By the time I was 12, my focus had shifted from drawing to storytelling. Although, in truth, even my art had been visual storytelling; I loved movies, after all, and what were movies but visual stories? The week Movieland, the largest wax museum in America, opened, I spent my twelfth birthday there.
My other passion was books, and what were books but movies that played in your head? I’d also discovered the addictive power of praise and, although people had praised my art, when I told stories, they praised me, providing this little dope with an even more direct dose of dopamine!
And so I entered the 6th Grade Talent Show! I’d learned a goofy little jingle, “Casey Coffins,” at Camp Osceola the year before: “Casey Coffins, they are fine, made of satin, brass and pine. When your loved ones pass away, let them go the Casey way.”
I added a spoken chant, “C-A-S-E-Y, the only way to die!” (thus becoming the first plain white rapper), and turned it into a spoof of a TV commercial. While I hocked coffins, I referred to my product’s fine workmanship (I’d made a flimsy coffin from Dad’s left-over lumber). Then I opened the lid, without looking inside, revealing my buddy Jeff as a crumbling corpse (other buddy Rory was my hapless assistant). Worse, this corpse was only “mostly dead,” which meant he was “slightly alive.”* Hence, while I sang the theme song, Jeff climbed out of the casket and chased Rory and me around the stage. End of sketch. Cue uproarious laughter.
The rehearsal went well! Plus, Melinda Ardman was there lip-synching Shelley Fabares’s hit tune “Johnny Angel!” In my heart, I was Johnny Angel.
Problem: The night before the show I came down with a mammoth case of the flu. The next morning Mom took me to the doctor’s office. Doc dosed me with antibiotics, and told me to go home and sleep! “Noooo!” I shouted, “I have the Talent Show!” (It was my intended launch-pad to fame and glory, after all.) So Doc gave me some loop-juice, and said, “OK, but then you sleep!”
Worse Problem: When I got to the school and saw the packed auditorium, I suddenly came down with an even more mammoth case of stage fright. Loathing myself but unable to master the panic, I claimed to be so overcome with fever that I was on the verge of passing out. Mommandad believed me (the non-coward part of me had hoped they would force me go on). I handed my script to Rory, and begged him to take over my role.
Later, after hearing it went well, I was devastated. I’d missed my shot at fame and glory! Or had I? I hatched a plan: I would build a professional theatre…
In my backyard!
*Miracle Max in The Princess Bride