|22 june 1999|
I was going to write about the summer solstice parade in Santa Barbara in terms of the floats and the dancers and the ever-present "look-at-me" people who enter parades to satisfy one pathology or another. The subject then gravitates logically toward the nature of university beach towns in California and how they're imbued with certain cultural givens like hippies of the bourgeoisie, street performers, and college women feeling for empowerment.
I'm warning you now, a lot of this may be just blather, but in the darkroom last night as I was looking over some of the photographs Id made of the event, I got my mind bent around the psychology of a parade as spectacle.
To me, any person in a parade is by definition attractive, not necessarily pretty or handsome, but making a play for my attention, and I am compelled to watch. For some reason, I build up a strong emotional curiosity about the participants. Why are they in it? Are they having fun? What are they like when theyre at home? What would it be like to be around them as they prepared for the parade? And probably most important, because comedy figures big in these things, how well, how finely have they honed and tuned a sense of humor?
When a parade is in progress, my eye tends to stay on one person in the thirty seconds or so it takes for them to pass through my field of vision, and once theyve gone from view my gaze sweeps back to find somebody new, quickly assessing the makeup of the next marching party to find that single point of interest, that one person who somehow embodies what lures me most to human beings in general.
Sounds just like my twenties.
Its no surprise that most of the participants in this parade were in their twenties, that fertile stretch of life. To a man like me who is beyond it, who has seen his choices lose some of their elasticity, watching such a pageant evokes some mighty sweet memories.
A parade is a primitive ritual, and a metaphor so obvious that only the dullest dolts on the planet could miss the symbolism. Display and attraction, performance and reward, calling and connection, aren't these the building blocks of mating? Isn't looking the first act of love? A parade is perfect for this. It draws us out. The drumbeat and the horn call us to get in the spirit, take the leap and move from our single spot to march in sync. Join me. Kiss me. Belong.
Now that I think about it, I reckon for a lot of people this parade never transcended into metaphor at all, but remained a simple overt method of just showing off the goods.
The event was all the more evocative for me because Santa Barbara was one of the main locales of my own fertile stretch, and it holds memories of people Ill never see again. In that social swirl of solstice I could see my life twenty years ago as if it were yesterday, the same girls on the cusp of sophistication, the dancing, the carousing, the wanting to belong. The remembering was almost painful. Moving through the crowd and drinking in the faces was like actually being in my own past, walking the same streets, awake in a dream. I didnt want to leave. To go home was to go be old again.
That arc of time between then and now is invisible to me. Oh sure, I look in the mirror and see the grey hair, but how did I get this far so fast? Just when did I become a stranger to youth? When did young women start to look past me?
Don't answer that.
My memory is not so old and feeble that it can't make use of stuff it actually knows. It actually knows, for example, that youth wasn't really all that neato. Take away the sense-memory that gets yanked up at a solstice parade and pretty soon there will be a realization that there was dissonance and confusion back then too. There were misunderstandings that slammed into pride and left stains, big ugly ones sometimes.
And yet there is that small wish to go back and relive some of those golden romantic moments, just to be there and feel it again to see if memory serves. Were they that funny, that pretty, that smart? I will never know. I will never know because the past is completely imaginary now, gone to permanent residence in that space behind my eyes.
"That's The Way That The World Goes 'Round" -- John Prine -- JOHN PRINE ANTHOLOGY: GREAT DAYS
"Our memories are independent of our wills. It is not so easy to forget."
- Richard Sheridan