December 19th, 2007

Act Naturally

Song Info (from Beatlesongs): Early enough in their career to not have actually have been written by any of The Beatles, this song was written by Johnny Russell and Vonie Morrison. It was the last song recorded for the Help! album and was chosen specifically for Ringo to sing. The song was kind of prophetic in a way, as Ringo went on to act in more movies than any other Beatle and always played a Ringoesque character. Country star Buck Owens released this song two years prior to The Beatles doing so, and his version hit number one on the country charts. The Beatles version only ever got as high as 47.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I wasn’t in any plays in high school. It was my Senior year that I started to figure out that maybe I’d like to try that sort of thing, but I didn’t have the opportunity. When I hit college, I was still trying to get my footing when Jeff M. approached me about being in his Senior Recital. He needed to direct and put on a play for his and he asked me to try out for a specific part. I had gotten to know him a bit (our high school was on the same campus as the college I attended), but I still asked him, “Why me?”

“Oh, I just think you’d do a good job with the part,” he said.

So I tried out and got the part: a mentally-handicapped gardener who gets killed before the second act. Nice.

The advantage of being in a small college (around 800 students was the max during my time there) is that there are more opportunites to get involved in things. My brother went to a larger college (around 5,000 students), and some other people I’ve talked to that attended there didn’t have nearly as many opportunities. At my college, there was a “big” play every semester and there were generally a couple of Senior Recitals in any given semester, too.

With one play under my belt, I tried out for the big college play the next semester. Miss Senn was particularly urging me to do so, and that didn’t hurt any. I found out later that directors were always trying to get more guys to try out for plays because they never had enough, but at the time it felt nice. This play was a musical, and it’s because of it that I gained a loathing for Gilbert & Sullivan. The process was fun and I still enjoyed being on stage, but I did not care for the prancing about and the singing – I was, in fact, the first male voice to sing on stage in that play, and the part was a tad too high for me. I can still remember the line and the tune: “Good morrow, pretty maids. For whom prepare ye these floral tributes extraordinary?” The highest note was on “ex” and I squeaked it in every performance, I’m fairly certain.

Here’s a list of the plays I was in during my college years:

  • The Night Is My Enemy (recital) – I was the aforementioned gardener. It’s funny how many lines I still remember from this play.
  • The Gondoliers (school play) – Singing, wearing tights, and prancing about. That’s no way to go through life, son.
  • Flowers for Algernon (recital) – I was Charlie, so I went from mentally handicapped to genius to mentally handicapped again. It was at this early point in my career that I felt I was headed for typecasting.
  • Anastasia (school play) – I was one of the conspirators that presented the girl as the real deal. I remember Jack B. making fun of the one line I said (something like “Why did I let you talk me into this? Why? WHY?!?”), and I think it was partly the sitcom-y line and partly my ridiculous delivery.
  • A Man for All Seasons (school play) – Probably my favorite part. I was “The Common Man,” which had me being a jailer, a boatmen, an executioner, and several other parts. It gave a neat perspective to counter the “Great Man of History” shown in Sir Thomas Moore, and it was fun to play.
  • The Ugly Duckling (recital) – I was a replacement for a fellow who… well, was no longer at school. I joined the production with only two weeks left before performance, and I found that that was just about right for me. Everyone else already knew their parts, which helped me lear mine pretty quickly. I was the old king, so I got to “act” crotchety and a little senile.
  • The Robe (school play) – I was the main dude in this one, for whatever reason. I wasn’t actually a student anymore, either. I was working at the college after graduating, and the opportunity presented itself.

I might be missing some – in fact, I’m sure I am – but those are the ones I can recall.

I figured out pretty early on that people like to laugh, and if I could be the person making them laugh, maybe they wouldn’t be giving me facewashes. (For those who didn’t grow up in Wisconsin, a facewash is when snow is rubbed into your face. They’re about as fun as they sound.) My foray into being a class clown started in earnest right around the fifth grade, as I recall, borne of my experiences being picked on by the older kids I grew up around.

I’ve long wished there were a way for me to make a living at entertaining people, but it’s hard for me to think of it as worthwhile a worthwhile pursuit. A movie, a play, or even a stand-up comedian can make you think about life in ways you hadn’t before, but rarely is the experience life-changing.

