Parade of the gods, drunks and other fools

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By Shane Dingman

Some human beings engage in an activity known as cloudbusting. They stare and the sky and image they are moving the clouds, shaping them, breaking them, creating them.

Most of these meat-monkeys don’t truly believe they can control the flow of vaporized water thousands of feet above them. They know some things, such as cloud formations, are beyond human control.

The same can be said of the flow of a parade. For that, you need a god like me. My name is Dan. What, you expected more? Okay, Dan, the Exalted Most High Protector God of Ryerson’s annual parade and island picnic.

Now, god might be too strong a word—I mean, I don’t save people from floods, or make trees grow or anything special like that. I’m a minor deity with a job that seems like a pretty small deal and I’ve been doing it for about 43 years.

I don’t act alone. I anoint the student council’s v.p. administration as my archbishop of parading. I give the veep a lot of leeway in running my parade, just so long as he remembers that on the actual day, my will is supreme.

Not every archbishop can respect this. All summer the poor bastard works like a dog at RyeSAC to get orientation events up and running, the most complicated of which is the parade and picnic that happens at the end of the first week of school.

It’s a complicated job. Whereas I make it my will and it is so, in my archbishop’s mortal world, things take a little more work. He doesn’t just up some posters and wait in the quad for things to start. He has to get permission for the parade route from the city, sort out the rules with Ryerson, hire paid duty cops, set up the grounds on the island, find marshals, organize security, the ferry, vehicle rental, band bookings—the list goes on and on.

After all this work, when the thousand-headed millipede that is my parade is on the move, the veep sometimes tries to shape my sweating mass to his human will. Ah well, can’t blame the guy for trying.

Like many who have come before him, Akeem Prince Fasasi, my archbishop and this year’s v.p. administration, failed to learn he was riding, not guiding, the beast.

I appointed him because he’s a suave-looking fellow, raised in Nigeria, a truly princely gent. But I worry about my choice when, on Friday, the big day, he opens his mouth to speak and he sounds like Mike Tyson gargling through a trumpet. After screaming too much the day before and hanging out with his buddies from high school until 6 a.m., he has ruined his vocal chords on this, the day of MY parade.

No matter, the show must go on. Early on I decided to test the frosh’s mettle by making it a grey day, but I let the threatening clouds get away from me until late in the morning when the skies open and it begins to pour on a band setting up in the quad.

There goes the veep and his cloudbusting, willing the little downpour to knock it off. So a few architecture students got wet—maybe they should have looked at the forecast before dressing up in white togas.

When the skies dry and this annoyance is out of the way, Prince tries to control every other minor detail or getting the parade started. He tries telling a small gang of drunken hooligans to behave. They laugh and ignore him.

“Those guys are causing trouble,” Prince tells a Ryerson security guard, is voice cracking like a teenager with a groin injury.

The one-man security swat team explains to the shaving cream-smeared drunks they have to clean up before joining the parade, which turns into chaos when the hooligans decide to raid the buckets of water bottles being given out to students.

Suddenly the minor shaving cream issue is swapped for a potential disaster involving bottled water, lots of bottled water.

I’ll admit this is partially my fault. The Patron Saint of Drunken Hooligans is my sister-in-law, and I let her get a little of my parade action every year.

But the tension evaporates when the moment arrives. The marchers begin to gather, although Prince is preoccupied with the missing mascot—the Eggy the Ram costume hasn’t been signed out. He gets over this snafu when I send my next distraction his way in the form of a rogue fire truck yammering and flashing its way down Gould Street and up Bond Street.

Then, at my behest, the parade begins. Up front is RyeSAC president Cory Wright, Prince and RyeSAC standard bearers Joe Davenport, a board member, and Odelia Bay, v.p. education, who says, “I don’t mind [carrying the banner], I don’t want to have to confiscate shaving cream.”

Behind them is BlackholeTV.com’s Dodge Toyota (don’t ask me why the hell they’re there, motor vehicles isn’t my department), leading the unruly mass of students.

Shaving cream abounds, despite official sounds made by some 45 marshals (who, I gotta say, aren’t as zealous as their propaganda), and there’s a flurry of water balloons as the parade takes off.

I gotta tell ya, the front of the line, where Prince walks, is the loneliest place on the entire route. He’s walking almost alone, except for the odd word with a reporter, Wright and a pedestrian or two. It’s only when someone needs him to explain something, a bike cop or a fussy parade marshal, that he has someone to talk to.

It’s a surreal place to be, leading this bellowing snake of students. Behind you is a mass of about 1,300 people chanting, yelling, blowing whistles, singing and laughing. In front of your is an empty street, with a distant vanguard of motorcycle cops whose faces you never see.

It’s solemn up here, unlike in the belly of the parade where there is no time for reflection, merely reaction and dodging shaving cream.

The parade tromps down Yonge Street, staggering a little when I let the damn clouds get away from me again and a cold rain blows into the faces of the frosh.

It doesn’t stop them, though, and before they know it they’ve made it down to Front Street. Turning smoothly onto Front, the parade then tromps down to Bay Street, turning less smoothly but no less effectively, and slides under the tunnel.

Prince feels every step, responsible as he is for the safety of this shaving-creamed horde as he runs around barking orders into a Clearnet Mike network radio phone.

This attempt at cloudbusting isn’t very effective because of two factors. At this point, the parade has its own momentum—mine—and Prince is using the equivalent of a McDonald’s drive-thru speaker to try controlling it.

Although overcast, it’s actually warm and humid, so when the parade is funnelled into the concrete compound of the Queen’s Quay ferry dock, the resulting clump of sweating students makes for a stockyard smell reminiscent of Toronto’s days as a hog-importing city.

Boarding the ferry is usually without much more incident than hollering and cheering, but once on board and bottled up for the 15-minute trip, people get a little squirrelly.

Prince tells one group of marshals to guard against horseplay and make sure no one breaks anything. Not two seconds after he walks away, they blithely stare at a group of fools playing football on the lower deck. What do you consider serious examples of horseplay—cavalry manoeuvres?

At least it’s a short ferry ride, and normally once the masses have set foot on the island, Prince’s job would be done. This year, however, a “no backpacks on the island” policy was put in place, ostensibly to cut down on alcohol abuse.

Prince’s weeks of announcements failed to reach those who refuse to read, so his thin screen of three red-shirted marshals is charged with telling people to put their bags in lockers to risk being turned away from the events.

Prince spends his time finessing a few bothersome reporters, dealing with a complaining marshal or two, and nodding knowingly when people tell him of a problem they already have their own solution to.

His main stress is the comedian who performs between The New Deal and Choclair who has a coarse tongue and very little respect for women. I don’t think a thong-showing competition that degenerates into a wrestling match for a Swatch was on Prince’s mind when he said it was okay the comic to “do the giveaways.”

And at the end of the day, he sends his marshals home and waits 45 minutes for some stragglers, including Wright, who missed the ferry.

Now, I’m not usually prone to delivering approval or disapproval. I’m a pure spirit and the parade is my beginning and end, but I think things went damn well. Prince never freaked out or swore even once, despite the nonsense I tossed his way. As parade leaders and organizers go, he was civil, honest and thorough.

Still, the hubris or the silly human. The poor fellow was convinced all the cream would have been seized, all the backpackers sent packing and everything would have gone like clockwork—if only he had had a little more “co-ordination.”

He can tell that to his successor if he wants, and the marshals can be more vigilant in the future, but the higher truth is there’s a power to a parade that is governable by no single human will, and all the cloundbusting in the world won’t change that. See ya next year, kids.

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