They come with scripts in hand, pitches, reels, storyboards, character bios, budget projections, synopses, location photographs, business plans, financial projections, short films, long films, experimental films, films transferred from video, films made with credit cards and baling wire. Those who have not made films want to make films. Those who have made films want to make more. A cab driver pitched me his horror script. A woman from CNN pitched me her South Africa documentary. A documentarian from Santa Barbara offered her reel. An unemployed news reporter from Houston stuffed her head shot in my pocket. A hot-chocolate salesman showed me pictures of cave in Kentucky and a rickety bridge in Tennessee. “Very spooky,” he said. What can I do for these people? Who am I? I am no one.
But I have come with my pitch, too. Here it is:
The parade began with just one crazy red-bandanna’d lunatic, Trent Slocum, beating a metal garbage-can lid with an oversized drumstick and singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He made two laps around the circular drive that connects our campus, smiling at me each time he passed my office window.
Harry Wang joined in the third lap. Weird Harry, who shows up at my chemistry class barefooted, even in the snow, a matter (he says) of Buddhist discipline. His parents are Christian missionaries in Botswana. Harry links arms with Trent. He carries a bullhorn and says into it: “Come join the parade! Come join the parade!”
It is rush week on our small Midwestern campus. The rushee girls of Sigma Sigma Sigma, faces painted like owls and rabbits, and chanting in unison—"S! S-I! S-I-G-M-A-Here to stay-S-I! S-I!" —and so on, now fall into step behind Trent and Weird Harry, who is now leading them in a rousing rendition of “O, Susanna” on his bullhorn.
The Rice Hall co-ed dormitory is opposite my office window. The young men and women stick their heads out into the cold. Some of them run downstairs to join the parade. I see two chem majors I know—Les Simmons and Julio Mendez—and they must have rushed straight from the lab, because they are holding beakers into the air like trophies, and singing, “I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.”
By the next pass, more have joined. The rugby team, their ears still taped to the sides of their heads, and the cheerleaders, for whom parading is second nature. I see eco-warriors bearing large, green banners, and members of the glee club looking for all the world like a procession of Benedictine monks, their long, black robes trailing in the waning wind. And I am compelled—I desire; I want—to join the parade before it becomes too long and fills the entire two-block circle and joins itself. My early-winter coat hangs from a peg near my door, and I engage it in conversation and pretend to hear the coat talking back: “I am so warm, Dr. Freed. You will not freeze. Let us parade.” But still I do not join. I am a man of science; I observe.
Cars and trucks are joining the parade now. Two oversized pickups run side-by-side at idle speeds. The green pickup is caked with mud, and a large rebel flag flies from one rear corner. All the riders in the back wear flannel and sport beards. The blue pickup is neat and washed, its bed full of Black Student Union officers. From the front of the parade line, Weird Harry sings, “I’d like to build the world a home and furnish it with love.” The green truckers and the blue truckers, who have been eyeing one another suspiciously, are taken with song. “Grow apple trees and honey bees,” they sing, “and snow-white turtledoves.” They are singing, they are truck-dancing, they are high-fiving, and the parade rolls onward.
The part of the circle that runs in front of my office is also a thruway for traffic moving from one end of town to the other. Some of the commuters join the parade—grizzled insurance agents, gentle roofers, the woman who sells Mary Kay cosmetics—and car horns are beeped with joy.
The Periodic Table of Elements hangs above my window. I love the color scheme—pink for noble gases, yellow for metals, green for the carbon family—and I love, too, the romance of the radioactive words—Plutonium, Curium, Radium. What would people think if I wrapped myself in the Periodic Table and joined the parade? But still, I just watch. Professors have not been invited to the parade.
But then Leonard Grimes, sixty-eight-year-old chairman of the history department, proves me wrong. He comes dashing from my office building, at a full cane-aided run, marvelously agile. The blue truckers from the Black Student Union lift him into their pickup, and Weird Harry throws the bullhorn in Leonard’s direction. And then crusty old Dr. Grimes, filled no doubt with memories of solemn triumphant parades past, begins singing “We Shall Overcome,” and all up and down the parade lines, people are holding hands and raising them above their heads.
Sally Jemison from the physics department rushes into my office. “You seen this?” I ask her. “Heard about it on the radio,” she says. “Traffic is backed up all over town.” She smells like apple shampoo. Most days I smell those apples and want to take her in my arms and inhale every last whiff of shampoo. We are standing very close together, and I am seized by uncharacteristic boldness. “Sally,” I say. “I’d like to kiss you now.” And to my surprise, she closes her eyes and leans her lips into mine, and we linger there for a few minutes, in the softness. When we finally pull apart, tears are running down her cheeks, and when I see her tears, mine begin to flow, too. The last time I cried was the fourth grade.
I put an arm around Sally’s shoulder, and together we watch the parade, which has now joined itself in a kind of circular infinity, without beginning or end. “You want to?” she asks. “Let’s,” I say, knowing now that we are invited, that everyone is invited, and that the sea of bodies and trucks and cars will part long enough to annex us, then carry us away in its current.
We marched, we sang, we chanted, the sky grew dark, and snow began to fall on our shoulders. Policemen had arrived with their blue lights and loudspeakered cease-and-desist instructions, but they were too late. Trent Slocum and Weird Harry were pulled from the parade forcibly and told to bring an end to the parade. “You can make me stop,” Weird Harry said, “but I cannot stop the parade. I did not create the parade; the parade created me.” And so, perplexed but shamefaced, the policemen, too, joined the parade, as did the mayor and the chancellor and the women who collect quarters from the laundromat. And I marched with Sally, and I marched with Leonard Grimes and Weird Harry and Trent and the Black Student Union and the rednecks and roofers and insurance agents and Sigma Sigma Sigmas and Benedictine monks, and only left the parade—for just a moment—to return to my office and wrap myself in the colors of the Periodic Table, and I offered myself, every element of me, to Sally, and she stepped inside the paper coat with me, and we walked together until we grew warm.