The table under the trees was covered with healthy snacks: Bananas, apples, carrots, bread, and cream cheese. It was free to those of us who’d participated in the Fremont Solstice Parade, so Barry and I stopped for a snack.
Picking up a piece of bread, I turned to the cream cheese. A fellow with the same idea had just discovered that there was no knife to spread it with, and we joked about our predicament. He ended up using his fingers, while I picked up a carrot and used it as an implement.
Our choice of solutions was appropriate: He was naked. I was not.
Seattle’s Fremont parade is famous — some would say infamous — for the cadre of nude bicyclists who paint their bodies and ride the parade route every year. This year, I saw an awful lot of people who forgot both their body paint and their bicycles. The fellow next to me at the snack table was one of them.
I love a parade, and of all the parades I’ve ever seen, this one is my favorite. There are three guidelines and one recommendation. The guidelines: No printed words or logos, no animals, and no motorized vehicles. The recommendation: “Clothing/costumes always encouraged.”
That last one is the kicker. Every year, lots of people come to see the nude cyclists. But the parade is not a nudist event, it’s a celebration of creativity and freedom. Still, the city seems to suspend indecent exposure laws that day.
A bus driver once had me in stitches, describing a gaggle of nudists at his bus stop. They were headed for Fremont, undressed to the nines. “They all carried little towels to sit on,” he said. Since hygiene wasn’t an issue, he let them board the bus. The problem was, they weren’t regular riders, so they all crowded around the front of the bus, asking him questions. Poor guy, he just wanted them to sit down — since he was seated, the view at eye level was distracting, at best. All that wiggling and jiggling, every time the bus hit a bump.
In the weeks before the parade this year, indecision ruled my life. Should we be in the parade, dressed in colorful clothes or costumes? Tina, of the Zydeco Locals, invited us to dance around her float. But I also wanted to watch the parade with friends. I waffled back and forth, finally deciding to watch the parade.
I still wanted to participate in some fashion, so the night before the event, Barry and I showed up to help push the floats a mile down the road into position, a midnight process requiring lots of flashlights, orange vests, and volunteers.
When we arrived at the old Power House, we were lucky to run into Kristin, who we hadn’t seen for over a year. She recruited us for a float decorated with bamboo and hung with dozens of bells and gongs, most of them made from recycled fire extinguishers and alarm bells. There were about eight of us pushing the float, and when we stopped, we had a blast ringing the bells. We were followed by a rolling phone booth (for talking to God) and the Pentagon. They were not associated.
The float move was so much fun, I changed my mind about being in the parade. The following morning, we borrowed some earplugs, as per instructions, and rode our bikes down to Fremont. The float was buzzing with activity. Rodman, whose bell and gong collection adorned the float, handed us a couple of beribboned (I’ve always wanted to use that word) shirts and held a little bell-ringing orientation. “Listen to the space between the bells,” he said. His goal was to create a beautiful sound, not a cacophony of noise.
It wasn’t until later, when we returned home, that we found out who Rodman is. He’s a well-known local glass artist, the great-grandson of Louis Tiffany himself. He holds a Ph.D. in biology, but he turned away from that field when he discovered glass-blowing and has been a full-time artist for many years. Rodman is the artist responsible for the neon Rapunzel on the Fremont bridge.
After donning our beribboned (that wonderful word again) shirts, we began to add ribbons to our entire outfit: Hair, hats, limbs — Barry even tied one around his neck like a tie. Once we were costumed, we were able to take a look at the rest of the parade participants.
Kristin was flitting about in a winged faerie costume. Another fellow was wearing a Utilikilt and a headdress with ram’s horns. Beside us were several women seated at old-fashioned typewriters. On closer inspection, they were sitting on lawnmowers, and instead of paper, there were muffin tins in their typewriters. I think they were the percussion section for a band made up of people with boxes on their heads playing accordions.
Across the street, competing samba bands began to practice. A group of men in drag posed for pictures — how could they walk the entire parade route wearing those 10-inch platform shoes? The Million Belly March went by, hundreds of belly dancers wearing red. I’d never seen so many pierced and tattooed navels. George Bush and his cabinet were there, too, wearing prison stripes and chained together.
There was so much to see, my brain went into overload. There were people shambling about, dressed in grass and moss. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz hung out with something more like a tiger than a lion. One float had about a half dozen naked people. I tried not to stare at their nipple rings.
When the parade finally started, I put my earplugs in to avoid hearing damage from the bells. The only problem was, the earplugs blocked out a lot of other sound. I could see Artis the Spoonman, ahead of us. He was jamming on his spoons, but I couldn’t hear a single “clack.” Behind our float marched an entire band in vibrant blue Alpine costumes with knee socks, but I couldn’t tell what kind of music they were playing.
The Fremont parade caters to the left-leaning political crowd, and the crowd cheered when Dick Cheney, who was right in front of us, fell down and had a heart attack. In contrast to the Pentagon float, there was a giant peace dove. Well, at first, I mistook that one for a seagull. The clowns, who I’d seen in a previous year, dress in hot pink riot gear and carry nerf batons.
The weather was perfect and the sidewalk was thronged with thousands of people. I lost count of how many jumped out to take our picture. I also lost count of the number of naked people. I noticed an intriguing family: Mom, Dad, and their young son. Mom was fully dressed. Son was wearing pants, but no shirt. And Dad had left his clothes (and evidently his bicycle) at home.
Suddenly, I realized that I’m prescient.
A couple of days earlier, a limerick (see “Ding Dong Ditty”) had popped into my head, the first in over a month. At the time, I couldn’t figure out where it came from — a slightly dirty little ditty about a naked man ringing a bell. But when the lines came into my head, I wrote them down, amazed at how easily they rhymed. Now, here I was, and here were the bells, and here were the naked men. Aha!
The realization was what I’d call “a Fremont moment.” The neighborhood has a kind of woo-woo energy, and I guess I’d tapped into it.
The whole day felt like a kaleidoscope, a riot of color and sound. I love the humor and joy, it’s like a shot in the arm of pure creativity.
And all those naked people — mostly men — wiggling and jiggling? Well, I don’t think it’s very creative, but it sure is funny!
[watch this space … photos coming as soon as I can get them downsampled and cropped!]