Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
May 15, 2002:
You love a parade? I love a P-rade!
By Hugh O'Bleary
There are scores of families in New York City
who every November bundle the kids up and take them out to see the
Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. "Look at the 50-foot Snoopy!"
Or, come March, dress them in green and line Fifth Avenue for the
St. Patricks Day Parade. "Look at the bagpipers! Look
at the dancers! Dont look at the man throwing up in the gutter!"
In Philadelphia, its the Mummers Parade on New Years
Day. "Look at the funny men with the banjos!" On the other
side of the country, in Pasadena, the Rose Parade is the attraction.
"Look at the floats!" In New Orleans, its the Mardi
Gras Parade. "Dont you dare look at anything!"
All grand traditions, certainly. But they are, every one, mere ditties
when compared to the symphony of steppin out; mere foothills
next to the Everest of celebratory processionals. I speak, of course,
of the P-rade. "Look at the old guys in orange sportcoats!"
Ah, but it is much more than that.
For those families lucky enough to live in Princeton,
the P-rade is an annual rite, an afternoon of emotion, inspiration
and, lets face it, a lot of laughs. (Most of them fashion-related.)
When they were very young, my kids were most taken
with what are really only the extras the marching bands,
the antique cars, the calliope, the guy in the tiger suit. But very
quickly they caught on to the essence of the event. They loved to
cheer for the Oldest Grad, to pick out families P-rading together
and to count the locomotives exchanged between the marching classes
and the assembled seniors lining the way. (We always stake out a
spot across from the graduating class, for maximum energy.)
They also could never get enough of critiquing
each classs threads and themes. (The Japanese lanterns of
54 remain a favorite.) I was always happy to have them exposed
to the genuine emotion of the day: families and friends assembled
in a celebration of achievement and community. I figured I was exposing
them to one long, shambling, multigenerational, orange-and-black-clad
role model. (Never mind the public drinking.)
From a purely sociological standpoint, of course,
the P-rade remains, well, unique. Imagine a human behaviorist from
another culture making his or her way through the wilds of central
New Jersey to emerge onto campus on the morning of the event. What
would he or she make of this bizarre ritual?
An extremely old man unmistakably the village
elder leads the members of his tribe, all dressed in variations
of a highly symbolic uniform. Clearly, they worship the tiger. Groups
of the celebrants carry pictorial representations that are identifiable
(in some instances, at least) as themselves when younger, seemingly
inviting comparison. This is a practice seen in no other society
on earth. Other members of the tribe carry placards emblazoned with
cryptic messages that elicit hoots and cheers from the watchers.
One tribe member perhaps an outcast of sorts passes
on his hands. There is much repeating of talismanic words, a kind
of a guttural chant that sounds almost like "Sis-sis-sis-boom-boom-boom."
A plea to some fearsome god, no doubt.
It must also be observed that this society has
a very strange approach to the mixing of the sexes: women are confined
to the groups marching only in the last third of the procession.
Finally, it would be worth analyzing or even sampling strictly
in the interests of scientific inquiry, mind you some of
the various liquids carried and imbibed throughout by so many participants
in the procession.
Just think, the whole thing, with a number of
colorful photographs, would make a fascinating piece for National
Geographic. Or, just maybe, a cover story in Parade.
See you along the route!
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" firstname.lastname@example.org