You might think this a cautionary tale, but it is only in the loosest sense. It is more the caution of not letting that little voice inside you talk you out of doing something that could be potentially embarrassing. Before the “don’t touch my junk, bro” session of the TSA tales, I once said to the guy with the metal/bomb detecting wand at the airport, “Sir, I am a gamer. I could take that tub of belongings over to the scanner holding it over my head singing YMCA and not be embarrassed.” Today I might do the same thing, just replacing the word gamer with writer.
But this identity wasn’t born overnight. Hell, it wasn’t even really born but spat from my brain through the cleansing fires of a lot of childhood hassles. It really was a miracle I came out of it with as few broken bones as I did. Specifically there are two stories from early on in high school that I remember in the wake of my failing memory of those years. Well, two stories that have any entertainment value to them whatsoever.
The first takes place during Homecoming Week. I want to say my Sophomore year. Our choir was doing a stirring rendition of Jailhouse Rock on stage for the school. If you are not familiar with the song stylings of Elvis, here are the only lines you need to know from the song;
The sad sack was sitting on a block of stone.
Way over in the corner weeping all alone.
The warden said, “Hey buddy, don’t you be no square.”
“If you can’t find a partner, use a wooden chair.”
Can you see where this is headed? Any ideas who the “sad sack” was in our rendition?
Now before I get into the humorous part of this tale, let me set the scene for you. I was 6’2″ and around 148 pounds. I was a year into my training in Tae Kwon Do Open, but had not yet learned that my lack of a torso beyond skin and bones would start to really hurt my ability to breathe. I was just agile enough to be really dangerous – as was to be proven in front of the entire school.
The idea was that I would sit on the lunchroom chair being the “sad sack.” Four girls would come up and heft up each of the four legs of the chair and do one of those 1, 2, 3 rocks and then throw me in the air. I was to land on my feet, grab the back of the chair and dance with it. Lucky for me I was allowed to not sing that verse.
Thanks to martial arts, I also had an affinity for those black cloth shoes with the brown rubber bottoms that we saw in all of those Hong Kong martial arts films. Needless to say they’re great when you’re practicing or want to be able to move quickly. That would make them great for dancing, right?
First show, during the school pep rally day for Homecoming. The girls heft my scrawny ass up, do the 1,2, 3 countdown and launch me. Benefit was at under 150 pounds they could do it. The disadvantage was at 150 pounds it was like they were launching Sputnik into friggin’ orbit. Thus I fly up much higher than I did in any of the practices… at the edge of the stage. Having trained in how to fall, I was able to angle myself enough that I didn’t drop 15 feet or so to the floor below. I landed with both feet on the stage – and my center of gravity all off.
My feet slipped from under me and I hit ass first onto the stage with an audible thump. I sat there for a quarter of a second considering how it is possible to break one’s ass before hopping up and dancing with that stupid chair like it was my prom date.
As I came out into the lunchroom I was given a couple of “nice moves” comments to which I replied, “Hey, it takes skill to break your ass on command like that.” Should I have been embarrassed? Maybe. But where’s the fun in that?
Fast forward to spring the same year and we are doing a cabaret. For the event we chose some Doobie Brothers song to sing, I forget which one. The important part was a friend and I deciding to do Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” bit for the show. We had plenty of time to practice, wrote up a transcript of it and our Drama teacher even let us perform it for extra credit in class.
The issue was in dealing with the roles. My friend wanted to be Abbott’s role – the straight man. Classic paired comedy like that, the straight man takes some serious work. It not only involves timing and style, but you have to know the act backwards and forwards so that if the goof takes it off on a tangent like Robin Williams hyped up on nuclear espresso beans you can follow it up.
He really wasn’t ready for that.
So here we are on stage, he has his normal suit and fedora style hat (which all geeks who saw Indiana Jones during that time had). I’m doing Lou Costello’s part so I have my suit but with a baseball hat and a bat. Props, lines, audience. Check. Check. Check.
We’re going along fine until a little over half way through, he gets hung up on a line and keeps repeating it like he was a scratched record. For those of you too young to get that reference, like a corrupted MP3 file. So I kept stepping back to his cue line, but after the 3rd or 4th run through it I figured he need a more solid cue.
“No, who’s on first?” THUMP!
My line was followed by a straight swing of the back as I nailed eye contact with the audience. Without looking, and breaking the 4th Wall I buried the bat squarely in his belly. After a whoosh of air flying out over the audience like watermelon at a Gallagher show he remembered his line and we moved on – even if his first couple lines after that were a little stuttered.
Should we have been embarrassed? Maybe. Did it suck? We switched roles for a couple lines, but some of the comments from the parents were how they had always wanted to see Costello take a shot at Bud Abbott like that.
Never be afraid to suck.
I have heard this several times at writing conferences or simply repeated in social media by published authors and professors. The strongest quote I took away from the GenCon Writer’s Symposium was Anton Strout saying, “Don’t be afraid to suck. We all suck!”
So no matter if it is falling on your ass in front of the school, performing assault and battery in front of a hundred witnesses or writing a story about a young party girl socialite when you are neither young, nor a girl, nor a socialite – don’t be afraid to suck. You might be surprised.