Stone Soup

Well, another six months have gone by without a post! Shame on me.  Sorry about that, but I’ve been involved with a paranormal investigation group, (sort of a natural fit for me) which has been taking up most of my time on weekends (I post most often on weekends). So unfortunately the blog has taken a back seat lately. The group broke apart, in the end, so now that that’s over, I can get back to blogging, right?

One of my nieces was recently in a professional stage production (college level – and she’s 9!) of Peter Pan. Pretty decent production values. Fog, smoke, gunpowder, a flying girl playing a flying boy (they used harness wires, so they looked like they were really flying) – it was all there. I really enjoyed the show.

It made me think of my own short foray into theater. Oh, I did drama in Forensics in high school (see previous post titled “Forensics”) and even took a theater class in college – by a professor who taught Tom Hanks, no less.

But alas, Broadway was never meant for me, it would seem, except for as a paying customer, of course. I love theater, and always will. No, my theater days were unfortunately limited to school plays in elementary school. I am SO proud of my niece for her accomplishments, and I’m thankful that she never had any theatrical setback so mortifying as to end an acting career before it began. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing.

November, 1978. My fourth grade class put on this play called “Stone Soup.” The basic idea here was that you had these two bums drifting through town on a cold autumn evening, and they stop to boil some soup. Except all they have is an empty pot and a large rock. Not a great start as far as original recipes go. Don’t call Progresso just yet. I’m just sayin.

Well, our two transient heroes manage to find some water and a grocer gives them some salt. Someone else comes by and gives them some pepper. A farmer comes by and gives them some vegetables. And so on. Before you know it, they have a large cauldron full of hearty broth, and the entire community is standing around the fire singing in friendship. Cute. Progresso is on hold on Line 2, and there is plenty of Stone Soup for everyone. There were some messages here – about working together as a community, about charity, and brotherhood.

And about local city and county ordinances.

I got to play the cop – I come along and ask – “Hey, there isn’t a real rock in there, is there?”

“Wouldn’t be Stone Soup if there weren’t, right?” comes the oh too-friendly answer. So I whip out my ticket book, but after one taste, I am won over by the warmth of the community, the friendship and brotherhood, and of course, by Stone Soup. We all end up singing around the fire, arm in arm. And no one even said anything about my Cub Scout uniform not looking anything like a police officer’s uniform. Heh.

Well, after the play, my teacher announces that the school cafeteria is open for a special treat for everyone – Stone Soup! As everyone lined up for a bowl of hot stew, the solid unmistakable ‘thunk’ of rock against metal could be heard each time my teacher stirred the giant pot of soup.

I never mentioned that my father worked in town for the State Health Department, did I?

So my dad and mom get to the front of the line, and my dad asks my teacher, almost as if he felt foolish asking such a seemingly ridiculous question, “Hey, there isn’t a real rock in there, is there?” He tried to rob the question of any offense with a halfway grin.

My teacher responded, “Why, sir – it wouldn’t be Stone Soup if there wasn’t, would it?”

“No, seriously……..” And then my teacher used a pair of oversized spoons to retrieve a 10 pound round boulder from the bottom of the soup pot.

So, to my mother’s complete mortification, and my irrecoverable embarrassment, my dad made everyone dump their soup out, closed down the kitchen, and sent everyone home without dinner.

I know he was trying to do the right thing, I know he thought he was preventing some pandemic, but I am SURE the rock was washed in hot soap and water before being placed in the pot. I mean, I kind of doubt anything would have happened. Still, I guess it’s like the cop that lets the drunk driver go because he’s only two blocks from home – the worst can still happen in that two blocks. Duty first, and all of that. I mean, I do get it. And I really don’t think he was trying to be mean or was trying to embarrass me. Oh, but embarrassed I was – I just wanted to crawl under the table and hide.

Of course, everyone went home on a sour note, and the evening was more or less ruined. To add insult to injury, my dad hit a skunk on the way home in our brand new 1978 Chevrolet Suburban – he hit it so dead-on that the thing stuck to the inside of the front right wheel well and smelled like Hell itself (I still had my sense of smell at this point in my life, unfortunately….) That put my dad and everyone else in a further foul mood.

Well, we got past it, there were eventually no hard feelings, at least on my part (and it took a while for me to get there, I have to say) and life moved on.

Progresso never called, and I was never asked to participate in another school play after elementary school, although in 5th grade I did get to write and produce my own short play with my friend Chuck – “The Money Tree.” But perhaps that is another story.

 

Forensics

I’m back. Sorry, but I was off the grid incognito in the coastal mountains of California there for a few days. Gotta love getting back to nature!

So, what’s up with the title to today’s post, you ask? Forensics? What, have I been watching too many CSI Miami episodes lately?

Nope. Forensics has another meaning besides that of forensic science – forensics can mean public speaking, specifically public debate and presentation. For lack of a better term, speech club. The word forensics actually comes from the Latin phrase “for ensis” which means “public forum.” A little trivia for you there.

Fall, 1986. Junior Year of high school. I took the class figuring it would basically be speech class, and I knew myself well enough to know that I needed to get out of my shell a little bit and stop being so danged shy at school (at least socially). I thought speech class might be a good way to do that, even if it meant getting out of my comfort zone a little, which was kind of the point, wasn’t it? So I get into this class and find out right away we will be expected to go on speech meets all over the state. Great. I just got out of Tyroleans and now this. Sigh. Can’t a kid ever just cruise Main?

