It all started in early June, with a call from a fellow member of The Brotherhood, Ron Burdick.
The brotherhood we belong to is The Brothers of the Bush, a loose congregation of men and women whose sole purpose is to publicly celebrate the glories of facial hair and have a bunch of fun at the same time.
To the best of my knowledge, The Brotherhood was an old-time Saranac Lake group of beardies who got together only to march in the Winter Carnival parade. They ceased sometime in the mid-70s when beards became commonplace, so making a big deal of them, let alone marching in a parade about it, seemed trivial, if not downright ridiculous.
The Brothers of the Bush, including, from left, Mike, Earl, Tom and Brother Dope, marched in the Fourth of July parade in St. Regis Falls.
(Photo — Becky Sutter)
But the week before Carnival '09, thanks to Brother Ron's encouragement, The Brotherhood revived. We gathered about 30 hirsute souls and marched in the parade. Then in 2010, we repeated our performance.
Being in the parade, like being in any Carnival event, was a hoot. For 2009, we'd printed placards with such witticisms as, "Grow it, don't mow it"; "Sampson was right;" and "Bristles, not missiles." Our official artist, Mike Cochran, designed boffo fake money which we handed out with enough candy to send the Chinese National Guard into sugar shock.
The second year was even more fun, with the addition of our custom-designed 8-foot sign (courtesy of Brother Russ and Righteous Sister Deborah) and a truck holding our group's bagpiper, Cameron Anderson.
Clearly, The Brotherhood was getting bigger and better.
But that was then - this was now.
Enlisting vs. resisting
"Now" was the Fourth of July parade in St. Regis Falls, for which Brother Ron was enlisting my services. Or more precisely, for which Br. Ron was trying to enlist my services. Ever since my last enlistment 40 years ago in the U.S. Navy, I've been more than a tad reluctant to volunteer for anything. And the St. Regis Falls parade was no exception.
First, I'd have to drive there. Second, I'd have to get up early to do it. And third, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, once I got there, there'd be no there there.
Of course there'd be a St. Regis Falls, but that, by itself, didn't seem enough.
It'd be completely unlike the Winter Carnival parade. I wouldn't know anyone in the Falls, plus everything'd be on a much smaller scale - a smaller town, a smaller parade, a smaller route, and worst of all, a smaller group of Brothers. In fact, if any fewer Bros showed up, we could rightly label ourselves "The Duo of the Bush," or perhaps even "The brother of the Bush."
But none of this curbed Ron's enthusiasm.
"Look," he said, "their Fourth is a big deal. They've got the parade, field days, a cookout, fireworks. It'll be great!"
"So how many guys you got so far?" I asked, cutting to the chase.
"Well, so far it's just me and Earl," he said.
"You and Earl, huh?' I repeated numbly.
"Yeah. But you never know who'll show up. Hey, we've got almost a month till the parade, you know."
I did know. I also knew the odds of a successful 30-day membership drive were about the same as winning the Tri-State Megabucks. And when Ron called back, two days before the parade, my suspicions were confirmed: We had enough people to carry our two-man sign, and that was it. But it still couldn't dampen Ron's spirits.
"We'll have a great time," he kvelled. "Earl lives there and he's already taken the sign. I'll go there Sunday morning."
"So you're going, even if it's only you and Earl?" I asked, uttering my inevitable question.
"Sure," he said.
And then he asked his inevitable question.
"So are you going?"
And I gave him my inevitable hedge.
"Ah, I'll let you know tomorrow, OK?
My heart wasn't in it. The thought of walking in a parade in a three-man "group" struck me as absurd. All I could think of was walking through town, having people pointing at us, laughing at our foolishness.
Of course I'm sure the same thing happens during Carnival parade, but let's face it there's strength in numbers: If they're laughing at 30 of us, I can always take comfort in believing they're laughing at the other 29. With only three of us, the safety margin not only shrinks; it disappears.
Rightsizing the reasons
So I had my reasons for not wanting to go. But after I thought about it for a while, I realized they were all the wrong ones.
We'd brought The Brotherhood out of mothballs for the right reasons. One was for us to have fun, and the second was for others to have fun. That was it. And it worked beyond our wildest expectations. But it didn't work because of the number of people in our group, the parade, or the town - it worked because of their spirit. It was the same spirit Ron now hadand which I didn't.
And why didn't I? I asked myself. The answer was one word - ego. I was taking the parade seriously, and even worse, I was taking myself seriously.
Suddenly, I remembered what Will Rogers said about how a comedian knows he's washed up.
"First he starts taking himself serious," said Will. "Then his audience starts taking him serious."
I'd hit the first stage, but I hoped to avoid the second, so I did what I should have in the first place: I called Ron and told him I was in. Then I called the Amazon Queen and asked her to be the official Bro-hood's photographer (which, amazingly, she agreed to). Then I diddy-bopped to the dollar store and scored a sawbuck's worth of sweets. Finally, I did the most important thing - I told myself I was going to have some righteous fun. And I did.
The parade was smaller than Carnival but just as friendly. It also had a different composition - including more than 25 fire trucks, all with horns a'blaring. And the weather was a lot more conducive to shorts and t-shirts.
Our group was smaller than Carnival, but nothing to sneeze at: We had nine folks: Br. Ron and his wife Diane on his Harley; his friend Dan and his son Nathan on Dan's motorcycle. Then we had the youngbloods - Ron's nephew Mike and his pal Tom. Representing The Righteous Sisters was Sister Barbara, showcasing a white beard almost as tall as her.
Br. Earl and I carried the sign, and what I most remember was Earl laughing out loud almost the whole way.
Could it have gotten any better? Not only could it have, but it did: That night Ron called me to say we'd won third prize, which came with a cash award of 25 smackeroos.
I immediately thought of a Hunter S. Thompson line, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro," but was distracted when Ron asked me how I wanted to divide the money.
Good question, because to my way of thinking you don't even bother to divide 25 bucks among 9 adults. But what DO you do with it?
Once again, Ron came through. His suggestion? We give it to the Tri Lakes Humane Society.
As President Pro Tempore of the Brotherhood, I approved his suggestion, and as the Brotherhood's Director of Institutional Advancement, he promised to personally deliver the loot.
It was a wonderful ending all around: Our prize money went to the dogs, literally, and I was spared going to the dogs, figuratively.