Every winter, downtown minneapolis hosts a string of night-time parades that march the length of the nicollet mall. they used to be every night between thanksgiving and new year's, but recently it was trimmed it back to just three nights a week. it's a spectacular parade, with floats and music and costumed marchers, everything and everyone illuminated with colorful bright christmas lights that twinkle in the dark.
it's called the Holidazzle Parade, though doug's aged aunt Vi calls it the Razzle-Dazzle Parade, which i think is a little more evocative. (she has lots of odd names for things. liquid soap is "runny soap." a bar is a "beer parlor." the mechanic who works on her car is her "garageman." but i digress.)
my little sister has marched in the razzle-dazzle several times, with her husband. they were jack and jill one year, and another year they were part of a string of christmas lights, i think.
i was the one who got her interested in the parade; back when i was working at Minnesota Monthly magazine in the mid-'90s, i was assigned to march in it and write about it.
(a note about blogging here: ah, the satisfaction of instantaneous publishing! imagine working at a magazine, where you march in a parade one december and your story gets published the next december! now that's patience.)
anyway, Heidi and i marched as the Rat and the Mole from "the wind in the willows." she had such a wonderful time that, as i say, she did it again and again.
me? well, not so much. here's the essay:
are hard and lasting
In the crowded basement of the Minneapolis Park Inn Hotel, a bearded guy works a pair of lime-green pants on over his flesh-colored bodysuit. To his right, a woman balances what appears to be a frilly lamp shade on her head. A harried attendant whispers, “It goes around your waist,” as she whisks past, and the woman blushes and lowers the lamp shade again.
Of course, I am not looking particularly dignified myself, dressed, as I am, in a rotund costume of brown fur. Its green jacket and yellow spats are studded with Christmas lights and laced with more internal wires than a toaster.
I am the Mole for tonight’s Holidazzle parade, and in a few minutes they are going to come and plug me in.
My sister looks over and bursts into what I consider to be excessive laughter; she is tonight’s Holidazzle Rat, and, except for our snouts, our costumes aren’t noticeably different.
We pick up our rodent heads and toddle outside, past the half-dressed Bo-Peep, past the handwritten sign that warns NO SMOKING OR DRINKING IN COSTUME. And this is where trouble begins—-outside, in the street.
It was hard enough to figure out how to buckle ourselves into these costumes, how to strap on the webbed harness that holds the two eight-pound battery packs, how to bend over our unyielding beach-ball stomachs to Velcro-on our clodhopper shoes, how to walk up the back stairs in feet that are three times longer than they are supposed to be.
But once I work the Mole head over my own head, I realize that all that was mere annoyance. Now I know real trouble.
Because I cannot see a thing.
It’s dark inside my head. The eyeholes, halfway down the snout, are opaque, covered with beige fabric. The head smells of disinfectant, and it’s hot, but those things are minor; the real problem is that I will have to walk the entire 10 blocks of the parade as blind as, well, as a mole.
I smack the head a few times, hoping to jiggle it into position, but it makes no difference; it’s clear that I am doomed. “Heidi,” I say. “I can’t see!”
“Oh, no,” she says. She pulls on her rat head. “I can see fine.” Her voice is a little muffled but otherwise unconcerned.
“No, really, I can’t see anything!” I wail. I begin to sweat, and my glasses steam over.
“Let’s switch heads,” Heidi suggest, and we do. She tugs the mole head over her ringlets and there is silence for a minute. Then she says, “I can see fine,” and hands me back my head.
Another attendant whisks by, giving last-minute tugs to our costumes and plugging in our lights. I try to explain my problem, but she just winds Velcro straps around my neck and tucks my curls inside the head. “You’ll be fine once your float is turned on,” she assures me. “Just follow the light.”
From the depths of my musty cave, I can hear the jingle of floats coming to life, one by one, and beginning their glide up the mall. I hear my sister say, “Oh, that’s much better,” and I aim my snout in the direction of her voice. “What’s better?” I ask.
She is silent a moment. When she speaks, she finally sounds worried. “You can’t see that?” she asks. “It’s our float. It’s all lit up. Let’s go!”
I grope for her hand with my floppy mole mitten. “Whatever you do,” I say, “don’t you dare let go of me.”
Heidi takes a step, trips over her enormous shoes, stumbles off the curb, and we are on our way. It’s stuffy inside my head, and I find that not only can I not see the crowd, but I can’t hear it, either. Mostly, I hear my own breathing, a shallow, adenoidal wheeze.
Walking makes me sweat a little harder—it’s a warm evening for December, and I am wearing layers of my own clothes under the abundant mole fur—and my fogged glasses begin to slide down my damp nose. There is some sort of ridge pushing against the nosepiece, and with every step I am afraid the glasses will fall completely off and end up rattling around loose, inside my head.
I don’t dare release my sister’s hand to take care of the problem; I know that without her guidance I will veer off the course and wander forlorn, lost, enormous, and blind, into the crowd—-a rogue mole, terrifying small children, no doubt, and worrying parents. There will be a lawsuit.
Suddenly, Heidi’s hand pulls me sharply back; apparently we have reached a red light. But just as I stumble to a stop, she jerks me forward again; the light has turned green.
Though I can’t see her, I can sense that my sister has begun skipping beside me; she is being a good parade marcher by cavorting, gamboling, living it up in her rat suit. I manage a few feeble waves myself, and one time I actually skip, but the movement makes my head wobble and I have to use my free hand to hold it steady again.
Mostly, I just trudge onward, ever onward, and I am not aware when we finally, blessedly reach the end; all I know is that my sister drops my hand, and just before I panic I hear my brother’s excited voice.
Someone helps me off with my head and I blink and take several gasps of air. As we board a bus to take us back to the Park Inn, I realize that all of the other paraders have had the time of their lives. They have bonded over this. All over the bus, people are exchanging hugs, and promising to write or call, and jotting down names and phone numbers.
My sister tells me that marching in the parade was the most fun she’s had in a long time. She waved to the crowd, and posed for pictures, and spotted friends along the way. “The little kids just stared at us!” she says. “And when I waved at them, their faces just lit up! They were so excited!”
How she spotted children, let alone their faces, is beyond me. All I could see was a vague, distant glow that was our float—which, as it turns out, was fairly substantial: a large cart studded with red lights and pulled by two live donkeys.
It’s clear that the experience was lost on me, because although I am glad I did it, I am even more glad that it’s over. And I have a few words of advice for anyone who plans to attempt it this year, especially for anyone who plans to be the Mole:
· Don’t wear glasses.
· Follow the light.
· And, above all, be sure to bring your sister.
a note on the photos: the top two are from google. the others are from the night my sister and i marched. that's our cart, the one with the donkeys and all the lights.
heidi is the cute and stylish rat and i am the very blind and fat mole. i have no idea who was inside that badger costume. i didn't even know the badger was there until after the film was developed.