I began my career in show business at a very young age. From as early as I could hold a crayon I was drawing pictures, making my own puppets, writing stories, and making my own little film strips with which to
torture entertain my family. (they were my first “captive” audience, and I must say they suffered through my many bizarre and varied “acts” with style and grace.)
The “films” I mentioned were basically comic strips that I drew on cut up strips of paper, and then taped together end to end to form little film reels. I would sometimes make a little box that would serve as a television or movie screen, that would have little slits on each side the “film” could be wound through. While doing this I would narrate the story-line that went along with the film. Mostly they were horror related. For instance I created several of my own sequels to Friday the 13th, long before there were, in fact, dozens of actual sequels (and remakes) of the original movie.
By the time I got to elementary school my career in showbiz was really starting to take off. In 4th grade we had an awesome teacher named Mr. Potter. He was young, easy going, and funny. He let us get away with a lot of shenanigans. Nobody ever really got in trouble in his class, and the weird thing was (get this!) we still learned all the stuff we were supposed to learn in 4th grade! He also implemented a lot of fun breaks from the usual routine during our class. Every day, for instance, he would spend at least an hour reading to us from a series of books called “The Three Investigators,” and sometimes he would surprise us by bringing a VCR into the room and letting us have “Movie Day.” (I particularly remember the exciting day when we got to watch Star Wars!)
(By the way, a VCR was an ancient form of technology that was used to record and playback television programs and movies.)
We also had a cool paper mache statue of Hagar the Horrible in our classroom. He was our mascot. The other 4th Grade class, which was next door to ours and not nearly as cool as we were, had Garfield.
Here’s one more fond memory I have about Mr. Potter, and then I’ll move on with my story. Shortly after we had reconvened from lunch one day he was sitting up at his desk, munching from a bag of grapes. Naturally some self righteous little prick from the back of the class immediately pipes up and yells “Mr. Potter, we’re not supposed to eat in class!”
Mr. Potter chewed up the grapes, swallowed them, cleared his throat, and said, nonchalantly:
“I never said that.”
(I remember that awesome moment like it was yesterday.)
From that point on we brought fruit, juice boxes, candy bars, little bags of chips; chocolate milks, whatever we wanted, into the classroom with us and happily snacked away during our studies. There was only one rule and it was quite simple: Don’t disrupt the class, and because we were being allowed so much freedom by such a cool guy, everyone respected that rule, and class was always fun, interesting and proceeded smoothly. (And did I mention we had snacks?)
All right now, get ready. I’m getting pretty close to the point of the story you’ve all been anxiously awaiting all this time.
This all took place around 1984, and aside from the Big Brother is Watching You posters that hung on every wall in the school there also existed an overwhelming obsession with Michael Jackson that permeated every fiber of every kid’s existence. (Not to mention quite a few adults.) A couple years earlier one of the greatest albums in the history of the entire universe had been released, and was still dominating the airwaves. It was an album that almost every kid on the face of the planet owned in either record album or cassette tape form: Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
(All but one kid, that is. A sad excuse for a 4th grader who professed an actual, seething hatred for Michael Jackson and all things Michael Jackson, and claimed to only like (brace yourselves)…country music!!!) Needless to say this poor misunderstood soul didn’t have a lot of friends, and out of sheer
pity empathy I have not included his name in this blog.)
So, somehow or another I convinced Mr. Potter to allow me and my friend Cinque to perform a puppet show version of the Michael Jackson Thriller video. I would make the puppets, the backgrounds, and the title screen with crayons, construction paper, Popsicle sticks, and glue. A date for this performance was set and announced. Excitement in the class built as the day of what was sure to be an EPIC performance rapidly approached.
For the record, the “puppet show” I’m about to describe to you left such an indelible impression on everyone in that classroom that decades later whenever I encounter someone who was in that class with me (and I sometimes do) if they remember me at all, it is almost always by association with “The Michael Jackson Puppet Show.” Here’s the thing though; The puppet show never actually took place!
Here’s what did take place. First I spent weeks laboring over puppet versions of various characters from the Thriller video, including, of course MJ himself. The puppets were drawn with crayon on white construction paper and mounted on Popsicle sticks. I made two sides to each puppet. One the normal character, the other side the character transformed into a zombie. (Clever right?) I made backgrounds, also made with crayons on construction paper, and a title page, that looked something like this:
The date of the show arrived! Our stage was an overturned desk with a tablecloth thrown over it. I propped up the title card on the desk, and Cinque and I crouched down behind it, where all the puppets were carefully arranged in a shoe box. It was right about this time when we realized we had not actually figured out just what it was we were planning on doing!
“So, you’re going to sing the song while I work the puppets right?”
“No, I’m not gonna sing! I thought you were going to.”
“No way. I’m not singing!”
“Well I’m not going to!”
“This was your idea!”
“But I made the puppets!”
“Nobody ever said anything about singing! Why didn’t you bring a tape deck?”
“I don’t have a tape deck!”
By this time our captive audience of fourth grade peers was beginning to get restless. Somebody yelled out: “We’ve been looking at that title card for TEN MINUTES!!!”
(It was probably more like 1 minute but it already seemed like an eternity.)
The argument between the two would-be puppeteers continued for some time. Neither of us had any intention of singing. In fact, it’s probable neither one of us actually knew all the words to the song, not to mention the awkwardness of there not even being any music to go along with it!
What the actual FUCK was I thinking?
The tension in the room was mounting. There is no way to describe the terror I felt, and I can only imagine Cinque was going through a similar quandary.
“What the HELL have I been talked into?” he was probably thinking.
So we eventually scrapped the whole project and went back to our seats, defeated and shamed. The class had been let down. Mr. Potter had been let down. Somewhere, out in that mystical place known as Neverland, a single solitary tear made it’s way down MJ’s not yet completely plastic face. The sad little Thriller puppets I had slaved over for hours on end were filed away somewhere, never to see the light of day again. (I’m actually surprised I don’t still have them somewhere.) And the story passed into legend.
Later on that week (or perhaps the next) Mr. Potter brought in “The Making of the Thriller Video.” That made everyone happy again, except for the Country Music Kid, who opted to go sit in the hallway and listen to his collection of Conway Twitty tapes on his headphones for the duration.