Cayden · childhood · family · grocery · neighborhood

Grand Marshal of the Gypsy Lemonade Stand

Last week, I looked up from my perch on the couch and saw Optimus Prime cross the street. Following suit, and clutching tight the waistband of some ill-fit harem pants, was a pharaoh in need of a drawstring. The Angry Bird, meanwhile, looked like he had swallowed a coat hanger, arms splayed like a starfish in his nylon get-up.

There were light sabers and ankle leggings, headsman’s axes and Medieval things all done up in plastic—just no jack o’lanterns, though a trip to CostCo predictably confirms that Halloween is already retailing, and at Labor Day prices. You can buy all things black and orange while still fashionably wearing white, and—wait a week—pencil sets will soon be on back-to-school clearance before the first morning bell even rings.

Cayde and his friends had been bursting home from summer camp all last week, hastily discarding backpacks and art projects on the front porch before rushing next door to rifle through the bedroom closets. This was their diversion du jour: digging up costumes to play a go-round of Halloween in August. Broad daylight was absolutely necessary to the game, spectacle being the point and absurdity its sportive vehicle. The more absurd the better. Channel the surreal! Be a carnival! Turn the neighborhood on its head and make every passerby with a stroller or a Fit-bit or a too-consuming cellphone forget their adulting for a minute and take a second look at childhood on parade.

Cayde ramped up the game, leading the plastic menagerie with his Kindle playing at full–if tinny–volume. MC Hammer’s ‘ U Can’t Touch This’ for the most part because Cayde was the pharaoh with the harem pants. Anybody who offered the kids a smile would be offered ‘Hammertime’ lessons in return, Cayde demonstrating the trademark side-shuffle in truly awful fashion. He never landed a dance partner—no trick, no treat—but the gypsy lemonade stand caravanned regardless, past all the bungalows and dying summer lawns, a Rick James disco groove the unlikely pied piper of it all.

Later, down at the corner market, I pushed Finn around in a grocery cart, picking up sundry and unrelated items. Grapefruit water, tomatoes, aluminum foil. Just a trip, really, to get out of the house—maybe grab an iced coffee at Santo’s—to otherwise kill some time before evening turned the switch on the oppressive afternoon heat. On our way to the store, Finn and I had walked beneath the bougainvillea hedge along Thorn Street’s south side. The hedge is manicured in such a fashion that it arcs up and overhead like the curl of a wave. In its tunnel, you can look up and see the network of interlaced brambles trained outward, the spangle of violet sepals like crepe paper lanterns. Finn pointed out the flowers much the way Cayde did when he was younger, when Cayde was still strapped to my chest and when mutually pointing to everything was our shared language. We point before we talk, we remark things before we have words.

When paying for the groceries, Finn bounced in his seat and again pointed.


Cayden came bursting through the door with Optimus Prime and Angry Bird in tow. This time, Macklemore was playing on the Kindle and Cayde danced on by, barely waving a hello, as Finn turned in his seat to watch the coterie of misfits bypass the grocery cart on their way to the snack aisle. Optimus had a five-dollar bill: trick or treat after all.

“Hi, Daddy!” (Nine years later, I’m still Daddy—that counts for something). I got a closer look at Cayde’s costume as he pranced toward the soda section. His harem pants were actually makeshift—a Cleopatra blouse worn upside-down—and he wore jeweled cuffs and a matching crown of dangling plastic snakes. It was the neighbor lady’s costume from a couple years ago, I remember—Queen of the Nile.

“What is this—Halloween?” the clerk asked. He said it twice in a numbing display of unoriginality.

“They’re just playing,” I offered, and I stuck around to halfway censor the growing bounty of Ring-Pops and Doritos that the boys were amassing, all the garishly-colored packages they could grab. This was the celebration of their absurdity, hijinks having been rightly conceived and achieved. I naysayed Cayden’s selection of a 16oz. Mountain Dew before quietly walking out, leaving the clerk to say again, “What is this—Halloween?” while Optimus waved money at the register.

Finn and I walked back through the bougainvillea tunnel with our suddenly saggish and adult sack of groceries. Finn pointed out the flowers again and I nodded.

“Yep. Flowers, Finn. Flowers.”

We exited the tunnel, the boys far behind and spilling their carnival onto the street. I wouldn’t see Cayden for another hour or so, I was sure.

“I used to lead that parade,” I told Finn.

‘If two can count as a parade,’ I don’t say, suddenly feeling the absurd length of sidewalk on the short walk home.