Friday was unseasonably balmy, and seasonably Halloween. At 6:30 p.m. in the staging area along Sullivan Street the 30th annual Village Halloween Parade was spinning up, slowing down, prancing and primping, jockeying for position, running over the occasional hapless banner, and clashing out music and high-watt publicity from every rubberized pore. I’m riding the runners on the Temptress float, as planned. While Temptress adjusts costume and makeup, the band pumps through a quick sound check and plays along with the other floats moving into position. The Nasty Habits dancers squeeze and squeak and do their Nasty Habits thing. Me? I’m the guy blowing up the huge inflatable Corona-bottle sponsor balloons, each the size of a small mini-van. O tempora! O mores!
Sixth Avenue doesn’t get closed correctly, or summat, and it’s a good 90 minutes past start time when the first of the floats lurches out along the parade route. The actual ride up the avenue is always a bit of a blur; it’s a funny thing streaming past several hundred thousand people, dancing along and waving. We’re not built to process crowds, we were never minted to grasp scale.
You really only need to know one song to serenade a parade, since by the time you hit the bridge the people you started with are already a block away. The band does a couple of originals because ya gotta, but most of the ride is given over to tunes that will charm a throng in six bars or less. How many times did they do “Time Warp”? A zillion, give or take. Also “Rockaway Beach” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” At first I thought Joey would be spinning in his grave, but it occurs to me that he of all people would surely understand. Someone very much like me once described Temptress as “a glamdrag romp in the very best of bad tongue-in-someone-else’s-cheek taste,” and I’ll stand by that now.
This year there are a lot of butterflies. Some brusque person is dressed as a wonderful eyeball, complete with trailing optic nerve, and every time I try to get a picture he or she ducks and skips away. Later, somewhere up around 14th Street, I realize that the person inside the eyeball is filming, and doesn’t want DV footage of me taking a picture. Note to Eyeball: think it through. If you don’t want people taking pictures, wear a crappy costume. The level of gaze and reflected gaze is clever, but c’mon now.
A lissome Liberté roller blader whisks up and down the line of floats in great scoops, elegantly dipping and waving a full-sized American flag, Les Mis stylee (I thought Liberty was supposed to be topless, but not in this parade). Working the edge of the crowd is a woman with a plastic window mounted in front of her and a tray with a phone handset attached at the bottom; dressed in orange, she’s a prisoner on visiting day, and as we breeze past thumping out, oh surely it must have been “Time Warp,” she persuades a cop to pick up the phone, to the bemusement of all. She’s got her own phone on her side, and she begins to weep. She puts her hand up against the plastic window, playing out a wife-in-jail scene we’ve all seen before. The cop retreats. The crowd roars.
There’s a dapper guy in a captain’s outfit with an orange ironing-board Staten Island Ferry fastened to his waist, and now and then he smacks it against things in his path. There are Spongebobs and George Bushes, a fellow in a go-cart coffin is zipping around, and in the endless wait in the staging area, before we subside into a compressed Battle of the Amplifiers (“Shut up and let me play!” “No, you shut up and let me play!” – it is New York, after all), Temptress gets a meticulously decked-out Frankenstein to dance like the old days. He’s just a guy in a very fine Frankie costume, of course, but he’s forgotten he’s wearing it, he’s bopping around making small talk, doing the “you rock” fingers at the band and screaming “yeeeeaaaaah,” and you know – it’s creepy. It’s just creepy.