Scenes from SF Pride
I apologize for the tense-switching.
Last night, after two hours of prodding, I agreed to go to SF Pride, and two hours later I was picked up and on my way. Years ago, Pride evolved from a celebration of gay culture into an outdoor party spanning multiple days where everyone acts and dresses as absurdly as they want. I wore a Niners sweater and an orange safety vest from work, to fit in. Some man wore nothing but a sock around his cock (and, I hope, shoes). For my east coast friends, who make up most of the readership I think, this slideshow will give you an inkling of what it is like.
I arrived at about 10 p.m. John and I did not get alcohol beforehand, so we were left scrambling too find some once we got inside. Neither of us are 21, and John’s friend forgot her ID. Great. This will probably suck. I stand by a streetlight and sulk for a few minutes. A man, shirtless, wearing pink furry leggings that cover the one-to-two-foot stilts on which he stands, stands directly behind me putting fliers on the pole. This startles me when I turn around. He reminds me of Dave Chappelle’s Black Sheep.
We meet up with one of John’s coworkers, who is like 29, and her cousin. She asks about my safety vest. I say I figured I should wear something weird because everyone else does. That earns me a look of mild bemusement. I try to offset my deadpan delivery by smiling after I say it, but I think it comes off strange.
We start walking toward a liquor store up the street. I am last so I must do my best not to get lost in the throbbing mass of humanity. We find a bottleneck of people just trying to get in. John’s coworker decides against waiting in line. She must have seen me look around with my trademark blank face because she hands me an airplane-sized bourbon and says, “Loosen up.”
I reply graciously and try to drink it, stupidly sucking on it instead of relying on gravity. John and I each drink about half of it. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, hopefully that will help make this pittance of liquor enough to feel something. I grimace like a novice when I swallow.
As we make our way to one of the dance clusters, I hear someone behind me say, “This is, like, way crazier than all other parties.”
The cousin said this DJ was the designated hip hop guy, but it seems to me he’s just playing the same house and techno-pop as everyone else. Whatever. Once we get to the dance cluster, I have the same realization that strikes me every time I find myself on a dance floor: I can either stand still, not have fun and look like a square, which will only add to the oppressive social anxiety I feel in large groups and around strangers; or I can flail and gyrate, fuck anyone who thinks I’m a spaz. So I boogie.
I boogie alone, to songs I normally hate. I boogie alone, weathering the condescending gaze of the coworker, who calls me “cute” the way you’d call the young kid who swings a stick weakly at the piñata—succeeding only in making it rotate away from him slightly—cute. I don’t want to be that kid. I want to be the coordinated kid who busts that shit open on the first swing—hell, even the second will do. I never got to break the piñata open. There is a prime window: ages five to seven. Before then, you’re too small and weak to do any real damage. After then, if the adults are sticking to the conventional youngest-to-oldest order, the piñata is broken before you can even touch the stick. I could weaken the damn thing for the next kid like a seasoned pro, but I never broke it open myself. I suppose I could buy one now and go to town, but that inner fire for candy isn’t there anymore. A child’s motivation to get candy is pure, untainted by personal demons or psychological complexes. Anyway
I boogie alone, unsure if this girl next to me is rubbing her butt on the outside of my leg to send me a hint or if that’s just how it is in the dance cluster. I bet many a blood cell has faced this question. Is Sheila into swapping proteins with me, or she just being thrown about by the palpitations of the heart like the rest of us? I have no idea what blood cells do. Either way, Butt Girl, no thanks.
I boogie alone, people watching. Two girls push me aside to get closer to the middle. They have a big bottle of Smirnoff they ought to be sharing. A Mexican in a Niners hat is already staring into my eyes when I look at him. Don’t turn that way again, Marciano; people have been shot here before. If I get shot in the back of the head tonight, after insisting on not going for so long, is that poetic justice or injustice?
I boogie alone, and I notice that Butt Girl now dances with another guy. Can you call it dancing? Basically they are dry-humping, her legs around his waist. This reminds me of senior prom. A girl I liked—from a distance, as was my M.O. in those days—danced like that, too, with her boyfriend. Both she and Butt Girl found the style euphoric, if their faces were to be believed. I didn’t understand the appeal of it, at least from their point of view. Maybe I over-think things.
