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Prime Time | Art Lee: The usual and unusual at a homecoming parade

Homecoming. Even the word by itself evokes the feelings of fun, happiness and surprises, and certainly nostalgia — like greeting old friends, eyeing old teachers, visiting old haunts. It’s an especially wonderful event for those returning alumni who come back to the campus they once knew so well and for which they maintain special memories.

So it was for two returning young men standing there on the sidewalk, arriving back just in time to see and enjoy the homecoming parade taking place in front of them on this brisk, sunshiny morning, cold enough so the previous night’s frost still lay there in the shaded areas. They were so pleased to be back again to view with renewed interest the parade itself, keenly watching groups and individuals marching by, both men concluding that the bands were smart and snappy, and some floats were especially good, while at the same time they bemoaned the lengthy time taken up by that endless line of fire trucks lumbering by. Then again, they remembered that was what was expected in this school’s parade as they recalled their own years on campus. So they clapped and cheered and laughed as they watched the parade with renewed pleasure.

Watching the watchers

But there were also folks in the big crowd around them who instead watched the young laughing men because the two stood out simply by their dress and manner. So dressed up they were, dressed to the nines, a sight to behold, these two young men in their late 30s, both fashion figures, there to view a simple street parade.

Brooks Brothers suits they both wore, three-piece suits with vests, and in their vest pockets were gold pocket watches with gold chains attached from the watch to the buttonhole. The watch fobs were sometimes hard to see behind the folds of their long camel-hair coats. One gawking bystander pronounced their attire, using the local vernacular, “Pure spiff.” They looked like two professional models right out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly — even if out of place at a parade. But spiffy indeed. Their expensive shoes shined like leather diamonds. One man even wore a Homburg-style hat. For sure, they made a statement. They looked rich; they simply exuded class and proper decorum. But all this for a homecoming parade?

What did seem out of place on their splendid clothing were their homecoming badges, the cheap pins denoting the school mascot and below the mascot picture were the years of their graduation. Whatever, the two of them were impossible not to notice, and for some nosy viewers, impossible not to stare at. Also impossible not to want to eavesdrop on their conversation, because the two even talked rich, if clear diction and correct grammar are viewed as a sign of wealth and class. When someone overheard one of them correct the other for his ending a sentence with a preposition, that was a bit much. When another snooper heard them sprinkle in some Latin words, they were judged over the top.

A cynical observer whispered to his staring, awestruck wife that those two dudes were just a couple of snobby alums returning just to impress everybody by “puttin’-on-the-dog,” as he phrased it. Then over on the side a summary judgement came: “Those guys look so prim and prissy that I bet they would never say crap if they had a mouthful.”

Watching the unwelcomed

But then all heads turned back to the parade, as there seemed to be something different happening about half a block away. An old noisy automobile, its horn blasting, was driving back and forth across the street, and as it got closer, folks could observe the surprise and disgust on the faces of spectators as the old car clunked by. They even heard the loud words of one watcher: “What a shame. It’s disgraceful. They’re ruining it,” with a man beside him hissing the obvious question: “How’d they let those freaks in?” Turned out no one had let them in; they just barged in, coming out of an alley when they saw their chance to worm their way into the parade route.

Only when the unwanted clunker got to and passed the spot where the two showy models stood did the crowd around them understand too well what all the fuss and head-shaking was about. The trunk of the old car was open, and inside the trunk sat a pair of disheveled, dirty, long-haired, scraggily- bearded college students who were very drunk and very loud and often laughing hysterically at nothing. Worse, they shouted out profanities, and when they saw someone they knew, the drunken duo held out cans of beer for them to come up and grab. When no one came to accept a free Budweiser, their language became even more foul.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the banged-up car finally clunked down the parade route and at last out of sight. The relief then felt by the sidewalk spectators was almost palpable, but the leftover disgust and grumbling produced one special commentary for all to hear: “Jeez, I remember years ago seeing a pair of creepy hippies doing the same disgusting thing.”

The watched redux

It was at this point —after overhearing that comment — when the one roommate turned to the other, looked around, then turned to his good friend and leaned in before saying quietly: “Y’know, I’m sorry to admit it now, but 15 years ago those kids in the trunk were you and I. Remember? It made us infamous, even back then.” The surprised friend was at first taken back by that jarring reminder before soon recognizing and accepting the awful truth of it all, and then the friend added a disquieting line of his own: “Even worse, I’m now ashamed to admit, it seemed like such a good idea at the time.” After exchanging knowing looks, they shook their heads, shrugged, then both turned back to watch the rest of the homecoming parade.