Hello Oscar!

Let's go back forty-odd years today, to high school. The years that I spent in school are not a part of my life that I look back on with great fondness, at least not the high school years. It's not that I had any major problems, or was bullied, or anything like that; the path was basically smooth and uneventful. School for me, was simply something I had to put up with until I could escape.

In my high school, the entire grade group was graded at the start of each year, based on some kind of test that I don't remember, and filtered into groups (this was for English classes only). Kids in the lower groups got some kind of remedial training; kids at the top worked on special projects. I was somewhere in the middle, doing I suppose just the normal curriculum.

But one day something interesting happened. One of the other teachers opened the door and interrupted a class I was in one day, apologizing to the classroom teacher. He pointed in my direction, "Dave, grab your stuff and come with me."

When I joined him in the hallway, he explained that I was being taken over to the 'Group A' classroom. He went on to explain that they were working on a special project to create a radio drama (using a tape recorder), and they wanted me to be involved.

I understood right away what had happened. A few days prior to this, my classroom teacher had been taking us through some novel or other, having students stand up in turn to read passages from the book. What a pathetic exercise it had been; everybody could basically read of course, but they just droned on word after word, stumbling over many of the longer ones. It was absolute torture to listen to.

When it was my turn, I stood up, started to read, and pretty much forgot where I was. I spoke the lines the way that we would normally imagine them - with inflection and emotion. This was something I could do - I lived inside the books I was reading! So even though I was quite a shy boy, and my presentation probably wasn't actually all that good, compared with the general level on display I probably came across like Laurence Olivier.

Word of this must have travelled around among the teachers, resulting in this 'invitation' to join the radio drama group. The story of the drama concerned a group of people trapped on an island, perhaps shipwrecked; I'm no longer sure of many of the details. The class was divided up between those who were to work on the sound recording and effects, and those who were to be actors/readers. I was in the latter group of course, and was assigned the part of a character called David (coincidentally enough), who was one of the main protagonists of the drama.

After some days for planning and preparation, the actual production began, and we 'actors' began to bring the story to life. But this was so different from reading the book passages in the other classroom! That had been quite dispassionate and detached from any sense of reality. Even though I had been trying to make the reading 'natural', I had been just standing there in a classroom. But now here I was, sitting at a microphone, with right beside me the girl playing the part of one of the women in the band of castaways. A woman who - according to the script - was going to soon end up 'in my arms'.

So there was Dave - perhaps the shyest boy in the whole school - who could never under any circumstances actually talk to any of the girls, finding himself 'making love' to one of them. "I have been in agony while you were away! It is only you that I care about. I love you. I love you! Come to me now!"

I must have been absolutely torn in two - the desire to read the part 'properly' and dramatically, being counter-balanced by my sheer terror of the girl sitting beside me. I wonder what kind of strangled noises I made!

And what I would now give to have a copy of the tape we produced!


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Margaret

At my high school, every year the 10th grade read The Grapes of Wrath. Most of it we read on our own, in the evenings, but every day we'd read a portion out loud in class. Usually, the teacher, Mrs. Glasscock, would cycle through the entire class for readers.

But, like you, I was actually good at reading aloud, and so she started calling me up every third time or so, and, eventually, gave up the pretense of spreading the effort around and had me read every day.

I have no idea if the others enjoyed it, but it is one of my favorite memories of high school.

Posted by: Dave

Margaret, thanks for sharing that memory! I wonder, was there perhaps 'one' in every class who could do that ..? And I wonder how it is nowadays ...

But speaking of having to stand up in class to do something - whether reading aloud like this, or going to the blackboard for some kind of exercise of other - reminds me of one of the worst things about that sort of activity: for young boys of that age (middle school, high school) who are basically young 'male animals' surrounded by young 'female animals', these calls to stand up always seemed to come at a particularly inopportune moment. I have vivid memories of this happening time and again - the 'turn' was coming down the row of desks, and just before it would get to me, I'd be having a 'No, no! Not now!' moment, and would stand up with one hand 'ever so casually' slipped into a pocket, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment ...

I suppose nobody else ever noticed actually, and I myself don't remember ever noticing other boys doing this, but when you're that age, you of course feel that everybody is seeing everything. (But I can imagine the teacher trying desperately to keep back laughter whenever this happened to one of us ... which I imagine was pretty often!)

Oh, all those 'wonderful' school memories!

Posted by: Margaret

Ha! I'm sure such things happen all the time, but this "female animal," for one, never noticed it.

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