Friday, July 28, 2006
Parading Around New York
When I was very young, I went to my aunt's wedding in New York City. I was fascinated by the scale of it. The lights, the vibrancy, the noise and the bustle swept my imagination away. I fell in love with New York and no other city on earth has meant as much to me since. My next foray into the city was our 8th grade class trip to Radio City Music Hall to watch "Barefoot in the Park". Later, we went to Chinatown, where I had my first taste of real Chinese cuisine, real in the sense that it wasn't like the food you'd find at strip malls across America. We didn't even have a pu pu for two type restaurant in my old home town of Flemington, New Jersey back then. I think I ordered Fe Line Lo Mein. Meow. On the way home, it was dark inside our bus and I got to make out with Sandy Cvetan. Oh yeah, especially when we went through unlit tunnels and under the many overpasses. Touchy, feely and youthful kisses that spoke volumes of inexperience. When I reached adulthood, I wanted to explore this great city.
I had moved to Florida in 1981. In late June of 1986, one of my old time and best of NJ friends, Frank Foran, was getting married. Two of my Florida friends were going to be in NYC the same weekend. One friend was visiting his sister, who worked for NYPD. The other had a booth at an art festival at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. We all knew each other and decided to meet up. I went to the wedding, and the next morning got a ride to Newark Airport, where I took a bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8th Ave. & 42nd St. I checked my luggage and walked up to Columbus Ave. & 64th St. I found my one friend and then went across the street to O'Neal's Balloon to meet the other. How convenient they were both in the same part of town. It was neat meeting friends a thousand miles away from where I had just seen them a few days earlier. O'Neal's was owned by Patrick O'Neal, the actor, and his brother. It was a nice place and was ballet artist Alexander Godunov's regular hangout as well as a favorite of Balanchine and Co., and others on tour like the Royal Ballet. Back then, an outdated prohibition law forbade the use of the word "saloon" in the name of an establishment. Perhaps city bigshots feared it would conjure up bar fights and western style shootouts as patrons sipped their birch beers on the rocks. I'm pretty sure that law has changed. I met Jay and his girlfriend and we had a couple of drinks. Then we walked to the art show where Ralph was plying his goods. He was quite an accomplished pottery artist. Still is. Jay was headmaster at a private school. Eventually, Jay left and I had hours to kill before getting to Newark Airport for my flight home, so I hung around with Ralph and looked at the offerings of other artisans.
None of us were aware that on this particular weekend a big parade was about to take place. The Gay Pride one. Organizing in front of us were NYC teachers representing their union - men and women assembled in all their black leather best. Men with black hair and crew cuts and the bushiest mustaches I had ever seen. Women with silver spikes in their clothes and cropped, spiked hair. It was riveting, to say the least, and they looked rough and tough. I'm glad I didn't grow up in New York. A while later, they marched down Broadway, which crosses Columbus right there, and disappeared into the bowels of wherever the parade was to take place.
A young woman came over to look through Ralph's wares. She found something she liked, but had forgotten her checkbook. "You do take personal checks don't you?" she asked. He nodded. "Then I have to go home to get it. I'll be back." We had carried on a friendly banter and felt fairly comfortable with each other. We had even walked around together for a while, much to Ralph's chagrin. He wanted it to be him. "Would you like to come with me?" Of course! Ralph got jealous. Well, she was rather attractive. He was a good guy and all, but I'd never want to leave him alone with my younger sister, if you know what I mean. No woman was ever safe with Ralph as long as she was still breathing. Wheezing, anyway.
I followed her as we sunk into the subway system. We boarded a car that took us all the way down to the Village. It was a long ride. Good. We went up an elevator, got to her door and I was invited in. How trusting this good soul was. She showed me her small, yet comfortable apartment. The door had about 8 locks on it and several heavy steel bars to wedge into both the floor and door for added security.
By the time we got back, it was about time for me to mosey on down the pike. We said our goodbyes and I started my trek back to the Port Authority. Along the way, I stopped for a bite to eat at the world-famous original Ray's Pizza, a New York institution on 8th Ave. I ordered two slices, probably with mushrooms, sausage and extra cheese. I had a choice between sitting at a table or a long counter with stools opposite from where I ordered. I chose the counter since I was alone, so I sat down to enjoy my dinner and to reflect on the day's events. All of a sudden, a guy came in and sat next to me. He was carrying a plastic bag full of paperback books from what I could see. Mind you, there were plenty of other counter seats available.
"Were you here for the parade?" he asked.
"No." I don't know why I felt compelled to explain. Maybe it was from an innate desire to profess my heterosexuality. "A friend just got married," and I told him the rest.
"Me neither. I didn't even know it was going on today. I live in Philadelphia and came to visit relatives."
Just then, two guys pranced in. One was holding lavender, pink and white helium balloons. My uninvited dinner date jumped up and excitedly flitted his way over to them. "Were you here for the parade?!!!"
No, I thought. Grown men usually walk around with lavender, pink and white balloons, don't they?
As he abruptly stood up, his bag of books dropped to the floor. I glanced down and could clearly make out the subject matter of some of them - gay, gay and more gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I guess, but I wasn't really in a frolicking lavender, pink and white puffy party take a walk on the wildside sort of mood. I slowly arose from my seat and stealthily slithered out the door. Then, I took off, leaving my "buddies" behind. See you, boys. Have fun. I don't think I finished my other slice.
I cruised back to the airport, boarded my flight and headed home. It was a different sort of weekend, to say the least. I think Jay flew out the same day. Ralph spent an extra two days. He marched into our happy hour hangout a couple of days later and the regular crowd had a field day with him. They asked him questions like how many pride parties did you go to and - wink, wink - did you need the extra days to recuperate? I was hoping those leather clad union educators would have had the chance to teach him a thing or two about parading around women. Well, come to think of it, and quite frankly, I don't think I would have trusted any of them around him, either.
New York. You never know what to expect. I wonder what ever happened to Sandy Cvetan?