Wednesday, July 03, 2013
With Independence Day coming on Thursday, I thought I might tell you about the parade I saw last year.
I found myself in the small town of Areola. It's a quaint little burg, the sort you see on picture postcards of New England. It has the requisite white steeple of a Protestant church peeking over leafy green trees; local businesses - an ice cream parlor, a barber shop, a locally-owned pharmacy, a hardware store that smells like a hardware store – lining Main Street; a two-story brick schoolhouse containing all classes from kindergarten through eighth grade; and a Little League baseball field sitting just off to the side of the school. The surrounding countryside is dotted with farmland, and it was quite pleasant to drive into town with the windows down, listening to the occasional "Moo!" from a cow, while the melody of chirping birds carried on the warm summer breeze.
I was hungry, so I decided to stop and eat at a joint called Tom's Diner. It appeared to be the sort of place where one might get a decent roast beef sandwich, side of mashed potatoes, savory brown gravy, maybe a nice slice of blueberry pie for dessert, and then some strong coffee for the road. I pulled into a parking spot, went up to the door, and found, much to my dismay, that it was closed for the July 4th holiday. I was on the way back to my car when I heard the sound of a marching band. I walked toward the sound. Two blocks over, I came upon a street lined on both sides with people waving flags and cheering. It seems I was just in time for Areola's Independence Day Parade. I stood transfixed as various floats, bands, military formations, and other parade participants came by, each with a message concerning freedom.
First up was a flatbed truck loaded with people denouncing various members of state, federal, and local government. They shouted obscenities and racial epithets at one another while flipping the bird to we who were spectators. While quite vociferous, they did not come to blows, nor did the people being given the finger seem to take much offense. As a matter of fact, they smiled heartily and returned the gestures with some vehemence. As the rear of the truck came into view, I saw that it sported a sign saying "Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Will Never Hurt Me!"
A float, festooned with lovely pink and purple flowers, followed behind. Twelve people occupied the float - 7 men and 5 women - and it was divided into four separate areas made to look like the insides of various buildings. In one of the mock buildings, a man and a woman were being married by a Presbyterian minister. In another, two men were being joined in civil union by a Justice of the Peace. The third little building contained two women being hitched by a Wiccan. The remaining three people, in the fourth building, showed neither delight nor distaste, carried no placards or banners showing favoritism toward one religious practice or non-religious belief system, and in general gave the sense that the practices of the others, so long as they did not foist their beliefs on them, affected them not in the least.
Next up was a cadre of marching backyard barbecue chefs. They were deliberately serving very rare hamburgers accompanied by fries cooked in trans-fat-laden oil. Meanwhile, vegetarians strode alongside, munching tofu burgers and enjoying plates of delightfully crunchy crudités and dip. Some of each drank beer, while others sipped wine, downed soft drinks, or enjoyed milkshakes variously made from whole milk, 2%, 1%, and soy. There was some good-natured ribbing concerning the supposed health risks (or benefits) of the other participant's food choices, but everybody seemed to understand that so long as they weren't being force-fed what they didn't want to eat, it was really none of their business what somebody else put into his or her mouth.
Fifteen bearded and bell-bottomed hippies came running up the street. They scattered among the crowd, flicking lighters and burning every American flag in sight. The crowd of citizens did not cheer, nor did they try to enact laws forbidding the practice. However, fifteen veterans of war followed behind, somberly replacing every flag that had been burned. As they did so, they gave a very short speech about how they had specifically fought so that the freedom to do such things as protest via flag burning would be allowed, but that they were very proud of their flag and would see to it that each burned one would be replaced by a new one. Seeing that both sides of an argument could easily be made without interference from government or legislation, the veterans and the hippies marched off arm-in-arm as the assembled throng cheered lustily.
Speaking of lust, next up was the Salute To Pornography float. A large movie screen adorned each side, and extremely graphic images were being continuously shown. However, those people who had no desire to see such things could turn away and ignore it. In order to be fair to the more prudish members of the audience, a loudspeaker on the float blared out: "Here comes the porno! If you don't want to see it, shut your eyes! If you don't want to hear it, go "Lalalalalalalala!" for the next minute or so! If you don't want your kids to see or hear it, tell them to shut their eyes and go "Lalalalalalalala!" for the next minute or so! Please move to the back of the crowd and face the other way while doing so, though, since you don't want to ruin the enjoyment of anyone else! Thank you!"
The float rolled by without major incident (a few teens were reluctant to follow parental orders, but were dragged away before they could be gratified to a greater extent than their parents wished.)
I was enjoying myself immensely. A cigarette, I felt, would make my circle of happiness complete. I asked the person to my right if she minded if I smoked. She replied, "I don't care if you burn!" Having gotten the go-ahead from her, I turned to the person on my left and asked if he'd mind. He said that he had a slight asthmatic condition and would prefer that I not light up near him. Totally reasonable response, so, rather than inconvenience him, I removed myself to the back of the crowd and lit up there, blowing my smoke away from everyone.
