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Fourth of July Parade in Maine Features Downing Street Memo Float

"One float was the Downing Street Memo-mobile, complete with three dummies in the back seat eating Doritos that represented Tony Blair, George Bush and Saddam Hussein."


Tuesday, July 05, 2005 - Bangor Daily News

West Athens celebrates alternative 4th
'Heaven' theme makes for eclectic town parade

WEST ATHENS - It was heaven Monday in West Athens, albeit a wacky, irreverent, alternative version.

More than 500 people poured into this tiny town for the 32nd or 33rd (no one can really remember) annual Fourth of July parade and play, which this year was titled "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," a who-gets-in and who-doesn't kind of story.

For those who have never been, this isn't your ordinary patriotic event. It is counterculture and alternative, with the audience giving the "finger" salute to Washington, D.C., each year before the play begins.

Possibly the man dressed fashionably in thigh-high red patent leather boots, carrying a sign that said "Michael Heath can kiss my ...," gave newcomers an idea of what was to come in the parade.

What came was a bevy of floats decrying the "selling of Maine," the institution of marriage, the war in Iraq and the Michael Jackson trial among others. One float was the Downing Street Memo-mobile, complete with three dummies in the back seat eating Doritos that represented Tony Blair, George Bush and Saddam Hussein.

Still, it was hard to tell where the parade ended and the costumed-public began.

"We are expressing freedom," said internationally known artist Abby Shahn, who wore a necklace made of washers and whistles and is a fixture in the parade and play.

"People feel pretty constrained by the goings on in the world. We may be political, but we're laughing."

Shahn said the play by The In Spite of Life Players begins in mid-March and the theme "sometimes happens to one of us in the middle of the night. Like, last year the play was about hell, so this year, why not heaven?" Shahn admits that the meetings to plan the play are often more fun than the play itself.

"Its free association, ideas just flying around," she said.

Artist Wally Warren was busy before the parade creating "bloody rags" out of red paint and sheets. "I have a body for you," Shahn said, dragging over a dummy wearing black rubber boots.

"Do you want it with or without a head wound?" Warren asks, still using his red paint.

Warren, who played the Patron Saint of Contractors as well as Judas - he said he's not sure how he got that role - said the play preparation begins "bubbling" with meetings around mid-March in various homes. "For me, it's just a social occasion," he said.

And before you know it, always at least an hour late, the parade of painted cars, painted people and political satire begins. Attendees then empty into the sand pit and stand in the hot sun to watch the parade. They use a variety of methods to keep cool: feather headdresses, polka dot umbrellas with ears, sombreros, squirt guns, drum major hats, a cardboard box and liquid refreshments.

There were appearances in the play by a wide variety of "spirits," including St. Peter, the Arch Angie, Terri Schiavo, a suicide bomber, the Bull-ionaires for Bush; Yassar Arafat and the coffin of Ronald Reagan, Dr. Phil-i-Buster, a Dream Team of Angels and the goddess Kali.

"We've been coming for three years," said Laura Auger of Abbott. "It is so different. And it gets better every year."

Sheila Orr of Norridgewock said she comes "because we agree with many of the political ideas." But Greg True of Kingsbury said it was the people. "You never know what you are going to see," he said.

Linda McPhail of Benton, however, was amazed at what she had seen, even before the parade began. McPhail and her husband were at the Athens event for the first time. "I think we're in for it," she said. "We've seen quite a bit already."

It was Vivian Davis of Hartland, however, who summed it up the annual event most accurately: "It's the best party of the year. It's a riot."


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