The other half of that story is that I’m very much like Ringo: most of my “characters” are MadMupesque, just versions of me. I have a hard enough time maintaining a distinct character for a three-minute improv bit, much less anything longer.

So if you’re around me when I answer a question in a ridiculous accent or crack jokes at a time when people oughtn’t be cracking jokes, I hope you’ll have a little patience with me and understand it’s the entertainer in me wishing he could make a difference and trying the only way he knows how.

October 1st, 2007

Stop! Meme Time!

It’s actually my cousin’s fault that I haven’t been blogging. She had the unmitigated gall to tag me for a meme, and since I’ve had a hard time coming up with answers, I’ve just avoided blogging. The time has come, I feel. I need to confront this issue head-on and use it as a character-building exercise.

So here are the rules for this one:

  • Post these rules before you give your facts
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

(You can see why this was hard for me – my whole blog is pretty much “random facts about me,” so coming up with only 8 of them (and 8 of them that I haven’t already said!) was difficult.)

  • I got banned from riding the bus to school for a day for throwing a banana peel out the bus window. My argument: “It’s biodegradable!” To add insult to injury, the bus driver at the time was staying at our house, and I don’t think he was paying any rent.
  • I cut my tongue very deeply with my teeth when I jumped off a table in my bedroom (more of a huge workbench than a table) and hit my chin on my knee. My parents were gone, so my brother called mom’s friend Mrs. M, who was a nurse. She said to keep putting ice on it, which ended up not being so much fun.
  • I shot a friend of mine with a BB gun at close range. There was a quarry about a half a mile from our house, and I’d take my friends back there and we’d shoot at the junk that had been dumped in it. My BB gun was one my dad had and it had a pump action on it. The problem was, it was touchy. More often than not when the pump was returned to its original position, the gun fired. My friend Don and I were standing on a bit of hill looking at what piece of junk we were going to shoot next, when I pumped the gun… and it went off, hitting Don in the shoulder. It could have been a lot worse – the gun was spring-loaded. If it had been an airgun, it could have gone through his skin. I begged him not to tell my parents or his so we wouldn’t be forbidden to shoot in the quarry anymore.
  • One Independence Day I lit a whole box of sparklers… while they were still in the box. I thought if one looked cool, 10-20 of them at a time would look even cooler. What actually happened was that the box burned instantly all the way to my hand and I got some blisters out of the deal. Any scientists in the crowd want to explain why that happened (the instant flash-burn, not the blisters)?
  • I think it was seventh grade when I took part in a spelling bee. I’ve always been a pretty decent spellist, so I was looking forward to this, my chance to shine. The people in front of me were given words that I knew easily, so I was looking forward to cleaning house. My turn came and I was given some form of the word “believe” – believed, believing, something. I knew the tricky part was the “ie,” and I was so focused on getting that part, that I put the wrong ending on the word the “ed” instead of the “ing,” or vice versa. It was a perfect Proverbs 16:18 moment.
  • One time for Children’s Church (a separate service held in the basement of the church so that the adults upstairs didn’t have to put up with us during their service) I played a song for special music… on a kazoo. To this day I remember the leaders exchanging glances during it that I came to realize later were of the “Oh my word, this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen and heard” type. I’m not sure why they let me do it.
  • I’ve done stand-up comedy on two separate occasions. Both times were a mix of (ahem) “footnoted material” and my own stuff. The first time was in front of about 100 people and was fairly well-received. The second was in front of about 800 people and it was not. At all. And it actually got someone other than me in a bit of trouble. Sorry, Trev!
  • In two of the first three plays I was ever in, I was cast as a mentally handicapped individual. Make of that what you will.

I’m sure there are other things that would have been far more interesting, but my memory’s bad.

So I’m tagging

  • Brian A. – just to make him have to come up with 8 new things, as I’m sure he’s done this before
  • Carolyn – because an Aussie list is bound to have interesting things on it
  • Dave – because it might get him to blog more than once a year
  • Gretchen – because hers will be majorly thought-provoking, I have no doubt
  • Jeannie – because she’s the most likely to do it
  • Josh N. – as the flipside to Gret’s, and also a way for him to take a break from seminary stuff for a bit
  • Lee – because I’m sure he’s got some great stuff
  • Melissa – because it seems like there are some stories there I’d like to hear
December 30th, 2006

Twelfth Grade

Years: 1989-90
Teachers: Mr. Braughler, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Morris, Miss Oh, Mr. Sturgill

(It seems like it would be good to finish this series in the year I started it. Don’t worry, I won’t be attacking my college years any time soon.)

