My pal Jack Lawless is the Quintessential Saranac Laker.
Why is that?
Simple: He satisfies the four essential requirements.
One, he's an unabashed Saranac Lake chauvinist.
Two, he's got a steel-trap mind, and can recall details from the distant past with perfect clarity. But he doesn't do that simply for the heck of it. Uh-uh. He does it for the same reason all QSL's do - so his storytelling is as rich as it deserves.
Three, he's done a bunch of things, so has mixed with every stratum and milieu of the town. For years he worked at his dad's Texaco station (on the corner of River Street and Main, where Wilson Farms is now), and after that he owned one of the town hubs E. Johns Lounge (where the Rusty Nail is). He also was the assistant general manager of the Hotel.
Four, he's always observed and appreciated our characters.
A note on My Home Town's characters: As far as I'm concerned, we hardly have any. But back in the Glory Days, if you stood in Berkeley Square and tossed a brick in any direction, you'd hit a character. And chances are, if the brick bounced off, even a little ways, it'd hit another character as well.
The last time I ran into Jack, our conversation rambled until suddenly he was talking about one of our finer characters of old, Johnny Garwood.
Football like it'd never been played
To me, Johnny Garwood was a mysterious entity, less a real person than a disembodied spirit or something. He announced the morning show on WNBZ, so I heard him every day before I went to school, year in and year out. But I never saw him in person. So for all I knew he was ectoplasm coming to us through the wonders of radio waves and a Ouija board.
On the morning show he always sounded half-dead. This led my friend Bruce McNamara senior to claim it made Johnny the perfect morning show host because no matter how bad any of us felt in the a.m., Johnny felt worse.
Johnny also announced the SLHS football games, and there he shone. His analysis was spot on and his color commentary was memorable. Local rumor said that if he'd been serious, Johnny could've made it as a big time sports announcer. But we never found out since he was happy where he was.
One incident perfectly illustrates his skill as a first-rate announcer and a first-rate con man.
He was announcing a football game from Potsdam, and after the second quarter had developed a parched throat and a powerful thirst. During half-time he went to a local gin mill and had a jar or two. He got back to the game after the start of the second half.
He made a few innocuous comments and then announced the score was unchanged from the first half. Unfortunately, after he did, he found out that not only had the score changed, but Saranac Lake had scored two goals in as many minutes.
Did this faze him? Not at all. And here's where his skill as a sports announcer (and con man) came in: Somehow, during the third quarter he managed to call, play-by-play, two Saranac Lake touchdowns that existed nowhere but in his - and his audience's - imagination. And best of all, no one but Johnny was the wiser for it.
There was, however, one mistake he made that EVERYONE was the wiser for.
The name of the Lord in vain
Johnny had a Sunday morning show, and one of its spots was a pre-recorded religious program. When I say "pre-recorded," I'm referring to how it was done before tape recorders, which was with something called radio transcription discs. They were records, but very special ones: They were 16" in diameter, played at 33 1/3, and lasted about 15 minutes.
The discs' beauty was two-fold. First, the radio station could have excellent programs which were affordable and which they could repeat when they wanted. Second, when the D.J. played the discs, he didn't have to do doodle-squat. This suited Johnny fine, because every time he played the church segment, he went across the street to Bernie's, got a cup of coffee, and took his sweet time coming back.
One Sunday, Johnny put on the disc, went to Bernie's, and had his coffee all according to plan. But what WASN'T according to plan was that the disc had a big scratch. When the needle hit it, it stayed there, and the record repeated over and over, "Jesus Christ Jesus Christ Jesus Christ."
Of course people called the station. But since it was Sunday morning, the only one there was Johnny who wasn't really there at all.
Finally, someone called the WNBZ's owner, Jacques DeMattos, at home. Mr. DeMattos drove to the station, arriving after Johnny had gotten back from Bernie's and had moved the needle.
Even though the program was back on track, Mr. DeMattos wasn't delighted with what happened and confronted Johnny about it.
"Oh, Jacques, it was terrible," said Johnny, without missing a beat. "As soon as I put on that record I came down with the worst case of the trots I've ever had. I was stuck on the pot the whole time."
Mr. DeMattos was as sharp as a tack. He was a first-rate storyteller as well. So while he knew Johnny was lying out both sides of his mouth at the same time, he also knew a great story when he heard it, and this was a great story.
Thus I'm sure all was soon forgiven - provided there'd been anything to forgive in the first place.