4 Days

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

(Oh, The Places You’ll Go — Dr. Seuss)

And Arizona, oddly enough, is the place I think I most look forward to going on this trip. I know it, know its nooks and crannies, know the desert and the cities and the mountains, know the dryness and the brown-ness and the hotness, but it’s home, in a way, or was. And mostly it holds friends, old friends, the ones who count. The ones who remember.

Which is why, I guess, a lot of this pre-road retrospective has to do less with trips and more with friends. I’ve danced around mortality all year, it seems, and now I want to go home for a bit.

It seems I’ve reposted this lately, although it could be my imagination; I know I sent it to my old buddy Clark Clothern, who was a player in this little drama so long ago. And I’m looking forward to maybe seeing a couple of other participants on my visit.

And really? I have no idea what this was about. Maybe just about one particular guy. Maybe just an anecdote to meet a deadline. Maybe I was just sentimental about high school, or about theater. Maybe I just wanted to let somebody, somewhere know that I still remember the excitement, all these years later, of curtains that are only about to rise.

Maybe it just struck me as funny, a story about kids, about plays, about fun and trouble. About

The Lion, The Witch, and The Other Witch
(Originally published 5/8/2002)

wizard-of-oz-witch_l

“Brigadoon” is the story of a village in a state of perpetual adolescence; aging one day per century, it’s in the world but not of it.

It’s an appealing story. Statements about earning our gray hairs aside, we all grow up because we have no choice in the matter; we can’t really know if we would have been content to be, say, 16 forever.

I saw “Brigadoon” Friday night at Kamiak High, watching the third generation of high school thespians in my family (I’m not counting my wife; sometimes we don’t count her).

I watched the cast members celebrate, and if I’d been stupid enough to mention to them that I knew how they felt, I would have gotten one of those looks they reserve for that sort of thing.

I was in six musicals in high school, an age when theater is all about passion and fearing failure and getting up there anyway, about friends and feelings and dark corners backstage where romance gets a chance and things can get lively. There are lots of stories to tell.

When I was 16, I played the Tin Man in “The Wizard Of Oz.” It wasn’t our best show, but it was memorable for two reasons: A little incident in a parking lot, and the fact that our Wicked Witch was played by a boy.

Emil Miller was one of the guys for whom words fall short and you really had to know him, but he was interesting. He was a professional musician while still a teenager, he carried a briefcase and wore a coat and tie, and he could talk a school administrator out of his petty cash and get a thank you note in return. Emil had a long history and the rest of us looked at him with more than a little awe.

Casting Emil as the witch was actually an easy call; behind make-up and costume his gender was impossible to know, and he had a great witch voice.

Because this was a children’s show, we got to do a little publicity tour of the elementary and middle schools in our district, drumming up business. We drove around all day in full costume and makeup, giving previews and distracting drivers.

We had just finished at the junior high that most of us had attended when one of our drivers backed into another in the parking lot. It was just a fender bender, nobody got hurt, but Ms. Bailey, the girl’s gym teacher, came out to investigate.

Ms. Bailey we remembered. She’d been mean and nasty in our day and still was, and she marched up to us and began making snide comments about teenagers racing around small parking lots.

This went on for a few minutes, and then Emil had enough and calmly suggested to Ms. Bailey that perhaps she would be more comfortable if she simply returned to the rock she had apparently crawled out from under.

Things got interesting. Mr. Gomeric, the longtime principal, came roaring out of his office, preparing to have a few teenagers for lunch. To his credit, the sight of a cowardly lion, scarecrow, tin man, and wicked witch in his parking lot didn’t even slow him up.

“So what’s this about the Tin Man making a comment to Miss Bailey?” he barked out with, amazingly, a straight face.

I had an ethical dilemma, then, hard enough for any teenager and not helped by the fact that shaking uncontrollably in a sheet metal costume is a noisy business, but Emil saved me. “I said it, Mr. Gomeric.”

A male voice coming from a wicked witch has an effect not unlike ventriloquism, apparently, and Mr. Gomeric looked confused. Emil took a couple of steps in his direction, using his broom to make points. “He didn’t say it, I did.” The principal still seemed a little puzzled, so he added, “It’s me, Mr. Gomeric. It’s Emil.”

As I said, Emil had a long history. Mr. Gomeric got this little smile on his face, almost wistful, and he said, “Ah. Emil. ” And that was that. End of story.

I saw Emil Miller last summer in Phoenix, where he owns a recording studio. We reminisced, but somehow we didn’t get around to the story of the two witches in the parking lot. It was probably just as well; it’s awkward for middle-aged men to recall that some of their happiest moments were spent wearing makeup and tights.

I wouldn’t blame a “Brigadoon” cast member for doubting that this old fat guy could understand how he feels, but I do. You forget a lot of things, more than you’re comfortable with, but you never forget standing backstage when you’re 16, waiting to go on.

It will be over so soon, I want to tell them, savor the moment and seize the day, but they wouldn’t listen and neither would I. The rest of the world moves on, I thought then, but I will always be here, waiting in the wings for the overture to start.

 

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