It’s stranger to think back to my senior year than almost any other year. Remembering the year makes me remember the feeling of being on the verge of “growing up.” I realize now, of course, that going from being a senior in high school to a freshman in college isn’t really growing up, but at the time it seemed huge. My classmates were talking about moving away and going off to school somewhere and it seemed strange to me. I visited a college in Florida my junior year, but I had pretty much figured out by this point I was going to go to college where I was going to high school, close to home and familiar. Still, at the time, senior year seemed huge. We were on top of the heap, and even if the heap was small (less than 100 kids in the high school), it was still a heap – “big fish in a little pond” and all that.

Since I attended a parochial school, our class officer list included the position of chaplain. My senior year I was elected chaplain, a surprising turn of events that still makes me shake my head in disbelief all these years later. I was expected to give a short challenge in our monthly class meetings, and it was good practice for me – organizing, studying, speaking in front of others. I don’t know how I did, but I did it.

I made the decision to not play football my senior year. I had started playing as a way to get out of piano lessons (a decision I’ve rued more than once since), and I continued to go out because it was the thing to do. There was a form of peer pressure going on that wasn’t necessarily spoken aloud, it was just assumed that if you went out for football before, you’d do it again. I was starting to figure out that I wanted to be who I wanted to be and not do things because “everyone else was doing them.” I don’t recall my decision causing too many waves. I wasn’t such an integral part of the team that they felt they needed me. I don’t remember getting any impassioned pleas from the coach or other team members, and the team went onto have a 5-2 season without me. I was never much of a competitor and never really bought into the gameday mindset that other people took to so easily. I wasn’t missed and I went to games as a spectator as I was able.

The basketball team had a new coach this year, and he had his own person he wanted for taking stats. I moved into videotaping the games for them to watch later, but it was kind of boring, as I couldn’t cheer for my friends like I wanted to, so I did things like fiddle with the settings and turn the camera on its side while taping. It got some chuckles from my friends in review sessions, but I realize now it must have been pretty irritating. I think the coach was pretty happy when I said I couldn’t help out the second half of the season because I joined the wrestling team.

The wrestling team had a few empty weight classes and that meant in tournaments they’d just give up those points. After talking to Phil P. and some others, I joined up with the team to at least keep them from losing points automatically. Now, granted, they still lost points because I wasn’t winning matches, but they weren’t losing as many. I didn’t get pinned much, and I seem to remember that a team member losing on points wasn’t as big a hit to team points as just giving up the slot. I helped a little, which is my forte. The highlight of my wrestling career was the one pin I got… which may have actually happened my Sophomore year, I’m not sure. It fades together. I did come in second in the Conference tournament and got a nice medal for it even. In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I ought to mention that there were only two of us in the weight class for that tournament, but I only lost by a point, so that seems to diminish the “accomplishment.”

The Thursday before Nationals a Canadian girl in our class received a care package from her parents and brought all manner of oddly-flavored potato chips to class, one package for each of the 32 of us. There was salt-and-vinegar, dill, ketchup, and one other flavor I don’t remember. I opted for ketchup, as it seemed the least weird. The first one or two were okay, as I recall, but all of a sudden I got really, really sick to my stomach. I can’t really describe how awful I started feeling. There was this overwhelming aftertaste that was so sickening I could barely move. I spent the next class period spitting (discreetly!) into an emptied milk carton. I spent the class after that on the floor next to the trash can, fully expecting to … uh… hurl, and kind of hoping to. It was Physics class and there were only four of us in the class, so it wasn’t as overwhelmingly distracting as it might have been in a larger class. After that class, my friend Eric N. took me down to the health center, where I spent the rest of the day with my head hanging over the edge of the bed, trash can at the ready. After school he drove me home, and I spent the evening feeling as awful as I ever have, the aftertaste still present. When I woke up the next day, I felt fine. I don’t remember how I got to school, but I was able to participate in the wrestling tournament and get beaten by the requisite number of opponents – still only losing on points, though. The end of my wrestling career left me with a 1-11 record. The end of the ketchup chips debacle left me with a difficulty to even tell the story. Even as I’ve typed this the memory has come back and I can start to taste the taste and I’m starting to feel ill. While I can eat ketchup on fries and a few other things, I can’t eat pickles because the pickle aftertaste is too similar to the ketchup chips aftertaste.

