Super Effort

March of the Tubes

It was the winter of 2010-2011, the First Annual New Year’s Day Tube Parade. If you have never seen a Tube Parade- a rare privilege- I should explain the exact nature of this event: members of the Mystery School insert themselves into giant tubes and march up and down the street. The location is always different so don’t go looking for the Tube Parade. When you are ready it will appear.

In preparation for the New Year’s Day parade, I had spent the previous week designing an extremely comfortable, light-weight collapsible tube costume. The design used high-stress breathable, water-proof gortex fabric stretched over a frame of carbon-fiber hoops, with sewn-in shoulder straps for comfort and balance. Sadly I was kept busy with mystery school assignments and bookstore computer setup, so that on the morning of the Tube Parade I had no tube at all. I was tubeless.

No problem. One of the mystery school students had designed a tube that cost $12 to make and could be assembled in fifteen minutes. He thought that the whole group could make tubes for everyone in 45 minutes on the morning of the parade- which was good because no one else had made their tube either.

The tubes were made out of 9 2’x3’ sheets of poster paper taped together. The final touch was cutting out holes for the face and arms. Compared to my high-tech design, it was 30x cheaper, 30x faster to make, and looked 30x more like a tube. The problem with my design was that I am an engineer, and my tube was designed like a low orbit insertion vehicle. However you will see, as it turned out, my design would have had some serious advantages.

However, 90 minutes after we started we were still making our tubes. It was not only tricky but hazardous. After the tube was rolled up, it was dropped on the hapless mystery school student who attempted to point out where their face and arms were. This was tricky because inside the tube they could not be seen or heard. The room was filled with frantic people stabbing scissors into the paper tubes where they thought the face might be located. It was like auditions for a Hitchcock shower scene.

Finally, we were all tubed and ready to march. I and another person were assigned to video the march so we left our tubes safely inside the bookstore and followed the parade in my car. As the parade marched around the block we buzzed by shooting video. Then the parade took off for the main route through the River Market District, where we were supposed to join up with them after we donned our tubes. We drove to the bookstore, where our tubes were waiting. It was locked up and no one was there. So we drove around looking for someone with a key. By the time we got our tubes on and went looking for the parade, it had gone a good distance. There was also apparently considerable confusion about the parade route because the parade had fragmented into forlorn groups of wandering tubes, going in different directions and shouting at each other. We joined up with a few slow-going tubes at the tail end of the parade. The parade finally pulled together. It was a warm, sunny day and the marching tubes were well received by the merry-makers on Markham Street.

After the parade we met with our Mystery School guide to alchemical transformation. He asked for a list of the ways in which we had not followed the instructions we had been given. We had to admit that the parade had started late, left without the video crew, followed the wrong route, failed to wave at and greet people, and had obliterated a number of other instructions for the parade as well. In short, our guide assigned us to redo the whole parade properly that night.

Now here I have to interject that I never understood the purpose of the Tube Parade, including all the specific details we failed to follow. Clearly, my belief that the parade was just a fun thing to do for our amusement was wrong. Was this all a lesson in listening to and following instructions? In working together as a group? In leadership for the persons in charge of the parade? Was it a magical ritual to bring us some energy, or a give a blessing to the worthy folks of the River Market District? Either our guide had neglected to tell us, or I had not been paying attention when he did, or both. More recently I had a rare moment of paying attention when our guide said the intention of the following 2010-2011 Tube Parade was to bring prosperity to the viewers of the parade. If each parade has a different intention, then my own conclusion based on observation can be nothing other than that purpose of the 2009-2010 parade was to bring the marchers themselves misery and suffering, as you will see if you read on.

In any case, we all assembled for the second take of the parade that evening. It had to be set late so that some who had other things to do could show up- everyone had to be there. All of us were at this point pretty well on board about following the instructions, because there was no doubt in our minds that that if we did not, we would be doing the march again. In fact, people were down-right frantic and determined to make sure everyone towed the line. Wow, I just had a linguistic enlightenment moment. I had always thought that idiom meant that everyone had to stick closely to the line of the tow-path, which makes little sense, but now I realize that it really means that some people in a group that is pulling on a rope may not really be exerting any force. Another small step on the path to the Great Liberation.

So unlike the first time, everyone was double checking to make sure everyone was there. Some folks had to be tracked down and corralled to the bookstore before we could start, which meant that we started pretty late. We lined up in front of the bookstore to make sure everyone was ready and properly tubed. Everyone agreed to follow the designated leader’s understanding of the route. The fear of having to do another Tube Parade replaced dissension and confusion with cooperation and clarity. It was dark by the time we started out.

I began to notice a major difference from the afternoon march. It was freezing cold. Coming from the warm clime of LA I was prepared to hang out at the beach but not to march in through the bitter cold of that midwinter night. I had thought that Little Rock was in the South but apparently it had been teleported to somewhere in Alaska. Even the natives seemed to be surprised by the change of location. Many of them were dressed lightly to fit inside their tubes, which had been adjusted without overcoats, and without gloves.

One of the important instructions for the parade was that we kept both hands help high up in the air, waving as we walked. If you have ever been to Disneyland, Disneyworld, Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, or Shanghai Disneyland, then you will know the super-happy effect of people in giant smiling costumes waving both hands high in the air. If you are an archeologist from 1000 years in the future deciphering this after digging it up from an ancient city, then in order to understand our vanished culture you should know that Disneyland were ceremonial centers for ritual propitiation of tutelary deities associated with our hereditary cast system.

The happily upraised arms waving in happy greeting totally transformed the Tube Parade into a funny, merry, exciting event. The problem was that soon our bare hands began to freeze in the cold winter night. Our hands began to sting with frostbite, but we kept waving. No one wanted to do this march again. As soon as anyone tried to warm their hands by pulling them inside the tube, there were cries of “Keep waving your hands! Keep waving your hands!” The people we met on the street- late night partners- did not seems to notice we were in pain and greeted us back with great cheer.
My arms were getting exhausted from being held high for so long. My fingers were hurting with the cold. Beginning to consider the possibility of second degree frostbite I began to sneak my hands inside the tube to warm them up.

Our tubes were 8 and even 9 feet tall. We couldn’t see the top part of our own tubes, so we kept running into tree branches, awnings, and street signs. When I hit a branch, my tube slammed my head back giving me tube whiplash. But we could see the top of the tubes of the people right ahead of us in line, so besides the constant cries of “Wave your hands! Is everyone waving their hands!”, shouts of “Watch out for the tree!”, “Go to the right! Go to the right!”.

Eventually we reached the end of the main drag of The River Market District and began the return to the bookstore. “Not too bad,” I thought, “I can make it. I can definitely make it back to the bookstore.” I cheered up with every step. Inch by inch we got closer to the bookstore. “ As we entered the parking lot I was joyous. Imagine my horror as we marched past the store and turned back toward Markham Street. As we took off again for a second circuit, I debated leaving the parade. I was suffering from exposure, fatigue, and hunger. Why should I continue the march? But I looked at my fellow tubes, all marching stolidly along without complaint, and I was too ashamed to be the only one to wimp out. “I made it once,” I encouraged myself, I can make it twice.”