I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Oh, It Ended Sad

On Last Comic Standing, some seasons ago, Rob Cantrell did a bit that starts out like a cute observation and slowly reveals itself to be a horrible story with no punchline. At some point he just stops himself and says, “Oh, it ended sad.”

“Oh, it ended sad.” Beloved spouse and I have found that line appropriate in an astonishing number of settings. You go into something thinking it’s a goof or maybe even subversively, ironically hideous and it ends up being merely awful.

Last weekend, back home for a reunion of my old youth theater troupe, I experienced such a moment. This troupe and the ramshackle theater it occupied, was legendary, back in the day. I was in it only briefly but so thick and tangled were those associations that there is no story of my adolescence that does not begin or end at that place.

The theater had superstars – glinty-toothed young men in their prime – initiators of backrubs and coiners of phrase. But, as in probably every theater, the heart and soul of the place were the guys in the crew. Crew guys are always trusted with the keys, they always have tools on them, and they would do ANYTHING for the play.

Now these guys in the crew were the best kind of trickster monkeys – skinny dippers and tormentors of guard dogs and raiders of panties and traffic cone thieves. There was G, who once singed his tuchus trying to outdo his father’s claimed prowess at flatulence combustion – a frathouse classic. “I thought it was understood that we kept our pants on,” deadpanned the Dad.

There was M, a spoken-word poet, who has genuine actual “lost years,” when seriously no one – not even his family – knew where to find him. I should say at this point that all of these guys “made good.” They’re stand-up guys who, y’know, vote and recycle and whatnot. With intelligent bemused wives and precocious tots. And they’re all ABOUT something – freelance writing or step-parenting or piloting aircraft.

So we’re all lounging around at the reunion, hearing the exploits and the “now it can be told” confessions, and I say “Tell us the one about how you spent the night in jail.” I already know the story, but it’s a favorite. Four of them are out on the road very late at night. They are stopped because apparently there have been burglaries in the neighborhood. Cops ask to search the trunk. As always, there are all sorts of heavy duty construction tools in the trunk. The cops get the wrong idea, take them to jail. While the whole misunderstanding is being sorted out, they show incredible good humor by singing “Jailhouse Rock” and clanging tin cups against the bars and otherwise making the best of it. It’s an outlaw story. A corrido.

Yeah, only it wasn’t like that at all. It was actually real life, with having to make the one free phone call and being booked and the whole thing. And it ends up being an end of innocence story. A scared straight story. Which, duh, I’m a lawyer. I should have known. I guess I’d just never looked at that story as a grown-up until just then. And there ARE some funny parts, but they are poignantly funny. The story ends, “And then we all got lawyers.” Which is kinda the ultimate “Oh, it ended sad.”

Oh fellas, I never would have asked for the story if I’d thought it out. But never mind. You always were and still are some of the awesomest bad-*sses I ever knew. But you also always were and still are some of the most genuine and principled men I ever knew. Yeah, even when you were lighting your farts on fire. It was there.