Festivals, Floozies, and Freaks
Sex in the Sub-City
Shot of the Month
It's that time of year again, when seemingly every niche
group in New York is out in full force with some form of
festival. Maybe it's the shorter days, reminding people
of their mortality, their short lives, that makes so many
of them organize these things. Perhaps it's their way of
leaving something behind, so even their most personal and
marginal interests can be brought to light (how else can
one explain the New York Tarot Festival?). Whatever the
reason, New York has festival fever, and I for one have
been swept up in it.
Over the past few weeks alone I've attended the New Yorker
Festival, the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival, the Res
Fest, The New York Horror Film Festival, The Electroclash
Festival, and countless open studio tours (Jersey City,
Gowanus, Dumbo). CMJ, the granddaddy of them all, is just
around the corner.
I love going to these things, as you can often rub elbows
with the participating artists, who are usually more than
willing to shed some light on their work. And an even better
reason to go, especially if you attend ones that really
interest you, is because you're guaranteed to meeting a
smattering of like-minded people. There's nothing like being
in a room filled with those who share your particular passion.
Of course, there is a downside to this. The downside is
that, when faced with a room filled with like-minded people,
you look around and realize that they're all assholes. Or
idiots. Or dorks. This was the case when I attended the
New York Horror Film Festival, and found myself in the proximity
of a bevy of overweight, bearded, pony-tailed losers, who
looked like they could just as easily been at a Dungeons
and Dragons tournament, or a Weird Al Yankovic concert.
Of course, I'm not a big horror fan, and was only there
because I got in free and my other plans fell through. But
all the same, it was a little disconcerting. It reminded
me of the time I switched schools as a kid, and because
I knew nobody had to sit at the reject table in the cafeteria.
Even though I managed to get out within the week, I thought
I was going to be stuck there forever. The site of those
too-tight corduroy floods and the dandruff-flaked Justice
League T-shirts, the talk of Dr. Who and Star Trek, the
pungent B.O. smell, haunts me to this day.
But while I love the festivals, they are by no means the
real draw of the fall season. Neither are the changing leaves.
Or the end of the shitty summer movies. The real draw is
Halloween. All of us want to be kids again, especially New
Yorkers, with our botox and our gyms and our yoga, and no
other day is better for kids than Halloween. Sure it almost
got ruined by whoever stuck a razorblade in an apple (which,
according to Michael Moore, never actually happened), and
then parents everywhere started worrying about poison candy
and pedophiles, and a certain wariness set over the whole
thing. But it was still a great time, and now, as adults,
it's even better. There's no more trick or treating (although
some of the guys at the Horror Fest looked like they might),
so there's no fear of razor blades or poison. While one
still has to look out for strange Roofie-laden drinks, that
can happen anytime of the year.
Also, as adults, our costumes are a lot better. At least
the women's are. As we all know, there is only one real
Halloween costume for a woman, and that is the slut. That's
it. Sure, there are variations. There's the slutty nurse,
the slutty maid, the slutty witch, the slutty cat, the slutty
vampire, and, my favorite, the slutty slut. But they're
all the same thing. In a society that objectifies women
(which is wrong), where said women are adamantly vocal about
how terrible this is (as they should be), these same women
on the 31st of October are warbling around in serious high
heels and fishnets, practically screaming out to be objectified.
The same woman who's afraid to wear a short skirt for fear
of unwanted attention will on Halloween be wearing the shortest
You know this is true, so don't get mad at me. Don't shoot
the messenger. And by bringing it up, in no way do I mean
it as an insult. In fact, the opposite is true. I think
it's great. I think if men weren't so disgusting, women
wouldn't be afraid to dress however they saw fit, and thank
God there is one day in the freakin year where they can
actually do so. And even better, I can appreciate them in
a normal and healthy way, without feeling guilty about it.
