Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mr. Good-Shoes

This whole thing started many years ago when cars were simple and people were helpful in general. It was February and the parking lot outside Phil's Rexall drugstore was full of ice and slush. There was a car with it's hood up, and a beard-wearing beatnik-looking guy, several years older than me, was staring into the engine compartment. I asked if he needed a jump, and he shrugged his shoulders and remarked that he'd always had trouble with red cars. He confessed to being an actor and had an important part that very evening in a play starring none other than Tony Dow, Wally, of "Leave it to Beaver" at The Mill Run Theatre where the stage actually spins around. Theatre-in-the-round they called it.

After taking a look at the luckless red car, it appeared that the starter was bad, but he mentioned that the key goes into the slot just fine. Actors: they can pretend to do stuff pretty well, but when it comes down to actually doing it, without a script, they're lost.

Recalling the pledge, "a scout is helpful," as endorsed by Mr. Wiggums, my long ago scoutmaster who seized every opportunity to wear his Smokey-the-Bear hat, even to the Ice Capades, it seemed only dutiful to help the stranded thespian. Using some tools from my trunk, I crawled underneath the car and removed the starter. It was dark, cold, and my back was immersed in a human-sized snow cone, but youth and a memory of childhood oaths was on my side. Using my car, we drove to the auto parts store, picked up a new starter, and you-know-who crawled back under the car, installed it, and the red car sprang to life. He thanked me over and over and asked what he could do to pay for the assistance, and I said to just give my best to Wally, to which he replied, "I would have helped you more, but I have my good shoes on." While telling this story to friends, I always referred to him as Mr. Good-Shoes.

The second part of the story takes place fifteen years later: I'd returned to college and signed up for an acting class. Being an actor was not my intention; the class was in a convenient time slot and had little homework attached to it, not to mention, the theatre building was close to the parking lot. And who should stroll into the classroom amid a flurry of applause, the infamous Mr. Good-Shoes, who, in fifteen years, had morphed into Professor Good-Shoes. Apparently he was quite distinguished and popular around campus. In his opening remarks, he stated that no one will get an "A" in the class. He went on to say that in his entire career, he'd only given one "A" and that was to an extraordinarily talented actor who has since devoted his life to acting in Shakespearean plays. When Professor Good-Shoes spoke of this man, he lowered his voice to that reverent tone that Ted Baxter often used on the Mary Tyler Moore show. He said the best of us should be happy with a "B."

The class consisted of us pairing up and acting out scenes from plays and films of our choosing. It was intimidating, as there were a considerable number of actors and actresses in the class who were very serious about their craft. My first scene was from a Tarzan movie. I was The King of the Jungle, and the prone-to-fainting Yvette Winston played Jane. I was nervous and figured that everybody would be judging me against the great Johnny Weissmuller, so at the last minute, I decided to make Tarzan gay, with a lisp, a limp wrist; the whole deal. Tarzan had suddenly become The Dandy of the Jungle, a worrier of how his loin cloth draped. My partner, Yvette, was not happy, and after our scene, she yelled out in disgust, "Tarzan was not gay!" The class agreed, and despite my feeble explanations that I was taking the character to a new dimension, a theatrical lynch mob formed. After that, it was not easy to find a partner for my following presentation, "Of Mice and Men," the slapstick version. Judging by Yvette's comment, "Your planet needs you back, soon," it, too, was poorly received.

After my performances, Professor Good-Shoes would scratch his beard and only say, "interesting approach," using that low, reverent, Ted Baxter tone. This made a few of the serious actresses very angry, as they thought I should have been admonished for my unorthodox acting ability. I, on the other hand, was just fine with "interesting approach." Professor Good-Shoes never gave any indication that he recognized me from all those years ago, and when the semester ended, everybody said their good-byes and went their separate ways.

Several weeks after the class, my grade arrived in the mail and it was an "A." I recalled Professor Good-Shoes' speech and was stunned to know I possessed the kind of talent worthy of his praise. This placed me akin to the Shakespeare guy, and I would be referred to in subsequent classes, in a reverent tone, as one of two "A's" the professor has given in his illustrious career. Naturally, plans for my theatrical career began taking shape. I'd begin by doing regional theatre, then move to off-Broadway where talent ambitiously waits to be discovered. I began rehearsing romantic scenes with a signed poster of Sheena Easton.

One evening, the following semester, I ran into Professor Good-Shoes in a campus hallway, and he said he'd like to talk to me. Certain he was going to ask me to perform a cameo in one of his legendary off-campus plays, I waited patiently for the offer. He began by saying that one cold February evening, fifteen years ago, some guy rescued him in a drugstore parking lot, enabling him to get to the theatre in time to keep his badly-needed job. He fumbled with some papers he was carrying and said, "It would be a compliment, indeed, to say your acting skills are limited. That "A" was my way of saying thank you for your help. It meant a great deal to me."

"Yeah," I said, mustering up the best of my acting ability, "I thought that was it. By the way, did you say hi to Wally for me?"
"Yes," he said, in that low, reverent tone, "I told him the whole story."