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Festivals, Floozies, and Freaks
Sex in the Sub-City


Cheap 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 skirt imaginable.

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 his own.

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 know.

Viva la freak!

 

--Russ Josephs

E-mail: [email protected]



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[email protected] | November 2002 | Issue 32
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