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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This Is Halloween: The NYC Village Halloween Parade

I had only lived in NYC for two months when my life collided with the NYC Village Halloween Parade.

I had ventured into Manhattan  -a curious 18 year old with a pumpkin hat on, ready to experience my first city Halloween.
I got off the subway at 14th Street and saw millions of people gathered for blocks.
My first glimpse of the parade was a giant puppet who was peeking up above the masses as it danced it's way uptown.
I was like a mosquito drawn to a light.
I battled through the crowd to get as close as I could to see the parade, which was still pretty far. I watched for over an hour completely enchanted by the never ending flow of costumed participants, bands, dancers, floats and creativity.
This was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Everywhere I looked people had huge smiles on there faces and so did I. It was almost impossible not to.
The Village Halloween parade had glamoured me like a True Blood vampire, making every memory of Halloweens past seem nonexistent.

I knew I had to be a part of this event somehow, so when the next Halloween arrived I volunteered to carry a puppet.
I had a blast in my first parade, but being a puppeteer was no joke. That giant ghost werked me out! By the end of the night I was so tired and sore that I shoved some candy corn in my face and fell asleep.  

The following year I wanted to try something new and hopefully less exerting, so I joined the awesome team of parade marshals.
I quickly got to know the parade from an insider perspective. While attending pre parade meetings I learned just how much work, energy and love was put in to make this parade by it's "Mom"-Artistic and producing director Jeanne Fleming and her team.
Being a marshal that first year was a big change and a big responsibility.

Everyone from the public to the NYPD looked to me in my official t shirt for directions on where to go, where to park, and even where to pee!
I learned so much that night about how a parade is run and just how many working parts (and brains) it takes to pull it off the night of. Being a marshal had proved to be even more exerting than holding a giant puppet, but I was hooked.

I have spent every year since working on the Parade, but am always haunted by strange reoccurring dreams about it.
In the dreams I am trying to get to the parade to start my marshal job and I can't. I'm always stopped from getting there or inside by something different. A delayed flight, missed train, police officer, car accident and more. I miss the parade entirely, my Halloween is ruined, and i'm so sad.

Last year my bad dream became a reality when Hurricane Sandy hit NYC. The team had had a final planning meet up just days before. We were excited and organized.
Then the storm hit us harder than anyone had expected. They city went dark, and the parade was cancelled for the first time in it's 39 year history.
Everyone involved in the event was heartbroken. It felt like we were living out The Nightmare Before Christmas film, when the mayor announces "Halloween is cancelled this year."

I spent the Halloween day stuck in Brooklyn watching the children of my neighborhood trying to salvage what was left of the dampered holiday. The usual smiles were replaced with worried faces from parents and business owners. No one knew how long it would take for power to come back, train service to restore and schools to be in session.

I looked at the clock that evening at the usual moment of the parade kickoff and tried to imagine myself standing where I had been at that moment for the past ten years. I missed the smiles, the energy, the amazing costumes that participants work so hard on for a year to debut. So many memories came flooding back and for a moment I felt like I was there.

I was there at the parade where creativity rules and people transform 100% into the character they are dressed as. On the night when anyone can live out there wildest fantasy and become a star in front of an audience of thousands. Where people from every country, all walks of life, rich or poor come together feeling equal and free.
It is a magical thing to witness, even as a memory.

This year the parade really needs support so that it doesn't become one.

I'm happy to be participating in the Kickstarter for the 40th Annual Parade with my Gaga Tribute.
Please click below to check out the page by clicking below and donate if you can. This is a not for profit organization. Every little bit will help to keep this amazing NYC tradition alive!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Time I Set Bill Clintons Table on Fire

One afternoon in 2005, I was browsing for freelance gigs on Craigslist when one caught my attention.

Well I wasn't experienced and had no tuxedo, but I was 21. At that time, the thought of making $18 per hour made me want to pass out with excitement. I quickly started to make mental lists of all the things I could afford to buy with that kind of money. Non generic brand groceries, prescriptions, OPI nail polish....
So, I hauled ass uptown, and into the catering office with my highly embellished server resume.
They did a quick interview and asked me if I owned a full tuxedo.
I said yes, of course I owned a full tuxedo, because with all of my fine dining server experience, that was a necessity. Duh....
So I walked out the door as NYC's newest cater waiter.

I had a day before training began to track down a full tuxedo and searched all over town. I also needed to have my own crumber & corkscrew. By the time I was done shopping I was broke.
The cheap Polyester tuxedo was the most hideous thing I had ever seen. I just hoped it would be a good investment.

My first day of training was a total disaster. I had just turned 21, and had never had to uncork a bottle of wine before. I was one of those rare good kids who didn't ever drink until I was of age.
So I kept trying to open wine and failing, then I knocked over a jug of water on of the nicely set tables, ruining everything. I also couldn't seem to get down the correct pre determined sides to serve wine, entrees, and dessert on. On top of that and my total lack of coordination, I was turning out to be a pretty bad cater waiter trainee. I left that day feeling like an idiot with my face red from frustration, and trying not to burst into tears.

Though it was a struggle, I miraculously passed the required training days and ended up serving at many celebrity events.
For many of them I was required to sign a contract saying I wouldn't call the paparazzi, take photos or sell stories about what went down at the events. In the days before smart phones they were pretty uptight about all of this.
So, I can't tell you the gossip from the times I served wine to Barbra Walters, hor d'ourves to Donald Trump, dinner to Bruce Willis, and dessert to Larry King. But, one event I can tell you about took place a few months later.

I was hired to serve at a dinner and huge fundraiser put on by The Kennedy family at the NYC Piers.
Bill Clinton, Oprah, Al Gore, Yoko Ono, and more were attending. Bono, Elton John, Paul McCartney were performing. I was super psyched to see all of them play for free.

When I arrived the Secret Service was already stationed in all corners.
There were nearly 75 tables, and a long ornate "Presidential Table" at the front of the room. It was beautiful inside, and slightly intimidating.
All of the tables had to be fully set with plates, programs, place cards, silverware, and napkins. The team leader/catering nazi came over and barked some orders at me to get started. With the help of a few other cater waiters, I finished setting the tables. After what felt like forever, the only thing I had left to do was light the candles.

I had lit half of the tables tea lights with a tall host candle, but time was closing in. I could hear the camera shutters outside as the press took photos of celebrities on the red carpet.
The catering captain/nazi screamed "TEN MINUTES TILL OPEN!!" so I started to rush faster.
I remember the rest of in slow motion......I walked toward the last unlit candles at the Presidential table.....As I tipped my candle down, a flaming chunk of wick fell onto the table cloth below.
The tablecloth caught on fire, followed by the place card, and event program.
I quickly looked around for a glass of water to throw on it, but the catering nazi got to it before I did.

The once ornately set Presidential table was now flooded.
Floating in the wreckage were a charred program, a charred place card that now just said "Efferson Clinton", and chunks of the burned tablecloth.
I stood there mortified and still in shock, holding my long candle and waiting to get tackled by secret service.

The catering nazi screamed at the staff and the other waiters frantically ran around to replacing everything on the huge table before the guests came in. I heard one of them say "What the hell happened?" The catering nazi responded by pointing at me with a stare of death and saying

When I asked if I could do anything to help, they told me I could go home. The celebrity guests had to be held at the door for ten extra minutes until the room was ready again. I left the event space and walked to the subway with tears streaming down my face. 
I kept my full tuxedo, but never got called back for another caiter-waiter job.