As float after float passed with the markings of some corporate sponsor, a dulling drag whittled away any exhilaration I could muster. I made all the giveaways miss me: the colored condoms, these plastic whistles, a mess of Mardi Gras beads, and dozens of sloganeering stickers. They were all as branded as the items in a drug store. If one were hurled toward the sidewalk where I was standing, I would tie my shoe or answer a text, blow my nose or step out of the sun to find some shade. I couldn’t connect with anything that was happening. It was all so bland. And the harder I worked to relate, the more embarrassed I became from pretending. The more I tried to denude my self-consciousness, the more I kept questioning if I belonged in the community at all.
For hours, you see, the procession advanced like a conquering legion, its floats rolling by like Roman cohorts. Each of them flew flags representing their membership in a particular gym, bank, bar, club, store, or the latest app. There were cavalries of T.V. show alliances and cable programing, infantries of big time politicians and business — even a Sagittarii of drug companies.
And after having been chiseled to specification by some public relations proconsul, the girls and guys of the cohorts were sent down the parade route in their focus group friendly accoutrements. The effect of seeing them one after the other drummed out a message of subordination. It was maddening. I longed for some chaos. I wanted the messy and decidedly off-message, the personal and the polarizing — more of the stuff I remember witnessing years ago. Isn’t that what the Pride March was like in its infancy? I guess I just wanted the participants to share their own views rather than those of the entities who paid for their t-shirts.
But later in the day, as I wandered up 7th Avenue South, the most unlikely of sights developed. There was a break in the ranks and an abeyance of floats. The bouncing bodies and bombastic DJs had dispersed in the distance. The people who replaced them, though, were abrupt and unwieldy — maybe a little dangerous. It was if after the legion departed, all the villagers returned. But they didn’t bear souveniors or commercial trinkets. They didn’t even come showered in heaps of confetti. Instead, they arrived brandishing a rag-tag menagerie of homemade signs and do-it-yourself banners.
I settled in to read them. Staggeringly creative, they were a stark departure from earlier fare like Tiffany & Co.’s “Believe in Love” paraphernalia. The corporate censors would never approve. After all, sayings like “Shoot Loads Not Guns,” “My Dog Has Two Dads,” “Abolish ICE,” and “The System Cannot Be Reformed — It Must be Overthrown” can’t be good for business. But they were refreshingly good for the soul. And such eruptions also demanded a more thorough consideration. They weren’t just throwaway lines. In particular, this one emerged when I was most aware of being lonely:
You Can Sit W/ Us. Jesus Sat With Everyone.
Leaning on one of those silver NYPD barricades, I was suddenly quiet and comfortable. The words wafted about. Two people unfurled a sheet that said “LGBT Jews Love LGBT Palestinians.” A pastor donned a stole bearing the mark “Justice Rolls Like Water” and waved. For a few soft moments, I found my place in the community.
Gays Against Guns.
Memorial for the Victims of Gun Violence.
Remembering the Victims of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, Florida.
Marching for Those Who Cannot.
You Can Sit With Us.
Photos by Rick Stachura. 7th Avenue South. June 24, 2018.