The Room and the Waltz of Last Year's Parade

This land is my land
This land is my land

Notes about The Road, Viggo Mortenson, Samuel Beckett, The 1962 East Tawas Centennial, 4th of July, Ten Commandments, Patriotism, and Walmart

The movie, THE ROAD , based on a Cormac McCarthy novel by the same name, was playing at the Baxter Avenue Theater yesterday so instead of sitting in our less-than-properly-heated apartment in downtown Louisville, Kentucky on the tenth consecutive day of below freezing-my-ass-off temperatures we decided to venture forth from one apocalypse into a more hospitable, but virtual, one. It was a sad film, made even sadder by the sterile and windblown scenery, and the brilliant acting job by Viggo Mortenson who convinced me that there is no hope and all is lost, but one still must go on. And here I thought Samuel Beckett had already covered this theme in total. So on we went, returning home to our frozen prison, and the possibility of me escaping into an article about parades and whatnot in East Tawas, Michigan.

Without a doubt the first meaningful parade for me occurred in the summer of 1962 and was the city's first Centennial Celebration. I was nine years old and very excited about the whole affair because the townspeople were taking this festival seriously. My grandfather Tommy White lived on the corner of Washington and Newman and that just happened to be the staging area and starting point of the big Centennial parade. Nothing but extreme floats lined up in 1962, but from that point on it has been all downhill in each subsequent year to follow. The East Tawas parades of today, specifically on the 4th of July because there really isn't another annual paradeas serious as that one unless you consider the Perchville parade which should be, cannot even be in the same room with the Centennial parade of 1962. But the parade organizers today certainly could do better. I know because I hide myself in the crowd there, documenting, filming, and taking pictures under the guise of research for a screenplay I wrote, and where the film GET SHE WATER will some day be made. But today, instead of serious floats, you get to see long lines of golf carts with fat people in them, courtesy buses from the local old folks home, wailing strings of fire trucks as usual, even yellow school buses, and once a taxi, plus church floats up the gazoo along with the typical marching band and veterans of foreign wars. They even outlawed this past year the throwing out of candy from the floats which made for some pretty tense scenes with young kids scrambling for their sugar and the moving vehicles crawling too slowly and then having to rev it back up again to keep the golf carts rolling. So my camera veers from the street and into the crowd. My interest is in finding the proactive spectator morphing into a cartoon on the street, and there is no better vantage point from where to shoot than downtown on Newman. Of course, there is the spontaneous float entry that is worthy of documenting, but they are few and far between.

The majority of floats in a patriotic parade in small-town America today I would suppose are created by well-meaning folks from the local Christian churches. I have yet to see a Jewish float, or Muslim, or even a Hindu apparatus. Of the three, the best bet, at least in East Tawas, would be a Jewish float as there is significant Jewish history in the Tawases. The most famous Jew from the area was Joe Barkman who owned the J Barkman Lumber Company and was voted Citizen of the Year in 1968. Joe was City Clerk in 1915 and served on the Election Board from 1923-1973. He died November 25, 1975. Joe Barkman was active in community affairs and a very generous man who donated land for the local hospital and also for the Masonic Temple. But I don't remember any float of his except a classy pioneer rustic beauty designed for the 1962 Centennial. For some reason I think the edict today says that today's floats have to have Jesus in them.

What in the world could this woman be cheering about? Beats me. I saw nothing in this year's parade to cheer about period. A few years ago there was a shirtless fellow on roller blades skating with his daughter that was something to cheer about. He sported a champion mullet and the whole parade entrant was 1st place material in my book. It was as if we had stepped back in time when we saw this dude coming on wheels. But what this lady is cheering about is beyond me. One of the church floats? I didn't notice any floats with confederate flags displayed this year. Guess that finally went out of style. I missed several great parade shots through the years as I used a Holga toy camera for a stubbornly long time and fucked most of my good shots up. Now I am making up for it.

Note again the patriotic theme. Problem is the flags fly here 365 days a year. The 4th really has nothing to do with it. That and those silly Ten Commandment tablets in the yards you see here and in Florida. Good Christian country, America. If you don't like it, leave it, they say. A letter to the editor in the local paper a couple weeks ago referred to people who drive foreign-made automobiles as being unpatriotic. Maybe Detroit needs to make at least a vehicle as good as these Commie ones. Then maybe I would even drive one again. Been many years since I drove a Chevy. Personally, I'm privy to the good works of a Subaru made up there in Indiana.

I never figured out what this young man had strapped to his neck. A duck? He wasn't in the parade, but merely a spectator. But I liked his look better than what was on the street. He was one of many very strange people in this town watching the parade. Where do they come from? Out of town? Do they live here? Later that week I was parked at a Super Walmart when a van pulled up, parked near me, and proceeded to unload. Out of the back crawled an army of a family. Three generations at least, all over-weight, with the grandfather barking orders to the youngest one who was clearly old enough to walk on his own but relegated to ride in a shopping cart. And not in the seat. He had to sit in the basket. The ensuing argument was interesting. The father attempting to enforce Grandpa's rules. The unhappy kid. It was obvious the family was not too well-off given the condition of the van and its passengers. But here they were at Super Walmart prepared to stock up on who-knows-what. I did not have my camera with me, but I wish I did. Words cannot do the scene I witnessed justice. It was as if I were watching a scene from Twin Peaks. I never miss a good parade. Even at a Super Walmart.

It really doesn't matter where this photograph took place because the INYOURFACE American Patriot Movement happens everywhere. Being a patriot these days is sort of like people who worry too much. People who worry a lot think they are being super responsible. The flag-flying, decal-sticking, bible-toting freaks think they have it right, are all too ready to fight about it, and anybody with a different idea is thought of as Satan. These people make me cringe. They have been everywhere my whole life. This isn't a new thing. I saw the movie GONZO last year chronicling the life of the journalist Hunter Thompson. A very fine film that depicts the way it's been and always will be with these people in power. Thompson wrote about these things. Every so often somebody comes along who just might be able to change things. Today we have Barack Obama. But our American history tells us he will be gunned down or kept somehow from doing the work many of us want done. I blame these so-called patriots in my picture. This was a church float. They really get off on being patriots. And saving the world with their fantasy bullshit.

All images Copyright 2010 by M Sarki

Am I being too critical? Probably. Everybody likes a good parade, and for the record there are none better than the East Tawas 4th of July extravaganza. Half the fun of being from Tawas is teasing about it, including the parade. You just never know what you'll see here on the streets or in the crowd. And by my lights that's a parade worth attending. Of course, the early education of a few more citizens is in order before we'll get the floats where they need to be in their proper perspective. News bulletin: This is not a Christian country, though there are Christians in it. And these Christians are welcome here to pray and gather as they wish. As are all others of any faith. But none of them are to have power over the government or the people of the USA. And that I intend to keep harping on, because it is my right to do so as a United States citizen.

And by the way, I figured out that the thing on the back of that young man's neck is not a duck. It's an elephant, as in the GOP political logo, and that is scary when you think about these young people starting out so young getting brainwashed in not only religion but obviously politics. My movie I went to, you know, The Road, was attended in Louisville by the same type of people that you see on the streets of East Tawas. That is, except for the people who actually read the book. They're different. And you want to know how I can tell one from the other? They laughed. They got excited. They were there for the apocalypse. And the silent people who read the book were there in awe of the sadness and destruction of it all.


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