still drunk. I lay in bed talking to Burt, who had driven into the city and had to stay over.
"There are gonna be a lot of locked-out people this morning. There are still a lot of keys in that bowl," he noted.
"Yeah, I think Dee-Dee's the only one who actually went home with the person she chose and those two cheated."
"Well, Rev., usually you pick one gender instead of having everyone put keys in. But it was fun watching Dennis and Cancer make out."
I'm convinced the Singapore Sling will reemerge as the "it" cocktail.
©2006 Rev. Jen Miller and Nerve.com
"Yeah, I didn't organize it too well. The kitchen is trashed out there. I keep thinking my parents are gonna come home from vacation and discover the mess. Then I remember it's okay."
"Yeah, now you're like your own parent."
"And I'm not a very good one."
Fearfully, we wandered into the kitchen. Chex Mix and broken glass crunched under our shoes. The full-length mirror was shattered.
"Seven years of bad luck," I observed.
"Yeah," he said, "it was bad luck when I almost sliced my neck open on it."
Summarize your findings. Don't forget to attempt to identify possible variables that could result in different findings for others trying to recreate your test results.
I said goodbye to Burt and commenced cleaning, whereupon I discovered the full extent of the night's debauchery. A pair of men's underpants lay next to my bed along with a woman's shirt that wasn't mine. Cig butts, beer cans and spilled food were everywhere. Opening the bathtub door, I found an undressed troll, a cherry stem, several cans of beer and Concerning the Spiritual in Art sitting in what had been the make-believe hot tub.
Still, it was worth it for the Kodak moments and masturbatory fodder. Given the fun everyone had, I'm convinced key parties are going to make a comeback (at least with my friends) and that the Singapore Sling will re-emerge as the "it" cocktail.
Though the drawing of the keys was only successful for a couple that cheated, the party itself was a success. Many guests noted that it was the craziest party they'd ever attended. As Dee-Dee later pointed out, "The theme of sexual liberation colored everything."
True. I'm not so sure I would have been as quick to drop to my knees in a Bee Gees-serenaded four-way had it not been for the wild atmosphere.
The costumes, theme and cocktails released us from our everyday roles. It was a collective game of roleplay in which we were free from judgment because we were only pretending. And I'm guessing that's exactly why married couples did it in the '70s. I Did It for Science appears monthly. Photos by John Pullos and George Courtney.