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The Ninio in the Room

The Ninio in the Room


For the first time in my life, I was actually hoping to see the police.

Dorota and I were walking through the streets of Krakow on a day almost like any other, slurping from a shared mie,ty czekoladowe ice cream cone. But there were subtle differences: that day, the sun was blocked by a giant rainbow flag, and we were marching with a few hundred queers who were either half-naked or wearing extravagant costumes. Except for me in my navy overalls, it was Pantone overload. We were happy to give the March of Tolerance some legs, but angry not to see any cops there to protect us.

We marched behind a truck-sized banner that said NIE LEKAJCIE SIE. To get this made, we were told, the organizers had to commission a discreet printing service, one that had specialized in samizdat during Communist rule. (As you can see, they forgot the accents.)

We had no floats. This was, after all, an illegal parade. Lech Kaczyn'ski, mayor of Warsaw and leader of the Law and Justice Party, had been the first to ban a Polish pride parade. When angry Warsaw homos demanded an audience with him, he said he "refused to meet with perverts." That's okay with me. I wouldn't want to meet with Lech, either, because I wouldn't be able to stop myself from play-wrestling him to the ground and writing my name on his forehead. I have no problem being called a "pervert," but if anyone's going to violate my right to assemble, I want them to know exactly who they're fucking with.

Unfortunately, Lech's institutionalized hatred caught on, and it was no container of cherries.

Conversation gradually broke off as we left Universytet Jagiellon'ski and marched through the Stare Miasto. Chanting took over:

Nie le,kajcie sie
Nie le,kajcie sie

Krakow is a small town with ancient ideas. You can feel ridiculous shouting slogans to a garlic peddler sweeping the dust off her square of sidewalk, even though you know she's part of the problem. Not joining the parade, we're told, is her crime.

Nie le,kajcie sie
Nie le,kajcie sie

Do not be afraid

How edifying to hear this yelled in your ear by a queen wearing purple leotards and flapping a pair of chiffon bumblebee wings. We were an unstoppable force of human unicorns, fairies, and seahorses--as well as a disproportionate number of birds--screaming at old ladies. Really, though, we were behaving like elephants in musth, a condition in which they experience a sudden 6,000 percent surge in hormones.

As noon rolled by and folks left work and school for lunch, we attracted a thicker crowd of onlookers. Some appeared friendlier than others. Smirks were hard to read, unless they were accompanied by the following chants:

Pedaly do gazu
Pedaly do gazu

Zoologists cannot properly investigate the musth phenomenon, because even the most docile elephant, when in that supercharged state, may kill any human it sees.
Dorota and I spotted the first T-shirt about thirty minutes into the parade. A guerrilla team was throwing this latest fashion item to the marchers who begged most for them. The front had an icon of a pink elephant, and the back said BECAUSE GOD MADE ME THIS WAY. KRAKOW STAMPEDE 2005.

One size fits all

There was more Ninio hysteria: hand-painted cardboard signs that said, "SUCK MY TRUNK," "I LIKE IT ROUGH," and "SCREW PEANUTS, GIVE ME COCK."

That was the day I fell out of love with slogans, when I realized that such short combinations of words were never meant to carry so much meaning. Polish verbs are resilient, but the nouns simply melt under the pressure.

"I'm not putting on the damn T-shirt," I said to Dorota, throwing the rest of our ice cream on the cobblestone street. It melted almost instantly and settled in the cracks. "This is not what Ninio is supposed to be about."

"You know, they'll try to make us put it on."

"We'll tell them we're both recovering from elbow surgery. Can't lift our arms higher than a 'fuck you.'"

Elephants in musth go nuts, it's thought, when their temporal ducts swell and exert immense pressure behind the eyes. Imagine the pain from an abscessed tooth, but instead behind the cornea, pushing insanity with every throb.

Pedaly do gazu

I was livid that Ninio was becoming a maskotka, and that I was now marching for God. I had long refused to be part of any Divine Plan, and I didn't see the point in borrowing and redressing arguments the church had devised. Subversion is cowardly that way. Sure, Ninio could help the gay cause, but his silkscreened image could do little for transphobia. And it was anathema to atheists.

Why couldn't Ninio simply fuck other males because he wanted to? Why did he need permission from above?

We quickened our pace, and the bullhorns squawked louder than ever. Perhaps we were feeling the pressure of the crowd, who now easily outnumbered us five to one, and who were getting nastier with their comments.

