Tag Archives: on the town

The Mardi Gras of Coleberry Lake

The carnival reached its climax with the Winter Carnival Parade, which marched down Main Street this weekend, with Bob running sound for one of the floats, and me hanging out by the print store to watch.  It was the best.

Toward the top of the parade, we had an appearance by the official mascot Fluffy the Snow Owl, a “suited character” specifically commissioned for the carnival season.  Fluffy’s costume is effectively cute, which is saying something for an owl, but the headpiece’s sightlines are murder, and the actor inside keeps looking down at her feet to keep from tripping.  This of course translates into a snow owl who’s perpetually hanging her head and slouching while she walks, a real Charlie Brown of the wilderness.  Even when some kid called for her attention, Fluffy would only look up for a moment to wave before inevitably hanging her head again, and dragging herself down the rest of the parade route.  “What a week I’m having…”  Of course, all this only made her more endearing.  You wanted to buy Fluffy a drink and lend an ear to her troubles.

Next came the floats.  This year’s theme was Medieval Times, so it was probably inevitable that there would be a number of floats themed to Python’s “Holy Grail”–though cleverly, each local business chose a different part of the film that was suited to their sphere.  The local hardware store, for instance, focused on construction, and marched with a trojan bunny.  Our church, with its obvious focus being religion, marched as the famous chanting monks, periodically whacking themselves with (foam) boards.  As for the local tuberculosis research facility, they of course focused on the plague, and had the “not dead yet” guy in a wheelbarrow.  Groups with no Python fandom still honored the theme, with the womens’ synchronized lawn chair marchers re-upholstering the seats of their “instruments” with royal crests, and the beard-crazy Brothers of the Bush (essentially a bear scene for straight people, yes even straight women) getting kilted and vikinged out.  The whole event became an anatomy lesson in the building blocks of this town, filtered through a Renfair prism.

Though some groups stuck to what they knew.  The Shriners, who have probably paraded as clowns for the past thirty years, paraded as clowns once again, inadvertent contestants in a John Wayne Gacy lookalike contest.  The various Re-enactors, too, fired rifles and marched in their appropriate period garb like always, since they couldn’t figure how to cross-breed two eras of American history with one era of British.  (Not Harry Turtledove fans, I’m guessing…)

My favorite marchers wound up being the Coleberry Lake Green Circle and The Whistlestop Bar, probably because they were both so nuts.

The Coleberry Lake Green Circle had this troupe of bucket drummers with them, all in these very cool, very creepy, carnival masks.  The men and women at the front of the group dressed as rangers and neo-pagan madrigal ladies, with lots of leaves and greenery on everything.  I don’t know what any of it had to do with composting and sustainable living, but as a promotional exercise, it sold me.

The Whistlestop Bar constituents dressed as sock monkeys, which I know, has nothing at all to do with the medieval theme, but you know what?  I love sock monkeys, and I love them even more when they are visibly manic.  These folks were prancing and hopping around like they could surge into Kricfalucian frenzy at any moment, crazier than the extras in “The Crazies”, I kid you not.  And while some of them were college-age kids, many of them were decidedly not, and the older ones were even nuttier.  This one guy who looked like he ran a roadside gas station kept bouncing around with his tongue hanging out, poised on the edge of transmutation into some horndog cartoon character.

* * *

The sock moneys came toward the tail-end of the parade, and this was appropriate, because they served to smooth the transition from “small town fun” to “shitfaced frenzy” that occurred immediately following the event.  The balconies on Main Street were all stocked with revelers.  The bucket drummers from the Green Circle made their way from storefront to storefront, jammed in the street with other musicians, and then actually headed inside to jam in the stores.  The air was not entirely dangerous, but not entirely safe either, like Woodstock with just a hint of Altamont.

I bought a couple of bottles of wine and headed back home to the apartment, to cook a Betty Crocker recipe for Chicken & Dumplings, as Bob and I were having a guest over for card games later that evening.  I felt the pull of the carnival, but figured I’d engage in the madness another night.

For now, it was just nice to know it was there.

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Buzz, Plop, Stop

Telltale signs of under-planning did not take long to show themselves at the Wolf Mountain Judy Garland Sing-Along, for which Bob had a gig playing piano a few weeks back.

It started when, toward the top of the set, the singers launched into that ubiquitous Judy Judy Judy standard from “Meet Me In St. Louis”. You know, “Clang clang clang went the trolley, ding ding ding went the bell”?

Hoping to encourage some audience participation, the performers handed out noisemakers, so that audience members could make sounds to coincide with the various onomatopoeias in the song. A pot and a spoon went to the folks who would be handling the “clangs” of the trolley, for instance. A bell and finger-cymbals went to all the “dings”. Rubber bands for the “zings of her heartstrings”. You get the picture.

Trouble was, the organizers only handed out enough noisemakers to make those three sounds: The clang, the ding and the zing. For Garland novices out there, the so-called “Trolley Song” has at least three more sound effects in it—specifically, a buzz (of the buzzer), a plop (of the wheels) and a stop (heartstrings again).

