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Fine dining

November 19, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

I'm always shocked when someone knows something about me that I don't know.

A perfect example happened last week, and the sage was none other than King Frank Camelo.

It didn't involve him as Winter Carnival royalty but as the Elks Club's nabob of its annual veterans' dinner.

This year the dinner was the Friday after Veterans Day, and reservations were supposed to be made the week before, at the latest. I never miss going to the dinner, but I tend to make the reservations a wee bit on the late side. Or at least I think it's only a wee bit. As for how others might think, read on.

This year I had only the best intentions of making my reservations early. Then again, according to the old chestnut, good intentions are what pave the road to hell. And while I know nothing of road construction - here or in The Great Beyond - I'm inclined to agree with it.

So while I intended to call early, I actually called pretty late - like the afternoon before the dinner.

"Hey, Frank," I said, "I'm really sorry for calling so late, but is there any way I can still make a reservation?"

"Oh sure," he said, as gracious as ever.

"It's no problem?" I asked.

"Not at all," he said.

"Why's that?"

"Because I put your name on the list right from the start."

'You did?" I said, taken aback. "Why?"

"Well, you always come to the dinner," he said, "but you never call till the last minute."

"Oh " was all I could muster, as I tried to process this latest rearrangement of my self-image.

"So," I continued, "is it possible for my reservation to be for two? I wanted George Bryjak to go with me."

"Sure," he said. "I have you down for a party of two anyway."

"You do? Why?"

"Because not only do you always call late, but you always make reservations for two at least."

Good old Frank. When his reign as Winter Carnival king is over, he can become the court's official necromancer.


Of pasta and pals

So what kind of time did I have? A great time - as always. And this is because the Elks go out of their way to make everyone feel like not just a guest, but a welcomed and honored one. None of them are polished professionals, which is great, since their hospitality comes straight from the heart.

Although it's labeled a veterans' gathering, I consider most of the people my friends. By good fortune, this year George and I were joined by two of my favorites - Dave and Marilyn Rioto. I also ran into other pals, among them Don Fina, Jack Lawless and Tim Moody, with whom I managed to have some fun chats.

Next, while the attendees are multi-generational, most are my seniors. So it's one of the few gatherings where I can feel like one of the kids.

Finally, there's the spaghetti, which is always dee-lish. And this year, beyond mere taste there was another great appeal of the food - we got offered seconds. Only George and I took them up on it, though. A tip of the hat to the chef, Bunk Griffin, for his fine recipe and brilliant sense of portioning.



So did the evening have a highlight? Better than that, it had two.

One was the guest speaker, Frank Karl's, presentation.

Frank's a great speaker, and I'm not just saying it because he's my friend. He understands the essential truth of public speaking, which is: Shorter is Better.

But beyond its brevity, his speech's message was a boon to all: He spoke about the Saranac Lake veterans' clinic, now under construction, but soon to be a reality. And what a welcome piece of news that is, since now to get routine medical care, area vets won't have to travel to Albany and back, something that's prevented a lot of vets from taking advantage of those bennies. And with a known 4,500 vets in the Tri-Lakes, this is no small deal.

In the course of his speech, Frank talked about and gave credit to all the people without whose cooperation the clinic would never have gone beyond the proposal stage. Included among them of course were movers and shakers of the political persuasion.

Frank also gave special props to the Reilly brothers, owners of the building to which the annex will be built. Apparently, without the patience and generosity they showed, time after time, dealing with regulations ad damn near infinitum (it's the government they're complying with, after all), instead of us having a small clinic we would've had one big floperoo.

As for the second highlight? Well, perhaps it wasn't recognized by the audience in general, but it's obvious to those of us who know Frank. It's the inner chapter of how our vets' clinic came to be, and Frank Karl is the man who wrote that chapter.

Although he never mentioned it, Frank was, and is, the clinic's prime mover.

Of course, a lot of people had to be involved in this process, but Frank was the man who lobbied nonstop, from start to finish, never faltering, never getting disappointed, never losing his cool.

And the whole time he stayed his course and did his righteous thing, he never called attention to his efforts. And why's that? Simple. Frank Karl is an endangered species, a gentleman of the old school: He rises to the occasion, does his good works, and turns the spotlight on others.

Although he probably never said it, Winston Churchill is credited with a quote about Clement Atlee: "He's a modest man, with a lot to be modest about."

Now I'd like to end with a quote about Frank Karl, which I'll gladly take credit for:

"He's a modest man, with a lot to be proud about."



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