Monday, June 25, 2007

Pride NYC 2007


(Touching fingertips to tongue and running them over eyebrows; smoothing pleats on apron; gently clearing throat.)

There. I've composed myself.

Let me try again.

My hopes and expectations for heading up to NYC for Pride with the Baron were two-fold: I wanted to shake off the rollicking, rainbow-festooned mob and enter the beautiful sanctuary of the Church of Saint Luke In The Fields to attend Gay Pride Evensong. Then, later, I wanted to stand on the sidewalk of West Street, preferably in front of one of the Richard Meier towers and watch the fireworks display.

It was my expectation that the Baron would come up on Saturday night, stay over, I'd roll him out of slumber Sunday morning around 10 a.m., and around 10:30--eleven o'clock at the latest--we'd be on the road heading up to NYC. When we spoke to confirm on Friday, the Baron trumped these plans: he'd agreed to watch his sister's ailing cats, so he wouldn't be able to leave leafy Chestnut Hill until Sunday morning. He said he'd make it up there by 11:30.

So okay.

That would work.

Just before eleven, as I was getting into the shower, the Baron called. He was occupied "taking care of two households" or something, and so he'd be there around 12:30.


I took a shower, shaved, and got dressed. The night before, I had made a nice fool with some peaches I picked up while grocery shopping, and thought that the Baron and I could enjoy them before heading off.

To make a long story short, the Baron turned into the driveway at 2:15. I decided to Just Let Go. We ate our fool (quotha the Baron: "Oh. Dairy. I hope that doesn't disagree with me"), bid adieu to my father, and set off.

Naturally, as I feared, at that time of day traffic was horrendous. And we caught a lot of it. Even taking the back way through my old neighborhood in Jersey City, we didn't manage to make it through the Holland Tunnel until 5:30. Now, according to the notice I saw posted outside St. Lukes' a week or so ago, Gay Pride Evensong was at 6 p.m. To my mind, that meant getting there aroudn 5:45 to get a good seat, get settled in the pew, quiet the mind. We finally managed to find parking on West 20th Street and 10th Avenue and started walking towards the fray. The Baron mentioned St. Luke's, and I said, "Yeah, well I think that train has already left the station. But they'll be having it again next year." At this point, it was about five minutes before six. "Oh, so we'll be a little late. We got stuck in traffic."

One of my little pecadillos: I don't walk into church late. I turn around and go home and come back next week. Church is not a lecture or a meeting or a concert. Church is church. It's sacred and holy. Time spent in the presence of the Almighty.

As we worked our way south on 8th Avenue, the "conversation" went something like this:

The Baron: All these people in the way! I'll need to stop at the Starbucks at 10th and Hudson to use the bathroom.

Me: We're late. So late that the service will be over by the time we get there.

The Baron: So we'll just stand at the back or something.

Me: I'm not going to go in late.

At 6:30, we were standing on the northeast corner of Christopher and Hudson. The tail end of the Pride March was still coming down Christopher Street. (Yay Fuze Water! Yay!) The vision in my head was St. Lukes, full of people listening to the choir sing Phos Hilarion, when suddenly the big doors at the back creak open to reveal me and the Baron, every head turns...

"Let's just head to the Dugout," I said. But the Baron would hear none of it. He explained to a handome young police officer that we were trying to get to church, and the guy took pity on us, allowing us to crawl under the barricades and cross Christopher Street. We scrambled up the steps, opened the doors, and saw the procession, in clouds of incense, banners waving, at the back of the church. The usher welcomed us and handed us leaflets, and after the procession headed towards the altar, another usher helped us find seats.

Okay. So there I was, in the pew, and all that we had missed was singing the processsional hymn ("Lift High The Cross," of course, a favorite at St. Luke's.)

Okay. Let it go. Let it all go.

Besides being Gay Pride Sunday in New York City, yesterday was also, liturgically speaking, the Feast of the Birth of St. John The Baptist.

That helped. I tried to subsume my anger at the Baron in the pew next to me by considering how he was like John the Baptist. First, there's the wardrobe issues. Not quite camel skins, but the Baron prides himself on not being fashion forward. And there's the prophetic quality...

