Super Effort

A paper tube, it turns out, is not good insulation from the cold. It is not going to endanger the down parka, in spite of its low cost and original look. We were seriously freezing inside our tubes. It is also not easy to march inside of a tube. It is supported on the shoulders only, and in those first tubes the arm-holes were not cut carefully enough to fit well. While walking I had to keep my shoulders scrunched, balancing the tube, and walking stiffly so it stayed in place.

It was getting colder and colder- I guess that’s normal as it gets toward midnight. There were very few people out- we were marching through dark empty streets, waving our hands wildly. At least my hands had stopped hurting. They were numb and white. It is too my great credit that I continued, since as an Angelino I had no idea whether that meant my fingers were dead. I was now starving, falling asleep, frozen, and exhausted. I dreamt of a hot meal when the march was over, but my brain switched the channel to a dream of falling into bed. I was surviving one step at a time. My tube was my cross.

Then it began to rain. A paper tube may not be protection from the cold, but it is a definite handicap in the rain. It just soaks that water right up. 25 brightly colored tubes merrily marched down Markham Street as they slowly fell to pieces in the freezing rain. It was not a downpour, which would have dissolved our tubes instantly into mush, but a fine mist, just enough to add to our misery and frostbite. Now I had to hold my disintegrating tube together while I waved my hands, balanced my tube with my hunched shoulders, and tried to keep my hands from freezing in the icy rain.

The whole parade moved at a steady, slogging pace. I kept sneaking my hands into my tube to warm them up; fortunately I had big arm holes, unlike some other people. The other folks had to rip theirs bigger to warm their hands. Not that it was hard, since the poster-paper was melting in the rain. A lot of folks were struggling just to keep their tubes on, as they fell into tatters, while some only had tattered fragments of their tubes to clutch to their body so they could finish the march in costume.

We neared the end of the River Market district and turned around. “Thank the gods,” I thought, “I can make it. I can make it. Just take one step at a time.” I was shivering constantly. My teeth were chattering. I needed to pee something awful. Take a step. Take another step. Take another step. Every step is 1.5 feet closer to the warm, dry bookstore. I smiled and waved in my best imitation of New Year’s good cheer.

Finally we reached Chester Street and the bookstore. I had made it. But as we reached the bookstore we kept on marching. We headed back to the River Market. I plunged into despair. The idea of another march through the River Market district in the freezing rain wrapped only in soaking wet paper as the night grew colder and colder was too much for me. If any of my fellow marchers had abandoned the parade I would have been with them in an instant.

I have since found out the problem. Many of the marchers were members of a martial arts school. Their motto is “Never, never quit.” This conflicts with my own personal motto, “Always, always quit, as soon as you possibly can.” Which of these mottoes seems more reasonable or more likely to result in a relaxed, happy, and pleasant life, I leave to you to decide.

You may point out that in fact I did not quit, which means I am a hypocrite. Set aside the fact that I consider hypocrisy to be both a great moral virtue and a highly effective way to relate to others. My behavior that night is explained by my guiding principle, “Never, never let anyone realize how big a coward you are.” My guiding principle always trumps my personal motto. Cowardice is another quality I consider to be a great virtue and a winning strategy in life. Cowardice, hypocrisy, and quitting have always worked well for me and I highly recommend them.

But they didn’t do me much good this night. Filled with shock and horror I followed my fellow Mysery School (oops) students on the third time over the route. It was now 1 am and colder than ever. The streets were deserted. The rain was drizzling down steadily on our heads. The wind blew on our wet, waving hands giving a wind chill factor of 120 degrees below zero.

I now had no idea of how long the parade was going to be. Three circuits, four, five? I wished I had been listening when our guide had given the instructions, although now that I think about it he may have given them to the parade leader in secret as he often does, in order that no one would know how long the march was going to last. It turns out there is a lot easier to endure something when you know when it will be over. “I can hang on a little longer, it will be over soon,” you can tell yourself. But when you don’t know how long, it might as well be forever. Unfortunately, it appears that in the bardo we are not given a schedule of events so we have to learn to deal with the unknown.

I have my own way of dealing with the unknown. I tried hard to figure a way out of the parade, like faking a sprained ankle or a heart attack. I didn’t think I would be able to give a convincing performance, and I made a note when I got home to learn how to fake injuries and illnesses on youtube. You never know when being able to give a good imitation of an epileptic seizure or a stroke will come in handy for concealing cowardice.

I was now a marching tube zombie. I felt the march would last for eternity. Perhaps, unknown to myself, I had really had a heart attack and died, and was now doomed to spend eternity in an endless Tube Parade. But I was wrong. At 2am the parade pulled up to a stop in front of the bookstore. I was so convinced it would go on forever this took me by surprise. By that time most of the tubes had completely disintegrated in the rain so we didn’t have to take them off, we just let them drop to the ground in heaps of soaked paper scraps. Then we scattered for hot showers and our cozy beds.

That was the first annual New Year’s Day Tube Parade. Quite recently we finished the second annual New Year’s Day Tube Parade. All our tubes were finished days before the parade, beautifully painted and decorated. The crowds loved the parade which for us was a pleasant walk in the warm sun. It’s amazing how quickly people learn through intentional suffering.