A civics lesson

Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants is about a young couple in a dying relationship.

In perfect Hemingway fashion, they’re sitting in a Spanish train station in the middle of a hot, dry nowhere, swilling booze and sniping at each other, when the woman, summing up the emptiness of their relationship, says, “That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?”

From that quote, if I know nothing else about that couple, I know this: They never went to a Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

For if they had, they would’ve known, come Carnival, we don’t just look at things – we cheer at them, laugh at them, climb on them, oooh and ahh at them, and get down, dirty, and icy cold in them.

As for new drinks? Why bother. If Genny was good enough for your grandfather and Uncle Bucky, it’s sure good enough for you.

And the drink’s not even secondary – it can be nonexistent. The fun, however, is mandatory. And this year’s Carnival was no exception.

I have only two problems with Carnival. One is I have to work; the other is there’s too much to do. So while a bunch of things are going on every day and night for Carnival’s 10 days, I can go to only a few of them. This year I went to the fewest I ever have – two.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go to a bunch of things, but between school, homework, dog walks, eating, an occasional shower and the ongoing aging process, I couldn’t. Basically, I saved the time and energy for the Ice Palace Fun Run and then for the big one -?The Gala Parade.

Preps and props

As a spectator, I’ve never missed a parade. And as a participant, I intended to organize, for our sixth year in a row, those Fine Fellows of Festive Follicular Folly – The Brothers of the Bush.

The Brotherhood has a structure that reflects its memberships -?in a word, loose as a goose. It’s so loose, in fact, that we’re not sure what it is ourselves. We do have a permanent staff, namely, Brother Number One, Ron Burdick; and Br. Number Two, yours truly. There’s also our staff cartoonist, Mike Cochrin, who does the art for our fabulous no-dollar bills, and our bagpiper, Br. Cameron Anderson. There are our float-makers, Br. Hughie Magill and Br. John Gillette; my personal costumer, The Amazon Queen; and a roster of folks who show up as their social calendar and whims allow.

What this means is all command decisions are made by our executive committee: Br. Ron and Br. Li’l Ole Me. Usually he and I get together a few weeks in advance of carnival and figure out what the float and props’ll be and what costumes we’ll come up with. This year, however, we were so far behind schedule that if we’d waited any longer, our first pow-wow would’ve been the day after the parade.

As it was, we got together the Saturday before, in our office in the Blue Moon.

As soon as we exchanged pleasantries, Ron got right down to it and said, “We’re not gonna make a float this year.”

Since the guys make the float outdoors in Ron’s driveway, with Ron serving as an indentured servant, I could understand his decision.

“OK,” I said. “So ah what are we gonna do?”

He shrugged.

“Dunno,” he said. “All I know is I don’t feel like doing a whole lotta work and running around like I always do.”

“Me neither,” I said.

A long moment passed.

“So how about we do the minimum?” I said. “We’ll figure out our costumes, get the bills and the candy and other stuff, ask around to see who’s interested, and then just go in the parade.”

“Great,” he said. “And whoever shows up, shows up and whoever doesn’t, doesn’t.”

“Right,” I said.

“This year I’m only watchin’ out for Number One,” he said.

“And I’m only watchin’ out for Number Two,” I said.

Then we shook on it.

After that, even though we said we weren’t going to do much, we did a bunch of stuff, most of it in a frenzy since we’d waited till the last minute. Get the stuff to Mike, get the candy, call people, put a promo letter in the paper, get props, and so on. It was such a rush that when I filled out the parade entry form at the Chamber of Commerce, I was so distracted that for all I knew I was signing up for a 20-year enlistment in the Nigerian Navy.

Ron, Mike and the AQ were as rushed as I was, but somehow we got our chores done and on parade day we were at Hyde’s Mobil, waiting for the rest of the crew to show.

And here’s another bunch we couldn’t do without -?the folks at Hyde Fuel, since they generously allow us to wait in their office building until parade time. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it’s only because you’ve never waited a few hours for your unit to be called, outside on a balmy 12 degree day, at which point you start to think someone hijacked your feet, leaving a couple of foundation blocks in their place. I offered to let Hyde’s declare themselves The Official Warm-up Hut of The Brothers of the Bush, but haven’t yet heard back about it.

So our crew of stalwarts showed up, dressed to the nines (and some cases the elevens, even the twelves), and we distributed candy, bills, and parade duties. Then when it was our turn, we strutted our stuff – left, right, and outtasight!

The big three

I had three highlights with this year’s parade.

One was we had two 10-year-olds join us: Noah Pitman and Young Master Hunt. I’d like to say we were good role models for them, but they were such good sports, I think it was the other way around.

The second was my childhood friend Peter MacIntyre came up from his home in Myrtle Beach, bringing with him his pal Mike Frye. Mike, a native Carolinian, had never seen snow (at least not in any measurable form), nor had he ever been to My Home Town. Pete had prepped him on how to dress warmly, so with that taken care of, he could just enjoy all Carnival had to offer. And enjoy it he did! Mike had a ball everywhere he was schlepped, with everything he met and with everything he did. He had so much fun, I’ve bestowed upon him the highest honor possible ?Honorary Townie.

The last one took place Saturday night in one of the town’s buckets of blood. Although none of us expected or even thought about it, we actually won first place in our category. But what’s weird was our category – Civic Group.

How did we get in Civic Group? Remember, I told you how I’d rushed through signing the entrance form at the chamber? Well, in my haste and disarray I’d obviously checked the Civic Group box. Mea culpa.

Anyhow, I’d just ordered my drink when one of the members of a real civic group who’d marched with them in the parade came up to me. I don’t know what place his group came in, but whatever it was, we all know it was not Numero Uno.

He fixed me with a mildly menacing stare.

Then he said, “So you came in first in Civic Group, eh?”

“From what I heard,” I said as breezily as might be expected of a winner.

“And what makes you a civic group?” he said. “I mean, what exactly do you contribute to the community?”

“Well,” I said, “two things.”

“Yeah?” he said. “And what are they?”

“One is, we always go home early,” I said.

“So?” he said. “Lots of people do that.”

“Agreed,” I said. “But we do what no other group does.”

“Which is?” he said.

I paused for dramatic effect and then laid it on him.

“Which is,” I said, “we rock the beard!”