... tiny american flags for others!
one of the joys of living on the main drag in somerville is that all of the parades go right by the house. i can wander out in my bare feet, sit on the stoop, and enjoy the wonder that is somerville. this place, while being the most densely populated city in MA (and in the top ten of the entire U.S.), still struggles to rest somewhere between modern metropolis and small town. nothing highlights this better than an olde tyme parade.
for two hours, shayne and i watched a long slow trek of people celebrating the holiday. there were marching bands, cheerleaders, armed forces (and not so armed forces, such as the transit police), bagpipers, clowns, nuns, flag girls, weird cars and trucks, little league teams, clydesdales, civil servants, shriners, shriners, and more shriners. if it weren't for the shriners, i would guess that the whole thing would have taken 45 minutes tops.
which left me to wonder about the shriners. they have appeared in most parades and celebrations that i have seen in the U.S. and yet i was left scratching my head, wondering "who are these men, and what the heck do they do??". so i pulled out my trusty "international encyclopedia of secret societies & fraternal orders" and did a little research.
the shriners full name is The Imperial Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. no wonder they thought to shorten that. and they are an offshoot of the Masons (Ancient, Free, & Accepted). any master mason of the 32nd degree, or a Knights Templar, can get in. they are the wacky side of the usually very serious Masons.
according to lore, it was started because the Masons were teetotalers, and these men wanted to drink booze. they almost got kicked out of the Masons for being boisterous drunks, until they started turning some of their extra energy to good works. the shriners hospital kept them in the good graces of the Masons, and generally kept them from getting arrested for all of their wild shenanigans. it has not, however, kept them in the good graces of people who are followers of Islam. the shriners have ripped off and bedazzled a lot of their rituals and apparently generally piss them off.
and, as i suspected... ladies can't be shriners. if you are the wife, mother, daughter, or sister of a shriner, you can join the auxiliary Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America, but you can't get the sparkly fez or drive in the tiny cars or get elected to Most Illustrious Grand Potentate.
basically what i learned is that the shriners are even weirder than i initially thought.