Volume 76, Number 24 | November 1 - 7, 2006

Hanging with the Spoon Man and Deer Lady on Halloween

Villager photos by Lawrence Lerner
Spoon Man, above, and Deer Lady, below, get ready to march at the start of the Village Halloween Parade.

By Lawrence Lerner

On any other evening, Mike Sullivan might struggle to be noticed. Short and plump with a gray-speckled beard, the 53-year-old animator from Manhattan’s Clinton neighborhood is not exactly George Clooney, and his slow monotone voice trails off as he finishes his sentences.

But tonight is not just any night. It is the 33rd annual New York Village Halloween Parade, and Sullivan has risen to the occasion. Tonight, he is not himself. He is, well, Spoon Man.

The paparazzi surrounding Sullivan are in stitches as flashbulbs pop like meteors around him. He takes it in stride, showing only hints of excitement in his burgundy sweatshirt and blue overalls, as he amuses himself with tales of his costume and, on occasion, gyrates his arms to rattle the 200 white plastic spoons hot-glued onto his body. Fifty more form a rooster’s comb atop his head, adhered not to his hair but to a baseball cap turned backward.

“The spoons are cheap. And I had lots of them,” he says earnestly. “I was going to throw them out, but then I thought, ‘I’ll make a suit.’ And I still have plenty more at home.”

Around the sedate Sullivan, the air is nevertheless electric. It is 6:30 p.m. and darkness has just descended as pulsating marching-band rhythms merge with the dull roar of the crowd lined up to march in this year’s parade. Some 40,000 strong are squeezing into the six-block area around Sixth Ave. between Spring and Canal Sts. It is a cacophony of sounds and colors and dancing bodies primed to be let loose up the avenue for the three-hour procession to 23rd St.

On Dominick St. between Soho Square and Varick St., the animators of giant puppets work out their routines, prancing in unison as merengue booms in the background from a float positioned a street away. Puppet animator Laurie Kimball and her team make silk flames rise from the black cauldron that forms the centerpiece of this year’s jack-o’-lantern parade theme presentation. The cauldron will be wheeled on a cart the entire parade route. The test-run goes off without a hitch as still more photographers snap away.

After explaining the trick behind the treat (they use a gas generator lodged behind the cauldron, which is hooked up to a blower and lights, to operate the silk flames), she turns around excitedly and smiles. “Pretty neat, eh? A few of us stay along side and stoke the flame.”

She swivels her head to look at the movement around her. “Everyone is in a great mood tonight, aren’t they? The weather couldn’t be better.”

Around the corner, on the western edge of Soho Square, a circle of six musicians blast out a Dixieland jazz tune on trombones, trumpets, tuba, banjo and bass and snare drums. A hyena, two pirates, a vampire and a host of other revelers boogie to the music, courtesy of On the Lamb Band, which, for the last 12 years, has held the distinction of being the first marching band in the Halloween Parade procession, according to bandleader Gary Zema.

Zema, a dapper middle-aged man with a dark beard and deep-brown eyes, is on tuba. “We wouldn’t miss this event for the world,” he says with a grin.

Jenny Fitzsimmons wouldn’t either, though she had to stretch for a costume this year. Standing a few feet away from the brass band, wearing a paper bag over her head with the eyes cut out and prominent eyelashes, she resembles the Unknown Comic from that forgotten ’70s memory, “The Gong Show.” Upon closer inspection, however, she’s — a deer?

“See my antlers?” she says, pointing to what could be mistaken for origami figures atop the brown paper bag. “Friends of mine said I should have made my nose red to make it more obvious. But that’s the wrong holiday,” she says.

Whatever possessed you to be a deer, dear?

“I’m afraid of deer. So I wanted to be something that scared me,” she says. “And I ran out of time and found this paper bag and experimented.”

Looks as though Spoon Man has some competition after all.

Up ahead on Spring St. between Sixth Ave. and Varick St., the colorful parade floats are lined up and ready to go. In front of them is a swarm of figures on stilts: Cinderella in a long white dress cascading to the asphalt. A Daddy Warbucks look-alike in top hat and tails. A beautifully appointed genie with gems attached to his chenille vest. Eleven people in all, each stretching nearly 15 feet into the air. To stand amidst them is to feel like a cat on a porch full of rocking chairs, as they hobble and sway back and forth on their giant prosthetics to keep themselves from toppling over.

Four folks in the group are a self-defined entity, calling themselves the Mortal Beasts and Deities. Hailing from northwestern Connecticut (Falls Village, to be exact), they have made the trek to New York City for three years running, and will stay on their stilts for three hours straight tonight.

“This is an awesome event. We love coming,” says Mark Alexander, who gave up his day job as an art teacher to perform full time. “I want to do this while I still can. It takes balance, rhythm — and lots of ibuprofen.”

Within minutes, the parade marshals pull back the barricades where Spring St. meets Sixth Ave. The waiting is over. The parade has begun.

Alexander and everyone behind him move eastward, en masse, toward the intersection.

“My mother may be worried about my giving up the day job,” he says. “But look at this spectacle. She can worry all she wants, but I’m certainly not. This is awesome.”

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