As I mentioned, our Physics class had four students: Eric N., Josh W., Phil P. and me. I was drawn to the class because I liked math well enough and the presence of three of my best friends in the class sealed the deal for me. Everyone else in our class took Speech that hour. Pretty quickly into the semester I realized I had made a grievous error. I didn’t “get” physics at all. It was outside of my sphere of understanding, and the only reason I passed it was that Miss Oh was incredibly easy to talk into walking a person through problems step-by-step, even during tests. There are few classes I’ve taken in my career that I feel were worthless for me to take and sadly Physics was one such class. I should have taken Speech.

Up to this point, of course, I didn’t know speech was something I liked doing. I’d only had a little experience with it, with seventh grade speech being just about my only stab at it. This year was my first year trying out for the school play, even. I didn’t end up being cast. The director, who happened to be our senior English teacher, wanted me to run the ticket sales for the play. Whether that was her way of not casting me or something she really thought I’d be good at I’ll never know. I was pretty bummed at the time, but I threw myself into the ticket sales as best I could. I don’t know that our committee’s efforts made any appreciable difference in sales from the previous year’s, but we did what we could and people showed up, so I guess that’s something. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I’d be cast in a play, and after that I found fairly steady work in that arena.

Our English teacher, Mrs. Morris, was fresh from college and we were her first class. To this day I feel bad for her, though she seems to have turned out fairly well. Some of the stuff we pulled I have to blame on her, though. She had a reputation for being… well, dingy. One time she told us about a teacher she’d had in high school that was so “out of touch” that during class one day they passed a roll of toilet paper from person to person, wrapping the chair legs and she never noticed. When they got up and left the room after class, the teacher was so surprised. Mrs. Morris made the mistake of saying, “I can’t believe she never saw us! That could never happen to me!” If there are any future teachers reading this let me just point out that these are exactly the sorts of things you should never say to your class. Sure enough, we decided to try it soon thereafter. And, sure enough, we pulled it off. When we got up and left after class and she saw the chairs all wrapped, she exclaimed rather loudly, and then I’m pretty sure she laughed. I think it would have been pretty hard for her to be mad at us for something she pretty much dared us to do.

I sang bass in the concert choir and tenor in the smaller Academy Singers this year. I couldn’t really do either well, but I was placed so I did as best I could. During the Spring Concert Mr. Braughler asked me to sing the solo on the second verse of “The Navy Hymn.” “Asked” is the wrong word, really. “Convinced” is a better word and “forced” would be too strong. During the concert my throat constricted, I got through maybe the first line and then was unable to continue. When the song was done and we left the stage, I headed outside behind the gym, embarrassed like I hadn’t been in a long time. Even though I don’t remember his exact words, I’ll never forget the gist of what Mr. Braughler said to me. As soon as he was able to leave the concert, he came looking for me. Someone told him where I was and when he found me he said to me, “Don’t ever turn down the chance to sing. Don’t let this determine your decisions in the future.” While I can’t say I’ve heeded his advice completely, I do think about it often.

I have other little snippets of memories here and there, but these that I’ve told you are the clearest. Here are some of the snippets:

  • having a crush on a Canadian girl (a different one than the one that brought the ketchup chips!)
  • getting a pitcher of root beer spilled on me by Phil P.
  • seeing The Princess Bride for the first time
  • beginning what would be a two-year dating relationship
  • finding out my cat Shadow had diabetes
  • going to Washington D.C. on our Senior Trip (it’s odd I don’t remember more about this)
  • Gas was $1.07 a gallon. I didn’t actually remember this. I have this written in my senior yearbook.

And I also remember that I looked like this:

Senior 1989

Me in 1989