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You see them marching down Commercial Street in bejeweled armadas--three, four, sometimes 10 deep--sheets of flat-ironed hair slappingat the tiny straps of their backless minidresses, and airbrushed makeup the hue of Easter decorations. As they trot by in their towering heels, horror seeps from the faces of the beach bum locals, who consider whether to call the police, or the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's a Friday night in Provincetown, in late August, and the mise-en-scene of this delicate ecosystem, plopped atop a sandbar in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is being threatened by a new and unfamiliar scourge. They are called, simply, The Bachelorettes.
If you ask the P-Town denizens, these bachelorettes are yanked directly from bad reality TV: loud, dismissive, entitled, violent Hummer-dealership versions of human beings. When they're not skipping out on bar tabs and throwing drinks at the DJ, you might spot them in the waking hours, considerably more docile after a modicum of calm and shame sets in, doing a little shopping around town with an alcohol-meets-gravity-induced black eye or a splintered finger.
Provincetown has never seen anything like it, and now they are coming in, quite literally, by the bus- and boat-loads nearly every weekend from June through September.
"We traced this back to four years ago and an article on Boston.com," says Tom Yaz, a video jockey at the P-Town haunt Wave Bar. That article listed Provincetown, among other destinations, as a great New England spot for brides-to-be to celebrate with their friends.
"Before that, we were getting June brides," Yaz says. "They were mostly well-behaved. Now we are inundated by menacing packs of them."
There was a time not too long ago when mainstream acceptance of gay people stopped short at marriage equality and, at least in more civilized parts of the country, a hen party wouldn't dare invade a gay bar, where flaunting your upcoming nuptials in front of a crowd that didn't have the same right was inarguably offensive. I once witnessed a hen party get tossed from a gay bar in Brooklyn for precisely that reason. The bartender called them "disgusting idiots" for even trying. But now, it seems, with gay marriage the law of the land, all bets are off for the bachelorettes.
"They walk into a gay bar and grope gay men old enough to be their fathers," Yaz says. "They think they're their best friends, just because they're gay."
They usually head straight to Yaz's DJ booth with music requests, "straight-up ghetto hip-hop, Top 40, or completely odd requests," Yaz says. "One time, this bridesmaid wanted me to play Phil Collins's, 'Take a Look at Me Now.' I'm playing high-energy dance music, and I have a packed room. Why would I want to do something like that?" When Yaz rejected her request, she pulled her cocktail back as if she was about to throw it at him.
"Later that night, it was reported, she did throw a drink at a bartender at the A-House," Yaz says.
I'm chatting with Yaz outside his DJ booth at Wave Bar when a hen party gyrates through the door. Now Yaz has a simple solution to get rid of them. "I just immediately put on gay nightclub classics. Classic disco and show tunes are the audio equivalent of Mace to those people."
Yaz puts on "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys. "Watch," he says. "There's no ghetto, there's no girls, there's no pitchy voices. They can't relate." Sure enough, as though something is jamming their radars, the bridesmaids immediately slow down, and their faces grow long. They take out their phones. One approaches Yaz to request Britney Spears.
"We're brides-to-be," she says. "You can't play one song for us?"
"Do you know where you are?" Yaz scolds. "You are in a gay bar with men in their 40s, and I'm playing to my demographic."
"Fuck you," the bridesmaid says. The group leaves. Yaz says they've noticeably hurt his business. On Yelp, a month earlier, multiple reviewers wrote about this, including one named Mark F.: "EGHHH full of bachelorette parties. There are better places in P-town that won't treat the gays like zoo animals. Was there this past Saturday and there were about 60 straight girls there with all their annoying antics! I wish Wave took this into consideration and did not allow organized bachelorette parties. It's disruptive and doesn't make people feel comfortable."
Outside the A-House, where the doormen do their best to keep the bachelorettes away (although, legally, they can't discriminate), a local waiter tells me that last weekend a hen party skipped out on a $300 dinner tab.
"I don't know why there are so many this year," the doorman at the A-House tells me. "They take over the dance floor and scare all the guys away."
(On the A-House's Yelp listing, one reviewer named Jessica B. wrote: "Was there for my bachelorette party last night.... [The door woman] took one look at us and said we're not allowed to come in. She said there's not enough security to handle us. What does that even mean? If this is the best place to go out I suppose you have to look a certain way to get in. Discrimination much?")
