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The golden dream

February 5, 2010

Categorizing Saranac Lakers can be a tricky thing.

For example, to be considered a native, according to the unofficial powers-that-be, you had to be born here (and according to some sticklers, had to be conceived here as well).

To be a local, you didn't have to be born here, but did have to live here for darn near forever.

Now we take the strange case of my brother. He can't be considered a native since he came here at the advanced age of 6 - 6 months, that is.

However, while he's been gone from town for almost 50 years, he still considers himself a local.

Luckily, I have no such problems. Having been born here (and conceived here, too, for that matter), I'm as authentic a native as it gets. Plus, having lived here almost my entire life, except for the few years when I deluded myself into thinking there was life outside the Blue Line, I'm a 100-percent local.

But perhaps the main reason my townie status has never been in doubt is because I was a Winter Carnival page.


Breaking the barrier

I was 7 or 8, and while I can't remember how I found out about my royal appointment, I do remember my parents were thrilled about it.

My parents were New Yorkers who came up here pretty late in life. And while they'd spent some time out of the city, they'd never lived anywhere else. And they'd certainly never spent any time in the country, let alone in a mountain town.

My father moved here almost on impulse because of an employment opportunity, but until he actually made the trek, for all he knew, Saranac Lake was somewhere south of Albany. And my mother thought the same.

The point is that while they came to love the town, they never understood a lot of the fine points of country life. For example, take the informality. Till the end of her days, my mother never got used to people who weren't close friends calling each other by first name. Nor did she ever bring herself to wear slacks - even in the bitterest winters.

Similarly, while my father lived here around ten years, he never wore jeans, boots, hunting jackets or the like. He was so formal I remember him tipping his hat to a lady, while they were passing each other in their cars.

So when, after only a few short years, they were so integrated in the community that one of their kids was chosen as town royalty, it was like winning the lottery - only better, since the lottery didn't exist then.


Freezing room, melting heart

The coronation was held in the Pontiac theater, which I thought was the world's most elegant building. It was huge - it seated 1000 - it had 50-foot-high ceilings, chandeliers, a balcony and ushers in uniforms that looked like they were Frederick the Great's personal bodyguard. There was no way I could go in there and not be aware of my earthly insignificance.

Before the coronation itself, we had rehearsals. They were also held in the Pontiac, and I remember only a few things about them. One was, because they were held in the morning, the heat was turned off, so it was like being in the world's biggest walk-in freezer.

Second, I accepted my role with a grim dutifulness I haven't had since: I clutched the prince's train with a death grip and marched in what I thought was perfect unison with my fellow page down the aisle, up the aisle, over and over again.

My final memory is my most vivid. It was the first time I saw the Carnival queen, the actress Faye Emerson.

I took one look at her and thought my little Dopey heart was going to explode out of my chest.

Faye Emerson was, without doubt, the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen!

Absolutely everything about her was shockingly perfect. She was so beautiful she might well have been personally sculpted by God Almighty, Himself.

Her crowning glory was her hair. It was long, golden-blond, and a hue and sheen I'd never seen. Which only made sense, since I'd never seen a coif that'd been dyed and done up by a Hollywood hairdresser.

People talk of having once seen something truly awesome, after which their lives were never the same. Maybe it was the Taj Mahal, the Himalayas, a pod of whales, the lost cities of Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat, or something of that ilk. Mine was seeing Faye Emerson.


When show time was no time

As I said, I took care of the business of carrying the train, but I spent every spare moment staring at Faye Emerson in rapt amazement.

The rehearsals went well, aside from a mild case of hypothermia and an extreme case of palpitations, and finally coronation night arrived.

I was all spiffed out, of course - blue blazer, white shirt and tie, pressed pants, even tiny spit-shined shoes. I was also ready to execute my duties, if not with a flourish, then with an alarming degree of diligence.

Once the theater was full and all the preliminaries were done, it was time for the Carnival Court to make their breath-taking entrance. We were all lined up in the lobby, waiting for the musical cue. It started and the next thing I knew I was floating down the center aisle, stone drunk on anticipation.

Anticipation of what? you ask.

Just this: Once I got on stage and took my seat, I'd be there for the whole ceremony and could stare at Faye Emerson to my hammering heart's content. And best of all, since the stage was lit up for the coronation (which it hadn't been for the rehearsals), every micron of Perfection Herself would be highlighted.

I made it to the stage just fine, took my seat, and proceeded to let my eyes feast on P.H. as long as they stayed open, which wasn't long at all.

No matter how much noise, laughter, applause and overall excitement had flooded the joint, it couldn't overcome one sad fact of my life: It was way past my bedtime. Almost as soon as I sat down, I crashed out. And I stayed out until gently shaken awake by one of the high school girls in the court - at the ceremony's end.

Half awake at best, I made the trip from the stage to the lobby, where my parents whisked me away to my warm little lair on my beloved McClelland Street.

Back then, the pages didn't ride on the parade float, so I never got another look at Faye Emerson.

At the time, I was sadly disappointed.

Ultimately, however, it turned out just fine, since the looks I did get have stayed with me all these years.



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