(On the way, I tapped a few "Lalalalalalalala" folks on the shoulder and let them know that the porn float had gone by. They thanked me for thinking of them, and then asked me if they had missed anything. "Not too much," I responded. "There were some folks walking unlicensed dogs, and a car full of people making jokes about TSA's.")
After I finished my smoke, I returned to my spot at the front (graciously saved for me by the man whose asthma I didn't exacerbate. Ironically, I didn't get to see the Burning Leaves Without A Permit float, and he had to use his inhaler twice while it went by.)
Another loudspeaker announcement was heard: "Here come the women who believe they should have the same rights as men! They're wearing no tops! If you don't want to see titties, turn your heads!" Most of the folks who were returning from not having watched the porno float sighed and walked back to their former non-viewing spots at the back of the crowd. I felt a bit sorry for them, but then my attention was drawn by the marching boobs. Hubba-Hubba! Sure, there were a few grannies with droopies (and more power to them) as well as a few folks whose breasts were smaller than mine (I'm a 42-A) but the lovely variety of sizes, shapes, sways, bounces, and colors was absolutely dazzling. It was one of the best troops of tits (that's the scientific term) that I've ever had the pleasure of seeing in action.
After the breasts came a collection of Priests, Rabbis, Ministers, Imams, Monks, Practitioners, Nuns, Ascetics, and other assorted religious folk. They were all saying prayers of one stripe or another, with each one realizing that, since his or her deity was the only real one, it didn't matter a whit what the other folks were saying since it was all just talk, so why not let them babble as much as they want and who is it going to hurt?
Some atheists tagged along behind. They joked a bit about those in front of them, but not to the extent that anyone had reason to get angry.
The parade was nearing an end. I could see two more floats coming.
The first was filled with AK-47s, pistols, slingshots, canisters of pepper spray, nunchuks, rifles, nail guns, ice picks, machetes, cricket bats, and knives. All of the various weapons were NOT in the hands of people and thus were entirely harmless. Those riding the float were explaining to the crowd that expertise with these implements could be an effective deterrent to violent crime, dictatorship, and other assorted nasty and selfish acts. A copy of the Second Amendment was prominently displayed, and the riders took great pains to point out that it's always better to actually know how to operate your weapon safely - loading and unloading the guns in a safe fashion, taking apart the more complicated weaponry and putting it back together, knowing how such things as safeties worked, sheathing the knives without cutting off any body parts, and also not inadvertently putting out someone's eye with the slingshots, for example - than to rush out, willy-nilly, to buy one while thinking there's no chance that you won't destroy a loved one with it.
The last float was done up in tie-dye, with lava lamps strewn about, and had humongous speakers blasting Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, and Snoop Dogg. The riders on the float were tossing huge fatties of marijuana into the crowd. Those folks who liked pot were lighting up (after first asking the folks next to them if it was OK, of course) and those who didn't like the effect just ignored the joints in the street.
(A few people in wheelchairs and hospital beds followed behind, some being assisted along the route with the aid of friends. They gathered up the leftover weed, toked up, and had some of their most heinous pains and ailments relieved almost immediately. I tossed them the handful of bones I had picked up.)
At the very end of the parade was the Mayor of Areola. He was riding in a 1997 Chevy Blazer, not a limousine, and he was doing the driving himself. His paycheck, equal to the average net income of all residents and thus inexorably tied to the prosperity his administration brought to the town, was proudly displayed. I hadn't noticed the reviewing stand across the street from where I stood. The Mayor pulled up to it and got out, then mounted the steps to the stage. He stepped up to the microphone and said...
"Fellow citizens of Areola, Happy Independence Day! I'm glad you've had a good time at our celebration, but, as you know, true freedom must be coupled with personal responsibility. We are really only free if we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions. If you get drunk, you have no right to piss and moan about the hangover you might have the next day. And none of us is truly free unless we are willing to extend to our fellow men and women the same freedoms we truly crave. So, please go forth, with love and respect, for all whose beliefs and actions may differ from yours, understanding that they are likely to afford you that same love and respect if you do so. In other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And know that every time you build a jail, the possibility exists that someday you might be the one thrown into it. Thank you!"
The crowd reacted with hearty applause, then dispersed peacefully as fireworks erupted in the background. I had to be in Perineum before nightfall - it's almost exactly halfway between Boston and New York City - so I walked back to my car, got in, and drove off.
Later that evening, as I lay in bed in my motel room watching the 11 o'clock news, I saw that every last citizen of Areola had been arrested and the federal government had declared martial law in the town. It seems that what I thought was a fireworks display had actually been the local Internal Revenue Service office being blown up.
Oh, well. I still say it was the best 4th of July parade I've ever seen.
Soon, with more better stuff.