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Paper tigers

February 19, 2010
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN

Does anybody know exactly how many people it takes to put on the official Winter Carnival events? I don't, but I know it's extensive.

But beyond them, many other organizers and volunteers run the unofficial Carnival groups and activities. For example, consider all the bands at the bars, the library book sale, the Mason's breakfast, and my favorite, the Glutton's Deelite - the skating club's spaghetti dinner.

I learned how much time and effort go into a Carnival activity through my effort to revive one of the great Carnival icons of my youth - The Emptyprize.

Lest you not know, The Emptyprize is a gag edition of the Enterprise that comes out on the second Winter Carnival Friday. Its only material is goofs and satire, all in good fun, and with darn good writing as well. I loved reading it when I was a kid and always looked forward to the next year's edition, which hardly made me unique, since everyone in town did.

Sometime in the '70s, when an Enterprise owner decreed that such frivolity and joyfulness had no place in a serious newspaper (especially when celebrating an event such as Winter Carnival?) The Emptyprize met its sudden and tragic demise.

So The Emptyprize was gonebut not forgotten. But like a lot of things that lie in the past, we may remember them fondly, but we don't think of reviving them. And that's how I felt about The Emptyprizetill about six years ago, when confronted by Jacques DeMattos.

---

The seed is planted

I ran into Jacques and before I even had a chance to say hello, he nailed me with a direct shot between the running lights.

"You know what you oughta do?" he said.

"Uh, no," I said, taken aback.

"You oughta bring back the Emptyprize. It'd add so much to Carnival."

Each sentence expressed a completely different thought. He was dead right about it adding to Carnival. But as far as my starting it up again? Not only did I have no idea how to go about it, but it looked like I'd have to work - something I'm much better at avoiding than doing.

So I said something delightfully neutral to him like, "Yeah, sure, great idea. I'll look into it."

And as you might expect, I didn't. I figured, since I see him so infrequently, by the next time we ran into each other, he would've completely forgotten about the Emptyprize. But of course he hadn't.

Instead, we had essentially the same conversation - him asking me to resurrect the Empyprize and me making a half-baked promise that I would. Only this time something was different: I started to feel guilty about copping out on Jacques.

I might not have felt the same if anyone else had asked me, but Jacques, in addition to being a childhood friend, is about as civic-oriented a guy as it gets - especially with Carnival. For years he was in charge of raising money and he went about it with a nonstop diligence that made Japanese businessmen look like freeloaders. For months preceding Carnival, every week Jacques' mug was plastered in the paper, holding a check he'd dunned from some organization or another. In fact, I think he shook down more businesses single-handed than Chinatown's notorious Yip Lee Tong did as a mob.

Anyhow, finally, propelled by a potent mixture of personal and townie loyalty and guilt, I approached the ADE's publisher Cathy Moore with Jacques' request.

"Have you figured how you'll get the advertising?" she asked.

"Advertising?" I asked. "What advertising?"

Then she explained the harsh reality to me.

To my surprise, I found out newspapers don't run on good wishes alone - they actually require money. And the money comes not from bake sales and raffles, but from advertising. This would prove especially difficult with something like the Emptyprize - a gag insert that almost no one remembered and so almost no one would be willing to invest in. Since Cathy's the bottom line person of the paper whose job is not to lose money, there was no way she could gamble on the iffy Emptyprize.

It wasn't the answer I wanted to hear, but it was the one I heard anyway. And to be brutally honest, while I felt a bit disappointed, I also felt a bit relieved: As a former failed Boy Scout, I'd done my duty to God, Country and Jacques Demattos, and now I could let the Emptyprize rest in peace.

---

takes root, and blooms

Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said of Jacques: The next time I saw him and explained the situation to him, he was unmoved.

"The Emptyprize was one of the highlights of those old Carnivals," he said. "And it should be the highlight of the new ones too."

"Yeah, sure, I agree," I said.

"So if you agree, what're you going to do about it?"

It was that "do" that did it - kicked my Guilt Quotient up about 60 points and gave me the resolve to see Cathy again, which I did. We had pretty much the same conversation then and we had it the next two times I approached her - after the next two times I ran into Jacques.

Finally, Cathy understood one of The Great Essential Truths of My Home Town: As long as Jacques kept bugging me about the Emptyprize, I'd keep bugging her. And since the odds of Jacques no longer bugging me were the same as the U.S. ever having intelligent foreign policy, Cathy did the only thing she could.

And what was that? you ask.

It was calling in the ADE's advertising ace, the Silver-Tongued Devil herself, Sue Darby. After that, Cathy ordered Sue to go forth, be fruitful and hustle a buttload of ads for an Emptyprize in the next Winter Carnival.

Amazingly, not only did she do it, but she did it in no time flat.

So that was all it took to get the Emptyprize up and running, right?

Wrong.

Of course, you need moolah to make a newspaper and you also need writers. While we already had the writers, two questions about them remained. One, did they want to write satire in their nonexistent free time? And two, even if they wanted to write it, could they?

As it turned out, the answer to both questions was a resounding "Yes!"

And thus The Emptyprize came back from the deep freeze for Carnival 2007, and has been with us ever since.

And I hope it'll be with us forever - or at least for as long as I'm within Jacques DeMattos's bugging range.

 
 

 

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