..."Hey guys, wait up," I called. It was a clear summer day and we were all rushing to the park to try and grab the ping-pong table before anyone else could.
..."Hurry up, Rick, you're slowing us down," Mark called back. "those girls will beat us there for sure if you don't hurry!" As he spoke, the group broke into a sprint.
...I put on all the speed I could muster, making it seem as if I was flying when in actuality I was barely even catching up to them. They were my best friends, Mark, Jay, Brian, and Neil. Every day we went to the park together, and that's the way it had been for every other summer I could remember. This summer had been no different.
...I was nearly at the shack by the pool when I heard a voice calling out from the shack.
..."No fair! You know we always get the ping-pong table first!" Jay whined.
...I had arrived too late. Barb Fournier and her whiny friends had gotten the table first, and were already playing an amateurish game of ping-pong. It was just like a bunch of girls to take our table, the one we played on every day, and not even be able to play a decent game. The guys glanced around, seeing what there was to do.
...The park leader was just beginning to fill up the paddling pool. The littler kids were waiting eagerly for the water, all carrying water toys of some sort or another.
...The only stuff in the shack that had been brought out was a whole bunch of painting supplies and boxes. Mark started picking through the junk, and the rest of us wandered over, wondering what it was for.
...The park leader came inside and introduced himself. "My name's Roy, and it looks as if you boys just can't wait to get started."
...Started? Started on what I wondered, then realized that I had voiced my question out loud.
...Roy chuckled to himself, apparently sharing some kind of joke with himself. "It's parade time. Let's get some ideas going, shall we? If you boys are half as smart as I think you are, Sutherland Park has a good chance of winning this year."
...Of course! The parade he was referring to was the annual parks parade which each park entered a float to try and win best float. The winner got to choose between either a new basketball court for their park or a hill. For years we had been trying to win, because we wanted that basketball court so bad we could taste it. Plus it was really cool to be the stars of the float when we drove around town.
..."What kind of float should we do this year?" asked Brian.
...Roy stared at us, like we were some kind of weirdos who had just popped up in front of him. "What do you boys want to do?"
..."You mean we get to choose what we want on the float?" gasped Jay. This was to good to be true. Every other year the park leaders had always told us what we were going to do and we never had a choice in the matter. This would show those snobby girls. We'd pick something so wonderfully good that we couldn't help but win, but there was no way we'd let those dumb girls help. All they were good for was to get in our faces and make us mad. This would serve them right for taking our ping-ping table! After all, everybody knew that only guys could play real ping-pong. And that goes for all other sports, even basketball on that new basketball court we were going to win this year, I could feel it in my bones. This was our year.
...All the guys were shaking with anticipation. About six other guys had arrived just in time to hear the good news. They were all going to help of course, they were our friends. Roy drew out one of those really retarded huge sheets of paper and taped it to the wall. Brandishing one of those scented markers, he asked for ideas.
...That's when it became chaos in the shack. Guys were shouting out ideas from every corner of the room. Ideas like Indian floats with war drums and everything, all the way to Beatles floats. That idea came from Jeff Higby, who idolized the Beatles so much he even wore one of those stupid Beatle wigs, which everyone knew were only for girls. His idea was quickly voted down.
...It got so loud in there that the girls put down their ping-pong paddles to join the masses. The table was snatched up by a couple third-graders. We didn't care, we had something better we were working on.
...Neil shouted out, "Baseball!" The others started to cheer. It was the best idea we'd heard so far. Barb tried adding one of her girlish ideas, but the guys booed her down.
...Roy noticed the enthusiasm for Neil's idea, and asked, "Does everyone want to do a baseball float?"
...I was about to cheer myself when I suddenly got the most wonderful idea, one that would surely impress the judges and win us our court. "How about a war float? We could have guys dressed up as soldiers, with guns and everything!"
...The room was silent while guys thought it over, and then one of Barb's snotty friends piped up: "Well, I think it's a stupid idea!"
...That was enough to make up the minds of the most hesitant people. If the girls weren't going to like it, then we just had to do it. Pictures of bloody victims laying about with grenades everywhere filled our heads. The room erupted in war whoops and hollers.
...Roy waited for quiet then said, "I guess it's settled, then. Blood and guts for everyone!" At first we just stared, but then we cheered again, if only to make him happy. The girls got annoyed looks on their faces, and not even having the ping-pong table anymore, they left the shack, all mad. Nobody cared, though. We had a float to work on!
