I don’t like brightly colored flags, or sunshine, or young girls with big ears, braided ponytails and sundresses. I don’t intend to squander one minute of my precious time standing on hot asphalt looking up through long strings of fluttering banners at the big, blue sky with a shit-eating grin on my face and a sense of wonder in my heart. That sort of behavior is for children who don’t know any better and small-minded adults who believe they have time to kill, not for people who live purposefully. Not for those of us who have real work to do.
My father, a buffoon and jokester to the core from the first day I remember meeting him to the day he died, loved parades. Thought they were great fun. Made me get up early on Saturday mornings and go downtown with him before the crowds arrived so that we could get the best spot on the sidewalk to wave at the passing floats. The noise and activity, the colors and smells, the masses of people—ordinary people just like him—energized him. Made him smile and laugh, excitedly hop from foot-to-foot as the tubas and trumpets triumphantly marched by, the sunlight bouncing off their polished brass, their owners blowing horribly off-tune notes into our faces like so much spittle and venom.
Sometimes the beaming parade marshals or the painted clowns in their rainbow-colored wigs threw candy at the masses. My father, ever the child, made a great game of catching it, or picking it up off the streets and stuffing it into the pockets of his sport coat. Every so often, he unwrapped a piece, popped it into my mouth and patted me on the head like he was doing me the biggest favor in the world. I grinned at him to make him happy. But as soon as he turned away, as soon as his attention was caught by the Shriners in their ridiculous maroon fezzes or by the happy-go-lucky Chinese dragon-walkers, I spit that shit into the gutter. Candy is too sweet. It’s sticky and unhealthy, a waste of money that rots your teeth and makes you fat and stupid. I’m neither, and I never will be.
Yes, my father loved parades. St. Patrick’s Day. Christmas. Easter. Thanksgiving Day. The Fourth of July. Columbus Day. Anytime anybody got together in our town to stomp up and down the boulevards in costume with a high-stepping, baton-twirling majorette in the lead, my father was there, with me at his side.
But I ask you, What good did these celebrations do him?
My father worked on the assembly line at Ford. Bolted heavy steel hinges to the frames of Ford station wagons and pickup trucks five days a week, fifty weeks a year until he retired. But he didn’t have anything to show for his career at the end of it except a meager pension, a 35-year-service lapel pin, and of pocketful of crumpled-up candy wrappers. His silver and gold wasn’t precious metal, it was tin foil, and worthless. My mother couldn’t even afford a decent headstone for him when he died. Just a flat plaque set flush with the ground. A thin slice of granite engraved with his name and the years of his unremarkable birth and even more unremarkable death. No room on it for an inscription, and what would it read anyway? “Here lies a man who worked at a factory, married a woman, raised a son and loved parades?” It’s a pathetic non-monument to a failed life. You can hardly even see it when the grass gets high at the cemetery. My mother shouldn’t have bothered with that stone. Should’ve saved the money for groceries, or something practical.
So what good did parades do my father? What good do they do anybody?
Not a goddamned thing.
My father’s life was a waste. But I learned something valuable from him: I learned that I’m not going to let my life add up to nothing.
They say a man named John Philip Sousa is the world’s greatest composer of music for marching bands. That his horrendous cacophony Stars and Stripes Forever is the National March of the United States of America. Good for him. Good for you. Bang your drums and cymbals and blow your horns all you want; I’m a man now, my father is dead, and I don’t stand on the curb watching parades anymore.
John Philip Sousa can fuck himself.