The Claremont Grammarians

About a month ago, Stacy, Jessica, and I make a resolution: we want to be in the Claremont parade. More importantly, we want to be weird in the Claremont parade. We kick around some bizarre theme ideas before ultimately deciding on calling our group The Claremont Grammarians. Our mission is to spread good grammar to the surrounding community, and what better way than by appearing in the local Fourth of July parade? We fill out all of the necessary paperwork, for which there was a surprising amount. It is several weeks before we hear a response, but apparently, the Claremont Grammarians are a go!

We go to Pitzer to borrow some items from the Art Collective closet and a bullhorn while we're at it. When we return home, we find that Shea's truck has chosen the worst time ever to break down. What now? The parade is in just a few hours!

I focus my attention on continuing to make the signs - the show must go on even if without a truck. While Jessica goes about creating the most awesome, glittery t-shirts, Shea learns that he can rent a truck from Lowe's for twenty bucks an hour. So just moments before the parade starts, he rents a truck under the pretense of moving a large purchase from the store and brings it to the parade route.

We show up late, just twenty minutes before the parade is supposed to start. Fortunately, they let us line up anyway. Every other float is perfectly in place, while we rush to duct tape whatever we can to the sides of the trucks, even creating half of the signs right there on the spot. It doesn't get much more ghetto than the grammar float, folks. We tape over the Lowe's parts first. Right from the start, other groups who obviously put a lot of work into their floats snicker at our hasty process of decorating and wonder who the hell let these crazies into the parade in the first place.

Together, we finish just in time to depart. Parentheses Man (Shea) drives the truck while Period. (Jessica), Grammar Dog (Bosco), Exclamation Empress (Stacy), ? (the mannequin), and Semicolon Powell (Kevin) wave and cheer from the back. A middle school cheerleading squad is behind us, and it's obvious they do not enjoy our sense of humor. Since their cheers did not use proper grammar or syntax and far too much repetition, I would heckle them, overpowering their chants with the bullhorn. "Do a cheer about grammar" I request repeatedly. Alas, they seem far too busy being aggressive. Being, being aggressive.

Let me tell you, that this parade is one of the most amazing half hours of my entire life. Everything felt right in that moment. Interacting with the crowd was stupendous. There is a mixed reaction from the townsfolk, which is perfect. Many people seem genuinely puzzled, having never seen anything like us. They want to know if we were a real group (yes, we lie) and when we meet (Wednesdays at 7). These are the people who don't clap for us as we go by, instead giving us blank stares and obviously judging our desecration of this town's tradition. On the other hand, there are a lot of people seemed to "get" it, understanding that this float was a somewhat facetious deviation from the typical parade fare, with grammar being a hilarious cover. I had thought I'd be more entertained by the former group's response, but, for once, it is so much more fulfilling to see the people who are laughing with us rather than at us.

A third group of people, the smallest group of all, is comprised of those who just generally do seem to appreciate good grammar. Perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt as well, but certain people just seemed to pretend too well. These are the people that spur me to shout things like "MTV is responsible for the failures of our modern day language," which goes over well with the over 70 crowd. It also is the first time I become aware that we could be interpreted to be somewhat racist with our message seeming to be, "Learn to speak English well now!"

Occasionally, we are heckled, which I rather enjoy, because I am more than prepared to give it back even better than they give it. One kid tells us that we are stupid and that ey hates grammar, and I tell him that I cannot understand him because he speaks with such bad grammar. Another pair shoots us with water guns and I blame them for dangling participles. Burn! Even more fun is heckling the crowd unprovoked. Whenever people directly interact with the cheerleaders behind us, I demand that they pay attention to us first while we go by. These people, presumably parents of the cheerleaders, do not take well to having a semicolon tell them to ignore their kids. One mother in particular gives me a disgusted look when I command her to take pictures of the grammar float before her daughter. As she lowers her camera in shock, I scream in the angriest voice, "LEARN GRAMMAR, LOVE GRAMMAR!" Other times, if a section of the crowd does not seem excited enough, I angrily threaten that "If you don't love grammar, you don't love America!" Nothing is more hysterical than peer pressuring people into clapping by bandying about accusations of being un-American. If the government can use it so effectively, so should the Claremont Grammarians.

We improvised a lot of different chants throughout the route:

"What do we want? GRAMMAR! When do we want it? NOW!"

"Punctuation is patriotic!"

"Contractions are for Canadians!"

"Subject/Verb agreement!"

"Don't let Upland be more eloquent than you. Learn to speak well!"

"Poor grammar? NO! Kelsey Grammer? NO! Good grammar? YES!"

"Proofread your documents!"

"This Independence Day, free yourself from the constraints of bad grammar. Don't let Communism win!"

"Fragments Fragment Families!" This one is my personal favorite because it appears to push a ludicrous political agenda.

Jessica reaches out to the kids by explaining that Santa Claus won't visit unless they learn grammar. Stacy gives an impassioned plea that "Spellcheck is not enough!" that actual tears (of laughter) from me. We are some of the most amusing people I know and I am so proud that we showed Claremont business.

For the last leg of the parade, I serenade the crowd with my rendition of Culture Club's "Comma Chameleon." We remind the crowd several times that we will be staying after the parade if anyone would like some extra help learning grammar rules. No one takes us up on the offer, which is probably a good thing seeing as we have to immediately strip the truck down of all the signs and take it back to Lowe's before they realize it was hijacked for a parade.

Thousands of Claremont residents have seen us now, and it's a real kick to know that they will go home and talk about strange that grammar float was. They don't go home and discuss the retirement community, girl scout troop, or high school band. No, they discuss the Claremont Grammarians and what an unexpected spectacle they were. And maybe, just maybe, they'll learn about comma splices while they're at it.


Craig said...

I adore the slogan "Fragments Fragment Families!" And "Contractions are for Canadians!" is delightfully absurd! Thanks for sharing so many terrific lines!

Briel said...

oh. my. goodness.

i can't tell you how happy i am that you posted on my wall which led me to post on yours which led me to follow the link to your blog and read this post.

this is the most amazing thing i've ever read, so i thought you should know that.

contractions ARE for canadians.