Scratch my monkey fur 2016.05.11

If you need a title, call it “Monkey fur and a giant backscratcher” or whatever you want.

If you need to cut it down to size, take out the paragraph about nude cyclists and massage the first part of the next paragraph.

The editor's brother Dan reports in on a special parade in his home town of Seattle.


Observer Dork

I love a parade. I’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving parades, kiddie parades, and community festival parades. But my favorite parade is a local Solstice Parade that celebrates both the longest day of the year and the end of the rainy season.

Observer readers might be entertained by the antics that occur at this event. There are only four rules to constrain what can appear in the Solstice Parade. First, you can't have anything motorized: human-powered entries only. The second rule: no words, signs, or logos. Third rule: no live animals. Lastly: no functioning weapons. 

We have floats pushed or pulled by people, and some of the floats are quite beautiful. We have stilt-walkers, giant puppets, marching bands, costumed people, dancers, and lots of kids. There are people acting out stories. Some entries ask parade watchers to come into the street and participate.

I have seen a small fleet of painted cardboard washing machines on wheels pulled down the street. Children popped up from the tops of the machines, blew soap bubbles, and disappeared inside. I've seen belly dancers, dragons, 30-foot caterpillars, a walking totem pole, dancing fruits and vegetables, and a giant gorilla head with flames coming out the mouth.

Despite all of this wild creativity, however, there's one thing that tends to get all the attention. That's an event that occurs just moments before the solstice parade begins. It's a group of colorfully painted nude bicyclists. Well over 1,000 of them cruise the parade route before the official festivities. Many are so cleverly painted that you have to look twice to understand that they're wearing little or nothing. 

The cyclists are fun, but the actual parade is the main event, and that's what inspired me. I decided that I wanted in. For the parade three years ago I learned how to make my own honeybee costume so I could join a group called Pollen Nation (say it fast). We had a small hive on a float. A queen bee sat on it and blessed the onlookers as we passed by. The rest of the swarm surrounded the float and used kazoos to make a buzzing sound.

That was a good time, but the next year I wanted more direct interaction with parade onlookers. That’s when I came up with the giant backscratcher idea. I attached a plastic hand to a four-foot wooden pole. I painted the hand gold, then covered the pole with winding stripes of purple and blue duct tape.

I persuaded my girlfriend to join me, so she got a scratcher, and we made costumes. I found some shimmering gold pajamas in the women’s section of a thrift store. I borrowed a magnificent, regal headdress. On parade day, I colored my skin purple. My friend used glittery makeup and wore similar flowing robes. We were the king and queen of backscratching.

We walked along the edge of the parade route, offering scratches. Some people seemed nervous or looked away when we approached, but many were happy to get the golden scratch. They turned around or bowed down low so we could provide our services. Usually I’d say something like, “Oh yessss, it’s so good, isn’t it? Yes.”

One person thumped his leg up and down like a dog when I scratched him. He thought that was hilarious. So did the next person who did that 50 yards farther down the street, and the next, and the next. Kids were the most fun—unpredictable and always eager to interact.

It was exhausting but very satisfying parade work, so the next year the back scratchers returned. That year we wore dark, exotic robes and white gloves. I made lip color and face paint out of melted crayons mixed with olive oil.

This year, June 18, marks the 28th annual parade. Because 2016 is the Chinese Year of the Monkey, we decided to go ape. I found some fur fabric to wrap around the scratcher poles. We may put furry gloves over the scratcher hands. We've got tails to wear, but the other details are still in the works. A friend has offered to come with us as an organ grinder.

I have one frustration. We are only two and there are thousands of people on the parade route. So many backs! If we expanded to a small army of scratchers, we could scratch hundreds of backs in one afternoon. Maybe we’ll have choreographed, synchronized scratching! These are the dreams of a parade monkey.