OCEAN CITY - What, you think it's easy being constantly, ceaselessly, professionally silly?
Don't kid yourself. There are lots of logistics involved.
Ocean City doesn't just suddenly wake up from its long winter's nap, flip a switch and, voila, out rolls today's Doo Dah Parade, the town's annual festival of goofiness - OK, one of the town's annual festivals of goofiness.
Mark Soifer, the man who opened Ocean City's Doo Dah era 26 years ago - by stealing the idea fair and square, with the permission of its founders in Pasadena, Calif. - sat in his office the other day and ran through some of what had to happen this week to get ready for the events set for Friday and today.
As he speaks, 300-some T-shirts bearing the local, official Doo Dah motto - "I was a hot dog for a day" - sit in big boxes in the next office. (Dietz & Watson, the deli dealers, are the parade's main sponsor.) The magnetized, personalized name plates for the car of the grand marshal, Harlem Globetrotters' legend Meadowlark Lemon, are in a safe but unmissable spot, on the metal desk front of one of Soifer's office neighbors.
He had to line up the grand marshal not long after last year's Doo Dah, but now he has to make sure all the last-minute details for the honored guest - room, rides, meals and other accommodations - are set. He also has to provide transportation to get a now-traditional participant, Mrs. Soupy Sales, to Ocean City for an annual tribute to her late husband, a mass pie-in-the-face fest called a "Pie-Asco."
Sure, Soifer, who barely ever met a pun he didn't like, came up with that name.
"It seemed like a natural thing to do," the city's longtime public-relations man says, deadpan.
But once industrial-strength quantities of shaving cream became part of the show, so did more logistics:
Soifer pre-orders three cases of Barbasol - 12 cans to a case - from a pharmacy in town. That's enough to make about 100 pies, with a bit left over just in case of some unforeseen shaving-cream-pie crisis.
But it's not just celebrities (and celebrity relatives) he has to worry about. There are also celebrity impersonators, people who keep alive the traditions of great comedians of the past - Groucho Marx, Abbott and Costello, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny and more - by doing the legends' acts as part of the Doo Dah action.
They do that because somewhere along the line, the Doo Dah Parade - which started out with lots of precision-briefcase drill teams and such - grew into a tribute to this country's comedy history.
"Nobody has a real celebration of humor and honors great comedians," says Soifer, so he figured it was time to address that absence.
He invited W.C. Fields' grandson, Groucho's daughter and others to come to Ocean City and accept lifetime-achievement awards for their famed forebearers. Then he moved on to comics who could still get to town - Pat Paulsen, Mickey Rooney, Carol Channing, Soupy Sales and more - to get their awards, and rides in the grand-marshal's car.
All that's apparently what drew Joel Goodman, the founder of The Humor Project, to contact Soifer. Goodman, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., (and of www.humorproject.com) has spoken on his specialty on all seven continents - yes, including Antarctica. He and his wife/co-director, Margie Ingram, have been part of Doo Dah since 2005, annually doing public presentations on the value of humor to physical and emotional health.
(Their Friday talk topic: "Humor as Mental Floss: Adding Years to Your Life and Life to Your Years.")
The two Humor Project-iles also get giggles out of riding in the parade, showing off messages on their favorite subject to the crowd - "We're all here because we're not all there," is one Goodman likes - but he knows from professional experience putting on funny events is hardly all fun and games.
"I have great empathy for anybody in Mark's position," says Goodman, 62, who has dealt with the details of 54 humor conferences in 34 years at The Humor Project. "He has to arrange the parade itself, the Basset-hound Olympics, (Friday's) press conference, the speakers ... the press releases," and his list went on.
Still, "He is so much fun to deal with, and he has done so much for that city," the good-humor man goes on. "I really enjoy his creativity, he's sent me books of his poems" - Soifer is a published poet in literary journals, along with self-financed collections. "He's really fun and creative, and at the same time, he gets it all done."
Now back to that phrase, "Basset hound Olympics": A group called Tri-State Basset Hound Rescue has been part of the parade since 1999, and expected to bring 500 or 600 of its favorite dogs to Ocean City for Friday's competition and today's "Boardwaddle." That involves the hounds, who amble along at a comfortable pace for short-legged creatures, basically bringing up the rear of the Doo Dah parade.
Bob Arnold, a veteran dogs-at-Doo Dah marcher, says for the record his group coined that "Boardwaddle" term.
"But if we didn't, Mark would have," says Arnold, 52, who visits every year from Chadds Ford, Pa., but adds other owners have come from as far away as Ireland to get their pooches in this parade.
He also knows there are lots of logistics involved in the event, but adds one thing Ocean City doesn't have to provide is mass quantities of pooper-scooper bags. The dog-owners themselves are responsible for, and conscientious about, preventing the Doo Dah Parade from turning into a doo-doo parade, says Arnold, who adds the number of Board-waddling Bassets seems to grow every year.
Soifer says the crowds watching the parade have also gotten bigger, and if the town gets lucky with the weather - which, at last check, wasn't the case in today's forecast - Doo Dah can draw as many as 30,000 spectators, a nice boost for businesses in town on an early shoulder-season weekend.
That kind of crowd, of course, creates the need for support in itself - the city's police and public-works departments are heavily involved in giving people places to sit, including grandstands, and keeping them all safe and healthy.
And Soifer has to help coordinate all that - with plenty of support from others in his office, he says often. All of which is great, but one thing that could truly improve his personal Doo Dah day is a simple, plastic trash can.
See, Soifer isn't one of these fancy-pants organizers who sets up an event and then just waits and watches and worries on the sidelines. When Ocean City gets its Doo Dah on, Mr. Doo Dah gets in on the parade.
But he doesn't march as Mark Soifer, mild-mannered P.R. man and lover of poems and puns. He does as a superhero called Trash Buster, the same role he's filled for 20 years of Doo Dahs - not to mention other events of his invention, including the annual Martin Z. Mollusk shindig, in which a hermit crab by that name (almost) unfailingly predicts that summer will come early to Ocean City.
(Right, it's Groundhog Day on the half-shell. But please, don't get him started on Martin Z. Mollusk, the legendary critter he created - and then celebrated in a small-book-length, semi-epic poem subtitled, "Rhyme and Punishment.")
But back to Trash Buster, who is admittedly a little-known superhero, except in Ocean City, where he has become relatively famous after decades of showing up at everything. Oh, and he's a superhero only if you can see a guy who wears this costume - mostly, a large, heavy-duty aluminum garbage can - as a superhero.
The trouble is, the man in that can is no kid anymore. Soifer turns 79 early next month, and he feels the weight of his outfit on every step of the roughly 1.5-mile parade route.
"Fourteen blocks in a trash can - that's a long haul," says Soifer, a former baseball player at Temple University (Class of 1950) who feels the arthritis in his legs these days.
He jokes that another bit of his pre-parade prep is getting the can-costume "cleaned and pressed," but what he'd really like is to get it replaced.
"The guys from the hardware store said they'd make me a plastic can," he says, wistfully, thinking about how that would lighten the load for his alter ego, Trash Buster. "That would be nice."
So there it is, Mr. Doo Dah's first bit of logistics to take care of for the 2012 parade.
Contact Martin DeAngelis:
Ocean City Doo Dah Parade
Starts noon today at Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue, proceeds to 12th and Asbury turns east to the Boardwalk and ends at the Ocean City Music Pier. Call 609-525-9300.