Holiday, hedonism, honors Weekend: Memorial Day, marking the unofficial start of summer for many, will feature traditional parades, gridlock to Ocean City and services to remember the nation's war dead.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ah, Memorial Day Weekend!

The state troopers are propping up fake two-dimensional squad cars to slow down those speeding to relax.

A hotel in Ocean City is trucking up 100 Florida palm trees and planting them with a crane so they can be reflected in sunglasses before they die next winter.

And an American Legion commander in Towson is still waiting to hear back from a Cub Scout leader to see whether Generation Next is willing to plant flags on the graves of America's war dead.

The three-day weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer is many things to many people: picnics with the family; wild jags to the beach to celebrate graduation; quiet time at home for gardening or napping; remembering a dead relative at a Memorial Day parade.

But in an odd way, the holiday doesn't quite know what to make of itself: Hedonism and honors. Jet-skis and remembrance. Escape into gridlock.

The queer dissonance of the weekend surfaced on the waters of Annapolis Harbor yesterday.

Anne Clarke, a "forty-somethingish" substitute teacher from Nesahnic Station, N.J., was lounging in shorts and bare feet on her family's 25-foot boat moored to the docks.

The sun was pouring down, the waves gently kissing the boat. Clarke's husband, John, had his sunglasses in place and his beer in a snuggy. Their 15-year-old son, John, was jamming below decks to Ozzy Ozbourne's "Blizzard of Oz," the feedback curdling the balmy breezes.

It was a blissful scene. But then Anne whipped out a laptop computer and started pecking away. Worse yet, it wasn't even work she was working on -- it was a list of donors she needed to edit through to get money for her son's football league.

When asked about the meaning of Memorial Day weekend, her husband started articulating the traditional hedonistic vision of the holiday: "Relax barbecue boats beginning of summer " etc.

But Anne couldn't keep away a memory of a close friend killed by a land mine during the Vietnam War.

"I remember going down to the Vietnam Memorial a few years back to see his name on the stone," Anne Clarke said. "Robert Jones of Raleigh, North Carolina. He was my sister's boyfriend. I remember it was very quiet."

Then she became very quiet. Her husband became quiet, too. He also remembered Robert Jones.

This is not the sort of moment you normally associate with sunny days, Ozzy Ozbourne and boats stocked with beer.

The same uncomfortable thing happened on a boat just a short way down the pier.

It was on the good ship "Full Moon," which was decorated, solemnly enough, with a large cartoon of a gentleman angled so that his generous posterior was exposed to the strolling tourists.

Weekend mission

As children sauntered by with ice cream cones, Mike Pankok, 37, a nuclear power plant technician, explained the crew's mission for the Memorial Day weekend.

"Boaters wait all winter for this weekend," Pankok said lustfully. "This is when we really break out and have a good time."

His boatmate, Denise Cooksey, spoke with a different tone.

She talked quietly about her father, Lynn Cooksey Sr., who died a few years ago after serving for the Army in the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968.

"This may sound corny," she said, clearly embarrassed to breech such a subject on the deck of the Full Moon. "But I've always thought of this holiday as a time to honor the servicemen who fought and died for their country."

Several parades are planned in the Baltimore area, including one at 10 a.m. Monday on Pennsylvania Avenue in Westminster and a second at 11 a.m. at the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Waterview Avenue in South Baltimore.

Gridlock alert

The American Automobile Association of Maryland was busy last week warning its members to avoid the holiday's notorious Friday evening traffic jams.

But gridlock blossomed undaunted. At 7 p.m., cars were backed up five miles -- nearly an hour's wait -- trying to get to the toll plaza on the Western Shore side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Preparations for the Memorial Day weekend are sometimes as ironic as the clash between partying and praying.

At the Fager's Island resort in Ocean City, owner John Fager has spent $30,000 trucking 400 tropical flowers and 100 palm trees -- each about 18 to 20 feet tall -- up from Florida so he can provide the appropriate garnish for beachside Bacchanalia.

"We've getting everything ready for the big crowd," Fager said. "Ocean City is going to become the second biggest city in the state this weekend, with our population growing from maybe 7,000 to maybe 300,000."

Maryland State Police are doing a different kind of planting. They are placing fake two-dimensional plastic squad cars along highways for the first time this year to deter speeders, said Capt. Greg Shipley, a spokesman.

And yet another kind of planting will be done this weekend by American Legion Post 22 in Towson.

After a prayer service and laying of wreaths at a memorial, the members of the post will visit 20 area graveyards to plant 500 tiny flags on the graves of fallen soldiers, said post commander Paul Moran.

But even these traditionalists face ambiguity in honoring Memorial Day.

A few days ago, Moran said he was encouraged to hear that a Cub Scout pack from Timonium was interested in helping the post carry on their flag-planting tradition.

"I'm still waiting to hear back from them," Moran said yesterday.

Pub Date: 5/24/97

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