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The best one ... so far

February 18, 2011

"So whaddya think?" I asked Kenny Fontana on the Monday after Carnival.

Notice, I didn't ask him what I wanted him to think about. Nor did I have to, because on that Monday there's only one thing any townie worth his rock salt can think about - namely, how the latest Carnival was.

"Great," said Kenny. "This one was the best one yet!"

My question was as predictable as his reply. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't ask everyone what they thought of Carnival and they don't tell you this year's was the best ever, there's only one reason why - they spent the previous 10 days on life support.

My 2011 Carnival kick-off was the same as it was for 1951 - going to the Coronation. The only difference was this year's was in the town hall; 1951's was in the Pontiac Theater (RIP).

My Coronation companions were Steve and Donna Sullivan, who before the ceremony revealed their status as fairly recent residents of My Home Town.

"So," said Donna, "do you know who's gonna be the king and queen?"

"You've got to be kidding me," I said. "I stand a better chance of knowing the weather for July fourth than who'll be king or queen."

"Why's that?" she asked.

"Why? Simple. The Winter Carnival Committee must swear a blood oath, because they never reveal even a hint of who it'll be."

"Never?" she asked.

"Well, lemme put it to this way," I said. "You can find every government secrets all over the Internet but you'll never find out who's gonna be the Winter Carnival king and queen till the exact moment they want you to."

"Really?" she said.

"Really," I said. "And I'll tell ya something else. If the CIA could keep their secrets half as well as our Winter Carnival Committee, I might almost trust those jamokes."

We chatted some more, but I couldn't stay too late because of my next day's mandatory Carnival activity - the Ice Palace Fun Run.


The good (c)old days

I've been in the Fun Run ever since it started, around 25 years ago or so. Twenty-five years and 25 pounds ago, it truly was a fun run for me. Now it's neither. Certainly I can't run, in any sense of the word. Jog? Maybe. Lumber? Probably. Hobble? Surely.

And as for fun? I do have fun, before and after the run, but never during it. No matter. It's a tradition, and I'd sooner take a pot-shot at a passing albatross than break a Winter Carnival tradition.

This year I "ran" with my Ice Palace Fun Run partner of the past dozen years or so - Whispering Tom Dudones. It was the usual misery trip, but it had two great consolations. One was that Tom was in worse shape than me and the poor sod had to walk a few times on the way back. Of course, we were walking as "fast" as we'd been "running," but it's still a surrender of sorts, and I was just happy he was the one who surrendered first.

The other consolation was a real treat. After they finished, two of my former students, Dana Hazan and Jordan Peters (2010 and 2011's first- and second-place finishers, respectively) came back to Tom and me and jogged back with us. I kidded that it probably took them as long to trot in with us for our last three-quarters of a mile as it did for them to run the entire 4.5-mile course. Tom and I came in dead-last (another Fun Run tradition), but being personally escorted by the two top dogs made me feel like a sure-fire winner.

As for my Carnival highlight? Given the number of Carnival activities offered and the number of interactions I have, it's almost always impossible for me to pick one but not this year. It was my brother Larry making a special trip up here just for Carnival and, even more amazing, to be in the parade with the Brothers of the Bush.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but let me explain.

First, my brother is not, nor has he ever been, what could ever be remotely considered a party animal.

Second, we were the only children, and while he inherited the genes for brains, stability and work ethic, I got the ones for loopiness, diminished attention span and public displays of everydamnthing. No complaints on my behalf, mind you, but the likelihood of my brother being in the middle of a parade with the Brothers (who could also go by the name "The Kings of Chaos") seemed about the same as me winning the lottery (especially since I've never bought a ticket).

And third, my brother marched in our high school band in the Winter Carnival parades of yore. And lemme tell ya, back in them days, Bunkie, if the temperature had 10 below, we'd've thought global warming was a sure thing. Not only were the temperatures brutally sub-zero; we weren't dressed for it. We had to wear white bucks or white sneakers and who had white bucks? Adding to that, the band hats were those cylindrical monstrosities with the huge plume at the top and with no earflaps.

And as if going through town in that get-up wasn't bad enough, the sad fact is we had to wait a good hour beforehand in the great outdoors. And so, long before we ever actually started to march, both our instruments and ourselves were frozen solid.

Understandably, this resulted in a lifelong scarring - or, perhaps more appropriately, a lifelong freezer burn. And thus, at the mere mention of Winter Carnival, the survivors of the old Petrova marching bands get a dazed look in their eyes and start shivering uncontrollably. This was why my brother had never been back for Carnival since his last one, during his senior year in 1962.


Into the breach!

But here he was, arriving on Friday afternoon from his southwest Florida redoubt, if not ready then at least willing to brave the parade. The Amazon Queen outfitted him in something vaguely resembling a plague doctor, gave him her Sorels and a bag of candy, and against all my grim predictions, come parade time, there he was.

Due to the essential chaos of the parade, compounded by the total chaos of the Brothers of the Bush, I lost track of my brother during the parade. From time to time, I'd catch sight of him and he seemed to be doing fine. Of course, by "fine" I mean he was still moving forward with the rest of the hirsute rabble. But whether he was actually enjoying himself, I had no idea. Finally, when we disbanded at the parade's end, I checked in with him.

"Well?" I said, "how'd ya like it?"

"It was great," he said.

"Really?" I said, not knowing if he was just being polite.

"Yeah, really," he said. "And it was so warm. Nothing at all like those old Carnival parades "

He looked off in the middle distance, his eyes glazed over, and he shivered but only for a second or two. Then he regained his composure.

"And I'm coming back again next year for it," he said.

"You're kidding," I said, taken aback.

"Nope. Not at all," he said. "Matter of fact, next year I'll bring Diane with me."

Diane's his wife. And while I'm sure Larry honestly intends to bring her to next year's Carnival, I don't know if he'll succeed. At the very least, he'll have his work cut out for him.

See, Diane's a Saranac Lake local, too, so we share a lot of the same memories. Unfortunately, one of them is marching in the old Winter Carnival parades.



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