* * *
...We worked constantly on our float, making grenades out of papier-mache, guns out of paper towel rolls, and barbed wire out of pipe cleaners. The barbed wire didn't look too good, though, until we painted it with black paint and smoothed down all the bristles. We brought old clothes and painted camouflage patches on them with green food colouring and black and brown ink. Being my idea, I got to choose who were soldiers and who were victims. Me and Mark, Neil, Jay, Brian, and a couple others were the soldiers, of course. Even though all the victims got to do was lay on the float looking dead, I had to pick from about fifteen people. Those who weren't chosen threw themselves into the little parts that had to be done, such as painting the sides of the float to look like a grassy field. Our float got so popular that even the snotty girls were cutting out lades of grass, to make it look more realistic, they said. We thought it was useless, but felt triumph in making them ask us if they could help. Roy old us we had to let them help, but they didn't know that.
...Roy nailed all the boards together on the wire frame he had made at home, he said. We put up our hillside, which gave it a 3-d effect, said Roy. Our wire fence was set up with wooden posts, cutting the battlefield in half. We mixed red and brown paint to look like dried blood and splattered it all over the hundreds of blades of grass the girls had painstakingly cut out and stapled to the float.
...At last, after three long weeks of very hard work, our float was ready. We had seven soldiers, all battle-weary in their uniforms, made from old pay clothes. There were five dead people, all bloody and battered, and of course weapons for all. Overall, it looked pretty good, even though Roy said we had to have a banner with a title. He gave that job to the girls! They picked "The Horror Of War", which was the nicest thing they could say, I guess. Since it was their banner, they got to carry it in front of the float. We wanted to have them dressed like more victims, but they dressed like nurses instead.
...Finally, the day of the parade came. It started at nine in the morning, so we had to be at the start site at eight. Roy drove the float over the night before, and picked us all up at seven-fifteen. I thought about waking my mom up, but decided not to when I realized she had told me the night before how if I woke her up early, I'd be a victim on the float instead of a soldier, with my own blood and guts instead of a costume. We arrived at Spadina by seven-thirty, raring to go. By eight-thirty, we were all suited up. The co-ordinators lined us up in their pre-arranged order, and we were off.
...As we drove around, kids cheered and yelled at our float. The parents gave approving nods to the girls in their nurses uniforms, strutting in front with their banner. The float in front of us thought all the cheers were for them, but there was no way, since their float was some dumb green thing entitled "Summer Fun".
...By the time we got to the end of the route, we were sweating, not having realized how hot our papier-mache helmets would be. I was never so relieved as when I got down off the float, took off my helmet, and grabbed one of the free popsicles they were giving to the kids from the floats. The mayor was supposed to give the award for best float any minute now. We could hardly wait.
...After what seemed like hours of waiting, the mayor stepped up to the makeshift podium and cleared his throat into the mike.
..."Hello, everybody, and thank you for coming to this year's Children's Parade."
..."get on with it," muttered the kid behind me.
..."I am pleased to announce that once again, we have had some of the best entries ever done. The children have really outdone themselves this time." He smiled. We frowned. Children!
..."Now, it is time to make the awards for the best float. Third place goes to River Heights, for their "Summer Fun" float!" All the River Heights kids cheered. "Second place goes to Wildwood, for their "Indian Adventure" float!" All the Wildwood kids cheered. We were getting nervous. What if we didn't win? "And finally, the prize you have all been waiting for, first place goes to... Sutherland and their "Horror Of War" float with its poignant anti-war message!" Well, maybe our float wasn't supposed to be anti-war, but we didn't care anymore. We won!
..."If the winning park's leader and a representative would join me up here," asked the mayor.
...I went up with Roy, because it had been my idea. When we got up there, the mayor spoke again.
..."It is now my pleasure to ask the winning park what their choice of prize is, between the hill or a basketball court." Before I could answer, Roy spoke.
..."Our park has put plenty of time and effort into this float, and I am glad to say that we finally won the hill we've wanted all summer!" The audience cheered.
...Not us Sutherland kids. We were dead quiet. We worked long and hard for that basketball court, and our leader stuck us with a hill? A useless pile of dirt? How could he betray us like that? Not one of us said a word during the rest of the ceremony, or the ride home.
* * *
...The next day, we went back to the park as if nothing happened. Mark, Jay, Neil, Brian and I played ping-pong all morning. We had a new park leader, named Jan. We ignored her, even though she seemed pretty nice. All in all, it was a pretty uneventful summer.
I wrote this sitting at my typewriter under pressure because I had a 60 page manuscript due the next day. It has basis in fact. Sutherland is the area of town in which I live, and where my dad grew up. Back when he was young the Childrens Parade was the biggest event of the summer. He was part of the parades that won Sutherland Park its hill and its basketball court. My story is completely fictional, however.
return from whence you came