Monday, June 28, 2010

Gays on Parade

I'm charging down Fifth Avenue in the 90 degree heat, a sack of Village Voice condoms banging against my hip, trying to keep up with a skinny Japanee guy helpfully wearing a Skinny Guy t-shirt. He's holding an enormous box of Skinny Girl Margarita frisbees above his head, and despite my best efforts to disprove gender stereotypes, is still running faster than me. The asphalt is a blur of shining confetti, free condoms, and red stickers proudly proclaiming "God made me QUEER!" and "God made me PERFECT!" I stop long enough to pick up a PERFECT sticker and slap it on my left tit, but I'm so drenched in sweat it peels right back off.

Shouts follow us down the street.

"Hey, skinny boy, what's in the box? Give us some!"

A brief stop at 12th Street to hand out frisbees and condoms ends with some guy's fingernails in my face as the crowd tries to drag the box away from us. We retreat to the middle of the street, falling in behind a leather troupe.

"That was a bad idea." I grab a cup of water off a tray held by a man in a leather kilt and white gimp mask and dump it over Brian's head.

"But the box is lighter now," he gasps, hoisting it into the air again. "Think we're getting close?"

We're a disembodied pair in the Gay Pride Parade, two electrons knocked loose from our nucleus of Street Team members, shirtless man-meat, and a SmartCar carrying a reality TV celebrity. Brian and I were just supposed to rendezvous with a Voice messenger on the sidelines and take the box back to the group after we ran out of gear to hand out, but the messenger missed the drop point and now our group is so far ahead, there's a chance they'll exit the parade before we even get back to them. If this wasn't Brian's first week of work with the Street Team--if he was a one-year veteran like me--we'd have just said Fuck it and ducked into the nearest air-conditioned bar to watch the Mexico v. Argentina World Cup match. But precious little youngling that he is, Brian wants to finish the job we started on 17th Street, so up goes the box and down we go on Fifth Avenue, passing drag queens and drag kings and lesbians and cheerleaders and marching bands, desperately seeking our center.

I wasn't even supposed to be a marcher. Street Team responsibilities are handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis--or, on Pride Day, first-served, first-come--and I'd staked out my claim in the Voice's nice, shady tent at the Pride Festival four minutes after the boss sent out the email calling for Pride Day workers. I was supposed to sit in the booth all day signing people up for the Village Voice's gay newsletter. I had it all planned out: I'd exchange witty banter with old queens, get winked at by impossibly hot young men flaunting ass-cleavage, and reassure trannies that the Voice fully supported the T in LGBT.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

Some people on the Street Team--not all, but enough to make it a regular irritation--don't take their duties very seriously. They show up late, or not at all, canceling the morning of the event or even AFTER the event has already started (happened to me twice in two weeks, at the Mermaid Parade and on Pride Day), which leaves the responsible Teamsters, the ones who respond early to get the cushy positions, stuck running down Fifth Avenue in the midsummer heat. If you think being a Teamster is a bullshit job and resent the low pay and the indignities involved, that's your kuleana, but dragging the rest of us down with you is just going to make it worse the next time we're paired together. Brian and I weren't exactly thrilled to experience the Pride Parade on the fast-forward setting, but now every time we're partnered, it's going to be awesome because we'll remember how we went the distance and didn't give up. That makes friends for life and is really the only thing that makes this job fulfilling.

So, me and Hot Brian, hot in every sense of the word, round the corner at 9th Street and charge into the West Village. At least there are some trees along Christopher Street. We stop in a puddle of shade and I rain down condoms on outstretched hands like they're mana from heaven. I feel like I should warn people that the condoms have been broiling in the hot sun since the Empire State Building, but there's no time as Brian lifts the lightened box and we run off again, trailed by cat-calls of "Skinny Boy, watchoo got in the box? Bring it over here, Skinny Boy!"

"Nobody--thinks--I'M pretty! They all want you!" I gasp as we trot along.

"I--I know! Some guy grabbed--my shorts!" Funny the things you think of when you're half-delirious and half-blinded with the sunscreen melting into your eyes, but the sweat dripping off his spiky hair reminds me of lunch recess at Naalehu Elementary, when I'd tear around playing Power Rangers with Laser and Jeremy until someone either threw up or got a bloody nose from the heat. Good times.
"I hear the Big Apple Corp! Weren't we right in front of them?"

The last dash up the parade route through the yelling crowds is like a video game. We dodge the Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell boys in their camouflage Speedos and rainbow combat boots--run through a group of leather boys with black umbrellas and red suspenders, looking like extras from the all-gay version of "A Clockwork Orange"--keep pace with the Marriage Equality float until a gap between two baby strollers allows us to tear past a pedicab carrying two men and a "32 Years Together" sign--and now we're at the back of the Big Apple Corp Gay and Lesbian Marching Band, who were our immediate neighbors when we started out with our group all the way back at 38th Street.

"We're almost there!" Brian shouts.

Except the band is in a tight regiment that takes up the width of slender Christopher Street, leaving almost no room for us to squeak by. I'm so tired my vision is starting to tunnel and I've got sidepain like I haven't had since small-kid time on the playground, but once again, Brian pulls me through. He cuts through the percussion section, earning a "Watch it, honey!" from a lesbian with a trumpet, and I follow, holding my condom sack in front of me so it doesn't hit any of the musicians. We're passed the flute players now, almost to the front of the regiment, and I can hear the "1 up!" Mario Bros. ding in my head as I dodge the rainbow flags without breaking stride or fucking up the flag corps' routine. I can see the baton twirler at the head of the band. We're so close!

I slam into Brian from behind. He's standing perfectly still in the middle of the street with the band coming up behind us, staring forlornly off into the distance.

"They're still so far ahead."

"Only like, three blocks!" I grab us each a cup of ice water from a parade volunteer and dump mine on my face. Time to rally for the final push. Brian got me this far; I'm not going to let him down now. "Come on!"

Suddenly we both start to giggle and are soon laughing out loud, big belly laughs from deep inside our sweaty, shaking bodies as we jog down the street toward our people. We've breached the wall and I can't remember the last time I felt this good. Everyone around us is so happy and sexy and full of love and, yes, pride--thrilled to be alive and out in New York City amongst the beautiful boys and girls sweating in the sun--and here's our group, thrilled to see us after marching for 15 blocks with nothing to hand out to the crowd, even though Brian and I bring nothing but condoms and about five frisbees, having handed out the rest along the way to lighten the load. It's okay. That's the theme of today, that despite everything, the heat and the mob and the weight of the load we carry, despite the feeling that we'll never catch up no matter how fast we run, everything is going to be okay.

"Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

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