Monday, June 28, 2010

And Now in Superfast Mode, Sans Pants

I took drama classes in high school. Every year we put on four shows, and one of them was usually a one-act festival in which we’d present eight to ten short plays, chosen or written by student directors, over three days.

With this many plays rehearsing and running at once, pretty much everyone who wanted to act got to be in a show. Male actors were in especially short supply, since a lot of high school boys feel that theater is incompatible with their developing machismo and three carefully cultivated beard hairs.

That is how Wesley* ended up in the tutu.

One of the student directors had picked a show called “15-Minute Hamlet,” which is exactly what it sounds like—Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece, edited to 15 minutes by Tom Stoppard. Since its source material was written in an era when all women on stage were played by men anyway, this show had two female parts and about ten male ones. On account of the beard scarcity problem, however, our director decided to switch the roles. Voila! The play was a perfect fit for high school, requiring only two guys (Ophelia and Queen Gertrude) and a whole bunch of girls (Hamlet, King Claudius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Fortinbras, etc.).

The director thought this gender arrangement might be confusing for the audience, though, so all the actors wore large, reflective versions of the “male” and “female” symbols around their necks on stage.

That is how I, Hamlet, ended up sitting in a park wrapping aluminum foil around a circle-and-arrow “male” icon two feet across.

After a couple weeks of rehearsals, the show was shaping up well. We definitely had the best props that would be appearing on stage that spring, including a fully operational SuperSoaker, a Styrofoam head, and a plastic sword that made battle noises. All the girls wore simple, all-black costumes to facilitate changing between characters, while Ophelia sported a floor-length purple gown and Gertrude complimented his goatee with a delicate pink leotard and tutu.

Finally our director, Brandon, brought the last portion of our costumes: brand-new sparkly boxer shorts. These were for the last two minutes of the play—a superfast remix of the whole story, presented with the actors’ pants around our ankles.

That is how my high school career ended up containing this moment:

Surprisingly, we did not suffer any wardrobe malfunctions during the performance—which is to say that all the clothes intended to come off came off, and mercifully the ones intended to stay on stayed on.

However, Brandon had purchased our decorative drawers with his own money, and he wanted them back after the show. We had all been strictly admonished to wear at least five pair of under-underwear with, preferably, a generous layer of Scotchgard, and to finish off a gallon of Tide on the garments before returning them.

Once the show finished, though, I didn’t really have a chance to see the director to give my costume back. We didn’t have any classes together, since I was a sophomore and he was a senior. We didn’t hang out, since I spent my discretionary time in the chemistry classroom playing with the model carbon atoms. We didn’t have any mutual friends, again because of the carbon atoms thing. My only choice was to return Brandon’s boxer shorts via the drama teacher.

An approximate script of this conversation:

Me: Hi Mrs. Schmidt. You know how I was in a show last week? With costumes? Well, Brandon was directing it, and he bought the costumes. And he wanted them back. So here’s my costume. It’s these boxers that were a costume for a play. Can you give these costume boxers back to Brandon? ‘Cause they’re his. No! Well, yes. But only because of the play, since they were a costume. In a play. Did I mention these boxers of Brandon’s that I have were a costume in a play, which is why I have his boxers, because of the play and the costume? Please?

Mrs. Schmidt:

And that is how I ended up never looking my drama teacher in the eye again.

*Names have been changed in case anyone’s online banking security question was “What abbreviated play required you to take off your pants in high school?”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Do You Do with a BA in English?

By external measures, I’m slowly inching toward becoming a Real Adult. So far I have a bachelor’s degree in English, a full-time Real Job, and an apartment in which I not infrequently empty the trash.

I work for a well-known, long-standing, national/international charitable organization, which means I get to feel good about myself when people ask what I do. It’s particularly effective because I look like I’m about seventeen, so the conversation usually starts with “How is school going?” and progresses to this:

At this point, people picture me doing touching, altruistic things like bandaging the wounds of orphans and rescuing kittens from hurricanes. Sometimes an urgent text message or ninja attack will cut off the conversation here, and the person can continue thinking of me bathed in the white light of selflessness.

Otherwise, we proceed to Step 2. “Really? What do you do there?”

Even after this exchange, I usually come off all right. I mean, I could have been answering phones for Big Bubba’s House of Assault Rifles and Animal Testing, but in this job I can help both the needy and my fragile sense of self worth.

A few months ago, though, I ran into my very excellent 11th grade English teacher. He asked what I was up to these days, and I prepared for the veneration to which I have become accustomed. My teacher, however, skipped directly from Step 1 to Step D.xiv:

I did not have an appropriate answer.

So I crept home and continued validating my life choices as before, but with more vehemence. “Keeping this journal is writing! Look at me as I use my degree!” “Wow, that was a great e-mail about cleaning the office fridge. I am totally building my portfolio!”

