It should be no surprise that my highlight of the year is Winter Carnival. And furthermore, the highlight of my Carnival is the parade.
In the past, I was a spectator at the parades; now, for five years running, I've been a participant, as a Brother of the Bush.
If you've ever put a Carnival parade group together, you know how much work it takes. If you've never done it, you're lucky.
For example, every year we give out funny money, and every year it's different, since the designs always change, honoring a different brother for each occasion. And how do these designs change? Well, not by themselves, that's for sure. Uh-uh, each year our resident cartoonist Mike Cochran draws them. And he does it quickly and without complaint, in spite of my always telling him at the last minute.
Then there's costumes. Most of the Bro-hood are left to their own devices, but luckily I've got my personal wardrobe specialist the Amazon Queen. This year, subtlety being my specialty, I went as King Neptune, and the AQ pretty much got the whole thing together for me.
Of course, to lift the spirits of local kiddies and dentists alike, we hand out candy. Since it doesn't grow on trees, it has to come out of the Bro's pockets. And when it comes to candy and the gala parade, a huge bit goes a little way.
A mutiny in the ranks
Finally, there's our float. This year, with our theme 20,000 Beards Under the Sea, as the B.o.B.'s Creative Director I said we needed a submarine and a giant octopus. Both of which, of course, are easier said than done. Its construction was assigned to the B.o.B. Design and Construction Committee -?Ron Burdick, Hugh McGill and John Gillette. They thought it over and came up with a wood framework, covered by aluminum. The aluminum was generously provided by Cathy Moore, who laid a bunch of press plates on us. The guys came up with the wood and the other materials. But more than that, they put the whole thing together.
Figuring out how to build such things is one issue, and assembling it is another. But doing it outdoors in single-digit, windy weather is a nightmare. But put it together they did, in Ron's driveway, working 10 hours on Thursday and Friday, and then another few hours on parade day morning. And they did it without complaining or at least two-thirds of them did. After the parade, however, Brother Ron gave me an earful. He didn't exactly complain, but he did lay out in crass detail every privation he'd suffered, and when he got done it sounded like Two-and-a-Half Days in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.
Now lemme tell ya something, Bubba: After 40 years of fulltime teaching, one thing I've learned is how to deal with stubborn children. So I said nothing. Instead, I maintained eye contact, nodded at the right moments, and kept a sympathetic expression on my mug, waiting for his rant to end. Finally, it did a mere 10 or so minutes later.
Then it was my turn.
"Yeah," I said. "You guys were great. You are every year. And without you, there'd be no float."
squashed by Captain Dope
Then he laid the bombshell on me.
"Which is why there probably won't be a float next year," he said.
"What?" I asked, shocked. "No float?"
"Uh-uh," he said. "I've had it."
"But the float's the centerpiece," I said. "If there's no float, there's no parade."
"There'll be a parade," he said. "Only I won't be building a float for it. I quit."
I mulled over this for a moment.
There's something else I've learned after 40 years of teaching - I do not negotiate with terrorists.
"Sorry to hear you feel that way," I said. "But you can't just opt out like that."
"I can't?" he said. "Why not?"
"Well, for one thing, the whole Brothers of the Bush revival was your idea. Or did you forget? Five years ago, in Riverside Park, watching the fry pan toss? You were the one who wanted to go in the Carnival parade, even though we only had a week to get it together. All your idea."
"Yeah, but "
"No yeahbuts," I snapped. "You wanted it. But did I bail out on you?"
He started to shake his head, softening a bit. I pressed my advantage.
"No, I did not abandon you, Brother Ron. "You needed my help, I gave it. Gladly. Unstintingly. Selflessly."
"Welluhit is bitter, working in the cold and -?"
"Of course it is," I said. "No one says it isn't. But that still doesn't mean you should quit. Matter of fact, you can't."
"Why can't I?'
"Well, it's stated in the by-laws of our constitution. Paragraph one, sub-paragraph B."
I cleared my throat, closed my eyes, and then recited in my most impressive voice: "Once accepted as such, Founding Brother status and office must be retained by aforesaid individual unto perpetuity."
"By-laws? Constitution?" he said, his eyes narrowing. "I've never seen them."
"You haven't?" I said. "I coulda sworn I showed 'em to you years ago. You probably forgot. But no matter. Being Brother Number One, which you are, is like being the pope. You're it - for life!"
"Oh yeah?" he said. "Well, the pope just resigned. Besides, I couldn't ever be the pope, so I don't know what that's got to do with it."
He smiled, and it was not a nice one. It was the smile of some shyster who'd found The Perfect Loophole.
Maybe he'd just won that game, but I wasn't about to lose the match.
"I'll tell you exactly what it has to do with this," I said. "You'll never be the pope, right?'
"Yeah," I said. "But given his grooming preferences, the pope'll never be a Brother of the Bush."
"So who says he'd want to?" said Ron.
I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Then I fixed him with my famous ice-cold stare.
"Because," I said, "there are only two types of men in this world - Brothers of the Bush and those who wanna be Brothers of the Bush."
Before he could answer, I turned and walked away, cutting him short.
The way I figure it, I've now got a whole year to keep guilt-tripping Ron.
And he has a year for his icy recollections to warm up and maybe even thaw out completely.