Once, on the corner
of Houston and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, you could look downtown and
see the Twin Trade Towers shining bright as the surrounding night life. These
nights, you look and see Twin Voids downtown. Yet from them appears the 33rd
annual Village Halloween Parade, as if the souls of the gone and their family
of millions were walking back to life. Amen.
Yes, on this
festival that celebrates the rising of the dead and the saints, the
resurrection common to Christianity and the many primitive religions that
preceded it, here comes America�s cultural collage, which has become the most
popular holiday, raking in more than $4 billion for costumes, skulls, pumpkins,
masks, and the paraphernalia of Trick or Treat.
The Trick tonight
is to look above the tragedy and the rubble, some of which still sits downtown,
with remains still being dug up almost unimaginably. The Trick is to look
beyond it all or through its very heart to its complete truth. And the Treat
will be the feeling you feel walking among these happy Americans and visitors
from the world. Happy as this nation used to be, the way we were the day we won
WW II, and people hugged and kissed in the streets, from Times Square to
Timbuktu, in spite of all the death behind us then.
It is a joyful
celebration of life, this Halloween night, with its kitschy twists on death, a
night for even the straightest to be twisted in their thousands of home-made
and store-bought costumes, from a 9-year old Statue of Liberty, to a seven-foot
Jolly Green Giant, the Quaker Oats Man, the Sun Maid Raisin girl in her box.
They march in food groups as the cameras of NY1, our city station, swirl from
Houston Street to 23rd Street and up Sixth. There�s no business like show
business, no city like New York.
We have marching
bands from Brooklyn and everywhere here, the Gowanus Wildcats, the Big Apple
Forever Band, a sea of people and a crashing wave of musical noise, a music
that would make Charles Ives jump for joy. Corps of drummers beat on and on
like the subways that run under the avenue, through the arteries and veins that
bring the crowds from the boroughs and beyond, Jersey, Jamaica, Japan. Name it.
We have the Banana
Boys and Carmen Miranda from Somerset, New Jersey; a float that celebrates
dogs, legions of Potato Heads, the Princeton Marching Band, and the Grand
Marshals from KISS, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from New York who made it
bigger than big. Their first hits were recorded a few blocks uptown in the
Electric Lady studies on 8th Street. Now with their tongues curling from their
painted black/white faces, they mime themselves. No freak has been left
unturned, nobody left unhugged, unkissed, unacknowledged for their beauty.
And perhaps this is
why America loves this holiday so much: it�s about diversity cubed by the
square of imagination. It�s about who we are, really. Why there goes Michael
Jackson�s Zombies, dancing en masse to Thriller, the eerie boy/man voice
echoing through the streets. But then we have pirates by the boatload (from
Wall Street?), clowns by the ringful, French Maids . . . oo la la in straight,
gay, and bi combos, knock-outs all of them in their net stockings and patent
We have cowgirls
and cowboys, ghosts, goblins, mummies by the graveful, a walking phone
receiver, a bull-horn rap group rasping the air, the Manheim Steamroller of
Christmas, ladies of the evening in all shades, make up and do�s and don�ts, hi
sailor, wanna dance? We have a night full of Mardi Gras that echoes New
Orleans, our sister city in tragedy, and brings tears to your eyes and ears.
We have this frail
bark of vulnerable humanity outing itself as same, yet curiously powerful in
its China-like mass and muscle. We have costumes and dancers from the Dominican
Republic, Guardian Angels in their red berets from Hell�s Kitchen. We have
Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley six ways to Sunday, a gorilla chasing a banana, a
Jewish Superman with a Super Jew Utility Belt (whatever that is). We have
rabbis, priests, shamans, imams, gold-shirted dancers doing the samba, Little
Red Riding Hood, Little Bo Peep, BORAT the film promotional truck, a Walking
Building (a new one each year), The Brooklyn Bingo Brothers, eh, fuhgeddaboudit,
Snow White and Seven Dwarfs at least.
