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Monday, April 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:50 PM

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House that once stood for fun now a darker blue

Seattle Times staff reporters

They needed a six-bedroom house.

That was the first hurdle when this group of admitted oddballs decided to live together.

There was the computer genius, the cook and the clown, the pierced man and the sound man, and, last but not least, the lone woman, a sort of hipster den mother who friends say deserved some kind of medal.

As luck would have it, they found a gem: 2112 E. Republican St., in a quiet part of Capitol Hill. There were bedrooms for all and a kitchen they describe as "the best in the world," complete with a pricey Viking range and benches built-in for hanging out with friends.

Like a lot of 20-somethings, they had regular jobs and bills and the like, but the blue house at 2112 was definitely a scene.

You could say that music drew them together, that they were part of Seattle's rave world, but in truth, they came together to create their own kind of fun. That, and they all liked being a little bit strange.

They called themselves Chickenhed, a counter-culture troupe that would pop up at parties, packing stuff such as a tuba and rakes and causing a ruckus — an incarnation perhaps of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, minus the acid.

"It all boils down to not taking yourself too seriously," Tony Moulton, the computer genius, explained. "I would say most of us stand out a little bit."

For a brief moment in time — from move-in day last August until last month — their life together was about laughter.

On March 25, their house, famous for its parties, went down in Seattle history as the site of a mass murder. That morning, as an after-hours party was winding down, a stranger they'd invited named Kyle Huff opened fire and killed seven, including himself.

"We will never set foot in that house again," said Elizabeth Harazim, a friend.

Now, instead of six there are only five. After losing one of their own, the friends are just beginning to grapple with the real question: Can they ever go back to being who they once were?

Mount Vernon roots

The circle of friends started with Tony Moulton and Jeremy Martin, pals from a Mount Vernon grade school who once cooked up a contraption that would sound an alarm when an intruder opened their desk. Their plan: Hawk the alarms to other kids after class.

Ask Tony about the blue house on Capitol Hill, and he'll tell you about the day they moved in. Slick with sweat from hauling boxes, he climbed into the tub, turned on the shower, and noticed the skylight above. As the water pounded, he gazed toward the sky: Lo and behold, the Blue Angels screamed overhead.

"Whooooaah!" he exclaimed. Tony was so thrilled he called his mom.

A 25-year-old software architect who works for a Mercer Island high-tech company, he is not shy about announcing he is a "so-called computer genius." Or that he left high school in his senior year because he wanted to work. He says dropping out was a way to flout society's norms.

"Normal isn't the only thing one has to be," he said.

Jeremy, 26, had an energy all his own. He worked for a time at Madison Market, where he was famous for teaching people how to hug. He'd embrace everyone — the awkward shelf-stocker, the shy cashier — and many say his warmth always felt genuine.

It didn't matter that his shower schedule was lax or that his shirts were often buttoned crooked. By all accounts, Jeremy was pure electricity. His personality was so magnetic that a wine-distributing company named New Zealand Pure snapped him up after deciding what he lacked in education he made up for in eagerness.

Before Jesiah Martin met the Mount Vernon boys, he was struggling. Now 24, he was raised in a military family, moving from Ohio to Germany to Tacoma. He went to Ohio State University, but its style just didn't fit, and he lasted less than a year. Hopping cross-country to Seattle, he settled into the electronic-music scene — even started his own business as a sound man — but he was feeling lost.

In the summer of 2003, he spotted Tony and Jeremy at an outdoor music event. They were driving around like kooks, blaring anything but electronic music on their high-powered speakers. These were the kind of friends Jesiah craved, the kind who weren't afraid to be different and who found humor in irony. When they stopped, Jesiah hopped in the truck.

Then there was Ian Gill, a 33-year-old cook at Cactus Restaurant who's addicted to computer games. And 31-year-old Cerulleal Saturnine, a blue-haired baker by trade known for reading the dictionary in her spare time.

Rounding out the six was 27-year-old Marc Verebely, the man with the unforgettable face. He has 12 facial piercings in all, including two discs in his nostrils that friends call "nose windows," and five piercings elsewhere. He moved to Seattle in summer 2004, alone and in search of himself.

A few months later, Marc spotted the gang on the porch of an apartment near where he lived. Having once met Tony he said hi, explaining he was on his way to Club Noc Noc.

"When that doesn't work out for you, come back and hang out with us," they called out.

"I thought, maybe I should just hang out with these [expletive] weirdoes," Marc said, but decided to check out the club. Sure enough, he said, Noc Noc was a bust, and he came home, feeling like the fool. But not for long.

"They totally invited me in and fed me a bunch of beer," Marc recalled.

Then they got cryptic. "How do you feel about clowns?" they asked.

For a second, Marc was thrown. "I was like, what are you getting at?"

Then they explained one of Jeremy's odd passions that was to become a trademark of the household.

"They said, we're going to paint ourselves like clowns and go [expletive] with ravers," Marc recalled.

"I'm in" was all he needed to say.

Within months, the friendship gelled and they came up with a plan.

"We all love food and fun," Cerulleal said. "So let's move in!"

After a search, they found the house on Republican Street, where they created a mix of performance art and partying, fueled by music and aimed at fun.

As Marc put it, "What could be better than a bunch of drunken clowns?"

Latter-day Pranksters

In the '60s, they were called freaks. That's when Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters revved up the psychedelic bus dubbed "Furthur" and crisscrossed the country, blaring music from the roof and messing with the straight world. Their fuel: LSD. Their aim, cultural shift. And their method, sheer goofiness.

