When I first heard about the French Revolution in Madame Godson's French class, I was boggled.
To me, a 13-year-old naif, it seemed that on July 13, 1789, everything in France was hunky dory, what with the royals playing croquet on the lush lawns of Versailles and sipping champagne out of each other's slippers while the peasants merrily carried out the work of the kingdom.
But then, a mere 24 hours later, the merde hit the fan, with the Bastille stormed, les Grandes Unwashed running amok, pitchforks and scythes at the ready, and the aristocrats desperately trying to save their lily-white necks - literally.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Of course, as I later learned, no revolution takes place overnight. But something close to that happened to me last week.
Revolution in Riverside Park
I was in Riverside Park watching the Women's Fry Pan Toss and chatting with my pal Ron Burdick about Winter Carnivals when I mentioned The Brothers of the Bush.
"Who's that?" he asked.
"Now, they're nothing," I said. "But it was a group I remember from my childhood - just a bunch of guys who grew beards for Carnival and then marched in the parade. They quit in the seventies."
"Why?" he asked.
"Dunno," I said. "Maybe because beards became mainstream and it was no big deal. Or maybe the original group got tired or it. Or who knows."
Suddenly, Ron's eyes flashed. Clearly, he'd been hit with a sudden thoughtand I was sure I knew what it was.
"Hey," he said, "why don't we start it up again and go in the parade?"
"Well, the parade's on Saturday," I said. "That'd only give us a week to get everything -"
"We can do it!" he interrupted. "A week? We can get lots of people in a week. I'll start right now!"
He swiveled his head this way and that, and suddenly his eyes were alight with the mad glow of a true believer.
"Look over there," he said, pointing. "At those two guys."
"What about them?" I said.
"Beards," he said. "They've both got beards!"
"So?" I said, "You know those guys?"
"Not yet," he said, and immediately steamed off in their direction.
He got to them, pointed at me, pointed at himself, all the while talking and gesturing animatedly. Within seconds, they got the look of people when confronted in a city by a guy with a clipboard who's seeking signatures on a petition to save the Macedonian fruit moth or some such. The look that says, "Sure, I'll sign anything if you just go bug someone else."
A minute or so later, Ron returned, with a big smile.
"Well," he said, "we got those two."
"Great," I said. "Now what?"
"Now I keep going," he said.
And he did, hitting up everyone in the park who had facial hair. Far too quickly, everyone agreed to be there, except for one guy - Ron's brother Mike.
It was not an auspicious start. Nonetheless, it met The Dope's First Rule of Successful Endeavor - Any start, even a poor one, is better than no start at all.
After that, the newly-formed Brothers of the Bush - both of us - started to plan. We figured we needed some kind of shtick besides beards and we decided we'd make signs. After that, we split.
When I got home I thought of something else we could do - hand out stuff to the crowd. What stuff? Well, everyone loves money, but the problem is money costs, well money. But how about fake money?
I called my favorite cartoonist, Mike Cochran. Mike is brilliant at drawing everything, except attention to himself, and he agreed to have a bill for the Brothers finished by Wednesday night.
On the recruiting trail
Now all we needed was people. I mean, as it now stood, if there were any fewer of us, we'd have to change the name to Brother of the Bush.
My confidence was at low ebb, and I knew I needed to recruit some members or I'd lose my drive altogether and abandon The Brotherhood. But where and how to get people?
Just after I got to work on Monday, one of my student buddies (and a bearded student buddy at that), Kamaruzaman Mohammed, came in to shoot the breeze.
A little background here. Four years ago, Kamar and his family left their homeland in Ghana and moved to New York City. Kamar is every bit a modern city guy, but he also has healthy traditional values, one of them being respect for elders.
Oh, what a quaint concept - respect for elders! In America, where we worship youth and despise aging, it seems old people (defined as anyone over 50) are good for only one thing - donating their sorry selves to medical science, and the sooner, the better.
But it's the exact opposite in traditional societies. There, elders are respected, revered, and best of all for my nefarious purposes - deferred to.
"So, Kamar, old son," I said, as nonchalantly as possible, "have you ever thought about being in a parade?"
"Parade?" he asked. "What parade?"
"What parade?" I said. "Oh, you poor thing, you mean you don't know about our Winter Carnival?"
When he said he didn't, I launched into a combined description, history and sales pitch, ending with The Brothers of the Bush and what great fun it'd be to join such an illustrious group.
His brow was furrowed in thought for a bit, then he spoke.
"Tell you what," he said. "I'll think about it and get back to you on Thursday."
Obviously, he hadn't been fully swayed by my silver-tongued deviltry, so it was time to pull out the big gun.
"No you won't," I said, assuming the role of both tribal elder and rotten bully. "I really want you to march with me and I'm not waiting till Thursday for an answer - you'll tell me now."
Poor lad never stood a chance. He replied almost immediately.
"OK, I'm in," he said. Then, ever the gracious fellow, he added, "And I'd consider it an honor."
No slacker myself when it comes to graciousness, I said, "And the entire Brotherhood will be honored to have you as a full-fledged member."
The deal was sealed.
When Kamar got up to leave, he stopped and turned around.
"Tell me," he said, "exactly how many members are in your group?"
"Oh, people are joining up so fast, it's impossible to keep track," I said. "All I know is since yesterday we've increased our membership 50 percent!"