"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Scourge of Small-town Parades

Paul's Epistle to Me
A little kid hopped off the Baptist Church parade float, ambled over, and handed me a pamphlet copy of Romans from the New Testament. Sparing him the 25-year-long story of my journey into agnosticism, I accepted the gospel tract and said, "Thank You."  But I was offended. Extremely offended. Not that he tried to force his religion on me. It's just...why didn't he throw me the pamphlet from the float so I could catch it? That would have been awesome.

It's a parade. All around me little kids are crawling over the sunbaked assfault--did I mispell that?--ravenously scurrying like little squirrels in search of nuts. Only instead of nuts, these kids are catching treats thrown from parade floats: hard candy, soft candy, leaky melted freeze pops the kids quickly hand to mothers in lawn chairs who grimace, then look up at the float of small-town VIPs and manage a semi-sincere thank you. 

The Jiffy Mill float is handing out boxes of muffin mix. Granted, can't throw those. It would be dangerous. The local used bookstore is handing out free paperbacks. Probably shouldn't throw those from a moving vehicle either, though as an English Major I am rather moved by the image of books soaring over the heads of little kids groveling and battling in the literal gutter for Tootsie Rolls. You see, I grant that certain freebies should not be thrown to parade goers.

BUT for Peter and Paul's sake, this was a thin paper pamphlet of The New Testament Epistle to the Romans. You roll it up like a scroll, you tie it off with a little ribbon and then you throw it from the damned--excuse me--you throw it from the saved parade float so that I can catch something at the parade. I walked most of the parade route on foot. There was candy everywhere. I could have picked up my share. But I didn't want to risk even the possibility of picking up a Tootsie Roll that some little hopeful 4-year-old was also eyeballing. So I stood politely near the corner of Main and Old US 12 and waited for a chance at something the kiddies weren't going for. Is it too much too ask of the local evangelicals that they throw the gospel at me? It's the one event of the year I wouldn't have minded.

A Cranky Lady and a Frisbee: 
My parade highlight was being recognized and waved to by not one, not two, but three of the awesome baristas from the local Biggby Coffeeshop. Being recognized by someone in the parade, being waved at from the pinnacle of a float or the edge of a six-foot-wide banner carried by three of your favorite baristas is...well, it's a special feeling...until you realize they aren't throwing free espresso beans. Then you get depressed again and tighten your grip on that epistle in your pocket. And you start wondering when the parade will end so you can cross the street safely and get to the coffee shop.

Most honest thing I heard from a fellow parade goer: a grown woman to my right looked back along the parade route, wiped high-noon sweat from her forehead and said, "Jesus, there is still a lot more stuff comin' up the road." The parade was about half-over. 

A Democratic candidate for Congress showed her willingness to work across the aisle with Republicans by throwing 5 percent less candy to children than in previous parades.

Okay, that last one wasn't true, but I haven't stopped giggling since I thought it up during the parade. What is true is that two-thirds of the way through the parade I turned left and what did I see coming my way?

Was it the Amish? 
Was it the Wells Fargo wagon? 
No, it was an antique, fully restored horse-drawn hearse made of beautiful black lacquered wood and shimmering glass windows. I squinted through the glare to see inside. Who was the 2013 Chelsea Fair and Parade Cadaver? 

No corpse, just a bunch of cardboard boxes full of frisbees. I crammed Paul's Epistle to the Romans deeper in my pocket and got ready to play catch. But the morticians were favoring parade goers on the eastern side of Main Street. Damn easterners. Damn 1st Precinct that always gets the bigger better room at the education center on Election Day. Why do they get all the funeral home frisbees? 

At last the man who may one day fill my veins with...don't go there Jake...still, a few seconds before my shot at a free frisbee came, it occurred to me--I am in my late 30s. I have already had my first *TMI ALERT* prostate exam. No way in hell am I accepting a free frisbee from a funeral home. But now it was like I couldn't dodge these little plastic discs embossed with the funeral home's name and contact information. 

It ricocheted, I kid you not, off of the traffic light pole nearby, eluded the cranky hands of the cranky woman who had invoked her Lord and Savior to proclaim her frustration upon realizing the parade was only half over. And then that macabre giveaway skidded over the asphalt and stopped two feet away from where I was crouched down, stretching my lower back and silently echoing the refrain, "Jesus, when is this parade going to end?" 

Accepting my fate, I turned and retrieved the funerary frisbee. Then, still crouched over, I turned back around. The cranky lady approached, brandishing an empty Mountain Dew bottle, and extended her hand to me indicating the frisbee was rightly hers. Had this been a foul ball at a baseball game, we would have had a problem. But lucky for her, it was a frisbee thrown into the crowd by a mortician. Smoothly, without any indication that I also had a claim on the thing, I handed it up to her. She thanked me, turned, and began gawking at a flatbed tow truck carrying a handsome young man and the wrecked full-sized sedan he'd used to win the demolition derby at the fair a couple of nights earlier.

 A couple more vehicles back was a fixed-up two door Firebird with the top down. Crammed in the back, a large poodle slumped deathlike against the upholstery, too tired even to pant in the hot sun. A little girl in the gutter paused from her Tootsie Roll foraging, looked up, and watched as the comatose dog rode past. I think, in some way, we were all of us ready for it to be over...the parade I mean. Life is good.


  1. Loved it! Great writing. Great topic. Much giggling from me. In Kodiak they had a similar parade at, wait for it, "Crab Fest"(Which I always thought was more authentic than "Krab Fest"). Half the town was in the parade. Most years it rained so it just looked like people in raincoats on the street were waving back to the people in raincoats sitting on a slow-moving firetrucks etc. Kids dove for soggy candy in oil slicked puddles. Now, I've moved away, I do miss it, and it seems very endearing :)

    1. Kodiak's parade sounds like a wonderful tradition. I can understand why you miss it.