For the Kids
By Jesse Archer
The ice-cream truck on Avenue C is playing 'It's a Small World.' Inside sits a local Latino. His old-school truck is plastered over with rainbow rocket pops and graffiti. It's definitely been around since before Alphabet City became trendy. Back before gentrification, when it was Avenue C for Crime.
The ice-cream man will soon be priced out too, and I find that sad because he is local flavor. He puts smiles on faces -- a Puerto Rican purveyor of high-calorie happiness. He looks up briefly as I walk by with my boyfriend. 'Faggots!' he calls out, and returns to eating a chimichanga.
Was that a San Juan hello? Wow. Mister Softee just called me a faggot. And the way he said it -- so casually, without any anger. He called us faggots in the way you might warn a stranger not to step in a pile of dog shit. The Softee-mobile chirps out nursery rhymes while Mister Softee sits inside gnawing on that deep-fried chimichanga (is it chicken or beef?). Above him a sign proclaims The Very Best! I go over to hurl insults -- but wait, I don't have all day.
'That's not good for business!' I say, and he looks down at me from his soft-serve throne. His shirt is tatty and stained and strains tight around a big, bulbous middle. 'Don't hold hands,' he tells me righteously. 'There are children around.' That's justification? We were holding hands.
Isn't it always the same? Scapegoat the children to trample anyone you want. He was only defending the glass-encased rubric of his family values for little people everywhere. How noble. It's nothing personal. He's no bigot. As with any other injustice, it was carried out in the necessary interest of somebody else's children.
'You respect us!' I yell up to him (I hate that), and he calmly answers me, 'You respect the children.' Now, in my mind there is no doubt that he holds his children to the same standards he has set for himself: the very best! And although he can't keep track of his waistline, I'm sure he can confirm his kids aren't into drugs or delinquency or those ghastly rainbow sprinkles.
As a model of good parenting, he guards his offspring from gays and select other wussy perversions, like hugs. So it is easy to see how I undermined his hard work with my flagrant public display of same-sex hand-holding (SSHH). It was his civic duty to quash this behavior before it spreads. He had no choice. Gays are notorious trendsetters, and it appears they're now into sidewalk recruitment.
The funny thing is that though we may set trends, it is not trendy to be us. Mister Softee is in the majority. All manner of parents are shielding their spawn from SSHH. My friends Casper and Ryan held hands on a bus trip to Boston. Across the aisle, a father insisted they stop such scandal -- his son was right there! -- and when they refused, he very publicly threatened to call the police because SSHH is a very serious crime. Or at least it should be. Is it contagious?
Mister Softee putters off. His speakers still blare the 'It's a Small World' melody, and maybe that's the fear. Children may learn from us that there are better things to do with hands than form them into fists.
As trendsetters, we are on the cutting edge of this daring new trend. Affection for everyone could go mainstream. Let us practice explicit SSHH often and without permission, and when the ambush comes (and it will come), we will casually answer that it's all the rage, the latest craze. We're doing it for the children.