In Grade Nine, as the youngest member of the high school concert band’s percussion section, I was assigned the cymbal part for a long symphonic piece whose name I have forgotten.
On the night of the concert, the auditorium was filled with parents and students. I stood in the back row on the highest riser, a tall, skinny kid feeling uncomfortable. Partly my discomfort was due to the tie that was strangling me, but mostly it was because I had had very little rehearsal time for this number. There were, it seemed to me, about 5,000 measures of rest, including several repeated sections and other confusions along the way, before my single cymbal crash. The cymbals were heavy, 16 or 18 inches in diameter, and I stood for a long time, hands gripping the leather straps, a cymbal at each side resting lightly against my thighs. In vain I searched the music with one eye and kept the other on the band director as he conducted, hoping fervently that he would give me a sign when my moment was near.
To crash the cymbals properly, however, required some preparation. I had to raise them up in front of me, about six inches apart, one about twelve inches higher than the other. I worried that the band director, having more important matters at hand, would not alert me long enough before the crash to give me time to prepare. Finally it seemed to me that I had better get ready, so I raised the cymbals up to their proper positions and waited. Just as my arms were starting to quiver under the weight of the cymbals, the director looked at me and discreetly shook his head.
As inconspicuously as possible, I slowly lowered the cymbals and stood again with my hands at my sides. Only later did I realize that a tall, skinny boy raising a large pair of shiny cymbals in the back row provided, for most of the audience, the only real interest of the performance.
The piece continued, and I waited, hoping desperately for either a section of music that I recognized, or a sign from the conductor.
Once again, fearing I would miss my cue, I raised the cymbals, and waited. Again my arms began to tremble. Again the conductor shook his head, and again I lowered the cymbals slowly to my sides.
I can’t remember now whether this sequence repeated three times, or four, but finally, my arms now visibly shaking, the conductor nodded. With immense relief I recognized the crucial passage of the music, and I successfully crashed the cymbals, right on time.
My relief turned to shock, however, when—right in the middle of the piece—the entire audience erupted in applause! They had been waiting through almost the entire, dreary number for that cymbal crash. The tension caused by my repeated false starts must have been excruciating.
A week or so later, my French teacher kicked me out of class and sent me to the vice-principal’s office. She was angry with me because I refused to carry the heavy textbook home each night to complete her five-point homework assignments. “If you did your homework, you could have an A!” she shouted in exasperation. When I told her that I was quite happy with my B+, she kicked me out.
The vice-principal, hardened by constant experience with rather more serious discipline problems, listened to my story, looked at me without expression, blinked once, and invited me to sit down. “I really enjoyed that band concert,” he said. “You did a great job with those cymbals.”
Taken aback momentarily, I recovered my footing and we talked for several minutes about the weight of crash cymbals. We discussed the care one must take not to catch one’s tie in between the cymbals and thus spoil the crash. And so on. We pretty much exhausted the topic. Then he looked at me and asked, “Do you think she’ll let you back into class now?” He wrote a note for me and sent me back.
A century ago, shutting out distractions was already a problem. Today, perhaps, the Isolator’s time has finally come.
H/t: “The History Lovers’ Club” Twitter feed.
In La gloire de mon père, Marcel Pagnol remembers one of his father’s colleagues, who graduated from teacher’s college first in his class. From there he went straight into a job in the worst neighbourhood in Marseille, a part of town where no one dared to walk at night. He stayed there, teaching in the same classroom for forty years.
Marcel overhears his father ask this man one evening,
“So, you never had any ambition?”
“Oh yes,” he said, “I did! And I think I have succeeded very well. Just think: in twenty years, my predecessor saw six of his former students guillotined. As for me, in forty years I have only seen two, plus one who was reprieved. That’s made it all worthwhile.”
From one of my Grade 6 students:
I’m not complaining, I’m just showing my gratitude in an unusual way.
We’re all aware of the math teacher’s problems.
The PE guy gets exercised over the smallest things.
The history teacher can’t forget his past.
The English teacher has choice words for everyone.
The geography teacher knows his place.
The biology teacher loves life, but hates frogs.
The computer science guy is bug-eyed.
The chemistry teacher overreacts to the slightest change.
The physics teacher is energetic, but no one understands him.
The art teacher claims he’s been framed.
Put the Home Ec teacher together with the Crisis Management Counselor and you have a recipe for disaster.
Some of my students were devastated to discover that Hamlet dies at the end of the play, so I have obliged their tender sensibilities with this additional scene. —etm
Scene: Wittenberg. A room in an inn.