Years ago, when the Baron and I were working to get ACT UP/Philadelphia off the ground in the late Eighties, we were wheatpasting posters for an upcoming demonstration outside of the 12th Street Gym in the heart of Philadelphia's so-called "Gayborhood." A kid came out of the 12th Street Gym and said, "Uh... Guys? I ummm... totally support what you're doing, but uh... my boss, the guy who runs the gym, he's just gonna tell me to come out here and take down your posters as soon as he sees them. So could you do me a big favor and not do it out here in front of the gym?"

(A little background. The 12th Street Gym was and is the gay gym in Philadelphia. Interestingly, the owner of that gym was fairly notorious for working against the interests of the gay community. In years to come, he revoked the memberships of people who had "the AIDS" because he didn't want them in "his gym," and just recently was forced to sell his majority interest in the place to his longtime and long-suffering general manager when it was revealed that he was pumping the fortune he made from all those gay dollars into the coffers of the re-election committee of arch-homophobe Rick Santorum. No shit. You can look any of this up. Only in Philadelphia, but that's another rant.)

So, back on the street with a bucket of wheatpaste, the Baron turns to the kid from the gym and says, in pleasant, measured tones, "Huh. Really. Interesting. Well thanks for your support, and I hope to see you at the demonstration. Now, when your boss tells you to take down these posters, please tell him that psychotic self-hating closet case that if they're removed, I'm going to wheatpaste posters with his picture on every lamppost in this great city of ours telling the world that he's a big slimy cock sucking butt fucking fag. Okay?"

The kid from the gym thought a minute, then gave a little smile, and went back inside.

Long after all the other posters for that ACT UP demonstration had been carted away by the Department of Sanitation, that poster still hung on the lamppost outside of the 12th Street Gym until it was erased by the wind and weather.

See what I mean about that prophetic quality of the Baron's?

The music was beautiful, the preaching was great, and the Parish Social Life Committee put out a delightful spread in the garden afterwards. The Baron and I filled our plates and sat in the playground talking to a parishoner while the raucous mob swirled about the gates.

It turned out that the the actual time of Evensong was 6:30. No idea what the 6:00 notice I saw came from. Perhaps St. Luke's was giving an indulgent nod to "gay time."

The light faded, and I suggested that we head over to the river to get a good position for fireworks. And whaddya know! There, right outside of the Richard Meier towers on Perry Street was a great place to sit. We asked another helpful officer who told us that the fireworks were scheduled for 9:30. Woo-hoo! I enjoyed watching the passing crowd and making eyes at the occasional cute boy. And one or two made eyes at me. Too bad for them! Not this year! Maybe next year. Maybe.

I reflected on Prides of Yore.

Gay Pride used to mean so much to me. It was my Christmas, Easter, and Fourth of July. I would take the next day off work. I never watched the March. I was always marching. First with the Anti-Violence Project, then with ACT UP, and once with Hillary Clinton. And Pride Day was, in my experience, the worst day of the year to have a boyfriend. I generally would end the day by going to the dance on the piers and falling in love. You haven't lived till you've been part of an ACT UP contingent several thousand strong, chanting, fists in the air, but slowing down as the March turned off 5th Avenue at Washington Square to wave and blow kisses and wish "Happy Birthday" to Larry Kramer who would be watching from his balcony.

But now, Pride is for the kids.

Well that's not quite it. I am my own Pride Parade. Although I'm hard pressed to imagine what extremes I would have to go to to be In Your Face enough to get something like a rise out of someone, even in quiet little Doylestown, Pennsylvania. We're here, we're queer, and they, of course, are used to it.

So the time was now 9:45, and there had been no fireworks.

The Baron grew impatient. Impatient for what exactly, I'm not sure. He asked another cop when they were scheduled for and heard 10:30.

10:30? Are you sure? I don't remember the fireworks being that late. But it's only forty-five minutes, and it's a beautiful night.

But the Baron wanted to walk around.

I had a sinking feeling, but I fought it. I could do with a latté.

We left our perch and headed back to Hudson, where I stopped into Starbucks. Then, we headed up Hudson to 8th Avenue.

Crossing 14th Street was like going to a different city.

