I used to make plans for Halloween; each year I’d wait to find out who was throwing parties, holding off till the last minute, unwilling to commit to any one of them until all options where on the table. Then Borderlands Books started doing it’s fabulous From Dusk Till Dawn parties at the bookstore, literally starting at nightfall and keeping things going until first light, with ghost story readings by candlelight and horror movies playing in the basement. They stopped those a few yeas ago but in the meantime some friends of mine with a great big warehouse space in Oakland began to host a big party every year that soon became the only thing anyone planned for when October 31st drew near. When they finally moved to a new space that was the end of that, and nothing really took its place for me. The Castro party got out of control, and then was shut down, the clubs are usually too expensive and getting a cab in no fun. But the last two years it’s been a moot point anyway since in 2008 Steam Powered was held over Halloween weekend and in so was 2009 World Fantasy, so I haven’t had to think about it.
Which brings me to this year. At the end of October I found myself in Manhattan with my sister for the weekend. We didn’t plan specifically for this, but rather I had been visiting with her in DC while she was on a work trip and we decided to make a side trip to New York. The dates worked out such that the only weekend to do it was the last in October. It was perfect really, Halloween feels much more Halloween-y when the leaves are falling and there’s a chill in the air.
We arrived on the island with no plans besides a list of sights we wanted to see and things we wanted to eat. The list was fairly extensive since I haven’t been in Manhattan since I was 17 and then only very briefly. We arrived Friday night, and on Saturday, Halloween proper, we walked around absorbing the sites, up 5th Avenue, through Central Park, a visit to the Frick Museum and then a little break for food before deciding where to go for the evening. We looked at the map and Ashley suggested Greenwich Village or maybe SoHo for a drink. I chose Greenwich Village, mostly because it just sounded like a better place to get a drink.
So it was that we emerged from the subway wondering to each other why there were so many cops around, I figured maybe it was just the weekend, but when we exited the station there were eight of them clustered there chatting with each other. Then we saw the street was barricaded all up and down the block. We wandered up to where a kid was leaning on the barricade, “Is there a parade or something?” I asked him. The kid looked at me with the sort of “well, duh” face only someone in their teens can muster and said that yes, there was in fact a parade. The penny dropped then; we had arrived just in time for the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.
It was still early and the street was not too crowded yet, so we had time to go grab a drink and get out of the cold for a bit before finding a front row spot for the show. Although it began crowding pretty fast it turned out to be quite a while before the parade actually started and fun as it eventually was, I have to say this was possibly the least organized event of any size that I have ever witnessed.
Some clowns (literally) came by passing the hat, but with no real explanation as to who they were, or what the money was for specifically. Everyone expected this to be the start of the show, but after they came and went there was nothing for quite a while longer. Random personnel would wander by looking self-conscious and a couple of vehicles went by, as the crowd grew colder and more impatient.
When the parade itself finally started it was hard to tell at first since it was a very odd combination of floats, groups and random people in costume, plus the occasional photographer or other non-costumed participant of indeterminate origin or function. Additionally, only some groups had music, with others simply marching by, waving enthusiastically. In fact there were often long stretches with no music, which broke up the flow in a weird way, as though the parade started and stopped. There also seemed to be no identifiable marshals or organizers, or anyone of official status except the cops, and presumably the panhandling clowns. On the other hand this parade had been an annual tradition since 1972, thought so I guess someone is doing something right.
As things got seriously underway you would get a well costumed group, followed by a handful of random you-might-see-them-anywhere costumes (zombie, cat girl, superhero) a few non-costumed civilians and then a giant float sponsored by some bar or club with loud music and sparkly outfits. There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason and it was soon evident that some folks had simply joined in from the sidelines, either to show off their costumes or just their Halloween spirit.
But once you gave in and accepted the informality of it, it was really quite charming in its own way. There were a few honestly good and well rehearsed troupes such as the marching bands and some fantastic puppeteers including the Memento Mori skeletons and swooping bats. In the regular folks there were a few excellent and hilarious costumes including several groups of Chilean miners, any trio of folks dressed simply in enourmous papiermache breasts and more Supermen than I would have expected. Maybe it’s a New York thing, but he seemed to be almost the only superhero in evidence aside from a couple of Wonder Women. My favorite in this category were a older couple dressed as the two heroes. The most humorous was a guy on rollerskates and trenchcoat with a flashing light at his crotch. There were also far too many Na’vii, but at least one of them just beautifully done and fir enough to be able to get away with wearing little but blue paint. At least two Pee-Wee’s, bike and quite a few Marios. It was interesting to see so many classics and how few current events, aside from the miners.
Of course these were all street costumes, and for the most part the level of expertise didn’t seem up to what you see (or used to see, anyway) at the Castro. The rules on the parade website are fairly loose as it is (show up in costume at a certain time, walk
with the flow not against) and with a few exceptions the crowd seemed composed of “what the hell let’s go to the parade” folks and was really quite endearing. A combination of exhibitionists and people who do not usually have an opportunity to
costume getting a chance to enjoy a little fantasy in their lives.
It made me happy and reminded me of another of the reasons I love fandom and make no apologies for hall costuming at fannish events. Letting your imagination express itself is healthy and good for the soul, and we should be grateful we participate in a community which encourages just that on a regular basis.
Yipe! Volume 2, Issue 11, November 2010