But how is this possible?!
‘Season your admiration’, good friend. In short, by a hair’s breadth and the grace of God. But sit you down, and I will lay it all out before you. Here, a bit of wine will do you good.
Horatio sits and grips his wine cup as though it were the last real thing in his universe.
I saw right away that to stay in Denmark meant certain death for me and those I most loved. I began with Ophelia, and together we wove a plan. Then came you, and the ghost. I wanted to tell you all, but feared to put you in danger should the king suspect you, and so I must beg your pardon, dear Horatio.
But I saw you die, with my own eyes. I saw Ophelia buried. I saw you kill both Laertes and the king, and I saw the Queen drink the poisoned wine. Have I gone mad?
Fie, fie! you are the sanest person I know. But eyes can deceive, good Horatio. What you saw was mostly theatre. Acting. Stage tricks I learned during my days with the players in the city.
Did no one die?
Only the king and, alas, old Polonius. That was the accident that nearly unraveled all my plans.
But my lord, you killed the king with the same rapier that only moments before you pulled out of Laertes. How can Laertes live, if the king died?
That was nicely done, eh? Laertes and I managed the rapiers very well. Of course, everyone was so alarmed by then, it was easy to beguile their senses with a sleight of hand. [Seeing Horatio’s incomprehension.] The rapier that seemed to kill Laertes was one I had from the players. The one I plunged into the guts of that villain was real.
May he roast in hell! O, my lord, you cannot know, nor I cannot say had I a thousand years, how glad I am to see you here before me, alive and well and smiling. [They embrace, both shedding glad tears.] Tell me, though, how is’t with the Queen your mother?
Still my mother, God be thanked, and no longer queen, I am glad to say. She was yet divided in her heart, though always loyal to me, but when Laertes told her of the king’s plan for the fencing match, all division ended and she became an eager player in our plot. And then, when the king did not stop her from drinking the wine that he thought was poisoned, all remaining sympathy was erased and she rejoiced in his death, though for the sake of our deception she could not show her happiness ‘til later.
And where are they now— your mother, Ophelia, and Laertes?
At home, such as it is, waiting to embrace you when I bring you there to greet them.
With all my heart will I greet them, each and every one. But what of Rosenkrantz, and Guildenstern? Do they live?
[Laughing] Aye, what a pair, those two! The king had no idea what actors they were. At moments they nearly convinced me of their villainy. They are in London, and from their latest letter it appears that they are making a name for themselves in the theatres there. Perhaps we shall go and see them, or better yet persuade them to return here and join us. We might make Wittenberg the centre of the world.
Does Fortinbras know you live?
Aye, aye, he was my back, had the fencing match not gone as I planned it. The great fool, he was just as happy to become king as I was to escape from that madness. Ambition, greed, grasping always for favours and power—what kind of life is that, Horatio?
Not the sort that I should want, my lord.
No, nor I. Shall we go to greet the ladies and Laertes? They await us.
The news about entire retail shops being copied by clever Chinese entrepreneurs leads to the obvious question: where do we go from here? Clearly, fake stores are an intermediary step in the development toward a much more ambitious project: fake countries.
Think about it: millions of Chinese people would love to visit France, for example, but it’s too far away and too expensive. Solution? Fake France! Berets, baguettes, red wine, accordions, and an entire fake Paris complete with Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, and Jim Morrison’s fake grave (Jim himself, of course, is head of a highly successful import/export joint venture headquartered in Shanghai). Given the trends of the world economy, it will soon be cost-effective to populate Fake France with real French people, drawn to the opportunity by attractive wages and the possibility of shopping in Fake Apple Stores on their days off. I’m sure there’s a spot somewhere in the south of China with an appropriate climate that’s already been staked out by developers.
But why stop there? How about . . . Fake Egypt! Just what Xinjiang Province’s barren sands need. Other countries, of course, could be more challenging. Fake Norway, for example: we can do snow, we can do fjords, but the crystal blue water in those fjords? Hmmm.
Lest you think all of this is a bad thing, think again. The Chinese genius for making exquisitely accurate copies—an art that goes back for centuries, by the way, prompted by imperial demands for copies of ancient art works that had been lost—may end up saving all of us. We continue raping, pillaging, plundering, and polluting the planet with little thought for the consequences. The Chinese, I’m convinced, are thinking ahead for us. When the planet has finally been rendered completely uninhabitable, where will we go?
Of course: Fake Earth!