🎬 Actor: The Christmas Carol
The class clown tackles Charles Dickens in an elementary school basement.
Ignore everything Adam is telling you. It is simply not true that Adam never acted before. He was twelve. He was in the sixth grade. I was there.
His roots were humble, but he was a child comedian and actor of local renown. A young fan could catch his daily 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM stand-up performances in Ms. Crosby's homeroom, but he reserved his edgiest, most irreverent comedic work for music and art classes Tuesdays and Thursdays. For pathos and hysterical weeping, on the other hand, you could find him directly after those classes in the vice principal's office. The waiting area in the school office was his green room.
His stand up was well-received, but he had a formidable competitor. Ms. Crosby, his homeroom teacher, and our future star were in a veritable comedy slam. In different ways, neither of them had the slightest self-control. When there was even a smidgeon of a disruptive comment to contribute, Adam did not miss the occasion. Ms. Crosby, for her part, made the astonishing choice – even for that lawless era – of pronouncing the boy's name Adum.
Her genius was subtlety. You had to listen for it. A-Dumb. She knew how to work the crowd with it, too. The interplay was like watching two comedic masters at work. The class hardly knew who to root for. As for the teacher and student, the two of them found each other so outrageous it would bring tears to their eyes at the dinner table.
"She told the whole class that I was 16th percentile in listening comprehension!"
Meanwhile, at the Crosbys’:
"Oh, honey, I could kill the little fucker.”
But it was his star turn in a theatrical production of A Christmas Carol that I'd like to “Exhibit-A,” as it were.
I'll set the scene.
The basement stage was in a cafeteria fifteen yards from the lunch-time concession stand where students purchased half-pint cartons of milk for $.04, chocolate milk for $.05, and ice cream sandwiches for $.10. Young cashiers with sufficient math skills to make change for a nickel spilled coins everywhere, pennies rolling decade after decade under the radiator.
During lunch a teacher's aide, Mrs. Somebody-or-Other, stalked the room for oranges to peel, flipped open Partridge Family and Adam-12 lunchboxes without permission, and poked into paper bags looking for fruit. She was proud of her peeler, corkscrewing great ribbons of thick-skinned oranges onto lunch tables.
Adam was sent to school daily with exactly four cents, a paper lunch bag, and a rindless juice orange that was impossible to either slice or peel. It's hard to believe that four pennies, an orange, and a paper sack could create so much shame in a child, but Adam was able to mine it for his performances in the vice-principal's office.
Adam played the role of Scrooge in the production. He entered stage right from the hallway across from the janitor's office wearing a bedsheet nightgown and a girl’s white pom-pom winter hat.
In a Dickensian plot twist, Adam didn't just memorize his lines. He was so far off book he knew everybody else’s lines, too. “Adam Lurndhizlines,” Dickens might have called him. This was a good thing because the rest of the cast continually lost their place in the playbooks. As a result, the audience traveled back and forth in time from Act to Act and Christmas to Christmas.
In his alternative interpretation, our Scrooge did not, in fact, soften his heart after the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Instead, he doubled down on the Scroogery, passed from fully “off-book” and then headfirst into “off-play,” crashing through the fourth wall, before prowling out into the audience.
He barked out, “And? And?” first yelling at the Ghosts, and then at the terrified Cratchitt family at their dinner table, and, not one to mince words, went after the audience directly.
Ms. Crosby, who fancied herself a thespian in her own right, assigned herself the role of Bob Cratchitt. She darkly anticipated the groveling of the class clown in the third act. This child owed her an apology, and she was going to force it out of him through cunning.
That was a miscalculation. Her young charge was, at last, in his element. In the spirit of Scroogean Comeuppance, A-Dumb pronounced Cratchitt ever so eensy-teensy bit like Craptchitt stuffing an extra “T” in there.
"Craptchitt, crappedchitt, crappedshitt, crapped shit..."
He was playing with comedic fire. Not only a wild-eyed little madman, he was also an out-of-control giggler. The name nearly took him out of character, but he remained firmly rooted in family shame and repressed anger.
The performance ended with Tiny Tim, the only boy in the sixth grade shorter than Adam, dropping his plastic turkey fork and flubbing his one line.
“God save us, every one!” Tiny Tim wailed, backing away from Scrooge in fright. Meanwhile, Mrs. Somebody-or-Other comforted Ms. Crosby crying in the janitor's office.
In lieu of a final bow, the little madman mounted the ice cream sandwich table and tore off his pom-pom hat. "I can act! I can act!" he cried, throwing radiator pennies into the air like wedding rice. The vice principal had to flick the cafeteria lights repeatedly to bring the performance to a conclusion.
While there was no question Adam needed firmer direction, it was hard to disagree that there wasn't something dramatic in the lad.
Much later, summer of his Freshman year in college, Adam hunched over his Olivetti typing up his screen test resume of fictitious parts — Oliver in Oliver, Zorba in Zorba the Greek, Rosencranz in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. These weren't even plays he'd seen.
He crammed so many dazzlingly lead roles onto that resume, he could have memorized the Talmud with less effort. Not a thing on Adam’s resume was real, certainly not his height.
Well, one thing was real. All the way down at the bottom of the resume he included “Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol.” No date or theater was indicated. True, the childhood credit was unlikely evidence that he had acting in him, but it was still evidence. He’d pulled it off at least once before, and he remembered the feeling.
Yes, he did.
Confidence is a curious thing.
Feel something. Twice a week.
Jim Croce died in a plane crash 50 years ago today. Croce was a musical idol of mine as a child. He represented an appealing male adulthood for me, soft, but not weak, funny, but not frivolous. I was with him for up tempo as otherwise. He wrote this gem when his wife announced her pregnancy. (Not entirely unlike what I wrote for my own son before he was born. See! Peas in a pod!) I imagined dramatic future love affairs as this. This song is still so cool. Very, very few artists can pull off this emotional range. He did. His songs were a doorway opening out onto my own future. RIP, Jim Croce — an exceptional talent and, by best guess, a good man.
Early this weekend, “The Saturday Morning Post” will wrap up Stranger Across the Aisle. I’ll share the writing project that was the focus of that year abroad. If you’ve ever sat in a rotating restaurant and watched the world spin, you’ll understand what I was up to. More over coffee Saturday morning..
In less hopeful news, last Saturday’s 8AM’s post led to my lowest reader percentage in months. I’m wondering if it’s the time or the content. For now, I’ll make an adjustment on the time. I’ll move the post to 10AM, but I’m keeping a hawk’s eye on the numbers, too. The thinking was that Saturday morning it’s easier to find time to read a longer piece.
Otherwise, I’ll completely throw out everything I’ve ever done, reinvent myself completely, and start again from scratch writing about politics. That’s a threat and, statistics being what they are, I’ll lose 47% of you immediately with another 6% dangling their fingers over the Unsubscribe button.
As for today’s post. It’s less than a 1000 words, which was my commitment to you. Not to count these Crickets Notes, reading time is less than five minutes.
Crickets, by the way, are what I hear when I look at my readers’ comments. I’d love to hear more from my Crickets. You know who you are.