Columbus, Ohio USA
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Eyes on Doo Dah
The 32nd Somehow Annual Doo Dah Parade
By Allex Spires
September/October 2015 Issue
Saturday, the Fourth day of July in the Hundred-Score-and-Five-and-Tenth year since B.C.(E.)
The author in action. Photo © Michael Gruber
People uniformed and in plainclothes, strange clothes, and costumes – sandaled, booted, barefooted, swamp-footed, even web-footed – going on foot, roller skate, bicycle, motorcycle, art car, cop car, and golf cart wanted to know what our entry was about.
No one seemed to comprehend that we really were just four guys who felt like joining the Doo Dah Parade with no agenda. We wore tuxedo tees and eyeball masks, just for the sake of doing it. We fit the parade’s theme: “I am Doo Dah!” like quim fits dork, and that was good enough.
We had big balls: beach balls as big as our heads, and we’d coated them in papier mache made from old copies of the Short North Gazette. My friend DJ had cut two holes into each one – one to put the head through and one to see out through – and laid the pantyhose pupils with superglue. We painted the whites with ivory-white spray paint and glued down red yarn for the veins. I painted the irises to his specifications, one each: red, blue, brown, and green.
The day of the parade, four of us stepped out dressed in a tuxedo tee DJ had ordered and an eyeball helmet with a novelty top hat glued to it. Then, full of grass and good ale, we parked and sat in the grass by Goodale on Park, on the eastern edge of grassy Goodale Park. From there we watched the parade lineup.
We were ready at noon, and we were lucky for nearby porta-johns because the parade didn’t start till 1 p.m., and we didn’t start marching till 1:15.
Four eyes fully in motion with the movement of the parade made their way to the corner of Park and Buttles. From there, where the masses were lining the roadway, leaning in to see, looking on from across Columbus and far beyond, we, the Eyes, looked strangely back and then stepped forward, with great oddity, down the middle of the street, at one-and-a-half miles per hour. We became the stuff of dreams.
Ahead of us we could only see weird wizards, jiggly hula gals, gyrating belly dancers, and silly costumed drummers.
From behind, a gaggle of overambitious, supercilious improv comics, hauling an “Improv Wars” sign on a red Radio Flyer, kept crowding us, walking backward without watching where they were going, failing to stop when we stopped, and leaping into our group (one was dressed as a fairy and leapt often throughout the course of the parade). Time-and-again we found ourselves intermittently stuck in their dazed improvised midst.
George Burns suggests the best way to do improv is to know where you’ve come from and to watch where you’re going. If they had been drivers we would all have been killed! What a comical improvisation, eh, Tracy Morgan?
From the curbs to the sidewalks on either side of us, down the arboreally brimmed Victorian streets, seemed to be everyone else … everybody from around town and everywhere else.
None of them could see the individuals we were, only the sclerae (whites), corneal vessels (veins), colored iris highlights, and pupils of our eyeball masks. Wearing short toppers and unblinking, we were four eyes, so that’s what they called us: “Eyeballs” and “Eyes.”
Introverted Andrew Warden in the brown eyeball had started out terrified, worried it would be more formal and heavily officiated, but through the loose nature of the parade and his masked anonymity, he grew very comfortable. By the end, he felt as if were walking in a dream. Dehydration and inebriation led him to an out-of-body sense of total surrealism that he later described as euphoric.
“I was overwhelmed in the best possible way,” he told me. “I was given access to and simultaneously protected from celebrity by my anonymity.”
Ben Jammin in the red eye loved getting to play his guitar consistently for at least an hour and a half and was surprised and pleased to learn that he injured his fingers playing so hard for so long performing for an enormous crowd. Ben never gets to play for crowds, and platinum-selling recording artists sometimes have audiences as large as Ben had at Doo Dah. He felt his ego being stroked every time he’d pivot and strum a chord because the crowd would erupt like a thunder of madmen.
Under the green eyeball mask, DJ was trying to make sure these eyes he’d cooked-up were anything but forgettable. He’d been Chuck E. Cheese and knew how to be a costumed character marching around.
He was waving and gesturing and leaping, greeting the crowds. Whenever he could, he’d snatch someone’s camera and photograph them. He says the whole eyeball thing has something to do with what he calls “The Theory of Obscurity.”
He explained, “No one sees who we are, but we know who we are… and we see who they are.”
And myself? I wore the blue eye and took voice notes on my EyeDroid to write a story about being an entrant in the Doo Dah Parade. By the time you get to read this, I’ll have gotten around to writing it. I’m writing it now! You’re reading it.
I think I learned how Verne Troyer felt at the height of his célèbre. No one knew his name, we only knew Mini-Me. He was Mini-Me in all our eyes and minds, Mini-Me in our hearts. And now, similarly, we were no longer ourselves, no longer private individuals. We were the “Eyeballs” and the “Eyes.” We were the big show. We were the “it” that people had gone outside to see.
We’d set ourselves up to be subjected to the scrutiny of the public who now owned us, and it seems they approved of what looked back. Upon seeing us marching as eyes, several of the tens of thousands of people along the parade route shouted out, “The Eyes have it!”
“Hey, you Eyes!”
“Eyeballs, over here!”
“Hey, Eyeballs! Let me get your photo!”
We would turn, as if a Warhol Monroe giving four poses at once, and then wait while people turned on their ‘phones. Everyone had to have a photo with us Eyes: drunken people wanted to be photographed dancing with the Eyeballs, sober people wanted to be photographed staring at us, children wanted to be photographed hugging and high-fiving the Eyes, shortsighted photographers with official-looking-yet-wholly-unnecessarily-long lenses wanted to pose the Eyeballs for extended sessions. They’d get upset that we couldn’t see anything not directly in front of us so we missed many waves and gesticulated cues before having to move on.
By the time we reached the Sahara-esque home stretch down High Street, it became an endurance test. The heat was almost a stroke too much. After the tree-lined suburban route down Buttles, up Neil, and back up Hubbard, hitting the cosmopolitan reaches of High in the Short North was like stepping out of an oasis into Hell. It was fine and fun, but we were also wearing black shirts and sweating profusely under eyeball masks with no ventilation.
Tired, unfocused, and dehydrated, we tried to work both sides of the wide street but we had no earholes. Every word from any direction around us came through the pupil. Any call we heard required that we rotate a full 360-degrees to find the owner of the voice. But there was also loud music to contend with, a humongous crowd of people shouting and cheering, and the improv comics confusedly cutting between us. We could hardly hear each other. If we heard someone, we would then have to make a full 360-degree revolution to find them.
The parade’s end came as a shocker. Imagine you’ve spent the better part of an hour or more marching down roads thronged by countless cheering multitudes. They wore shirts showing every possible projection of plaid, angle of waving flag, and every known pro-American and anti-American sentiment; every paisley pattern, Hawai’ian pattern, flower pattern, and stripe pattern; all the polka dots, spots, speckles, waves, and fractals; and every cartoon graphic concept from Mickey Mouse to a fellatiating fish. Suddenly you’re in a brick alleyway, devoid of all but the entry in front of you.
“Is that it?” DJ looked around at the sudden barrenness of our surroundings. “Is the parade over?”
I nodded. “Yep.”
© 2015 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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