Which brings us to Chickenhed. It wasn't founded by the housemates, but they're Seattle's core members.

"It's a loose organization of people," Jesiah says. "Basically anyone that wants to do something does it."

Huh?

Suffice it to say that describing this group isn't easy. Chickenhed is not a band, although members play music. It is not an art group, although they have an aesthetic. It's not an acting troupe, although they like to dress up in costume.

Call it performance art, Jesiah said.

Basically, Chickenhed's aim is to be utterly frivolous and annoying and make people laugh at themselves. For example, last year they hosted "Skanksgiving," a tongue-in-cheek celebration of Thanksgiving, in which guests were told to dress as white trash. Mashed-potato wrestling was the highlight of the evening.

Another example of Chickenhed hijinks: summer 2004 at a music festival. Jeremy hoisted his tuba at 7 a.m. and led the rest of the group in a rousing march around the campground. The marchers wore band uniforms and skimpy flag-team outfits and carried brooms and rakes. "Sorry to rake you!" they called out gleefully, although they weren't sorry at all.

Though annoyed, the sleeping campers had to laugh and join the fun.

"We go to events to mix things up and remind people to have a sense of humor," Jesiah said.

Some of Seattle's party planners seem to think it works, and they send Chickenhed members regular invitations.

Besides the antics of Chickenhed, they loved to hang at home. Sometimes they sat around, drank beer and watched cartoons on Ian's computer. Other times they poked around on the Internet and laughed at what they found. Some, but not all, smoked pot.

Cerulleal and Ian loved to cook. They sliced and sautéed, dishing up dinners for six or 16 or however many showed up, while Jeremy poured an endless supply of wine.

Sometimes they hosted bigger parties at the house.

"We're professional partiers," Tony said.

"Happiness facilitators," Jesiah corrected.

They also staged larger events in rented lofts or warehouses, such as the gig three weeks ago, in a warehouse near Seattle University dubbed "Beware the Ides of March." The bill included a rock band, a metal band and a drum-and-bass genius who performed a live version of electronic music. Marc was hung from the ceiling by shark hooks, a form of performance art.

Before midnight, a neighbor complained about the noise and the Seattle police showed up. An officer later described a crowd of about 120 people, including some who were passed out or "seemed high on Ecstasy." Jesiah said he didn't see anything of the sort. In any case, police confiscated the alcohol and the cashbox, claiming they didn't have the proper permits.

When they weren't hosting parties, the six loved to act like clowns.

"No one knows when clowning started," Jesiah said. They all agree, though, that Jeremy was so into it that clowning became part of his persona.

"What's really neat about clowning is the more you do it — when you really get your clown on — you develop another identity," Marc said.

As a group, they'd paint on clown make-up, put on hats and ridiculous tattered clothes and hop in Jeremy's Volkswagen bus to hit the town. Squirt guns, horns and the occasional middle finger were part of the fun.

"It was the most unabashed grandtastic tomfoolery," Marc said. "You can see how stupid we looked. We were trying to show people what fun was."

"From the ground up"

Misfits or hipsters, goth kids or homeless kids, everyone is welcome at a rave.

That's what Jesiah found when he left Ohio and moved to Washington: "I came from a different community and these people accepted me. It's probably one of the reasons I'm still alive today."

The roommates never completely outgrew the rave scene, a world of late-night electronic music and dance that is particularly popular with the under-21 crowd. To them, bars seem "stagnant:" the same people, in the same space, every night.

"People go to bars to pick up on people and get drunk," Jesiah said. Among his friends, "there's a certain degree of wanting to get away from that structure and build from the ground up."

So when the friends heard about the March 24 event called "Better Off Undead," some of them decided to check it out. As Friday night turned to Saturday morning, they began inviting people to come back to their house for an after-party.

And they saw Kyle Huff, standing alone.

"It could have been any of us a couple years ago," Jesiah said of Kyle. They decided to invite him, too. (Cerulleal was the only roommate who wasn't around that night.)

Twenty or more people showed up on Republican Street, drinking beer and listening to music well past sunrise. What happened next will be remembered as one of Seattle's greatest tragedies.

At 7 a.m., after quietly hanging out for three hours, Huff opened fire. Seven died for reasons no one can understand.

Jeremy the clown was among the dead.

Forward,, together

On a drizzly Saturday a week later, they drove up to Mount Vernon for Jeremy's memorial service. The roommates, along with Jeremy's family, took the front rows. A man with a tuba stepped to the front. He started with "Happy Trails" and ended with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" getting the mourners laughing and clapping, even Jeremy's mom.

Then a long line of friends walked to the altar and explained what they loved about Jeremy, which boiled down to this: He wasn't afraid to be himself.

Toward the end of the service, Tony got up and told a story.

Jeremy, Tony said, had a habit of walking up to strangers and saying, "Do you like music?"

"Do you like art?"

"Do you like fun?"

The strangers, of course, answered yes. Then Jeremy would shoot back: "We have a lot in common then!"

That, the roommates say, is something to remember. They don't want to become the kind of people who won't talk to strangers.

Still, the tears won't stop. Some of them saw their friends die. Others will struggle with the guilt of surviving.

For now, the five remaining roommates are crashing at various friends' houses. But after talking it over, they have decided to find a new house where they will try to move forward. They want to stick together if they can.

"We've decided at this point letting this stop us is allowing Kyle to win," Marc said. "We are only going to get more ridiculous and louder and we can't wait until we have a house again. We need to keep our arms open, our head up, smiles big and our middle fingers raised."

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com Christine Willmsen:206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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