We have open
windows of parties staring down from endless buildings, revelers, working
people, artists, old ladies, tycoons, the lusty and the lost, the over-sexed
and the under-loved, pub-crawlers, street people, the whole nine yards of a
rainbow cloth called America. And a few blocks away we have Washington Square
Park, our first president up on his marble horse, watching as 911 Truth.Org,
dutiful patriots, hand out free copies of Mysteries of 911
DVDs in the circle of the fountain. Call it the Fountain of Truth. Yup, watch
all about it, folks. It�s free. And you don�t have to agree. Just look. Take a
peek. It�s alright. We�ll still be friends.
It�s all good, as
the brothers say on the street, the intricate streets that spin off Sixth
Avenue, known too as the Avenue of the Americas. And I think back walking
through them to when this parade started in Westbeth, the federally-sponsored
artist�s residence (previously a New York Telephone Company building). It wound
its way from Greenwich Street, discretely up Bank Street, crossing Hudson to
Bleeker, turning left on Perry Street and winding its way east to Washington
I think of how
beloved the parade was even then (a miniature of this grand outing of
imagination tonight). I think of how it was before AIDS had hit, before the gay
community was laid waste by it. I think about all that was suffered since and
how people have endured and turned grief to joy tonight, and refuse to be
stopped by any terror threat or mindless petty tyrant sitting in a truly
haunted White House, full of the freakiest of the freaky, the bluebeards of
I think of when I
was a young(er) writer, living in Westbeth, my first marriage gone, wanting to
be the next great American poet, walking with my new love and my first two
kids. And life had given me back so much, and New York was my world, and
America my country. I think of how I�d get dressed up in the morning and go to
my first big ad agency job, working on the US Navy of all things. And how I
went on a road trip with all the creative guys, ripped to the last. How we were
shuffled through sub bases, warships, nuclear carriers, dark landscapes that
led us to the Pentagon.
I think of walking
through the belly of the beast, those marble hallways with a security clearance
I.D. dangling around my neck. I think of all those military people, the same
losing their lives, as we speak, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and bringing death
consciously or not to hundreds of thousands of others. I think how life seems
to churn out death. And so we have Halloween to remind us of the specter of the
lost and the joy of living.
And so wherever I
turn, I bump humanity. I can smell its sweat and perfume, its reefer and
incense, its garbage and French fries. Vive La France! Vive this Democracy that
has tried for 230 years to lift humanity to the next step and the next, and
fallen back so often on its own mission, and still gets up to march, to walk
this night, to show itself, to be its best and worst dream.
And so I say, post
facto, Happy Halloween America. May you make your peace with your dream, your
ghosts, your past, your present and your future! May you transcend as this
crowd the pain of your days, the lies of your leaders and the vilest of the
vile among us! May you survive the flood of true evil that has been unleashed
on this land, this tsunami of corruption!
And look! It is a
voting booth walking towards me, yes, a walking voting booth, and its curtain
face smiles at me and swishes open. And, like a pair of arms, it opens to me,
inviting me to embrace it, to press its levers, to reform this government of
the people, for the people, by the people. Is this an illusion, a contact high,
a vision of some sort, or someone�s grand imagination handing me my freedom. I
think, use it. Use it, fragile, foiled, soiled, as it is. Use it. Use it. Do not go gentle into that good night,
as Dylan Thomas said so often on these same streets, and in his hangout at the
White Horse Bar on Hudson Street.
Amid the sounds of
music, of pleasure, even the siren in the distance taking some soul to some
emergency room, or putting out some new fire of apocalypse, I think of the life
we must strive for, this October 31, 2006, and all days forward, in this
Republic, gift of our fathers, raised by the blood, sweat and tears of
generations since. So let me step once more into the throng and be swept to its
eternity. Give me your hand, brother, sister, and let us go together.
Jerry Mazza is a
freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at email@example.com.