And that's why I love Halloween. I also love it because
it fosters a kind of creepy excitement in the air, where
little things that wouldn't have bothered you before - footsteps,
shadows, strange sounds - suddenly acquire new and sinister
meanings. It can make a routine trip to the corner deli
an adventure. The mundane task of taking out the garbage
turns into the opening of a horror movie, where just around
the corner lurks a madman, a masked freak, ready to pounce
on you. Hurriedly you run back inside before he has a chance
to stab you repeatedly, leaving your lifeless body sprawled
out over the garbage, your blood mingling with empty cartons
of Chinese food and boxes of Cheerios.
Making this or other scenarios even more riveting, even
more real, is the fact that there are freaks out there.
Americans, specifically New Yorkers, are a strange lot.
But I don't mean this necessarily in a negative way, because
most freaks are really quite benign. They are there for
entertainment purposes only. I even miss the fact that there
aren't that many around anymore. For New York used to be
filled with them: Guys talking to themselves; bagladies
up the wazoo carting around all sorts of strange treasures;
individuals dressed in all manner of odd creations - garbage
bags, long underwear, plastic masks - haunting the streets.
These last ones were my favorite, the ones who were so proud
of their freakishness that they wanted to make darn sure
you noticed them, that from even blocks away you knew that
they were out of their minds.
At one time these guys were everywhere, and then, slowly,
they vanished. The changing tide of the city, the yuppishness,
the sweeping initiatives that got rid of many of the other
unwanted - homeless, prostitutes - took them as well. There
was apparently no room for freaks in the New New York, and
so they had to go. Where they went I have no idea, although
if you've ever been to Austin, or San Francisco, or any
big college town, I think maybe they simply relocated. Recently,
however, to my great joy, I've noticed that some of them
have been making their way back. It's just been a trickle,
and I doubt it will return to anything like the way it used
to be; but even so, it's something.
My most recent freak encounter came about a week ago when
I stopped to use a payphone. It was hard to hear who I was
talking to though, because on the phone next to mine was
a guy having a loud and serious conversation about furniture.
He was going off about couches and futons and the like,
how most mere poorly-shaped and ill-conceived for comfort,
seemingly engaged in a tense and manic argument with whoever
was on the other line. While it seemed a little odd, I didn't
think much of it at the time. A few hours later I passed
by the same phone and the guy was still on it, having the
same conversation about furniture. I took a closer look
and realized that his hand was over the receiver, and that
he was talking to himself. I was witnessing a grade-A freak
and my heart leaped with joy.
A week before that I was waiting for the subway on a crowded
platform when a man appeared before us. He introduced himself,
as if we were in a club and he was on a stage, and then
began to perform. First, he procured a bottle from his pocket
filled with a strange brownish-yellow liquid, which he drank
down heartily. This he placed on the ground beside his feet.
Then he let loose with a series of air kicks and air punches,
culminating with a grand, sweeping "Karate Kid-style"
kick. For our benefit he then explained that he was a master
in Kung-Fu, and that he had a black belt in it, which, sadly,
he could not show us because he had left it at home.
Finally, just before the train arrived, he told us that
today he had become a father. After surveying my companions
and I, who were chuckling and looking at him in disbelief,
he rolled up his sleeve to reveal a Chinese character that
he said meant "father." Being that this is New
York, there was a Chinese man among the group who verified
that indeed this was true. Not only was our entertainer
a freak of the highest order; he was going to have one of
And these two freaks were but a few of those I've encountered.
There was the shirtless guy on Houston asking everyone who
passed for money for a new shirt. The woman slowdancing
with herself on Broadway. The man selling pieces of his
own body - fingernails, toenails, hair - on 6th Ave. There
were many more besides. I for one welcome these people back,
these physical embodiments of individuality, and pray that
more will follow. I'm hoping that by next fall there will
be enough for me to stage a full-on Freak Festival. Anyone
interested in volunteering, freak or not, please let me
Viva la freak!
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