Thursday, June 23, 2005

"We're Here, We're Queer, We're Blocking Traffic"

In an early episode of "Mad About You," Jamie looks out the living room window and remarks that the Gay Pride Parade is blocking the street.

"Again?" replies Paul. And I know I wasn't the only person in my neighborhood to respond to this with the laughter of relief.

You have to live in the Village for a while to know the feeling of walking on eggshells when you give your opinion about the Parade to people you don't know very well. Will they peg you for a homophobe because of your complaints, or will the very mention of "Gay" anything bring out a burst of latent homophobia in them?

The first couple of years I lived here, watching the Parade was fun. Like New Year's Eve in Times Square, it's the kind of thing everybody has to do...once. Also, the first few years I lived here, the Parade attracted maybe four or five thousand people, and it was possible to navigate the streets and buy a quart of milk right up to the moment that the Dykes on Bikes roared into view.

Now, the onlookers and marchers are at least ten times that number, clogging the streets of the Village like cholesterol in an artery. Except with our tiny, narrow streets, it's more like capillaries. And the intersections start to become impassable by Saturday night. So if circumstances require that you stay in town, you spend Saturday afternoon loading up on provisions for the next day, as if you were about to be rendered housebound by a Nor'easter.

This situation has only intensified in the past few years, with the extra security necessary for a gathering of this size. In 2002 I spent an hour and a half in 90-degree heat with a migraine and a quart of melted ice cream trying to convince one of a phalanx of policemen that I had been a bona fide taxpaying resident of my neighborhood since the middle of the Carter Administration.

Similar complaints were lodged years ago by Villagers about the Halloween Parade, which used to wind around the side streets until it grew so huge it had to be moved to Sixth Avenue. But this would be unlikely to happen with the Gay Pride Parade because of The Stonewall, the hole in the wall bar on Christopher where it all began. Like the Cavern in Liverpool, the Stonewall that stands now is not the original, but an antiseptic tourist attraction built decades after the closing of the original.

In fact, the commercialization of the whole event has made it somewhat acceptable to complain about. Slap a rainbow on a beer can and you're in business..."The Official Gay Beer!"

I can appreciate that there are parts of this country, let alone this world, where gays would give their eyeteeth to be able to live in a city where Gay Pride can be allowed to be this huge and commercialized. I wouldn't want to live in those parts myself. You wouldn't see a lot of Jews and Italians.

Still, as I batten down the hatches, I look forward to Monday morning, when the trucks pick up the police barricades, a summer rain washes the glitter into the gutter, and my neighborhood belongs to me.

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