Tales of My Youth – Episode 11
Peanut Butter Sandwiches (or, My Early Career in Theater)
I don’t remember much about the first time I was on stage. I was in fourth grade. It was a play. I remember a picnic scene, eight or nine kids sitting around a table, waiting to eat, and a tray of peanut butter sandwiches for later in the scene. I remember I inexplicably (still to this day, I don’t know why I did it), jumped up from my seat and jammed both hands into the pile of sandwiches on the tray and mashed them into a pulp.
I’d like to be able to report that as I did it, I shouted, “Sic semper tyranus!” But I can’t. Not only did I probably not even remember that from History class. I didn’t have any motive at all. I just jumped up like a petulant nine-year old asshole and mashed a bunch of sandwiches. I remember laughing about the mess as I made it, all the peanut butter jammed between my fingers. It was gross in that great nine-year old boy way!
I probably got the hook on that one. I don’t remember. I imagine I did, and considering the era, it was probably an actual “hook”! This was, after all, a time when teachers still had paddles hanging in their classrooms, some labeled “Board of Education.” And they used them!
And I know it doesn’t justify my behavior during the play. As an adult, as someone having a better understanding of the generally accepted boundaries of right and wrong, I recognize how stupid and annoying what I did was.
It helps, I think, to understand the times, though. The play may have occurred late in the school year, and if it did, it was 1964 and in the shadow of the JFK assassination. I was too young to care about the TV news, but I remember watching the Procession through the Capital. I remember not understanding what was happening, but knowing it wasn’t good.
The next year in Fifth grade–and in retrospect, I’d like to think it was because of her untethered fear reflex at the changes sweeping through the country–my teacher slapped me in the face with a length of black garden hose.
At the time, I felt I deserved a garden hose slap to the face. I was being a complete asshole, slamming down the top to my desk and refusing to speak English to the teacher, responding to everything she asked me in a made up gibberish language that a classmate and I had invented!
If I had been that teacher, I probably would have slapped me in the face.
And besides, nearly every night at home, dad (or sometimes, mom) would knock mom (or sometimes dad) down the back stairs in a drunken brawl. Some times my older brother had to call County rescue.
So there was that. I’m pretty sure none of this ever happened to Shakespeare.