11 p.m. The DJ is done for the night. We suppose they all are. We walk up Market Street, away from where we came. We see a store with a small line, so we go in for beer. John suggests a four-pack of Boddingtons, a pint each. Sounds alright to me. I drink my first one as fast as I can. There’s a little ball in it because you’re supposed to pour it in a glass.
A stranger agrees to take a picture of us, but my safety vest screws with the flash and I appear as a disembodied head above a ball of white light.
Above the store is an apartment. A father and son look out at all the drunk people meandering through the intersection. Above them in the window they put a cardboard sign: PLEASE GET NAKED. I laugh. The son leans forward. Why can I see his shoulders? Oh shit. They aren’t father and son.
“Dude, they’re having sex!”
“Those two guys up there! They’re doing it doggystyle. Anally.” I’m a true gentleman.
No one seems interested, so I conclude, “Well, it seems slow and sensual. Good for them.”
We start walking back to Castro street, the heart of the party. I just started my second pint. I had covered it with a plastic bag because that’s what you do when you drink in public: cover the container so the cops can play the plausible ignorance card and fight real crime. I know this from experience and The Wire. The cops are only around to make sure no one gets sick or violent. So imagine my surprise when a cop stops me and tells me to pour it out. Right here? A nod. I start to turn it upside-down but an oblivious group walks in between us and I don’t want to spill on their legs. He compromises, Go in the corner over there. I do. When I get there I turn around. Is he still looking? Yes. Damn. I pour the whole pint onto a tree.
I suppose I could have ran. What if he chased me, though? Unlikely, yes, but imagine: APB, look out for a Number 6 male, wearing a red sweater underneath an orange safety vest. Curses, the one time my clothes aren’t completely bland!
I catch up to the rest. Looks like we’re blowing this Popsicle stand. Let’s go up to Twin Peaks. There’s a big pink triangle up there that looks like a pizza.
Soon on the walk to the car I realize I lost the others. I text: “Meet you at the car I guess.” No point doing anything else.
At Dolores Park, I walk up the dark path by Church St. Crap, if there’s one place people get mugged in this park, it’s here. Hold on now, other Marciano, maybe you are misguided. I decide not to switch paths because I don’t want to seem like a coward to myself.
Ahead are two presumably homeless. One is lying down, left knee raised, right foot resting on it. He looks about ready to go to sleep. The other, standing, wears a black tank top that shows off his arm and shoulder tattoos. His facial hair seems modeled after Kid Rock or the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta. I only hear the end of their conversation as I pass.
“Thank you for the cigarette,” the man lying down says. “Good night!” The way he says it, he wants the conversation to end now.
“Wait a second,” the other man says. I don’t hear the rest as I’m already 20 feet past them.
The standing guy walks fast enough to catch up with me. “Hey, bro.”
“You got the time?”
I look at my cell phone. 11:42 p.m. “11:45.” I wonder if there’s a big difference between people who round off times and people who tell it exact.
“Cool.” He puts a cigarette in his mouth. “I like that vest.”
“Yeah, well I was just at Pride. I figured I would wear something weird because everyone else does.”
“And you won’t get hit by any cars.”
“Heh heh. I didn’t even think about that.” Now that I think about it, his joke merited a more hearty laugh, considering the absurdity our encounter. But in the moment I was uneasy.
“What’s going on with that?”
“Well, it’s over now, so a lot of people will probably be coming through the park now.” I am a dick for saying that last part, as if the only way it affects him is with the number of people it brings to the park, the unspoken assumption being that the park is his home.
“Yeah, they’ll want to be taking the train probably.”
I say basically the same thing he says, in a different order and substitution “Muni” for “the train.”
He turns to go down some stairs that lead under the bridge that goes over the Muni tracks. I have smoked weed there. Maybe he will sleep there, I think.
“See you, dude,” I say.
“See you.” He nods.
I turn too early. The street I want starts at the next street. I can turn back and walk up a steep hill or go along the train tracks for a block. I decide to run through the trainway, reminded of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.
I get to the car 20 minutes before the others. Lucky for me, John left it unlocked. I want to text someone but everyone on the east coast is asleep. Now truly alone with my thoughts, I play some music in my head until they arrive.