Friday, December 18, 2009

Book 21: The Pigman by Paul Zindel

During my junior year of high school I got into a bit of trouble. I was the President of the Drama Club, a title which I single-handedly transformed into purely figurehead status. Our first major production of the year was 'The Diary of Anne Frank'. Perfect for Christmas.

I played Mr. Van Daan, a member of the family stuck in the attic with the Franks. I got to be the guy who snuck out while everyone slept and ate food that was meant for the kids.

We did the play on Friday night as snow began to fall.

Late Saturday afternoon the snow came back with a vengeance. My drama teacher called me to tell me that the evening's performance was to be canceled. She also asked me to arrange for one of the members of the Drama Club to go to the school and inform those who showed up for the performance that is was canceled.

This seemed wrong to me. If one kid had to go to the school shouldn't all of us go? And if all of us went shouldn't we just do the damn show for whoever showed up in a snowstorm?

My teacher didn't agree. I called the former director of the Drama Club and my senior year english teacher. Great teacher. I asked him what he thought. He was very adroit, he told me that I should probably do what I was told while also implying that he didn't agree with it.

I was mobilized.

I let everyone know that the show would go on whether our teacher was there or not. The snow let up and we had almost a full house. Then the shit hit the fan.

I was banned from the spring musical.

And you know what wound up happening? Prout happened.

Prout was the Catholic All-Girls school in Narragansett. They were doing a production of 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' and they needed someone who could do an Elvis impersonation. And who was, more importantly perhaps, a boy.

Someone had seen me singing 'Blue Suede Shoes' as part of an English project in our school library and passed my name along. Within a day or two I was in daily rehearsals surrounded by 40 teenage girls.

The moral of this story? Don't do what you're told.

'The Pigman' is one of those books that aims straight for your heart without reservation. Two disaffected teenagers befriend an old man, mostly out of scorn and a kind of latent cynicism. They abuse his friendship by throwing a huge party in his house when he is in the hospital after a small heart attack. He comes back early, unexpectedly and dies of a big heart attack.

In a crucial scene in the book John and Lorraine are alone at the Pigman's house and they dress up in clothes that he and his wife used to wear. Things turn a bit intimate and their charged platonic relationship threatens to turn into something else entirely.

Sounds like a bummer but it isn't. It is exciting. It is sexy. It is uproariously funny. Much like my journey from having gray in my hair and stealing bread from Anne Frank to wearing gold lame, hair swept up in a duck tail, swiveling my hips to a bunch of squealing teenage if I weren't just some kid banished from my own Drama Club.

As if I were Elvis himself.


Peter said...

I can't believe I missed this post as I still tell the story about that guerilla production . . . although to be honest, I remember Erica Felicia Sutinen Gonzalez being much more involved in the organization of getting people together for that performance than you . . . huh. Funny thing what over 20 years will do to a narrative . . .

Also, the punishment for everyone involved was actually being banned from all Drama Club activities for 2 weeks.

It just so happened that auditions for the spring musical Fiddler on the Roof were being held the following week. Thus, the show consisted of Jon Reed as Tevya, and the pretty much all sophomores and freshman, since most of the talented juniors and seniors were actually in Diary.

Ah youth. :)

Brendan O'Malley said...

I am SURE that you probably remember clearer than I do Peter! For a guy who blogs about the past pretty consistently my memory is HEINOUS.

But Erica was still the darling of the drama club the next year and I was kind of on the outs so, hmmm...we'll have to figure this one out!

Peter said...

I thought that was your senior year. Which was why the not being able to be in the spring musical was such a big deal for you and for Erica.