With all the frills upon it


Last weekend I attended an event in New York City that could rightfully be described as “spectacular.” It was the annual New York City Easter Parade and it is nothing if not pure spectacle.

To begin, it is not a parade in that linear, march-from-here-to-there, sense. Rather, it is a parade in that people are parading up and down Fifth Avenue to see and be seen. Moreover, it is an event in which people get dressed up in all manner of costumes — costumes that range from the kindly old couple in formal morning attire to a guy wearing a coat entirely covered in hot-glued jelly beans. The latter being what I imagine armor would look like if the Easter Bunny had an army.

On the matter of the Easter Bunny, there were several, each in a different imagining of the character. Similarly, there were probably two thousand different takes on the idea of an Easter bonnet. These grand chapeaus began with simple straw hats festooned with big bows and ended with some dude wearing a three feet-wide metallic Hoberman sphere on top of a red Devo hat.

There’s also a strong retro dress current that always makes a good showing. These folks tend to favor costume dress of the period from 1920 to around 1950. They can often be found dancing to the music of a hot jazz combo which is also a regular fixture.

Paradoxically, the aforementioned folks occupy a more predictable middle ground in the unfolding pageant. Leaning more toward the visual extremes are the likes of the transvestite contingent whose over-the-top fashion sense is a clear reference to the Ann Miller production numbers in the 1948 Fred Astaire/Judy Garland film, Easter Parade.

Then there’s an older gentleman about whom I feel I should know more. It’s not that I want to be more closely acquainted as much as I want to know what creative madness underscores his presentation.

I have seen him each time I’ve gone to the parade. He has a long white beard that he dyes in Technicolor hues. He tends to have a predominantly white outfit that flows out from the tight white turban on his head. There’s usually some kind of cart or basket containing a small white dog in a coordinating costume. This year there was also a parrot. The parrot just wore his green feathers. All-in-all it has a Ganesh on acid kind of quality about it. Again, the term “spectacle” comes to mind.

To be sure though, this is very much a family affair. Whole families come out all dressed in their Easter best. One might be tempted — based on the foregoing description — to think this scene is just a big city gay culture riot. It is certainly a big city event. Gay people are clearly present, but the mass of folks in attendance more closely resembles Ward and June Cleaver than the Village People.

I clarify this because I know a certain segment of readers will dig their claws into the flamboyance of it all and attempt to use that aspect of it as fodder for social criticism. Such people deprive themselves of seeing something that, despite the grandiose nature of it all, is rather quaint and innocent. If nothing else, it sure beats the hell out of the drinking and bloodshed that visit my hometown nearly every weekend.

This in itself goes to a broader point: Too many of us are so wrapped up in ourselves… we take ourselves soooo seriously that we have unwittingly excised our capacity to experience silly delight. We attempt to push everything through this black and white filter of good or bad. In so doing, we lose the child in us.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to get away from that suffocating stiffness. Hopefully, the blue seersucker suit, white bucks and straw boater in which I strolled last Sunday confirm a little progress.