But the truth of the matter was that I always loved to travel, so……..  “On the Road Again…….”  (sung in my best Willie Nelson impersonation, of course).

The first meet was in a few weeks. We got to use the Warrior Bus (our high school mascot, like an Indian Warrior) when the football or basketball teams didn’t need it. A school bus when they did. Sigh, brains taking a back seat to brawn yet again……..

The meet was in Cody. Just us and the Cody high school. I had chosen drama over debate (for those of you who know me, this will hardly come as a shocker). I also did current events. So we pull into this motel, I don’t remember the name of it, but I do know that it had the words “Motor Inn” in its name. We pulled in in the early afternoon, and didn’t have to compete until the next morning, so we had basically half a day to amuse ourselves. I think upon reflection, the school must have realized that this was a mistake.

I shared a room with this guy Mark. He runs into the room and sends himself flying through the air ass-first onto one of the beds.

CAAAAAA – RAACCCCCKKKK!!!!!!!

The bed, it turned out, was a bit on the firm side. Like Army boot camp firm. He sat there in the fetal position rocking back and forth holding his butt, as I lost it and started cracking up. I think his bed ended up being softer than mine, though, because at least his flying leap busted a couple of the support boards under the bed.

So we all head to McDonalds for dinner. (Look, we were a modestly funded school, okay?) This senior in Forensics, Todd, confronts me over our Big Macs.

Uh oh. Matt from Tyroleans not withstanding, when a senior wants to talk to you, expect trouble.

“So Brent, we’re all pitching in to get a case of California Coolers tonight, you want in? It’s 5 bucks a piece.”  Good ol’ mom – she always made sure I had plenty of cash on my school trips.

California Coolers no longer exist, as far as I know. One certainly would think you could find them in California if they did. (This also ended up being the favorite illicit beverage of the Rock and Roll Gang later that same year.) They were wine coolers that basically tasted like sweetened grapefruit juice and white wine. I really don’t know what we saw in them. I estimate that we must have paid collectively about $40 for that case of coolers. Which was about right. “Buyer” prices when you’re 16 – you get some adult just out of school to break the law and get you booze – tend to be quite high. I remember paying $20 for a twelve pack of Coors Light on Main once. Sigh.

Anyway, so we go back to the motel, it gets dark, and a woman in her late twenties knocks on our door and brings us these coolers.

**** 4 hours later ****

There is a late night movie playing on the television that appears to be for mature audiences. I am so drunk I can’t make it to the bathroom without walking right into the wall, which I did several times. Rob is in the parking lot in his underwear yelling one of the girls’ names as loudly as possible. John is jumping up and down on the bed singing “New York, New York.” Chad tells him to shut up. John gets off the bed, picks up an unopened SunGlo juice box from the dresser and hurls it violently at Chad, who ducks. The SunGlo explodes against the far wall in an orange spray.

And we all had speeches to give in the morning. If you could have seen inside the school bus the next morning, you would have found some 16, 17, and 18 year olds in true misery, and in no shape for public oration. I think my speech was on saving the whales. I really don’t remember it that well.

Leaving the motel for home at the end of that trip, we heard a sickening, scraping crunch as the bus backed up. We all looked out of the bus in the direction of the noise, and saw that the motel’s rain gutter was now wrapped around the back of the bus. Whooops.

On another trip, I was in the shower of yet another motor inn and when I got out, my clothes and all of the towels in the bathroom were gone. I peeked out the door, and the room contained around 20 students, several of them with cameras. The shower was the sliding door type, so there was no shower curtain to save me. Funny stuff, guys.

And friends, somewhere out there is a picture of me with the red polka dot curtains from the tiny bathroom window barely covering my privates as I stood on one leg to try to gain maximum coverage with the curtains, while shielding my face with one arm from the camera lenses.

One speech I do remember, because I got so good at it that the teach had me give it at several competitions, and it always did well. I even got first place with it once. It was the final scene from “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” a scene that is not in the Humphrey Bogart movie, but is in the original screenplay. In the story, Greenwald shows up at a victory party sloppy drunk and tells off everyone he just won the case for. (Sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t read or seen it.) Kind of appropriate, huh? I still remember large parts of that speech.

On one trip we even got steak dinners at the 7 Knights Steakhouse in Casper. I still remember that as one of my more memorable meals in my life – it felt earned.

I stayed in Forensics during my senior year, during which time Shannon came to our school and joined Forensics. She and I became fast friends almost immediately. We were both nerds, and neither of us was overly popular, so we had a lot in common at the school. Picture Shelly Long from the early days of “Cheers,” only as a teenager, and you’ll have the right mental image of Shannon. Pretty close to the same type of personality too (the character Diane from Cheers, I mean).  We used to have these long conversations about almost anything. One time we sneaked away from the speech meet and found our way onto the roof of the auditorium at Casper College and talked while watching the sun set over the mountains.To this day, I don’t remember what we talked about.

Shannon and I might have become an item, except that she moved away again a few months later, breezing out of our small town the way she had breezed into it. Later that year at a speech meet I met Melanie, and FINALLY, at the age of 17, fell in love for real for the first time in my life. When I went to college the next year in Laramie, where she lived, we picked up where we had left off and dated for the three semesters I was there, before I moved to California. She had to stay, of course, and so things ended between us as quickly as they had begun……

I joined Forensics to force myself to come out of my shell a little, without really knowing what I was getting myself into. The experience of being in Forensics accomplished that for me and much more, and remains one of the most rewarding parts of my high school days.