Much has been made of the cancelation of PrideFest. In years past, at the end of the March, there were vendors selling kabobs and smoothies and such along Greenwich Street as well as port-o-johns set up. This year, the organizers decided that instead of the Village, which isn't really gay any more, the place to have it would be in Chelsea. All the relevant community boards and local politicos were down with the idea, including out lesbian and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents Chelsea and the West Village in the City Council. And Mayor Mike Bloomberg didn't give permission for it to happen.

Well guess what. I think this has everything to do with race.

Folks are fond of saying that the West Village is no longer gay, that gay has moved up to Chelsea, and that now, Chelsea is the gay neighborhood in NYC.

On Friday and Saturday nights, however, Christopher Street is teeming with the gays. Many more gays, in fact, than you're likely to see percentage-wise fifteen blocks north in Chelsea. But the gays on Christopher Street, of course, are Black and Latino/a teenagers. And those are the folks that Pride is for. Even back in my personal heyday of I Love Pride, the majority of out loud proud gays I knew viewed it at best as an opportunity to get laid and at worst as reason to flee the city for Fire Island or Upstate like aristocrats stuffed into carriages leaving Paris after the storming of the Bastille.

And those were the gays that PrideFest was "for," too. It was all the lone kabob vendor at 10th and Hudson could do to keep up with demand, and at the normally sedate lesbian owned and operated restaurant Hudson Street, a crowd quickly gathered around the music being pumped out onto the street.

So what caused the fair-minded Mayor Mike "Does Nothing Wrong Ever" Bloomberg to slight the gays by denying their request to move PrideFest up to Chelsea? I think he saw the move for what it was.

Alas, this resulted in no PrideFest this year. And that meant, among other things, no port-o-johns. So I don't doubt that the highways and by-ways of the West Village were drenched in gallons of Official Pride Urine.

So the Baron and I walked up 8th Avenue, surrounded by... basically white people. Gay white people, with jobs and such, most of whom had eschewed their shares in the Pines because they thought, "I bet I'll get laid!"

A crowd was gathered outside of Pinkberry. This mystifies me. What the hell? I remember years ago when a similar crowd was gathered outside Tasty-Di-Lite, also on 8th Avenue. I happened in and got myself a dish. Eeeeeeesh! It was about as satisfying as packing peanuts. Only less so. Because it's served with all the trappings of ice cream, so you're sort of expecting ice cream. I'm guessing only in Chelsea, a place on the planet where a double digit percentage of the inhabitants have not had a single gram of fat pass their lips in a decade or more, would that pass as "a treat." And I bet there's much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth at Tasty-Di-Lite. "Oh the injustice of it all! Pinkberry's crappy flavorless disappointing fat free dessert is clearly inferior to our crappy flavorless disappointing fat free dessert! Why have our customers abandoned us in favor of Pinkberry! Thou art cruel and fickle, New York City!"

But who am I to judge trendy frozen desserts? I'm an old guy. I was older than the oldest of the throng outside Pinkberry by probably a decade. And that's how it is with popular culture. The fact that I was addicted to Haagen-Daz's Honey ice cream before I was old enough to drive and had to ride my ten-speed down to the Lumberville Store to get my fix YEARS BEFORE YOU EVEN HEARD OF HAAGEN-DAZ doesn't matter. Ditto for the fact that I did a backflip off the stage when Henry Rollins and Black Flag played at an (then) abandoned bank on South Street in 1984 or so. Ditto the fact that Madonna herself once told me I was a great dancer when I met her at the Limelight way back when. Ditto the fact that I was getting my clothes out of thriftshops back when my only competition were the poor and downtrodden and members of the Talking Heads.

That's how it is with Popular Culture. You have no laurels to rest on. It doesn't matter that my deciding to emulate clothes worn by Steve Austin and Starsky & Hutch this summer pre-dated the announcement that Xanadu on Broadway has brought rollerdisco-esque fashions onto the runway. I can still participate in popular culture. I just don't get a vote. To you, it's just another birthday--and it's debatable exactly how many candles are on your cake at that birthday--but after you blow out those candles, you'll never be a taste maker again, only a taster. And if you try to make the case to some kid about why that shouldn't be the case and trot out your credentials, they'll look at you indulgently and tune you out and then hustle down to Pinkberry for a crappy flavorless disappointing fat free dessert.

