General George S. Patton, a man who knew how to run things, said, "Success demands a high level of logistical and organizational competence."
Of course Patton's job was relatively easy: He only had to run the entire Third Army on its lightning drive through Fortress Europe. He never had to assemble and control The Brothers of the Bush in a Winter Carnival parade.
And good thing for us he didn't or the parade route would've been littered with the bodies of Brothers summarily executed for disobeying some, if not all, his orders.
From left, Brothers Ron, Mike, Two Feathers, Russ, Dope, Hugh, Peter and Rocky
Though some might label The Brotherhood chaotic, I prefer to think of us as "organizationally challenged." Brother Pete McIntyre referred to us as not a marching unit, so much as walking one. But even that borders on euphemism: I think the most accurate term would be "a meandering unit."
No matter. We are what we are and we met Woody Allen's first rule of success - we showed up on time. Or at least MOST of us did: Just before parade time there're always enough last-minute arrivals to make sure my cardiologist stays in business through the spring.
The man with the plan sort of
The fun starts about a month before parade day, when it dawns on me that if The Brothers are going to be in the parade, somebody has to contact someone to get something started. In this case, I'm "somebody" and Brother Ron Burdick is "someone." The "something," however, is a total mystery, since while we know what we did last year and who we did it with, we're clueless about this year. So Ron and I do what we do best - exchange phone calls reinforcing our confusion.
A typical exchange:
"Brother Ron," I say, "you ready for Carnival?"
"Sure am," he says.
"Got any guys who wanna join us?'
"No, not yet. But there's gotta be a bunch of 'em."
"Sure," I say, nowhere near as confident as him. "So since this year's theme is cowboy, you have any ideas what we should do?"
"Well," he says, "I've got a cowboy hat."
And thus assured we're doing something, we say our goodbyes, knowing things will come together for us - or at least as together as possible (which in our case might be more appropriately labeled "apart").
Next I call The Brotherhood's official artist, Mike Cochran, to discuss the design for this year's giveaway money.
"Gee," he says, making a weak attempt at irony, "Carnival's a month away. You sure you don't wanna wait a few more weeks so we can all get frantic"
I say nothing. He continues.
"like you did last year?"
"Look," I say, "I'm giving you lots of lead time, so there's no reason to get snotty about ancient history."
And so it goes, with a bunch of back and forth until I've stroked his ego and catered to his artistic temperament enough for him to finally agree to perform his sainted task.
Next, seeking an upgrade on The Brethren's accessories, I contact Br. Russ Defonce. Russ is a master woodworker and his significant other Deborah Jones is a graphic artist. After marching with us last year behind our cardboard banner that looked like it'd been cut out and lettered by a bunch of first graders on the deck of a storm-tossed ship, Russ offered to make us a custom-designed wooden sign.
I know he'll get everything done perfectly and on time, so after I talk to him, I'm free to get back to Br. Ron and take care of our main task - recruiting hirsute homies for the parade.
It's a simple matter, really. We just spread the word in person or by phone and see how many people promise to show up, come hell or high water. Then we divide that number by five, and that's how many I can count on for parade day maybe.
After that, it's a simple matter of letting time, tide and the local lunatics take care of the rest, which they inevitably do, no matter how many obstacles get put in our way.
For example, this year Br. Cameron Anderson volunteered his services as Bagpiper Extraordinaire. We figured he'd march ahead of the group, drawing the attention of one and all. Unfortunately, three days before the parade, he twisted his ankle and could no longer march. Fortunately, the next day Br. Ron called and said some of his friends wanted to bring a truck in the group, with an authentic Adirondack campfire scene taking place in the truck bed.
It was manna from On High - literally, since Ron lives atop Lake Street hill. Now in one fell swoop we had a handsome addition to the unit, as well as a solution to The Case of the Podiatrically-Impaired Piper.
And so it went till suddenly it was high noon Saturday and we found ourselves assembled at Hyde's Mobil, ready to strut our stuff.
Highlight after highlight
So how'd it go?
Brilliantly, I'd say.
We started with 25 members and finished with only one M.I.A. Brother Steve Sullivan, being uber-meticulous about parceling out his candy, lost track of the rest of the group and finished three units behind us.
Of course, he wasn't the only one who lost track of the group: By the time we got to the reviewing stand, everyone was spread out so far, we had an ideal formation to survive a mortar attack, but a rather unorthodox one for a parade unit.
Aside from our new money, new sign and finishing with almost as many as we started with, we had two other highlights.
One was having The Righteous Sisters march with us.
Sisters in a Brotherhood? You bet.
The Brethren is a model of equality, so we were overjoyed to be joined by Srs. Ashley, Christine, Elisa and Chris. And we had good reason to be overjoyed, since they came in full drag and looked more authentic, more aesthetic and far more menacing than the rest of us.
The other highlight came at the last minute, and not a minute too soon.
Br. Cameron needed an indoor location to tune his bagpipes, but after he wrenched his ankle, we had to find a place right near Hyde's, since he couldn't walk very far.
What to do? The only thing I could think of was to ask the folks at Hyde's if Cameron could tune up in the Mobil, so I called and put my request to Terry Cook.
"You mean they actually tune bagpipes?" he asked.
"Believe it or not," I said.
He thought for a bit, then he said, "You know, I don't think the station would work out. There'll be people in there the whole time and I think it'd be a bad deal for them and the piper."
As soon as he said it, I realized it wouldn't be "a bad deal" - it'd be a nightmare.
"Let me think about it," he said, "and I'll get back to you."
True to his word, he called back in a little while.
"Hey," he said, "I talked to Sturdy's and the piper can practice in there."
"But we couldn't do it, since he can't walk from there, plus the streets'll be closed to vehicles."
A long moment went by.
"OK," he said, "I'll tell you what. You can have the keys to the office. No one'll be here, but you can come in and use it."
I was completely taken aback. In a flash he agreed to trust their office building to us. All I could do was stammer out my thanks.
The office was perfect; Cameron tuned his pipes to perfection and the only people whose hearing was destroyed were him and me.
That night in the Belvedere I ran into Tommy Hyde and thanked him for his generosity and trust.
'Hey," he said. "It's Saranac Lake and it's Winter Carnival. We have to help each other out. It's what we do best."
I don't mean to contradict Tommy, but he's both right and wrong.
No, we don't have to help each other out.
But, yes, it is what we do best.