Determined to find some bachelorettes who will let me spend the night bar-hopping around Provincetown with them, I go to MacMillan Pier on Saturday morning to await the first boat from Boston. Immediately, I encounter a sextuplet of blondes wearing team bride tank tops. Maid of honor Stacey will not shake my hand. I ask if I can hang with them tonight.
"I don't think so," Stacey says. "Girls only."
I am completely befuddled. "In Provincetown?" I ask. She is standing only feet away from a gaggle of bearded men sipping Muscle Milk and talking about Beyonce.
"Sorry," Stacey says in a smug, dense way.
On the 3:30 boat, I encounter four other packs of bachelorettes, and despite my hollow attempts to earn their favor by gushing "congratulations!" and "who's the lucky fellow?" and "wow, look at that rock!" they seem suspicious of me.
I get the impression they already think that just being here in itself might constitute a slightly immoral choice, and they only want to brush the thought aside and plow onward and downward for the next couple of days before returning to Falmouth, or wherever, where at least they will have plenty to talk about with their hairdressers.
That night, I stop by the Underground and run into my friend Justine in the DJ booth. I ask if she's seen any bachelorettes.
"The foreboding girls with the blow-up penises?" she replies. "You just missed 'em. They went east," she says.
Back at Wave Bar, I find a foursome from the Boston suburbs: bride-to-be Amber, getting hitched next month to a man she met in the first grade, and her bridesmaids--Caroline, Katie, and Sarah, all in their mid-20s.
"Oh my God, we love it here. It's so much fun, right?" maid of honor Sarah exclaims, slurping on a bowl of fruit floating in an electric-blue liquid. "We didn't consider anywhere else."
I ask if they've encountered any hostility from locals.
"Oh my God, no," says Sarah. "Is that, like, a thing?"
I say some people are offended by the bridal party takeover of Provincetown, that they feel a bit gawked at, like animals in the zoo.
"This interview is over!" Sarah shouts as she takes Amber by the shoulders to lead her away. "We're just trying to have a good time," she says, telling Caroline and Katie, "Don't talk to him."
I go next door to the Vault, one of Provincetown's hardcore-porn, red-light, sex-pig bars. David, the bartender, has had enough.
"This has been the worst year yet, and it has been worse every year," he says. Earlier in the season, a bunch of women came in, took out their phones, and began recording men in heavy cruise mode and the porn on the TVs. "I told them, 'Ladies, there's no recording in here,' and they said, 'Fuck you.' I had to call security and make them erase their phones."
I call up Jenn Harris, stage and screen actress, writer, and star of a new Web series, New York Is Dead, for a gal's perspective.
"I think I know these girls from my hometown," Harris says. "I think it comes down to comedy. They think they are putting themselves in a comedic situation. And it's a night where you're going to have a blast, so you go where the fun is. And where is the fun? Gay men. That is true. But just because it's a gay bar doesn't mean there are going to be people in drag who are super-excited to play with you. You kind of have to earn your acceptance."
It's probably no fault of their own that these young women aren't the most sensitive creatures inhabiting the Eastern Seaboard.
"Generally," Harris continues, "women are caring people. Women feel terrible when they think they've hurt someone. If a drag queen or a bar manager plopped down with these women and actually talked to them, and said, 'I feel like you're objectifying us and you make me feel uncomfortable,' here's how that would go down: One girl would be a bitch -- only because she was confused. One would yell about it. And the other three would feel terrible. And the sixth one would bawl her eyes out, and not leave until everyone was friends again. The next day, she'd be the one to send an Edible Arrangement."
She adds, "Women are way more dynamic than the cages people put them in, and this one just happens to be a hen cage."
I pop back over to Wave Bar, where Mikey the bartender is serving a group of women in team bride tiaras.
"I love them," Mikey says. "I'm a Buddhist now, and I believe in karma. It's revenge for all those Gay Pride parades. You want equal rights? Fine. But don't expect Satan's legion, i.e., the bachelorettes, not to show up eventually."
I check in on Yaz and find that another group of girls has approached the DJ booth.
"We're here, and you're gonna hate us!" one says.
"OK, ladies. Here come the show tunes. I've got an old Angela Lansbury medley coming your way!"
The girls request something else.
"A little Angela Lansbury goes a long way," he says.
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