Hit Parade

"Sistergirl had gone through great lengths to buy that outfit the night of the Party, and thought she was the bomb. The Joan Rivers impersonator asked girlfriend had she found a compressor to squeeze her a** in that gear like a sardine in a tin can. Oh, that was foul."

-- Delores Shante, "Partyline," St. Louis American, June 3.

SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT: Daydreams -- yes, they fill us with hope.
Sometimes you kick back and think, "If I only had a dime for every can of Busch Bavarian consumed in the city limits during the month of July, then I'd truly be a rich man." Other times -- with an oversized-sound-system-on-wheels slowly inching down the block, the decibels moving the blades of zoysia to and fro like little fields of Kansas wheat -- the mind wanders as so: "If only I had a nickel for each time the phrase 'muthafuckin' nigga' boomed into my unwilling consciousness ... from this new wealth, I would buy real happiness." But daydreams don't just have to center on commerce, no. They don't.

The daydreams of children, for example. Surely smiles come to their faces when they ponder the thought of sausages and fizzy Cokes on an empty stomach. They must delight at the notion of riding ancient hunks of metal known as the Sizzler, the Hurricane or the Loop O Plane, running onto their rickety platforms again and again as expressionless carnies strap them into the aging machines for another round of nausea-inducing gaiety. Yes, children are filled with spirit, delighting (not unlike adults, it seems) in the telling of randy jokes, the faux-stealing of ball caps and the joy of quick-to-burn romances.

Such sights are common in the spring, when the Catholic churches of our fair inner city open their cement schoolyards to the wonders of the carnies. Instead of an empty parking lot, a lifeless slab of concrete, you see life, lived fully by both the young and the young-at-heart. Where else but a Catholic-school picnic does a child have license to win giant hams and strips of bacon in games of chance? Where can he or she relax in a Korn T-shirt and baggy jeans while spewing out words fit for a battle-hardened Marine? Where can adults congregate in the late-spring heat, their frayed Def Leppard T-shirts covered by the excess sugar of funnel cakes and the condensation from a plastic cup of Bud Light?

Yes, the Catholic-school-picnic circuit is one of our many underexposed treasures here in St. Louis. Let us give thanks by rating a quality series of picnics found in our usual roaming range just last week.

* St. John the Baptist High School, Bevo. 1:18 p.m. Wednesday, June 2. Skies overcast and the air humid but mild, approximately 70 degrees. Though not the largest picnic of the season -- it was midweek, after all -- this one had all the elements: Children, wearing every manner of pro-wrestling T-shirt, running this way and that. Adults sipping on the rather pricey $2 cups of local brew. The games were all there, and so were the rides, including classics like the Predator and Dizzy Dragons. A band of old-timers -- three horns, drums, accordion/voice -- moved through standards like "It Had to Be You," shimmying through the tunes at a pace you could safely call relaxed, while more oldsters sat in tight circles nearby.

Relatively uneventful over an hourlong visit, the scene was pleasant, with the occasional zinger -- like a stand of lovely flowers being sold for "Pro Life." Or the kid with the new pair of Doc Martens knockoffs who wowed all the young ladies. (Beware of playas, you little hoochies!) And a false alarm was sounded by one pint-sized reveler, who nervously walked down the street, guessing that nearby St. Mary's High was also having its picnic. "The biggest and the best," he offered, hands in pockets. Sadly, his prediction proved false. Only squirrels and maintenance men were frolicking on the grounds of St. Mary's that day.

* St. Mary Magdalen, Kingshighway Heights. 2:20 p.m. Saturday, June 5. Warm winds and 89 degrees. A small turnout, though far-flung. A DJ from The River (101.1 FM) spun Dave Matthews. (There is so much that's unappealing about that sentence.) The Busch was again an upper-range $2. OK it was, but ... onward!

* Immaculate Heart of Mary, Carondelet. 2:45 p.m. June 5. Still 89 degrees. The Hi-Roller, the most devastating schoolyard ride of all, shook students into post-luncheon indigestion as five kids stood onstage shaking to the Macarena and the eternal "YMCA" dance, celebrating the end of the school year with that now-decades-old homage to bathhouse sex. The rides area was less populated than the bratwurst zone, which hummed with activity.

* St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the Hill. 4 p.m. June 5. Oh, about 87 degrees. Though not a ton of folks were outside, the air-conditioned school cafeteria was jammed. And everyone seemed to know one another down there -- two intruders were met with looks of surprise until they began to run the cake walk, taking pie after pie with their quarter bets. Pork-steak dinners went for $6, and Bud Lights (boo!) for a reasonable $1.50. Still, the hoosier factor was relatively low, easing the stress of accidentally bumping into a heavily tattooed neighbor or said neighbor's towheaded child. This one was fun, fun, fun. Mark it down for next year.

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