The biggest freak show in the world is on exhibit daily
“Step right up, folks! We’ve got arcade games and prizes, stilt-walkers and circus performers, magicians, jugglers and a 50-foot Ferris Wheel!”
On Columbus Day, I took my daughter and her friend to the Park Avenue Armory, whose 55,000-square-foot hall was transformed into a fantastical carnival.
Traditionally, these traveling circuses were meant to bring relief from the tedium of daily life with attractions like the half man/half woman, contortionists and sword swallowers.
Although we enjoyed our time there immensely, these past couple of months has proved to me that Manhattan doesn’t need an actual midway to distract us, since a carny-like atmosphere is often created by our day-to-day, nonstop sideshows.
We now live in a post-Waiting for Superman world where people are appalled to “learn” what everyone has known all along: there are subpar educators out there who can’t be fired no matter how bad they are at their jobs.
Melissa Petro, the former sex worker turned New York public school art teacher, wasn’t one of them. She did her job well, was liked by her co-workers and students and was only punished by the school district when her past came to light.
I think what bothered many people more than her stripping and hooking was the fact that she openly talked about it, choosing not to let it be a dirty little secret of which she would have to live in fear of exposure.
Petro did the work needed to go from the world’s oldest profession to the noblest one, making her the perfect example of how people who have made a poor choice can actually turn their lives around.
What is the impetus for people to improve themselves or their situations if what they did before is always going to be held against them? I argued to my friends.
Mayor Bloomberg obviously didn’t agree with me and ordered the tenured-teacher out of the classroom.
Weeks later, I watched his press conference regarding an unrelated matter, where he declared that in this city, “tolerance defines us.” It was like looking in a funhouse mirror that distorts everything.
Next, you could have knocked me over like the milk bottle pyramid at which you throw softballs to win the giant panda. Two homophobes decided to gay bash a man in the Stonewall Inn—the birthplace of the gay rights movement, as well as the establishment where I believe the phrase “bash back” originated. Apparently, the assailants had not known the place’s history. They live on Staten Island—under a rock.
Then it was time for something as light and fluffy as cotton candy. The Kardashians moved in (temporarily, I hope) to open a clothing store downtown. Because this family will not blow its collective nose without cinematic documentation, their exploits will be a new reality show titled, Kourtney & Kim Take New York!
Lastly, there was the day I awoke to Carl Paladino on TV claiming to embrace the gay community, on the heels of saying that homosexuality was not “an equally valid and successful option.” He argued that someone else had written his remark and he hadn’t wanted to say it. But he did say it, as well as some cracks about the Gay Pride Parade. He apologized to the gay community, but lost the support of those who agreed with the original statement that he didn’t want to make in the first place. My head started spinning as though I’d just gotten off the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Well, no one ever said living here was dull. That’s part of the beauty of NYC; you can’t guess what’s going to happen next. Or in carnival parlance: Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel Fat Chick, from The Vineyard Press, is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
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