So while things were already shaky when the singers got to the “clang”, the “ding” and the “zing”, with any children overzealously banging their pans and snapping their rubberbands, the singalong equivalent of mass hysteria broke out once those mystery sounds came along.

Everybody started looking around like, Who’s doing the buzz?  How the hell are we supposed to do the plop without getting arrested? The only person who didn’t miss a beat was that little girl crashing her finger cymbals together like the toy monkey in Stephen King’s eponymous horror tale, killing Judy Garland over and over again.

A lack of prep was likewise palpable in the staging, which consisted of the organizers rounding up any fidgety children in the audience, and then setting them loose to run back and forth in front of the singers.  Though, to be fair, these barely-veiled behavioral exercises were themed to the songs: For “Singin’ In The Rain”, the kids were given umbrellas to run back and forth with; for “Be A Clown”, they ran back and forth wearing clown wigs; for “The Atchison Topeka” they ran back and forth in the manner of an enormous, under-Adderaled choo-choo.

It kept on like this. Cupcakes were unwrapped for sale at intermission, but the coffee still wasn’t ready, so the singers improvised an encore of the title song from “Meet Me In St. Louis” to kill some time, changing the tagline to “Meet Me At The Cupcakes, Cupcakes…”. And don’t even get me started on “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag”, which for some reason, was performed with the original 1915 lyrics: “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. While you’ve a Lucifer to light your fag, smile boys that’s the style.” You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen the host of the village green sing-along try to explain, as gently as possible, that those words have nothing to do with the immolation of homos.

The most remarkable thing about the show, though, was the fact that nobody cared.  Bumps and all, the audience had a wonderful time.  Again, this is something that makes Lonesome Valley different from The City—up here, The E for Effort is still a passing grade, and people appreciate even the most undercooked attempts at fun. At least you gave it a shot, right?

* * *

This isn’t to say the locals are stupid, just gracious.

At one point, the host of the sing-along came to the mike covered in Christmas tree wrap, and delivered, “This is more garland than I can handle!”, to thunderous silence.

Frances, the 91-year-old WWII veteran seated beside me, leaned over confidentially.

“Trying real hard, ain’t he?”

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The Metal of Morris Lake

The Morris Lake Metal Festival was a success—which is not to say that anybody came, because almost no one did.

If rock concerts are church, then this was vespers. “Parishioners? We don’t need no stinking parishioners.” Bouncers and bandmates outnumbered the audience in such force at times, you felt like a poseur without a pass around your neck.

I stuck around anyway. Of course I did. The odds were stacked against these bands, and I’ve an unshakable loyalty to Those Who Walk The Boards. Doing drag with no air-conditioning? Been there. Delivering a monologue about the death of my wife while some three-year-old in the sixth row repeats every one of my lines? Done that.

Metalheads, children’s theater actors, avant-gardies…we are all one family.

My reward for solidarity came five bands later, at precisely one thirty in the morning, when the headliner took the stage. By then, more than half of the crowd had been invited up there, and was mingling with the band. Stage-right was occupied by recruits from the fest’s admittedly minor mosh pit, more of a mosh ditch really, who had been tapped as retainers.  The stage-left gaggle consisted of tweens whose parents had taken that “all-ages” tag on the flier just a little too seriously, keeping their kids hopped-up on Mountain Dew Code Red.

The moshers all wore masks now, some of them so heavy that the guys could not really lift their heads. One hefted a freaky, frazzled rabbit. Another was Dick Cheney. The guy in the Cookie Monster mask kept prying its bulky lips open, trying to get a look at what was going on.

Then the musicians struck up a throbbing intro, and the lead singer took the stage. He was wearing a foam rubber cow costume with maglites for eyes. Over that, he’d donned a pair of Doc Martens and a prizefighter’s robes. His giant foam rubber tongue twitched lewdly, and he began to do rude things with his hips.

The cow announced straight away that he was going to go take a shit in the lake. As in Morris Lake. But he said that the citizens would not complain, because he was a sacred cow.

Then he commanded everyone present to kneel before him. “On your knees, Morris Lake!” he ordered. “On your kneeeeees!” And he waited for the crowd to obey. (They did.)

The rest of the show followed suit.  A goat man spat a ball of fire through a giant pentacle.  The lead singer appeared again, this time in a cybernetic P-funk getup with runaway dreads and a pig’s head codpiece.

Puppet effigies were thrown into the crowd, for the spectators to manipulate during the closing number.  This they did, as though possessed.

The next morning, as it began to sink in that all of this had actually happened, I could only think of Judy Garland in “Meet Me In St. Louis”.

“Right here where we live! RIGHT HERE IN LONESOME VALLEY!”

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Any Party In A Storm

I’d have to characterize my trip to The City as a success.

Despite only being around for a few days, I managed to spend some breathless quality time with friends and family–the final count of our exploits including a Japanese print-art exhibit, a gay rugby game and an exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of a century-old industrial fire…with song.

As for the latest draft of my book, it’s now in the hands of “close readers”, who are tasked with gently beating the living shit out of it, while I do my best for two months to forget I ever wrote the thing.

