I walked out of my appointment on Van Dam St and Hudson around 3 o'clock this afternoon, and began heading north to 14th and 6th Avenue. I'd forgotten it was Halloween, and walked up Hudson to Christopher St, then cut up Christopher to 6th Ave. I was just in time to see the barricades being set up along the route I was walking. By the time I got to 6th Avenue, there were about 200 cops checking in. I assumed they were checking in for their assignment at the Halloween parade tonight. I started out this morning thinking I should make sure to do everything I need to downtown early, so I'd be sure to be home in time to avoid the parade and the excessive crowds.
Years back, when I was an eager Halloween reveler, when New York was dirtier, less crowded, more dangerous, yet somehow kinder, the Halloween parade was one of my favorite events of the year. It used to begin at 5th Avenue, cross west on 10th St, down the 1 block of 6th Ave to Christopher, and then diagonally down Christoper to Hudson. Kids and parents would walk the route first, then flocks of drag queens and scantily clad young men (gladiators, go go boys, lifeguards, mermen, etc...) It was small, local, crazy, and such unspeakable fun.
The last time I was at the Halloween parade in the Village, it must have been 6 or 7 years ago, I actually feared for my life. I wasn't in costume, and was trying to get to the subway, but was trapped behind barricades in the center of a boisterous crowd of hooligans; kids who'd specifically come to the Village to jeer at men in dresses, throw eggs, and cause havoc and destruction. When I finally freed myself from one terrifying crowd, I found myself trapped in another. It was a harrowing experience trying to make my way to the subway and escape the neighborhood that night, and I swore I'd never go back.
As I was walking up Christopher Street this afternoon, I noticed too many empty storefronts nestled between the intermittent high end designer boutiques. I fell into the familiar resentment I have at the changing and ever-more-exclusive landscape of my hometown, yet was also somehow feeling nostalgic, and reminiscing about Halloweens past. I was remembering how a gang of us would meet at a decided upon apartment, drink voluminous amounts of booze and do copious amounts of other substances while getting dressed up, then run wild in the streets as if New York City were our own personal playground. Which, indeed, it was. We'd get hammered, laugh, hug, kiss, play with strangers, and have the best time ever. Eventually we'd end up at the Tiffany Diner on Sheridan Square, which is now a Bank of America, a sad and tragically apropos commentary on the city's transformation.
This was, of course, years before LGBT issues were spoken of as any kind of legitimate concern, certainly not by elected officials in any political way or for a national audience. Gay marriage hadn't been thought of yet, let alone mentioned by legislators - let alone become federal law. In the midst of the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague, we had a president who wouldn't even mention it. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis was still a death sentence, and the threat of it was everywhere. Those friends - drag queens, gladiators, lifeguards, cheerleaders - not all of them made it. We needed to get drunk, and get high, and run wild. Halloween was a sacred night, a glorious yearly bacchanal when we could be who we were unhidden, unashamed, and unafraid. I'm sorry younger generations of LGBT kids won't experience what joy it was to be part of that community celebrating together before Halloween became a tourist attraction, but I'm grateful they don't have to live with the fear and challenges we did. Most of all, I'm grateful I was there, that I'm still here, and for all the memories of all those past Halloweens.