Thursday, August 21, 2008


I've been working for the past couple of weeks in Provincetown, at Outer Cape Health Services, getting a taste of a funny kind of rural primary care. Though Provincetown itself has an urban feeling in many ways, because it's a resort and tourist town and a gay mecca, still, the nearest actual hospital is a community-level hospital 50 miles away, and emergency transport to tertiary care (like my hospital) requires a helicopter.

And if the fabulousness of P-town summer means lots of young men walking around the streets with hundred dollar sunglasses and no shirts, looking so relaxed and languid that is seems as if they've never had to work a day in their lives, it also means lots of people working double shifts so they can make the money they'll need when they're unemployed or underemployed in the winter. It means that in clinic, a lot of people want to push their follow-up appointments and specialist referrals a little bit farther away: "Can we do it after Labor Day?" It's like harvest time in other small towns, but the harvest is tips and hotel guests.

Provincetown has an annual Carnival, which is sort of a mixture between gay pride parades and Mardi Gras and a small town parade, except that it happens at a time with no apparent historic or religious significance other than being at the peak of high season, and presumably it helps brings in that last bit of income in before Labor Day. Like gay pride parades, the community's institutions get in the act right along with the clubs, liquor companies (Bacardi had a big float), and random assortments of people who just want to dress up in crazy outfits.

There were lots of guys in their underwear, sometimes with cowboy boots (the theme was "Wild Wild West" this year). My hero was the guy in his underwear, presumably with Type 1 diabetes, who had a device the shape and size of an insulin pump taped to his leg with tubing running up into his underwear. A heroine came while we were waiting around in line: a queen dressed as Ann Richards who was going around shaking hands with everyone and acting like she was the governor of Texas. I assume "Ann Richards" has been doing this schtick for some time now, given that the original Ann Richards is no longer with us, but maybe for your average Wonkette queen, Ann Richards has become a kind of eternal reference point, a nouveau-nerdy Judy.

Anyway, Outer Cape Health Services had a float because that's how these things work; in a gay community, if a community institution doesn' t show up for the parade, it's a troubling hint that the institution may be either a) filled with incompetents who can't get their shit together to organize a float, much less an all-year organization, or b) homophobic, or worse, both a) and b). Outer Cape Health Services has many highly competent and definitely not homophobic staff people, and therefore there was a float, and an enthusiastically staffed float at that.

Of course, I had to represent at the Carnival, not only for myself but also for other residents who will rotate out here; I would hardly want the people out here to think that the residents of my hospital are not ready to be a part of the float at Carnival, since I hope that we too acquire a reputation for being competent and queer-friendly. Other staff members kept asking me if I was ready for what was about to happen, and I acted nonchalant: "I'm from San Francisco," I said, "and I worked a lot of Pride Parades." Which is true. I've thrown a lot of condoms to crowds of hundreds of thousands.

But in fact, I wasn't ready for what was about to happen, because when we took our float down Commercial Street, unlike at San Francisco Pride, there was no wide street and there were no police barricades separating us from the crowd. And we were throwing out Mardi Gras beads to the crowd, as had a number of other floats before us, and for some reason we must have been arriving at the crest of the wave of bead frenzy because there were a fair number of people who had literally become insane with bead-madness. So although the crowd was much smaller, they were right in our faces, shouting, "BEADS! BEADS!" At one point in the route something had happened to the crowd in one particular area; they had clearly made the ugly transition from crowd to mob, crazed for beads, reaching into our float to try to grab beads that were on the floor of the float. We were literally having to push and slap people's hands away from us. It was very Lord of the Flies.

Still, other than the terrible bead mob moment, I had a great time tossing beads to people.

I had visited the nursing home in the morning, and the biographies of some of the residents are reminders that this has been a bohemian outpost for a very very long time. The old people here are not the same old people that I see in my clinic; and the young people are not the same young people either. This is a refuge, a destination, a hide-away and a place to be seen. It is not your average small town. And at the same time, it's still a small town. Two days earlier I'd had a long session with a patient, in which she was talking about secrets and deeply personal things. And this afternoon, as we drove by, I saw her, and she was shouting "BEADS!"

I tossed her some beads.


Margaret said...

That sounds great. How did I not know they have a carnival. Being estranged from New Orleans, I often wish some city or town up here would host a Mardi Gras style parade. (It's the beads that make it) Is it kid-friendly?

What an interesting observation about the difference in patients. Sounds like a valuable rotation.

Joe Wright said...

Cambridge has an annual Caribbean carnival and parade--I drove past it today on the way to the ferry to come back to P-town. Lots of great costumes and floats. Kind of a different flavor, but same broad idea. I'm not sure there are beads involved, though. As far as the P-town carnival parade goes, it's definitely kid-friendly, as long as it's OK for kids to see guys in their undies. (Most of whom look more or less like cartoon superheroes, so if you just explain that they are dressed up as characters in a comic book, you may help contextualize it, and probably really aren't lying anyway.)

Zachary said...

Glad you liked my Ann Richards idea, I had a great time working the crowd, though my feet were killing me by the end... you are correct, my friend whom you took notice of his insulin pump does have Type I diabetes. Thanks for coming out and volunteering for the parade.

Joe Wright said...

Thanks for reading! Will Ann return? Hopefully Sarah Palin queens will be tired and obsolete by next summer, though I hope people are readying their heels and shotguns for the next act in Wonkette drag. For Halloween only, of course.

And as for your friend, I mentioned him because it was great to see someone enjoying himself AND taking care of his health, without either interfering with the other. I hope you both had a great time--I did.


calvin klein mens underwear said...

that sounds amazing, makes me with i was there, i love provincetown ive been there 4 summers already.

Great Post,