In the meantime I’m trying to get some brand of social life here in Lonesome Valley–and ideally, one that doesn’t involve hiking.  So I’m planning to resuscitate two hobbies that I’d previously abandoned at the county border: The roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, and the Chinese rummy variant Mahjong.

I’ve put together a website for the former, hoping to scare-up some local geeks on their virtual turf. As for the latter, I resorted to “sexuality profiling”.

“Would you be interested in a Mahjong night?” I asked the host of a local gay mens’ meeting, over the bass-heavy dance music on his cabin sound system.

“How about strip Mahjong?” he proposed.

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First/Last Ride Out of Town

I’m visiting The City this weekend, but The Je can’t be expected to make that kind of trip anymore.  So instead, I’m taking the bus.

Unfortunately there’s only one of them, and it doesn’t leave for another three hours.

As for trains, there’s only one of them, too–but the train bound out of town leaves from a place that is itself also out of town.  So to take that I’d need a viable car, and if I had me one of them…what would I be needing with a train?

(Incidentally, the train station operates as a theatre in the summertime.  Bob and I saw a friend of ours perform there this June.  If a train pulls into the station while the play is in progress, the lights on-stage dim, and the actors freeze until it pulls out again.  This is true.)

Right now, I am killing time by sitting in the lobby of The Practice, polishing off my third draft, downloading an indie album, and hoping the vacuum lady does not kick me out when she sees me plug this laptop in…

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Seasonal Affective Disorder Parade

Lonesome Valley is noted for its, well, lonesomeness.

So much so that a winter festival is organized here each year, to take place precisely between the holiday season and the spring months still-to-come.  Its inception can be traced to the years when the area featured a noted health retreat, whose patients often contracted cabin fever at precisely this time.

This year’s version of the celebration geared-up two Saturdays ago, with too-close-to-the-crowd fireworks and the ceremonial “lighting” of a lakeside ice castle, its illumination embedded in its walls.  After that, the local venues hosted constant musical happenings, broom-hockey tournaments, you name it–Bob even played clarinet in a baroque orchestra, to a packed house.  Finally, the festival culminated in a Western-themed parade whose floats featured enough pairings of anthropomorphic moose bondage and cowboy gear to suggest the birth of a new American fetish.

I was shaken to my core by all this.  Not by the moose bondage; that was awesome.  Just the crowds, and the revelry.  I had assumed that, like the killer plants in “The Happening”, the people of Lonesome Valley were immune to gatherings of more than nine people.  There has been no life here for so long, and now all of a sudden, there was way too much to go round.  More than I gave this place credit for having.

Every person in that parade, from the guy riding the giant blackfly to the ladies clanging synchronized lawnchairs to each individual member of the bagpipe brigade, was a resident of this wilderness.

There is more room for my kind of crazy in this town than I thought.

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The Need for Speeding

One thing that my mechanic “friend” impressed upon me when he bequeathed The Je was the fact that I should not drive it above 60 miles an hour. “Cars weren’t built to cruise above 60 back then,” he said, referring to the far-off time when the role of Batman was played by Michael Keaton.

Three rotations of the dark knight later this turns out to be a real problem, since most drivers in our nation tend to think of the speed limit as a kind of trampoline from which to bounce five to twenty mph higher. What’s worse, out here in Lonesome Valley, our “highways” are one lane in each direction.  So inevitably, I will find myself fronting a caravan of backed-up vehicles on my way to work, like a funeral procession for what’s left of my masculine pride.

But I’ve noticed, over time, that there are still other vehicles on the Lonesome Valley roads that go just as slowly as I do, if not slower. Weirder still, these cars are not noticeably aged or clunky–and neither are their drivers.  So why, if these folks can help it, would they subject themselves to the Type-A convention in their rearview?  Is there some epidemic of early-onset transmission trouble out here?

My answer came when I took a drive with a local librarian to see a movie out of town some months ago.

On the way back to our neck of the woods, I accelerated to 60mph, exactly 5 mph above the limit.  “What are you doing?” she asked, sounding a little uncomfortable.

“I know, I know,” I moaned, assuming that she disapproved of my relative tortoisedom. “But I can only go 60 tops, or my engine will crap out,” I confessed.

“The speed limit is 55!” she insisted.  I understood now: She hadn’t thought I wasn’t breaking it enough; she had expected me to obey it.

Before that moment, I’d thought the only three reasons to obey the speed limit were myopia, blizzards and clunkerdom.  This librarian had shown me a fourth: Actual principles.

Those slowpokes I’d been seeing on the highway weren’t harboring bum transmissions after all, but actual lawfulness–and they had more than enough character to shrug off being tailgated by a conga line of pickup-truck-driving, rifle-on-a-rack-in-the-rear-window-having dickwads.

Nowadays, when it comes my turn to be at the head of another 60 mph parade, I remind myself that the trunk-riders looming behind me don’t know I’m not able to go any faster.  In fact, they probably think I’m just being firm in my beliefs.  That I’m somebody with the inner strength to stand up to their schmuckness, instead of deferring to it.

Imagine that.

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