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Monday, October 20, 2014

Over the Garden Wall - My Debut Role as a Troll

Keene Public School's 1964 Production of "Over the Garden Wall"

It was 1964 and I was about to make my first appearance as an actor in a musical. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades were staging Keene Public School's musical production of "Over the Garden Wall", a play based loosely on Mother Goose stories and rhymes.

This picture takes me back. I can't identify everybody, but I do know a few of them.

The farmer types on the far left are Barney McClure (my cousin) and Elaine Ferguson as "Jack and Jill". Famous future Dentist, John Barroso is sitting on a ladder behind them starring as "The Sun". The first butterfly on the left is Amma Sue Johnson. Behind her to the right are the Washington brothers, Manuel and Phillip. Continuing right are Patsy Marshall and Wanda Davis (the first girl I ever had a date - it was a disaster, don't ask). The bluebird was, I think, David Carver. And last but not least in this rogues gallery is the white-beared dude dressed all in black - Tom King my own self, as Mother Goose's hit troll. My character abruptly enters stage right and threatens to abduct Jack and Jill and take them to a dark cave. I think they needed to end the play and couldn't figure out how since it didn't have much in the way of a plot. So the writer apparently decide, "I know. Let's send in a troll!"

And to make matters even more weird, I was a singing troll. I sang my threats to the children - ominously, as I had been told by Mrs. Webb, the fifth and sixth grade teacher and director of the play.

You'd never get a character like that troll in a children's play these days. Too creepy! I was like this really short pervert troll enforcer for Mother Goose. What's weirder, if you can believe it is that I can still sing the stupid song to this day.

I missed most of the play myself because I was hiding backstage in utter terror and praying to God for strength to go out there and sing in front of all those people (I was in 3rd grade and terribly shy). 
But I did it:

Naughty, naughty children
Go home and go do bed,
Or I will quickly take you
To caverns dark and dread.
Mother Goose is looking
For you every where.
So beware..............BEEEEEEEWAAAAAAAAAAARE!

See, I told you I still remembered the stupid song. I ought to. I sat in an oak tree for two days memorizing that song because I was so scared I'd forget the lines. I could do it better now, because I have a deeper voice. Sounded more like a Munchkin than a dangerous troll back in 3rd grade.

Later when I became a teacher, I remembered that moment of stage fright when doing school productions with my own students and tried to remember how traumatizing that first acting job was.

Two years later I played Pinocchio in our 6th grade play. Star of the show I was, what with being Mrs. Webb's favorite actor and all. It gave me a big head. Seriously, I have a head the size of a watermelon.

One of the miscellaneous children in the Pinocchio play was my childhood neighbor, Steve Wilhite, who had one big line - something about "Look there's a star!" He was supposed to point toward the back of the room as he said it. Steve argued with Mrs. Webb that we should hang a star back there because everyone would turn around and look for one.

She apparently didn't have a lot of faith in Steve's acting ability and told him dismissively, "No one's going to turn around and look for a star."

Steve's judgment was later vindicated during the actual production when he delivered his big line, pointed and EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE TURNED AROUND TO LOOK FOR THE STAR (including Mrs. Webb and Mr. Pauly, the principal, who later was overheard to say, "They should have put a star back there on the wall or something.")! I don't know about Steve, but I'd have felt pretty good about my acting skills right at that moment.

Later I went on to play Merlin in a community theater production of Camelot and nearly got blown up by a special effect. I said an unfortunate word, which the microphone I was wearing picked up and delivered clearly to the audience. That word was NOT in the original Lehrner and Lowe script. The Cleburne Times Review entertainment writer who was there that night was overheard to say, "Was that in the script?"

It is the moment my wife likes to remind me of whenever I get the acting bug and start talking about doing community theater again.

Ah, well. At my age, one must be content with past glories.

© 2014 by Tom King

Saturday, October 11, 2014

There Should be a Change in How We Decide What's a Planet and What Is Not

Pluto and it's moon, Charon
The astronomical bigwigs are at it again - trying to decide whether or not Pluto's a planet. I think the wrong people are debating this. Regular folk should decide. This is too important to leave to mere astronomers and academics.

So, let me offer a definition of a planet from the viewpoint of a consumer of astronomy. To be a useful definition, let's make it more like the way the APA describes mental illnesses. It gives some options and the requirement is that the disorder (or planet in this case) meet 3 of 4 or 4 of 7 of the criteria to be that mental disorder or astronomical object. This leaves room for variation within a type. So here's my offering for a definition of a planet.

1. Is a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.
2. Is spherical in shape and has a shape that is stable under its own gravity.
3. Is large enough to dominate its orbit having cleared neighboring space of debris.
4. Has at least a diameter of 2,000 km.
5. Has a satellite that orbits around it.

6. Has an atmosphere.

To be a planet, it must meet four out of six of the above criteria.

Pluto would be a planet (1,2,4,5,6)
Eris might be a planet (1,2,4?,5,6?)
Makemake would be a dwarf planet (1,2,)
Quaoar would be a dwarf planet (1,2,5)
Orcus would be a dwarf planet (1,2)
Sedna would be a dwarf planet (1,2,)
Ceres would be a planetoid or asteroid (1)

I might even make a further distinction.

1 criteria = asteroid (mostly because it's not spherical)
2 criteria = planetoid
3 criteria = dwarf planet
In which case Orcus, Makemake and Sedna would be only planetoids.

Just my own humble opinion. It just seems that the requirement that a planet meet every criteria in a list is too rigid. It doesn't allow room for something odd to be a planet even though everybody thinks it ought to be one because it looks like one. That's how things get named out in the real world.

Scientists should remember that before they go around willy-nilly making a kid's model solar system obsolete.

Yeah, it makes me mad. I'm getting too old to relearn the solar system.

© 2014 by Tom King

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why They Call Them the "Golden Years"

Being in fashion? Not a problem.

There are distinct advantages to being a sexagenarian and it's not what just flashed through your dirty mind.  I have compiled a list of some advantages to being of an elderly persuasion.

  • You have more interesting conversations about surgeries with your friends in a week than the average doctor does with his colleagues in a month and you've finally learned what a prostate is and what it means when it's gone. 
  •  No one wants to kidnap you. In a hostage situation, you'll probably be the first one released. People let you ahead of them in restaurant lines, stores give you 10% off just for being you and you can sing along with the elevator music without shame. 
  • Your kids hold family meetings down at the I-Hop about what to do about you (and you don't have to go to them). 
  • You've discovered how to use the Internet to find out what's really wrong with you so you can argue with your doctor more effectively. Besides that, all that health insurance you bought is finally beginning to pay off. 
  • Everyone's happy now when you take a nap in the middle of the afternoon and they try not to wake you up.
  • Your kids bring you presents now when they haven't come to visit in a long time because they feel guilty. You've learned to use that guilt to get better presents.
  • You can predict the weather with your joints and you're more accurate than the National Weather Service so you don't have to watch television weather reports anymore, which gives you more time to watch Matlock reruns on Netflix.
  • Sex is as rare and as much appreciated as it was when you were 13. You can even get along without it. What you can't get along without are your glasses. 
  • You are no longer expected to run – anywhere! And people don't think you're a hypochondriac anymore.
  • People don't call you lazy anymore - in fact, they keep telling you that you should slow down a bit. If someone calls after 9:00 pm, they ask if they woke you up and apologize for calling so late.
  • You and your fellow retirees control 75% of all liquid cash assets in the United States and you still remember your children and relatives who weren't nice to you.
  • You don't have to remember anything you don't want to. Nobody expects you to remember anything anyway.

© 2014 by Tom King