A Bigger Better Party
Waiting ‘til January is no big deal for fans of the occasional doo dah parade
By Joe Piasecki 11/15/2007
A naughty sword-swallower. Marching lumberjacks.
A man in makeup who has no eyebrows. Ferrets’ rights activists. A Hare Krishna
wearing a cowboy hat. Sexy serpent twins. Men in business suits who form a briefcase drill team. One who calls himself Peepee Poopoo. Bad-boy rock ’n’ rollers. The Pope. It can mean only one thing: It’s Doo Dah time in Pasadena.
If you said yes, you’d be correct. Then again, if you said no, you’d be right as well. Like just about everything else associated with this occasionally yearly and almost always wacky send up of the prim and proper Rose Parade, the answer is, not exactly.
The normal-looking man nursing a hangover in the middle of all this lunacy is Tom Coston, who’s become Doo Dah’s P.T. Barnum since his nonprofit arts organization, The Light Bringer Project, bought the parade 12 years ago from founder and legendary Pasadena barfly Peter Apanel for $2.
“ … It’s worth three,” joked Coston about the almost yearly event, which for some time has taken place on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in Old Pasadena but will celebrate its 31st occasional occurrence on Jan. 20.
The reason they call it occasional, self-anointed parade historians like to say, is because the parade missed a year early on, and then one year there were two parades. But no one’s exactly sure what those years were. Now, though, the parade is going to miss another whole year thanks to the latest scheduling shift, which is sure to play havoc with the event’s record-keeping for years to come.
Founded as an alcohol-soaked spoof of the Rose Parade that was always held on Sundays — unlike the Rose Parade, which is never held on Sunday — predicting what will happen each year is difficult even for organizers.
“It’s like spilling water,” Coston explained … sort of.
As you can see, there is almost nothing official about Doo Dah. But that — and its occasional nature — seems to be enough (along with the need to accommodate more participants) to justify moving the parade to January, said Coston.
About as firm as anything really gets with this thing is there is going to be a party that day. And when that day finally arrives in just more than two months, said Coston, “The promise is it’s going to be bigger, better party.”
Actually, that party unofficially begins on Sunday, when loyal Doo Dah-ists and other revelers will meet at American Legion Post 280 on Pasadena’s east side for the occasional Doo Dah Queen selection party.
“Tryouts are crazy. The wilder, the better,” said Jennifer Fobos Patton, who shared the crown last year with Sara Streeter as the barely clad Siamese serpent co-Queens Saffira and Saffrona.
With the parade’s loose entry rules, anyone is welcome to join in choosing a queen. Coming all the way from Twentynine Palms will be Uncle Fester, who in another life is a computer technician named Charles. He found his inner Fester after shaving his eyebrows. “I don’t like hair on my head. To me, hair on my head is like a terrible growth,” he said.
Traditionally, a queen was selected in Altadena on the sprawling, wild property that was once home to the late bohemian artist Jirayr “Jerry” Zorthian and his saintly tolerant wife Dabney, who died last year. Coston moved the event this year to accommodate work being done on the Zorthian place — a change that necessitates a cover charge of $5, he said, but a cost offset by the Legion’s low beer prices.
Partygoers will be entertained by local rock icons Snotty Scotty and the Hankies, who marched and played acoustically at the very first parade born in the long-gone Chromos bar some three decades ago and have led off the event ever since.
“We’re the only official thing about the parade,” argued frontman Scott Finnell, who says the band was promised bowling shirts etched with that honor but never got them.
The expected master of ceremonies for queen tryouts is His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, Duke of Doo Dah, Herald to the Royal Court, Sergeant at Arms and Roving Goodwill Ambassador. The colorful Duke was selected for his unofficial title in 1995 by Queen Sabrina Kaleta, and wished to be identified only as such.
Trying out for queen this year, as in Doo Dahs past, will be professional belly dancer Narayana — who keeps coming back for “the excitement, the craziness,” she said — and Gwen Girvin, a tiny, boisterous accordion player who conducts the early morning jams Thursdays at the Pasadena Senior Center.
“I’ll be the cute one,” promised Girvin, whose rainbow costume was made from scraps of broken umbrellas found at the beach. Girvin felt she was a lock for queen last year, but “Who knew I’d be beat out by two naked girls in a three-legged serpent suit with no top on? I look good naked too, but the accordion would cover my chest,” she said.
Naughty Mickie, Princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll, is a five-time queen runner-up — the Unofficial Susan Lucci of Doo Dah. Billed by Coston as a naughty sword-swallower, she said “a lady never tells.”
Queen Tequila Mockingbird — singer, writer, Silver Lake nightclub impresario and member of the Unofficial but Royal Doo Dah Orchestra — returns each occasional year in her trademark elegant ball gowns. “It’s the one day of the year I can dress the way I want to,” she says. “Every girl wants to be queen, and this is such a fun group; Pasadena’s best and boldest.”
She lauded the parade’s move to Jan. 20 as a way to “start the year off right,” but not everyone is thrilled with the change. By most unofficial accounts, Kyle Shurge of El Viro and the Vaccines has threatened to hold his own parade on the weekend before Thanksgiving. “It’s like we canceled Christmas,” said Coston.
Shurge (who has Coston’s blessing if he can pull it off) could not be reached, but everyone who could be reached isn’t taking the move so seriously.
Doo Dah, said its Duke, “has never been annual; it’s occasional. We need to keep it fresh, keep people guessing.”
“It’s got to be a bit irregular to be the true Doo Dah,” agreed Count Smokula, who was born 496 years ago in the land of Smokesylvania but has retained his vigor by use of certain medicinal plants. Besides, he said in his native accent. “There’s nothing else vorthvhile in January.”
Moving the parade, said Coston, was right for many reasons: No. 1, more entries mean more work and a need for more volunteers; No. 2, Light Bringer is broke (but, “We’re always out of money. What’s new about that?”); No .3 — well, No. 3’s an unofficial Doo Dah secret the Weekly has been sworn not to tell but may relate to a double-super-secret deal pending some sort of sponsorship. You’ll read it here first.
With or without a helping hand, Coston said Doo Dah shall remain Doo Dah as long as Pasadena keeps showing up.
“It’s really a thrill — exciting, wonderful theater,” said “Howdy Krishna” Tom Allard, an Oklahoma native who teaches theater and film production at Pasadena Polytechnic School.
“It occurred to me a couple years ago that we are incredibly polarized in this society, and I thought before you have a handshake you got to have a ‘howdy.’ So I come out once a year and I get 20,000 people to say howdy,” he said. “It ain’t the cure for cancer, but it’s something.”