In Manhattan, people and places can be saved in one of two ways: with a gala, or with a parade or rally.
The people causes are generally relegated to galas and places are usually preserved with a mass event, but the only thing one needs to know is that each involves a mob of people who have been painted and glittered up for the occasion.
The Hudson River needed saving on Wednesday, so I fulfilled an obvious need by trekking down to a music school in Tribeca to help craft costumes for the pageant on May 21.
Volunteers were already clustered around circles of netting and dress dummies by the time I found the school. This project skewed toward a decidedly more artsy crowd than my usual haunts, and could be divided easily into two camps: Tisch students, both current and former, and a ragtag crew who had been sentenced to community service.
A Tisch girl filled with the enthusiasm that abandons most of us immediately post-college assigned me to sew metal circles to a piece of netting that had been designated as a crab head. A woman who reminded me of Omarosa, a contestant during the only season of The Apprentice I could stomach watching, was already stitching away, fretting with each stitch that she wasn’t using the best technique. I, aware that our hard work would soon be completely covered in papier mache, did not share her concerns.
We were soon joined by a man who answered my questions about his motivation as evasively as possible and a woman with electric blue eyelids that shone like a Mardi Gras mask. The four of us played tug of war with the netting for nearly two hours, eventually ending up with this:
Throughout my school years, I was obsessive about detail, often working far into the night on tedious projects that had to be just so, by my own estimations. This project brought that all back to me, but lacking the pride of ownership, I had to struggle to justify spending two hours of my life sewing two hoops onto a piece of fabric.
Then, as I was putting on my coat, the project representative popped into the room to give us her spiel about the pageant. Having recently spent a quarter of an hour contemplating the purchase of The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell – yes, you read that correctly, and no, I’m not ashamed – I was fascinated to hear that the pageant entails replenishing the oyster beds in New York Harbor. The oysters serve as natural filters in the water, something the Hudson desperately needs. She made a few jokes about how their campaigns have been successful enough that people can now kayak in the river, something I could attest to personally. Several years ago, as an intern at WABC, I had been one of the first casual kayakers to take to the water while tagging along for a segment that ultimately involved David Lee Roth and an unusually enthusiastic camera crew. My reporter had been bemused that anyone would venture into the notoriously filthy water, even while encapsulated in a plastic boat.
The Earth Celebrations girl went on to point out the colorful costume sketches taped all over the far wall, and suddenly, the hoops and the mesh made sense. Each of the costumes we had worked on will ultimately represent an animal species making a comeback in the river, and most importantly, Earth Celebrations was still looking for people to wear the costumes.
I fought back the urge to wave my hand around and promise to do it this year, next year, every year for the next decade, and warned myself to consider the crab head before making a commitment. Still, I’ve already made a commitment to this project, so is it really possible for me not to parade around in the crab costume one sunny Saturday in May?