Doloz.ymy wam to, co Hitler zrobil z Z'ydami

Tomek, an acquaintance I knew from the gallery scene, cut through the ranks to us.
"Well, if it isn't S. Mok Wawelski, the art star. What are you cooking up next?"
"I have ideas for London, but San Francisco has post-fire details that blow my mind," I said. "Listen, did you know this was going to turn into a Fags for Jesus parade?"

"Radek, don't isolate yourself. We're in a position to score some victories this year, but you have to understand that it's going to happen collectively." The bumblebee buzzed past us, disguised as an elephant, fluttering his wings in time to the wave of fists punching the air. "We'd be fools to think we can do it alone."
"By 'we,' do you mean me?"

"I know what you guys are up to," Tomek said, motioning to Dorota, "and there is concern that this is causing division in the community."

I hoped I had misunderstood his slant. He pulled me aside, away from Dorota.
"Your friend is straight," he continued. "Have you ever thought about how this makes some of us feel? And what do you think she's really after?"

At first, elephant keepers thought that musth was sexual. Then they found the killing grounds where elephants had separated rhinos from their limbs and turned whole crashes of them into goulash for vultures.

"Fuck off," I said to Tomek, to keep myself from hitting him. "I hope you'll be happy when we win the right to be as fascist as our oppressors."

The shock on his face was priceless.

I rejoined Dorota.

"What did he say?" she asked. "I think he has a crush on you."

"He's an idiot," I said.

"You know, I missed a class for this," she said, punching me in the arm. I usually liked it when she erased the physical boundaries between us, but in this case, her timing was wrong. "I guess our elephant rescue plan just tanked."

"We'll find something else. Don't worry."

Dorota punched me again, or so I thought, but it wasn't a fist. It was a half-full can of Okocim beer that someone had thrown. The crowd was pressing in, narrowing the street into a sliver, and forcing us to march single-file. Our lead banner was scrunched like an accordion, and some of the onlookers coated our path with gobs of smoker's phlegm. It began to feel like a march to the gallows.

Doloz.ymy wam to, co Hitler zrobil z Z'ydami
Doloz.ymy wam to, co Hitler zrobil z Z'ydami

We'll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews

I saw Tomek blotting his bloody temple with a rainbow flag. He was the first to get beaned by a rock. I felt sorry we had quarrelled. After all, we were fighting for the same freedoms, just in different ways.

A hooligan smashed a bottle high on a brick wall above us, and I was done, for the day, with sentiment. I helped Dorota pick the shards of glass out of her hair and throw them back. Senseless, yes, but we were trapped. Then came the sweet whiff of human shit, the stench of bowel movements gone wrong. The crowd was pelting us with paper bags loaded with excrement, sealed, no doubt, with the kiss of death.

The unicorn got covered in diarrhea.

Musth, some say, is a myth, the biggest grift in the animal kingdom. The fact is that all animals have pissy moments and need to express their rage on the nearest available sack of organs and bones.

Our bodies told us that this was no time for parkour. We could've leapt over cars, vaulted fire hydrants, and taken to air on the hands of our enemies, but it would've made poor news footage.

Pedaly do gazu
Pedaly do gazu

Gas the queers

This slogan wasn't aimed at her, or course, but Dorota was the queerest girl around, and I knew she felt the hit.

She pelted it back. Dorota gathered every slimy piece of feces she could find--wiping it off marchers, herself--and slung it wildly at the crowd. She even jumped over heads to aim curveballs at the neo-Nazis on the fringe. Her enthusiasm caught on, and soon we were all elbow-deep in this stinking revolt, fighting for our centimetres of cobblestone--and winning them.

Then sirens, and the beautiful sounds of police beating their riot shields with batons. Rescue. Only they came right at us, hitting and kicking faggots and dykes and gender-nonconformists and the !bisexual threat, pounding us into pockets of solidarity and then breaking us up until we were alone and defenceless. Pulling our hair and dragging us down the street. The police arrested Tomek and a number of others, but not before detaching their earlobes from their heads with savage rips.

To please the crowd. To make the show worth losing a lunch hour for.

We were forced to run away. I would describe the expert parkour moves we executed, but all things considered, it's just too shameful.

Reprinted by permission. To purchase Krakow Melt, click here.

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Daniel Allen Cox