Saturday, July 11, 2009
Independence day at the Free Republic of West Athens, Maine
Athens, Greece, the cradle of western civilization, lies across the sea from Alexandria, Egypt. In the ancient center of town is the Parthenon, the classical temple to Athena that is emblematic of the artistic achievements of Attic Greece.
Athens, Greece is south of Rome, northwest of Cairo, and east from Madrid.
Athens, Maine is north of Rome, northeast of Paris, northwest of China, northeast of Mexico, and north of Peru.
There are 800 residents and there is no center of town that you would recognize as such.
This is what we did on the Fourth of July, while we were at Pleasant Pond in north central Maine, which I am sorry to report was not as Pleasant as normal, on account of wind, rain, fog, grey clouds, low temperatures, mosquitoes carrying a new strain of arctic malaria, loons calling off-key and more of the same. We read in the Morning Sentinel about the parade in Athens and decided to go. We stopped at Jimmy’s in Bingham to ask directions, and the cashier said, “I hope you have a very open mind.” The man at Berry’s in West Forks said, “They’re a bunch of ne’er do well potheads. I’ve never been.”
We headed down 201, the Kennebec Chaudiére, turned left after Solon and left again towards Athens.
We arrived around 11, pulled over by a field and walked along the road until we saw a scrum of revelers. There was white van parked at a corner with a tattered doll dangling from a fishing pole.
This was the mascot of the Fallen Angels.
Because we did not have a cooler on wheels filled with BudLite, we realized we were unprepared for the event. I have never seen so many coolers on wheels in one place in my life, but that may say more about my activities than anything else. Every group of teenagers – and their children– was accompanied by their cooler on wheels.
It turns out the West Athens parade is a tradition of some 36 years standing, which would put its inception at 1973. An overriding theme seems to be the movement to legalize marijuana, but each year there is also a topical theme, this year’s was the stimulus and how it was not stimulating much in north central Maine.
The parade ends up in an old quarry for a play and the traditional Fourth of July salute from the Free Republic of West Athens: everyone, old and young, faces south, raises their middle fingers skyward and shouts out. That was the moment when I thought: we really have entered another zone here.
But back to the parade.
There was the Wild West Athens float featuring stoned gunslingers, kinky harnesses & revelry. And a man in a bathtub taking a bath.
There was the I Miss America pageant, presented by the antiwar group, CODE PINK. Contestants included I Miss Truth, I Miss Defied, I Miss Represented, I Miss Used Funds and Abu Barbie.
There was of course a Michael Jackson float. And the anti-Michael Elvis impersonator.
Here are the Corn & their banner. Are they protesting genetically modified crops? Or same-sex marriage? Neither? Or both?
There was a Legalize Marijuana Float.
There was a float with a young man standing in front of a keg of beer. A tube was attached to the keg’s spout and passed through the young man’s legs, so that he could piss beer, which he did, and beer was dispensed freely for young and old.
The Shroom Float featured mushrooms atop a pile of garbage. And a scantily clad young woman.
Scantily clad young women were to be found on most floats, de rigueur.
Next to the rolling coolers, the most important accessories were multiple tattoos. I have never seen so many tattoos in one place before, but CSB says that is because I don’t get let out much.
My favorite t-shirt slogan (that I am willing to put in print): IF WERE NOT RELATED/THEN WE HAVENT DATED.
I fear my description and pictures do not do justice to the West Athens Parade. It was marvelously transgressive. It was also terribly depressing to see so many teenage parents dead drunk at noon while their children watched. It was, clearly, the anti-Fourth of July Parade. Not a fire truck to be seen. It was also a meta-parade. The concept itself is being taken into another realm. The humor was often Shakespearean, delighting in cross-dressing and gender-bending. At other times it was Chaucerian, with the broadest of sexual jokes and scatological references. (These last are also the staple of the nursery-school school carpool, as I fondly recall.)
The last ‘float’ to sputter its way down the road was the white van bearing the Fallen Angels, their wings off-kilter, their white face paint smeared, and in many cases, literally falling down drunk.
Such is Independence Day in the Free Republic of West Athens.