I remember my first All the Saints Halloween party like it was yesterday and not 2008.
The responsibility of carrying one of puppet-maker Lily's hefty creations. The recognition of familiar faces among the barely 50 or so marchers. The scattered Oregon Hill-ites who deigned to sit on their porches and watch. The simplicity of it all.
With each subsequent year I became part of the parade - 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 - I fine-tuned the experience.
No more puppets for me (too heavy) but I can work a banner or sign all night long. Dress lighter than you think you need to in order to compensate for carrying weighty objects and near non-stop walking. Wear comfortable shoes.
One of the high points is always organizer Lily coming by in her painted skeleton face and white satin robe to squeal my name, tell me she loves me and thank me for coming.
This year, I had three people with me (two marching, one paralleling the parade with canine in tow) gaping at costumes, admiring myriad skeleton window coverings and getting a front row view of the eclectic audience (an outhouse, a guy in a barrel going over the falls, Elvis with a spangled cape and gold platforms) for the funeral march for the demons of the day.
But as the parade has also taken on a life of its own with masses of spectators, I've also had to adjust to it.
A continuous mega-watt smile is essential because at practically every step, people are taking our picture or shooting video. It's a truly weird experience if you're not used to it.
The crowds viewing the parade currently begin at Monroe Park where the parade is staged and started, when we used to not see crowds until we were across Cary and headed into the bowels of O-Hill.
We somehow lucked into being behind a bagpiper, making for some inspiring marching music as we made our way toward the river, a stiff breeze reminding us how close we were. When he'd give his cheeks a rest, I could hear No BS Brass band playing in front of me or Lobo Marino or the Zombie String Band behind us.
Despite being an air sign, this year I led the "water" section of the parade with my blue sign reading, "Water," just behind the Goddesses contingent (Bruno was the Goddess of Old Friends while the goddess of twerking did exactly that, causing an O-Hill resident standing next to her kids in the bed of a pick-up to ask rhetorically, "Is she jacking off under there?") and at the start of the Elements groupings, just behind the tooth fairy waving the purple banner perilously close to our heads.
My sign was read by enough people that I got used to hearing such things called out as, "Gotta have water!" and, "We all need water!" as I passed by with it high in the air, working every muscle in my arms while Mac waved an upside down banner next to me.
Two women dressed as Peter Pan flitted in a zigzag pattern throughout the length of the participant line toward the front while a guy on a BMX bike tried to ride through it against the grain. When we got down to make the U-turn near the overlook, the tooth fairy turned and pointed back at the scores of marchers coming down the hill toward us.
"Look at how many people!" It truly was an impressive mass of humanity.
As we walked up Pine Street, I spotted the outline of chef David Shannon against L'Opossum's kitchen door, a huge grin on his face. But of course a man with bad clown paintings in his bathroom would appreciate the oddities of this parade.
Those oddities were nothing compared to Gallery 5's holiday offering, "The Thingy: Confessions of a Teenage Placenta," part of the Troma film series and half of tonight's Halloween double feature. Except that the film was listed as starting at 9:30 and when we arrived at 9:20, it was already in progress.
To be honest, I hate it when I miss the beginning of a film, much less the beginning of a Belgian horror/comedy film with little discernible plot and no way of catching up, but we gave it our all.
Luke the placenta was coming of age and made squishy noises wherever he went, left a slime trail behind him and used his umbilical cord to paste pictures from cigarette packs in his scrapbook.
He was the sweetest teenage placenta a mother could hope for.
But why did Mom have one giant overly-muscular arm? Who was Luke's mysterious father, anyway, Darth Vader? Why did his first date bite him ravenously after kissing him? Why did the priest torture Luke by tickling him (and, yes, it's torture, my Mom always said tickling was a form of torture)? Who thought a dog nursing at the breast of a woman was anything but repellent?
And why, oh, why, did Luke have to shoot all the newborns in the hospital nursery?
Because it's a Troma film, because the violence is so cartoonish, because...probably because of something that happened in those first 20 minutes we missed.
Placentas come and go, but the real accomplishment here is me getting my sixth Halloween parade notch on my belt, as always, marching to the beat of a different Halloween drummer.
Costume not required, attitude a plus.