Then one day, as I was putting off loading the dishwasher by trying to read the entire internet, the full and blinding glory of the Information Age struck me like a truckload of very shiny cement:

“Hey, blogging counts as writing, doesn’t it? I mean, there’s words and stuff.”

Even better, new technology has provided a lot of important-sounding terms with “publishing” in them—self-publishing, e-publishing, desktop publishing, people-DO-TOO-read-this publishing—that I can now apply to myself.

Extra Credit: What do you do with a BA in English?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Can't Hear You

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was sitting on a bench at a large, outdoor stage listening to a concert. The performers were singer-songwriters—the kind of music where you have to pay attention and listen to the words. They were good, and I was really enjoying the show.

And then two ladies ambled down the aisle to the bench in front of me, which looked to them like a comfortable place to continue their volcano of a conversation.

They took it in turns to erupt with a blast of volume, hot lava, and medical complaints, then bubble and steam until the next explosion of 1950s nostalgia and their grandchildren’s accomplishments.

One of the women was holding a banjo in a case. About twenty minutes into the concert/conversation, she opened the case to show off the instrument to her friend. By this point, it would not have surprised me if she had started to play the banjo right there in her seat.

As my outrage ticked up from “people like you are the reason I never parallel park” to “you ate my last piece of chocolate pie that I was saving for breakfast and YOU KNEW I WANTED THAT,” a beautiful thought struck me.

These ladies obviously did not realize that they were listening to live music, surrounded by live, perfect people like me who would never dream of talking during a show. They had forgotten the rules of civilization! Someone needed to remind them. Clearly, this social duty fell to me.

At this point I stopped paying any attention to the concert. My whole brain was focused on finding the perfect remark to silence these women—unfailingly polite, but conveying derision and inspiring shame.

Finally, my dagger of searing scorn and wit was ready. I leaned in to deliver the killing thrust. I opened my mouth, glowing with superiority, and all at once—the ladies stopped talking.

They turned to face the stage and sat quietly, listening to the performance. I waited. They had to start up again soon, and then I could pounce. But they stubbornly stayed silent, appreciating the music.

I was not appreciating anything. My perfectly-crafted punch line languished undelivered, and the offenders sat unscolded. I couldn’t even tell anyone how brilliant I was going to be. (“Hey, you know how those ladies were talking? Well, I was totally going to get them to stop. Before they did, I mean. Yeah, okay, I’ll shut up so you can hear the show.”)

So I wrote about it on my blog.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The My Little Pony Path to Fame and Fortune

I spent the last ten days at the Kerrville Folk Festival, camping on a ranch in Texas with thousands of aging hippies and an internet connection just slightly slower than hair growth. After the seventeenth round of “The connection has timed out—Google is taking too long to respond,” I stopped trying. This distressing lack of perseverance is why I deserted you for two weeks without posting anything.

Kerrville is a music festival that focuses on singer-songwriters, so most of the people there don’t just listen to the music, they write and perform their own. I, on the other hand, do not, so I pretty much just lurk in corners saying “Anybody wanna hear ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ again?”

This is not to say I’ve never written any songs.

My first composition, entitled “Magic Enchanted Kingdom Flying Unicorn Pony Horses,” was serialized over two or three years of my elementary education and delivered from my favorite swing on the school playground. It chronicled the exploits of an adventurous and sparkly band of My Little Ponies, including the Unicorn, Pegasus, Earth Pony, and Flutter Pony varieties (not Sea Ponies; they were annoying in the TV show). I used to sing my song from a swing with my eyes closed and imagine that everyone on the playground would spontaneously gather around, drawn by my glorious voice and enthralling lyrics. I was super popular in elementary school.

This song was destined to be a million-seller for sure. Tragically, I was never signed to a major label, so I don’t have a recording of it. What I do have is a cassette tape of me telling stories about the same cast of characters.

I cannot have been older than six when this tape was made. Since I wasn’t big enough to set up the tape recorder myself, it starts with, “Well, I was going to tell a story if my Mama would leave.” Then, with the kind of intensity my adult self reserves for ideological debate or super chicken nachos, I tell about the unicorn flying enchanted kingdom magic horse ponies and their expedition to the big cave to defeat the giants and save Ponyland. Apparently, every one of the adjectives was completely necessary at all times. All of the sentences sound like this: “Then Starlight the sparkly white magic unicorn pony enchanted magic kingdom horse said—flying horse—said ‘Come on!’ and her friend Lemon the yellow flying magic horse enchanted kingdom pony unicorn came, and they flew to the scary enchanted magic cave of giants of Ponyland.”

The magic unicorn flying ponies also went on three successive picnics. You can tell they were enchanted picnics because they included all the delicacies I wasn’t allowed to eat in first grade. “Then Sparkle River and Lickety Split packed Fruit Roll-Ups and Doritos and real corn dogs and purple grape juice!” Flying magic enchanted unicorn sparkle kingdom horse ponies have the best parties. They totally would have listened to my song.