24-hour Party People

New York, NY, USA

Smiling woman

Young woman wearing makeup and paper flowers

Brooklyn, NY, USA

New York, for all that it appears to be merely a major city, is actually the intersection of a large number of parallel universes. In one of these universes, people such as Mayor Bloomberg and things such as the New York Stock Exchange are thought to be important. In another (which remains entirely a closed book to me), sports teams like the Knicks and the Mets occupy people’s attention. In a third (equally incomprehensible) strand, names like Macys and Bloomingdales are floated around, and so on and so forth. And somewhere, amidst all the infinite strands that make up the city, there is a universe in which the names that are mentioned admiringly are those of The Hungry March Band, The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, The Madagascar Institute and all the other organizations – doubtless too numerous to list – who chip away at the self-important universes of Mayor Bloomberg and the Mets and Macys, quietly (or noisily) creating neat things on the fringes. Things like First Warm Night.

The evening began with a series of dubious looks. The stout, white-shirted police officer at Sara D. Roosevelt Park looked dubiously at the swelling crowd on the steps with the expression of a man who doesn’t like what he’s seeing but isn’t quite sure whether he can arrest it or not. The Brooklynites going home on the F train looked doubtfully at the mob of bubble-blowers and people wearing butterfly wings who surged into their car. The people in Red Hook Park looked suspiciously at the cavalcade of strangely-dressed figures that wound its way past their soccer game and through their twilight picnics. And then the walls between the parallel universes snapped shut with a pop, and the ‘First Warm Night’ universe was in a bubble all of its own in an abandoned corner of Red Hook, in between the silent warehouses and a parking lot full of dozing school buses.

Thereafter, things proceeded much as you’d expect when you have four or five hundred people, a marching band and a sound system in a cobbled alleyway in an industrial hinterland of New York. There were fireworks. There were people twirling things that glowed and things that didn’t. There was dancing. There was music. There was a mobile light show courtesy of the NYPD. There were looming cranes and shuttered warehouses. There was a girl who handed me a playing card (the six of spades) on which was written “Mr Glasses Photo!” (thank you very much, but what does it mean? Aside from the obvious, of course). There were people drinking in Lillie’s who emerged briefly to watch the procession, then went back inside. And meanwhile, elsewhere, the other New York universes continued along their separate paths, largely unaffected.

I left before the party really got started. Presumably it went on all night. It may even be going on still, assuming that the police present didn’t abandon their ‘hands-off’ attitude and start arresting the participants en masse. But I had another appointment and my memory card was getting full so I left the party and somehow found my way back through a maze of dark and deserted streets to the subway.

In Manhattan, I switched to another universe, which included the Wharton Tiers Ensemble, another New York institution who sometimes appear to be known only to the inhabitants of their own narrow thread of space-time and don’t get a tenth of the recognition that they deserve. Still, as the Good Book has it, prophets are not without honor except in their own country. The visiting Japanese band, Balloons were very excited to be playing on the same stage as Wharton Tiers.

Mayor Bloomberg probably doesn’t know who Wharton Tiers is, and if he knows about ‘First Warm Night’ or its organizers, it’s probably only in the context of public order problems. On the other hand, probably everyone watching Wharton Tiers or dancing in Red Hook knew who Mayor Bloomberg is. Mayor Bloomberg would be unwise to get an exaggerated idea of his own importance from this fact. Respect in parallel universes is not necessarily based on wealth or power.