I don’t get too worked up about the prospect of meeting famous people. I don’t hound them for autographs. I don’t wait in crowds behind theaters and arenas hoping to catch a glimpse or snap a photo. For heaven’s sake, I felt nothing but guilt over trying to get a snapshot of Cyndi Lauper recently, and when the images didn’t turn out, I thought: “Serves me right.”
Let them be famous and worlds apart from me. Let them be extraordinary, in my mind, to a degree only I can know. And let them live their real lives without me. They are the performers. I am the audience. Let us not break this sacred boundary.
So it is a particular irony that my first interaction with Broadway phenom Idina Menzel was not only a complete fiction, but also an unfortunate and unpleasant experience involving the NYPD that I hope never to repeat again in my life.
I have never seen Wicked, but I own the soundtrack. I saw the movie version of Rent. Didn’t care for it. A lot of people whining about the consequences of the bad decisions they’ve made, I think. But I guess I admire Ms. Menzel, and enjoy her work. A fan? Eh… not really. She was the headline performer at last night’s annual NYC Gay Pride pier dance, where I was a volunteer. And truth be told, I was more looking forward to the fireworks than her techno remix of “Defying Gravity,” but after seeing her sound check earlier in the day, I could admit to having a mild curiosity to see her performance.
Once again, my rugby teammates and I were bartending for the slick, gyrating masses of manflesh that make up the pier dance. On my way to the volunteer port-a-johns toward the end of the night, I ran into a crowd behind the main stage area, just a few tents down from ours. I tried to skirt around the edge of the crowd near the fence, and someone from behind me grabbed my arm just above the elbow and yanked me violently backward. I assumed it was just someone telling me that I couldn’t go past that point for some reason, so I shook off the hand and stepped backward, with my hands out, trying to see what was going on. “Whoa! OK. No trouble. I can wait.”
“What do you want to do with him?” I heard someone say.
I had my volunteer shirt on, and my credentials on me. Whatever was happening, I assumed I could just wait it out. At least they knew I belonged there.
But suddenly I was aware that I was being surrounded.
“He’s out of here,” said someone else.
Two police officers snapped to attention and guided me away by the arms. They marched me past my team’s tent. A few of them saw me being led away, but the cops wouldn’t let me stop to tell anyone what was happening. They were not rough, but they were direct and very clear about me moving along. I still had no idea what had just happened. And I still had to piss like a racehorse. So I asked them to explain.
“The head of security saw you,” said one of them.
“Saw me?” I said. “I don’t even know what it is that I’ve done. Can you at least explain to me what’s happening?”
“He saw you go right for the talent,” said the other one.
There had been volunteers and security folk and cops all around — as there had been all over the pier all night long — and there was no one turning people away or stopping anyone from passing. A slip in security allowed me unwittingly too close for comfort, and now it looked like someone was overcompensating for his error by making a spectacle of kicking me out. Maybe the security folks were starstruck, themselves.
“OK,” I said. “I’m not going to try arguing. Clearly I’m out of here no matter what. But I have to tell you, I was just walking to the bathroom. I swear I didn’t even know she was there. I didn’t even see her. I don’t understand how this is even happening.”
One of the officers, perhaps beginning to believe me, explained to me that it didn’t matter if I had done something wrong or not. The head of security wanted me out of there, so they were obligated to take me out of there. End of story.
“You’re seriously telling me that I need to be escorted out of here like this?” I said. “I need to completely leave the pier?”
Yes. I did.
They walked me to the front gate. They allowed me to get my bag from the volunteer bag check. They made a guard cut off my wristband and said that I was not to be admitted back in. The whole thing was very humiliating and confusing. So I walked off down 14th street, ripped off my bar crew badge, stripped off my volunteer t-shirt and dropped it into a trash can.
I won’t speak ill of Heritage of Pride as a whole. I know they’re very careful and serious about safety. And they do a phenomenal job of organizing and coordinating the volunteers. But clearly some of the volunteers can be a little overzealous. I felt a lot better after speaking the next day to the volunteer coordinator, a very nice man, who asked me a lot of good questions and made sure he got the story straight before he apologizing and saying it shouldn’t have happened. He was surprised that there was no first warning. My first indication that I was in the wrong place was being yanked out my skin.
I never even laid eyes on Ms. Menzel, let alone a hand. I didn’t even get a chance to see who this security guy was. And perhaps the worst part of it is I still had to pee. Badly. So I high-tailed it to a bar nearby and answered nature’s subtle call. I couldn’t make out Ms. Menzel’s voice from across the West Side Highway, but the fireworks were not half bad. Then I met my boyfriend and got roaring drunk.