My plan was that we would walk north until 10:15, then start to head south and west, which should have us at the water by the time the fireworks were reportedly scheduled to start at 10:30. At 10 20, we heard the show start. We were at 8th and 16th. I headed west, going as fast as I could manage. The buildings were tall enough to block my view until I got to 10th Avenue. At that point, the Highline blocked the view.

"Damn that Highline anyway! Why don't they tear that thing down?"

I emerged from underneath the Highline and there it was: the Pride Day Fireworks Display.

But my initial "Oooooooh" had barely left my lips when the ghostly smoke hung in the sky not supplanted by another explosive display and an eerie silence hung in the air.

"That's it? That's all we get?"

I looked at my watch. It was 10:30.

Somehow I remember the display going on longer than ten minutes. And, of course, I would rather have been able to see and enjoy it, rather than hustling down sixteenth street... say, perched outside of the Richard Meier Towers at Perry Street, looking over my shoulder to see the reflections of the fireworks play off the glass cladding.

"Well," offered the Baron, "I hear they have a great fireworks display in Doylestown."

Much to my credit, I didn't slug the Baron. Instead, I turned to him and said, "We're going home now."

And so we did.


No regrets. It was a good day. Not the good day I envisioned, but a good day nonetheless. And there will be more fun to be had a year from now. When I'll be getting An Early Start on the day.

And sometime soon, the Baron and I will sit down and have a little talk. Although knowing the Baron and I, it will be a seemingly endless verbal marathon.


--bastian said...

Henry Rollins and Black Flag! Together! I do wish I had seen that!

JBK said...

Hi, wanted to alert you to something very cool that Henry Rollins is doing. He's offering a chance to sound off on an issue for a national audience -- and the one person he personally chooses will be flown to LA to co-host the "Henry Rollins Show" marathon on IFC (Independent Film Channel) with Henry.

Rollins is inviting you to tape a short video "rant" and the person who does the one he chooses will be flown to L.A. (the winner and a guest for 3 days/2 nights), meet Henry and host the upcoming "Rollins Show" Marathon.

Go to and record and upload a 30-second video "rant" on one of the 11 hot topics Henry has selected (including abortion rights, has the Iraq war made us safer? Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina, is America a dumb country? global warming, etc.)

All entries will be watched by, and the winner chosen solely by, Henry. He encourages anyone to enter, no matter their political persuasion - his only requirement: have "passion and attitude!"

An amazing opportunity. And a chance to sound off on some issues!

Henry explains it all, and upload your "rant" at:

Mary O'Shaughnessy said...

I saw you from my seat at St. Luke's (heck, I was MC--I saw everybody) but didn't manage to get to the reception. I'm glad you got to the service, which was moved back to 6:30 last year, I think.

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Oh my. I would have liked to see you do a backflip off the stage with Henry Rollins on it. Hell,a backflip onto Henry Rollins. But that's another rant ...

My peak pride experience was marching - remember marches? - with the Pink Panthers the summer of 1990. Could it have been that long ago? We marched to thunderous, raucous, lecherous applause. Yeah, so half of them kittens was there to, as you say, get laid, but enough of us took it seriously and looked after the kids. I was already a decade older than most of them, anyway.

As we turned onto Christopher Street - remember Christopher Street? - the skies opened up, and know we were a contingent of drenched, sweat-soaked and largely shirtless Panthers.

As I say, my peak pride experience. I think it was the last day I felt young.

A decade before that, I was marching with Gay Youth of new York, before they were GLYNY, before they were UYGVS^T^&*S)*YV*&H& Youth of New York. I was 22 then, I was overaged, and I felt ancient.

Now we have parades, and sponsors, and vendors hawking every conceivable piece of crap that will hold a rainbow long enough to exchange the five dollar bill to close the transaction. I haven't participated in the NYC Pride events, even to watch, in many years. I think I've always been a queer among queers, and I still am. It's not just age. There just was never much room for me there, I think.