SPOOK TIME IN NEW YORK
Yes, it’s late October and almost Halloween. I shan’t go into the history of that holiday.which I deal with in chapter 38, "Of Spooks and Ghouls," in my book No Place for Normal: New York: Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World. I shall merely note its presence, in the form of looming beanpole spooks and strands of stringy white stuff — probably meant to suggest spiderwebs and spiders) — fronting many residences in my slice of the city, Greenwich Village. Probably these homes have children, which excuses these indulgences, though my door will be shut and locked against Trick or Treaters, when the day comes. But even my podiatrist’s office has stuffed witches on the counter, which shows how far the mania has spread, though the witches did gladden up the place, balancing out the signs advocating masks and distancing, and co-pays immediately due.
Crossing Abingdon Square Park while doing errands two days ao, I saw a low, thick pyramid of seasonal debris: the biggest pumpkins and other monster veggies I have ever seen — some of them up to two or three feet long — plus a grinning skeleton, a bundle of corn stalks, and enthroned on top, the brittle white bones of another grinning skeleton. Hopefully this display will cheer, and not frighten, the horde of little kids soon due for the annual Halloween festival, when a horse-drawn wagon offers kids a ride around the block. This is probably the only time city kids see a real live horse — two, in fact, with all the earthy smells that come with them.
Impressive, but the display in Sheridan Square Park goes it one better. Recently, en route to my podiatrist and being ahead of time, I stopped off in the park. There a young Latino in dazzling white tennis shoes, his dark hair pulled back in a short ponytail, was photographing the two life-size status of gay men, assisted at times by an older sister or aunt in a colorful dress, while the mother sat patiently, or perhaps resignedly, nearby.
This was show enough, by way of people-watching, but then the young man went to the back of the park and posed grandly, while the sister/aunt took several photos of him, with a trio of looming spooks in the background. Until this point, I hadn't noticed the spooks. The Latino family then left, and I went to the back of the park to get a better look.
There were three spooks, each one set up on a pole with a flimsy gown that fluttered in the breeze. Dominating the scene was the middle one, the tallest: a female in a lavender dress with a tangle of thick white hair, shark teeth, and white-ringed eyes that seemed to fix you with their stare. When her lavender dress rippled in the breeze, she became startlingly alive.
On the right of the white-haired female was another spook in orange, and on the left, a male with a long orange tie, and on his head a tiny top hat, tilted, ludicrously small. The tophatted one evoked a smile or two, but the dominant female looked like she had risen from the dead — just the kind of spook to haunt your dreams and make you wake up in a sweat.
When I left the park, I saw General Sheridan in the very back, his sculpted figure looming solemnly on its pedestal, a Northern hero of our Civil War who has seen a lot in his park, little of it easy to adapt to. First, the Stonewall riots of 1969, launching the gay pride movement and, in time, the erection (no pun intended) of the four life-size statues: two gay males, obviously lovers, with a Lesbian couple seated nearby.
And if this foursome, now a standard tourist attraction, wasn’t enough, there is the annual brouhaha of the Gay Pride Parade marching down Chritopher Street past the now legendary Stonewall Inn, just across from the park. Then, more recently, the whole site was designated a national monument, bringing even more tourists. And now a trio of spooks, the wild-eyed female rendering memorably our horror of, and fascination with, the dead. A lot for a Civil War hero to absorb. But there he stands in martial dignity, unruffled, perhaps wondering why a park named for him should come to this. Time, for us all, has many surprises.
Coming soon: The ever announced, and ever postponed, post on what's sexy and what isn't.
© 2020 Clifford Browder