I’ve attended the Mummers Parade many times in my life, but I’ve never actually marched up the street with a group, so when Rusty Lorenzon, captain of the Venetian Club’s comic brigade in Chestnut Hill, asked me if I’d like to accompany them as an observer, I jumped at the chance.

Bob Newlin (from left), Jim Harris and Captain Rusty Lorenzon pose in their finery. Bob and Rusty look great in frills; don’t they? (Photo by Maryann Patek)

As I boarded the bus at 7:45 a.m. on New Year’s Day, everyone in the back was already in high spirits. I plopped myself into a front seat. Richard, another first-timer with the group, got on next, looked in the back and said, “I see no reason to go any farther.” He sat next to me. A woman then popped her head into the bus and yelled, “Has anyone seen Rusty’s pants? His wallet was in there.” Everyone laughed.

Rusty’s pants were eventually found, but just as the bus pulled away, Tony Vecchione, “the paper boy,” came running out of the building, yelling, “Whoa!” He got on board, and off we went. As this chartered bus full of zany characters chugged its way through Mount Airy, a half-asleep guy walking his dog on Allens Lane looked up at us as if he were seeing a hallucination.

When we got to our destination, Rusty addressed the group, “Rule number one: have fun. Everybody smile out there, and that will put smiles on everyone’s faces.” To a chant of “We’re number one,” we walked the two blocks to the marshaling area at Broad and Green.

I can only describe the scene there as one of controlled chaos — without the control. Cartoon characters were busily running in every direction — penguins, gladiators, octopi — yelling stuff like “I need pliers” or “where’s my sword?” Local residents sat on their stoops with cups of coffee, taking it all in with obvious delight.

The Venetians sprang into action, setting up their righteous sound system and dancing to a terrific mix of music as they waited for the parade to begin. “This is the best part of the day,” Rusty said to me, “The kids are having a great time.”

Finally the line started to move; a swirling sea of sparkling sequins and parasols stretching straight up to City Hall. At first, the crowd was thin, but it got thicker as we progressed. This was the Venetian Club’s eighth year in the parade, and they are really good at it. They danced, kibitzed, shook hands and gave out candy to the audience the whole way up the street, and the crowd loved it.

One of the lady Venetians said to me, “Are you having fun? It’s a different world; isn’t it?” As we neared the judging stand, I heard someone behind me say, “NOW I’m nervous.” At last it was time for them to do their routine for the TV cameras.

Their theme this year was “Flash Mobsters.” Set in the era of the Great Depression, it started with the men in trench coats entering to “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?” Next, they threw off the coats and became flappers, dancing the Charleston. The lady mobsters then showed up with machine guns, and finally, the kids, as Keystone Cops, entered with a paddy wagon and arrested the whole bunch for curfew violations. All the while, a band of old-time musicians played off to the side, and a paper boy revealed headlines describing the action.

The group had been rehearsing this act since Labor Day, and aside from one small scenery malfunction, it went off without a hitch. They marched off to a big ovation, and afterwards, Rusty said, “We nailed it.”

The production was truly a group effort. Captain Lorenzon worked on the choreography; co-captain Rob Desoo helped build the sets and props; Ann Filippi and Maryann Albertelli made the costumes, and many others contributed their talents as well. According to Desoo, “We looked at what winning groups did in past years and decided that we needed to add dancing to our act.”

In the end, they finished fifth out of the 25 comic brigades. Not bad, really, but that doesn’t begin to recognize the smiles they put on people’s faces all along Broad Street. In my unbiased opinion, they were the best of the bunch. The kids were cute, the women were great dancers, and the men were totally insane. They can be rightfully proud of the work they did, and Chestnut Hill can be proud to have such fine representation in what continues to be the world’s greatest parade.