Jim Dimity, Nancy Sweetanall and I waited on the sidewalk for the Greater Metropolitan Roopville Christmas Parade and Extravaganza to begin. It was a beautiful November day, the kind of day folks would have killed for on July 4th. The breeze was brisk but the sun was bright, beckoning people out of the building shadows to stay comfortable. Colorful leaves swirl by in skittish little eddies of wind, adding to the merriment of the occasion.
The Christmas Parade and Extravaganza is markedly different from the Hometown Days Parade or the Fourth of July Celebration. On those occasions, the parade route is two miles long and snakes through the town down the main thoroughfare. The Christmas Parade is not even a third that long, traveling from the Dairy Queen through the Square and down to the stop light where it turns to end at the parking lot shared by the Trusting Souls National Bank and the Allright Funeral Home.
The Allright Funeral Home loves to sponsor ads for the Christmas Parade, which include radio ads spoken in a calm, almost sepulchral tone: “Come to the parade and end up at Allright’s. You’ll be All Right someday.” I myself imagine Mr. Allright standing at the end of the route, briskly rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the inevitable march of time. Public parades can’t be choosey about sponsors, I suppose.
Jim, Nancy and I found a nice place to stand directly in front of O’Paddy’s Bar and Grill. We had fortified ourselves with hot cups of Irish Coffees and planned to walk around the Square after the parade, at least until the Bailey’s wore off. Unfortunately we found ourselves next to the WHUT mobile radio broadcast booth, where Jock Spindler was already into his Parade announcer mode. It was pretty obvious that Jock was either off his meds again or they had not kicked in just yet. “You kids get away from my booth!” he snarled at a group of youngsters, even though they were a good twenty yards away. But as soon as the microphone went live, Jock’s patter was as smooth as the bald pate of his head. “Hiii, Greater Metropolitan Roopville! It’s your old friend Jock Spindler coming to you LIVE from the Square for the annual Greater Metropolitan Roopville Christmas Parade and Extravaganza!”
“Just what do you suppose consists of the Extravaganza part?” Jim asked me, the Irish coffee warming his curiosity up considerably. “Isn’t the parade itself pretty extravagant for this county?”
“I think the downtown shops are staying open a little later than usual today.”
“Well I’ll be damned.”
Jock suddenly stopped his well-modulated patter and flipped the switch on his microphone to “off.” “Shh!”
Jim and I quieted for a moment, so Jock flipped his mic back on. If not for his cadre of loyal morning listeners out at the underwear factory or the cardboard box warehouse, Jock would have been history from WHUT a long time ago. Those loyal morning listeners have never experienced his hair-trigger temper or his tantrums but the long-suffering radio station personnel certainly have. He and I have also had a number of run-ins over the years, chiefly because he thought it would be cute to try to interview my goats when I brought them to my feed store during a similar downtown celebration, and the goats wouldn’t bleat on command. He wound up sounding pretty silly on the air – not a big stretch for him – and somehow blamed it all on me.
As Jock paused for air during his hyper-enthusiastic emcee stint, Nancy commented to Jim and me, “I thought it was because they finally turned on the lighted decorations. I mean they’ve been hanging from the street lights since before Halloween.”
Jock’s voice got louder. “You can feel the excitement in the air as thousands gather to watch this lovely, lovely parade!”
We looked around as we shuffled over a few feet from the booth. There were several dozen people lined up along the parade route, but I wouldn’t say there were thousands. Hundreds would even be stretching it.
“Yeah, we’ve got people dangling out of second story windows and manning the rooftops,” I laughed.
“There are more policemen than paradegoers right now,” Nancy added. “Well, here come some little kids.”
“Elves, we have elves!” Jim snickered.
“Would you folks shut the hell up! I’m live here!” Jock roared.
“Well SO ARE WE!” Jim roared back, like a pug dog barking at a Great Dane. Nancy and I each grabbed one of his arms and dragged him away from the WHUT booth.
“That little waitress at O’Paddy’s must have given him more Irish than coffee,” Nancy shrewdly deduced.
We ended up near the middle of the Square, surrounded by people who I swear just suddenly appeared. They must have emerged from every doorway, window, alley opening and car door for several blocks around. Where moments ago the crowd was small and quiet, now they lined the street ten deep, chanting for thrown candy and free parade hand-outs.
“There’s a lot of people in this county with some serious sugar-rush issues,” Jim warbled, “but there still isn’t any ‘thousands’ here.”
The Greater Metropolitan Roopville Marching Thunder Lizards led the parade. They played “Jingle Bell Rock” just as they have for the last ten years of parade-going, and the Gecko Girls did an elaborate dance routine. They were so busy doing their show, the girls did not notice that the band had already marched on. They scrambled to catch up and the rest of the parade could move at last.
We caught some of the candy thrown from the floats. Legally they aren’t supposed to do that, attorney Jim belligerently pointed out, but he pocketed some thrown Tootsie Rolls just the same.
“Oh never mind,” Nancy told him. “Do you want some SweetTarts? I’ll trade you some for a Tootsie Roll.”
The Christmas parade was half as long as the Fourth of July parade, and at the end of it, someone flipped a switch and all the decorated trees and wire figures and street light decorations and illuminated bunting came on. We hadn’t even noticed it had gotten dark. The three of us stood gazing at the wonderland of glowing lights as people around us laughed and chatted and went on their way. At the city’s mini-amphitheater just off the Square, a band played Christmas tunes and the street party atmosphere continued.
“This, then, is the Extravaganza,” Jim sighed contentedly. After another satisfied moment, he clapped his hands. “Okay, I’m ready for the season. Let’s go listen to the band.” He turned and ran right into Jock Spindler.
“Loudmouths like you people always have to spoil my live broadcasts,” he whined sourly.
“We’re sorry, but you are right there on the street with us. We can’t be the only people who have ever stood next to your booth,” Nancy replied.
Just as Jock opened his mouth to really let us have it, his boss Macomber Butterswing (of THE Butterswings of Wett Lake Drive) saw me and strode up with a cheerful “Hey Truman!” As usual, he slapped me on the arm, right on the bruise he put there the LAST time I saw him. His enthusiasm for friends is matched by the powerful hams he calls hands. Mac Butterswing’s hair never looks brushed and his clothes are always rumpled, but he claims his looks are custom made for radio so he doesn’t care. “How’d you like a show, eh? Did you hear the broadcast?”
“Well, a little of it,” I admitted.
“Well come on down to the Amp and sit with me – bring your friends too! Jock, do you know Truman Fable? He’s an old friend of mine!” Jock swallowed a jumbo-sized ball of resentment and smiled thinly. “Everybody’s happy at the Christmas Extravaganza!” Mac intoned as if simply saying so, made it so. It’s how the Butterswings operate.
Jim called me the next morning, groaning about how his head felt like it was going to explode. Maybe everyone is happy at the Extravaganza, but there are no guarantees about hangovers.