Weirdness on Parade

This week's UPI column

So There I was...

At the galactic HQ of non-conformity, Berkeley, California. Visiting some friends, I was also taking in the annual “How Berkeley can you be? Parade.” Let me tell you, they have no trouble being extremely Berkeley down there. They have earned their adjectival status.

The parade included environmentalists and activists galore: local, regional, national, international, global and extraterrestrial. Many of them seemed to be anti-something: war, fur or government in general. But some were supporting things: creeks, the use of sign language, cheerleading.

There was the traditional nudity, despite the fact that the fall Sunday was crisp. I wasn’t always sure what purpose this nakedness served. But the unadorned hermaphrodite made it clear that you weren’t in Kansas, Dorothy. This individual was carrying a sign that read “hermaphrodites for peace” – good thing, because they aren’t letting you into the army, honey.

There was a man in a bright pink unitard riding a unicycle. There was a Wiccan martini lounge orchestra. There are the faux groups (at least I think they were faux) like “Billionaires for Bush” -- formally attired persons carrying signs that say, “thanks for paying our share,” “Taxes are not for everyone” and “Dick Cheney speaks for me.”

There were art cars. A form of artistic expression that involves thousands of objects you have acquired at Goodwill and glued to your car. There was a camera car – early Brownie to digital, and cars covered in rubber animals, including singing bass. There were a few Volkswagens in simple tie-dye paint – elegant and traditional.

One of my favorite moments was the convergence of a marching band of Klingon warriors with a battalion of Stormtroopers. The cognitive dissonance generated by having the Star Wars world mingling with the Star Trek world was phenomenal. The fact that these creatures were marching in this world did not even register on the radar of weirdness.

But the abiding moment for me did not occur on the street in front of me, it happened in the crowd next to me. At some point I became aware of a family on my right. Tie dyed mother and ponytailed father and their two small boys, one in a stroller. Mother and father were entranced with the spectacle, cheering each entry, and pointing out the nuances to their older son. This boy was about five, and he was taking in the whole thing. But his countenance did not mirror the joy and approval of his parents. He was watching this display of flagrant freedom with what looked like detached disdain. Not even the science fiction retinue peaked his interest. He thought these people were strange. He thought they were a little scary. The only words I heard him say were “Can we go home now?”

I looked at him and saw a future Republican, a neo-con in the making.

Parents, take caution. It is easy in your enthusiasm to slip into an extremity that repels your children. It is easy in your oh-so-subtle indoctrination to fail to notice that your children think you are strange, or out of touch. It is important to tell them what you think, to transmit your values. But it is also important to ask them what they think, to let them speak to you. They may have some important observations. Listen to them.

Churches across the board in this pluralistic society have discovered that they have a common problem -- keeping the kids in the faith after they leave home. I suspect that some of the problem is the failure to attend to our own weirdness. A young man dating one of my daughters pointed out to me that you can tell a Christian song on the radio within seconds if it includes a reference to barnyard animals, usually sheep. He thinks the obsession with sheep is a little weird. He is right.