Now before I start ramblin’, all you fact-checkers, and score-keepers – just let it go.
This little tale has been pressed through a 40-year-plus filter of memory. If it’s not perfectly factual and accurate…as the very fine Kentucky songwriter Mitch Barrett puts it; “I ain’t lyin’, I’m tellin’ you a story”.
Besides, it’s not like I have the codes to our country’s nuclear arsenal or anything.
This is simply how I remember it.
I’ve related the story Groucho Marx told of how he ended up in show business;
“I saw this advertisement in the newspaper for a job. I needed a job. I ran 6 blocks and up 3 flights of stairs and I knocked on the door. This fellow answered the door wearing lipstick and a dress. I thought; ‘How long has this been going on?’”
I suspect most theatre participants have had a similar moment of truth (or deception).
I know I had several. This is one.
When I was in high school, I had a part time job in the children’s department of the public library in Lexington. At that time, the library’s main (and only) branch was in what is now known as the Carnegie Reading Center in Gratz Park. I would finish my school day at Bryan Station High School, walk over to the junior high building (middle school not having been invented then), and catch the city bus for a 35-minute ride to my 70-cents-an-hour part-time gig at the library. Did I also mention that it snowed every day and the roads all ran uphill – coming and going?
I loved the job and I loved being in the Gratz Park neighborhood.
The bus would drop me at the Apothecary (not drug store, mind you – apothecary) on the corner of Market and Second, usually about 30-40 minutes before I was scheduled to start my shift. The Apothecary was next door to the original Morris Book Store. Occasionally, I would peruse the book store. Mr. Morris himself special-ordered for me my hardbound editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in 1968. But most of the time, I would slip downstairs to the Apothecary and get a bag of chips and a coke and slink through their back door and down the hall to a strange little subterranean chamber in which resided a parrot (or macaw or dodo…or whatever) on a guano-ringed floor stand. I never knew why the bird was there. It didn’t respond to questions. There were also stacks of story magazines in the room. No, not porn, just story magazines. I would feast on my chips and coke and reading material under the baleful eye of the parrot (or macaw or dodo…or whatever) until it was time to cross the street to the library. It all sounds so exotic today – not so much then.
On my lunch breaks I had options. I could throw my frisbee in the park until Mrs. Gratz (for real!) came out and explained that her-husband-had-given-the-land-to-the-city-and-frisbee-throwing-was-not-what-he-had-in-mind-and-how-come-my-hair-was-so-long-if-I-was-a-boy. Or, I would walk down to Brandy’s Kitchen on the corner of Main and Lime, step over the Smiley Pete memorial, and get a $1.35 daily special. This was my introduction to chicken-fried steak. I never knew exactly what a chicken-fried steak was. It didn’t respond to questions either.
At nine o’clock, I would catch the bus home unless my mom came down to give me a ride home. Any excuse for mom to visit the library was legit.
My duties were sometimes tedious, but mostly heavenly. I would shelve the returned books (restricting myself to only reading every other one), assist the “kiddie-lit” students from Transy, and listen to the children recite their reading adventures so they could gain credit in their “Busy Bee Reading Club”.
I fear it was during this period that Dr. Seuss, Walter Farley, Carol Kendall, Hugh Lofting, and Enid Blyton became more important to me than Milton, Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley (Mr. or Mrs.).
One afternoon, my assignment was to read and tell a book to several Head Start classes visiting the library. It was a rainy day. Thus, I think there were 80+ kids in that session. I read the story and then selected several kids to act it out. There weren’t nearly enough parts for all the kids. There were two six-year-old boys on the front row who were raucous in their desire to participate. (RAUCOUS PARTICIPATION IS ENCOURAGED – wouldn’t that be a great title for someone’s biography?) I pointed to one of the six-year-olds and asked him if he could play the fire truck mentioned in the story. He roared; “YES!” and began to wail his “siren” and wave his arm as a ladder. His partner and lifelong friend (six years old, remember) was crushed to be left behind. I asked him what color the fire truck was. “Ray-udd!” he shouted, and with my extraordinary but certification-lacking linguistic dexterity I immediately interpreted that as “red”. I asked if he could be “red”. He leapt to his feet, stood next to his fire-truck-playing friend, made “jazz hands”, and danced frantically around his friend.
The room and I went graveyard silent in sheer awe and admiration.
That was a Groucho Marx moment.
“How long has this been going on?”
At that moment, I wanted to grow up to be that 6-year-old.
I still do.