Local color, at its worst

On the side of his house was a sign my pal Ed Woodward had made. It said, “Any plan, even a poor plan, is better than no plan at all.”

Certainly, Ed knew what he was talking about. As a World War II Commodore in the Pacific, he commanded a flotilla of nine Destroyer Escorts. And more importantly, as he was fond of pointing out, he never lost one of them.

Me, I’m not much of a planner.

Sure, when I taught, I also planned — a lot. Then again, any teacher who doesn’t have a plan (and a good one, at that) is ripping off his students, and making a damn fool of himself besides.

But that was my job; planning in other aspects of my life is pretty much nonexistent. If I do plan it’s short-term and easily done. For example, if I’ve got a heap of dirty laundry and none of it can pass the sniff test any longer, I’ll plan to do my laundry the next day. When I actually do my laundry is another matter, but at least I can congratulate myself for having made a plan.

Mostly, I just plan on waking up tomorrow, and what happens after that is anyone’s guess.

Exceptions have been made, and the most recent one involved my Winter Carnival parade unit, The Brothers of the Bush.

As the putative head of The Brotherhood, I’d say my planning can best be described as “minimalist.” Essentially, what I do is not plan, but delegate. Bro Bruce makes the signs. Bro Hugh builds the float. Bro Russ makes the emblem. Bro Mike makes the money. And Bro Ron takes care of all the remaining crap.


The Bro-hood, by nature of their personalities, lend themselves to neither regulation nor regimentation. Before you see them flipping chairs in unison, raising paddles skyward and kicking like the Rockettes, you’ll see Bigfoot riding a unicorn down Main Street…with Jimmy Hoffa in hot pursuit.

That said, they’re a dependable and goodhearted lot who will show up, suit up, and fill the parade route with good vibes o’plenty.

Still, there’s always something involved with this stellar enterprise that forces me to make a plan or two. This year I wanted to add a new bit, something that’d grab everyone’s attention, especially at the judges’ stand.

But what could it be?

First, I thought of fire. That always elicits oohs, ahhs and wows. But given its danger when near alcohol fumes, I was afraid of igniting imbibers from the Vets to the Waterhole, a whole bunch of whom are my old friends.

Next I thought of smoke. Not as dramatic as fire, and not as dangerous…at least not immediately: But from what I researched, most smoke is toxic. So bag that.

I thought more and more, and finally it hit me – confetti!

I scanned the internet and sure enough I found just what I was looking for — one-shot confetti cannons. They’re powered by compressed air and stocked with biodegradable, water-soluble confetti.

I read the customer reviews. The stuff shot out with a loud pop, up to 15 feet in the air, and then showered the crowds with a multi-hued array of paper shards that melted away within a day or two.

I ordered 15 of them and they and I were at the parade lineup, locked and loaded.

From impressive to deppressive

Of course, given my vast array of parade duties, I couldn’t fire the cannons myself. So I delegated the task to the group’s grenadiers (a rank created on the spot, as you might already have guessed). Sister JJ, having served with distinction as a Coast Guard petty officer, was a sure candidate. Brother Bruce, though lacking a martial background, did, as a trombonist, play more than his share of John Philips Sousa marches, which to my way of thinking made him at least as much a soldier as JPS, hisself. The third grenadier was Brother Nate, so chosen because he can follow directions.

Here was my plan: In the bed of Br. Ron’s truck, which brought up our rear, was the box of cannons. Then, at specific points along the route, I’d call for one to be fired. Since there’d be more reaction where there were more people, most of the cannons would be set off from the bottom of Berkeley Hill on. But the best would be saved for last — the reviewing stand. What I planned was that after we lined up in front of the stand, we’d snap off our legendary salute-cum-nose thumb and right after that, we’d fire off five — count ’em five — cannons at the same time!

Just think of it: Right after all the judges convulsed in hilarity from the salute, there’d be a huge bang, the sky’d fill with colors, and the judges would be buried in a hailstorm of confetti. It would be positively boffo!

The only things we had to do were maintain fire control and keep count of how many we’d shot off so we’d had five cannons a the end. In all modesty, I did a great job of that, so when we got to the Post Office Pharmacy, we had seven cannons left.

“OK,” is said to Br. Bruce, “go get the rest of the cannons.”

“What rest?” he said.

“Whatta ya mean?” I said.

“These are the rest,” he said, holding up one and pointing to Sr. JJ, who also had one.

“But, but … “ I sputtered. “There have to be seven left. I’ve kept count, you guys have fired off eight so far.”

“Well, you’re half right,” he said.

“You haven’t fired eight of ’em?” I said.

“No, you’re right about that,” he said.

“So,” I said, a sudden sinking feeling coming over me, “what am I wrong about?”

“That we were the only ones doing the firing,”

“You weren’t?” I said, the hideous reality dawning on me.

“Apparently not,” he said, “since the box is empty.”

What happened was obvious. While my official grenadiers, in front of the truck, were shooting off the cannons according to plan, my un-official grenadiers were shooting them off behind the truck, every damn whichway.

So my fabulous confetti storm ending was kaput. Instead of the king helluva parade climax I’d imagined, we’d be stuck with one that could best be called anemic.

Oh, the ignominy of it all!

“So whattaya wanna do?’ asked Bruce, snapping me out of my one-Dope pity party.

“Well,” I said, “if half measures availeth nothing. and we got less than a half-measure, I say bag the finale. Just fire off what ya got when ya want.”

“Good idea,” he said. “We can save the five-gun salute for next year.”

“We can,” I said. “And we’ll save something else for next year too.”

“What’s that?” he said.

“Room in your packs for all the cannons,” I said.


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