I was a senior in high school. My best friend Jim and I attended opening night of the Dominican High School production of the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. We sat front-row center. There is a character in the play who is only in one scene; she’s a snooty girl presenting her science fair project to the audience. The scene was played in front of the curtain, no more than 20 feet away from us. The role was played by the freshman kid sister of a friend of ours, who had a hopeless crush on Jim. This was her first role in her first play, and she was acutely aware that the boy of her dreams was sitting in the front row. When the lights came up on her scene, Jim and I burst out in hysterical laughter before she could open her mouth. As she struggled to compose herself, Jim stood up, leaned over the orchestra pit railing, and took a flash picture of her. She struggled through the scene in a pitiable confluence of tears, laughter, anger, and general hysteria. It was a few years before I managed to acquire a proper sense of shame with regard to my conduct that evening.
Several years after the fact, I was speaking to Miss Granger, who had directed the play (it was her first directorial effort), and I brought up that evening, recounting my actions. She had been standing at the back of the theater that night, far from the commotion down front. “That was YOU??!!” she cried. Oh, she remembered it all very well. I could offer no defense other than youthful idiocy, and we moved on.
My friend Ed and I would occasionally visit a nice restaurant in St. Clair Shores called Pat O’Grady’s. We couldn’t really afford to eat there, but we came by for two purposes: one, to mooch off Ed’s mother, who was a waitress there; and two, to sing with the fellow who played piano there. Ed had – and still has – a strong and entertaining voice. His big finale was almost invariably his rendition of My Way. One night, he launched into his big final line – “…and did it myyyy…” At this point, I, sitting off to Ed’s right, joined in on the word “…way!” intentionally singing half a step flat, and pulled Ed’s voice right down into the crack with me. He wanted to kill me, right then and there. Probably the only thing that saved me was that he also thought it was convulsively funny, and so I have survived to type these words for your edification.
Let’s skip ahead many years now, to my life in Chicago. As I have developed a greater respect for performers, and I hope also for people in general, little tricks like those I have described are no longer a part of my repertoire. But there is still room for a little fun. Here’s one I was proud of:
A coworker at my day job left the firm a few years ago. For discussion here, I’ll assign her the pseudonym of Mary Turner. She sat near me and we got along very well. On her last day, I put a message onto her voice mail. It went something like this:
“This is an all-office message. Today is Mary Turner’s last day with the firm. To let her know how we feel about her, please give her a call at extension 1234 the moment you hear this and let her know how much she’ll be missed. Thank you.”
-- So of course, no one called her, since she was the only one who’d been sent the message. I was betting that Mary would know me well enough to get the joke. My faith in her was rewarded. I was watching her from across the room as she listened to my voice mail, and she broke out into hearty laughter as soon as she heard it.
I think one of the most important insights I ever got into myself came from my late Aunt Rosie, by way of my mother. She was talking to my mother at some point late in my childhood and said something like this: “I used to think Charles was such a rude little boy. But then I started to listen to him and I realized he was just trying to be funny. And he is.” Hmmm… perhaps I’ve changed less than I give myself credit for!