Sunday, June 13, 2010

That's What it's All About

Last week, we made a comic referencing a story from a high school English class. Regrettably, the story was all-too-true. Many eons ago, in our Sophomore year of high school, Brian, Peter, and myself all had the distinction of being placed in an “honors” English class. I’m going to go ahead and assume Mike was off playing guitar or having girlfriends or something much lamer than reading “Ethan Frome”. If you have not read Ethan Frome, good for you. Spoiler alert- it’s about a bunch of sad pathetic people living in a sad pathetic town. Ultimately, they try to kill themselves, but fail even at that, managing only to permanently cripple themselves.

When you take this kind of feel-good literature, and slather on a rigorous homework regimen, lots of in-class busy work, and hours of highly speculative discussion about themes, symbolism, and other fluff, you realize the kind of dire straits our attention spans were in. This is the kind of class that drives you to sarcastically answer a major test question simply by rephrasing the answer just to, you know, stick it to the man.
The final nail in the coffin for this hopelessly oppressive class was that all the literature we studied that fateful semester had a running theme. Fueled by such other works as “The Great Gatsby” and “Winesburg Ohio”, we learned that our goals would not be reached, our love would not be returned, and that we would wear away the long years of our lives feebly grasping at the shadow of the person we dreamed we would one day become.

Obviously, we had to invent some seriously good ways to goof off in this class.

While I have fond memories of writing “I’m Oblivious” on a slip of paper and tucking it into the sweatshirt hood of the kid in front of me, there is one particular activity that I take great pride in having helped invent. This is the Casual Hokey Pokey.

As any four year old knows, the Hokey Pokey is a dance which involves the repetitious placement, and subsequent removal, of ones limbs from “in”. You put your right leg in, you put your right leg out, etc. The challenge, and the joy, of doing this in the middle of a high school Honors English class, is that one cannot simply get up and dance in class. If you were to try such a thing, it would undoubtedly result in a lengthy discussion about the symbolism and deeper themes of your dance, and ultimately a test that you would have to think of sarcastic answers for.

Too much work.

No, instead, the pleasure of the Casual Hokey Pokey is that you do it in plain sight of everyone, and yet no one notices. You play it cool- hence “casual”. It would usually begin like this- In some truly desperate moment, perhaps as we discuss the significance of a pickle dish slipping from a shelf and shattering on page 263, Brian and I would make eye contact. We are both thinking the same thing: Slip the cyanide capsule into your mouth and bite down hard. But then we remember our favorite classroom pastime.

One of us would begin to tap our foot, communicating a basic rhythm. Silent to the outside world, the music would begin in our heads.

“You put your right hand in…”

Brian extends his right hand to pick up the pencil on the edge of his desk, as I extend mine, covering the action by feigning the need to crack my knuckles.

“You put your right hand out…”

Brian withdraws with the pencil in hand, hovering it a half an inch above his paper. I retract my arm, having completed my stretch.

“You put your right hand in…”

As though he’s suddenly rethinking what he was going to write, Brian slides his hand a few inches forward and looks up at the teacher. I slide my hand forward again as well, as though resettling after my stretch.

“And you shake it all about…”

The pencil is now twirling casually in Brian’s hand, as I drum my fingers atop the desk.

“You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around…”

Alright this one was tough. There really is no way to physically turn around while in a chair which is bolted to a desk, so we would usually settle for just drawing little circles with our index fingers in the air. Typically at this point we would steal a glance across the room to make sure the other person was still in time, and finding them also spinning their finger, we would suppress a mutual laugh, and nod subtly in approval. No one else in the room had any idea.

“You put your left hand in…”

And so it would go on in a continuous progression of itches scratched, pen tops clicked, watches checked, feet tapped, legs crossed and uncrossed, and the telltale swirling of an index finger punctuating each verse. Hands left and right, each leg, and of course the greatest challenge of all, the dreaded “whole self”. This usually involved some kind of elaborate maneuver by which you extend your legs, cross your arms in front of you and put your head down, as though you’re just beat from all the thrilling mental stimulation, only to reverse the entire motion, and immediately do it again! Truly, only skilled masters of the Casual Hokey Pokey could pull off this finale with grace.

Once it was all done, Brian and I would take one last look at each other, silently acknowledging that yes, we are awesome. A quick glance to the left and right revealed the vacant stares of our peers, their glazed and unfocused eyes peering forward. They were none the wiser to our shenanigans. If it had been a particularly poor performance, maybe they would have thought, “Man, that kid is fidgety,” but the notion would quickly be dismissed, replaced with fantasies about cyanide pills. I’m quite confident no one ever deduced exactly what we were doing.

Now go forth into your lives, dear readers, and take the Casual Hokey Pokey with you- to your college lectures, your staff meetings, and your family functions. As long as you have at least one buddy who enjoys the thrill of hiding humor in plain sight, you need never be bored for long.


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Blogger Clare said...

I am thrilled that even though you guys didn't attend a parochial school, where everything you do must be incognito, you still learned the ways of the double secret agent. And kudos to you for the brilliant plan you developed to save yourselves. Dan, you have such a gift for storytelling that I can see the whole scene unfold before my eyes. Of course, now I will watch you both for any signs of boredom when I am in your company to see if I can catch you.

June 14, 2010 at 9:49 AM  

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