Friday, August 04, 2006

She's Here All Week

I haven't mentioned it, but for the past three Tuesdays Jarrah and I have enjoyed some truly entertaining programs at our local library, the Benjamin branch. They are running a summer series called "Paws, Claws and Tales" and each week there is a "special guest"--no ordinary storyteller--to delight the local children.

The first week, I fell in love with the program simply because the room where it's held is air-conditioned and has padded chairs. Although a bus full of preschoolers descended, the chaos was held in check by a single directive from the head teacher: "If a single one of you gets off your butt, we're all leaving." She was sitting right next to me, but she didn't even raise her voice to say it, and it worked like a charm.

That week, a balding, sweaty gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt whose accent bespoke New York origins presented a ventriloquist act, interspersed with self-deprecating jokes about his own big nose and smelly armpits (delivered by his dummy, natch) that had the kids falling over in hysteria. Jarrah seemed perplexed by the act itself, but she adored interacting with the laughing and clapping children, and timed her own responses to match theirs. There was only one moment of notable trauma, and that's when the ventriloquist chucked his first dummy (the alter-ego one) behind the screen to move on to the stuffed alligator, and Jarrah decided she needed to know where the dummy went. She ran across the stage, as it were, and ignored the Wizard's advice to not look behind the curtain, and there she must have seen the dummy lying face down with a stake in his back because her reaction was instantaneous. She went from curious to sobbing in under a second. I felt a bit bad about it, but I laughed pretty hard.

Last week we had a juggler. He, too, looked a bit travel-worn, but he was very nice and a good juggler. He made the children scream with his bad jokes and cringe-worthy puns. At this point I was starting to get the idea that middle-aged men with an "act" who make their living on the road are a little bit like Adam. At a certain point they were ejected from their Garden of Eden in the Catskills for partaking of the forbidden pickled herring, and now they are forced to wander the earth getting children to laugh at their noses. It's really quite poignant, if you stop to ponder it.

Today's performer, though, seemed to be resisting her fate. Either that or she was out to disprove my entire dissertation (which, to give myself a free plug, attempts to demonstrate that male dominance in Catskills humor has been overstated, since women were even more visible, but subversive, performers in that culture.) Either way, the results were hilarious.

Jarrah and I arrived 15 minutes early, to meet up with Lisa and Anton. Dashing inside to secure some seats, I found a diminuitive lady with a gray bob and a beret, and a low table covered with worn stuffed animals, lolling their squashed heads in varying directions. She was in the middle of telling a small cluster of attendees, in a disappointed tone, that the program was not set to begin until 10:30. "Would you like us to leave?" asked a mom, more obligingly than I would have. Just as the beret lady was saying, "Yes, that would be nice," I butted in--I wasn't about to go hang out in the parking lot. "There's a busload of kids right behind us," I announced, and on cue they begin pouring through the doors. "Well, that tears it," the lady announced. "Now I don't have time to rehearse." Um, well.

Next, Anton went to go pay his respects to the stuffed animals, which seems a sound course of action for a 2-year-old. Jarrah would have trotted right after him but she has a peculiar aversion to plush toys. "The children are allowed to look at my animals, but they are not allowed to touch them," the lady announced in a high, flutey voice, and Lisa and I hid our faces so she didn't see us smiling.

A moment later, the room was packed with kids, and our host, who had introduced herself as "Miss Mary," was getting nervous. "Excuse me," she announced, pointing at a little boy right in the middle, "I'm going to need a teacher to remove that. It's just going to be disruptive." At the end of her finger, I could see the culprit: a stuffed tiger. Apparently, her animals have it in their contract rider that no competition is allowed in the venue.

Before I could recover from my agog state, Miss Mary began lifting her hands in the mode of an evangelical preacher, and sing-songing "When I do this, what do you think I want you to do?" There was no response. I think the children were similarly agog. "That's right," she continued, "I want you to rise from your bottoms. So, go on then: Rise!" They did. Without warning, she lifted a hand as if she were about say the pledge and shouted "Chest!" Then she touched her head and shouted "Nut!" (You got that right, sister.) Whereupon followed a lot of complex instructions to keep touching various body parts, always returning to the "Chest!" and "Nut!" regions. Something about this must have been funny to children because they were laughing a bit now, though not as uproariously as when the ventriloquist's dummy called him stupid, or when the juggler juggled the audience member's sneakers.

Anton and Lisa were already out in the hall, since he was understandably miffed about the inaccessibility of the stuffed animals, and now Jarrah was giving me the stink eye as if to say, "Are you going to make me stay here and touch my nut for an HOUR?" So we left. We all went to the park and had a lovely time with the slides and sand. Lisa and I did wonder, though, why exactly Miss Mary chose a profession that brought her in such close contact with children.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sam,

Good seeing you at Borders!! I couldn't wait till the end, had to rush to pack for our trip to Europe (poor me, I know!!). See you when we get back. That Jarrah is adorable. I was enjoying watching you two together sureptitiously (sp??).

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Apparently all Mary's who work with children are not created equal.

Well told! Well told! LMAO!

Alleen said...

As always, your retelling of a story paints such a vivid picture!! I'm sitting here chuckling.

Anonymous said...

Nut indeed! :) xxx, Lix

Anonymous said...

And we will be sure to avoid her! ;)

Best, Gail

Type (little) a aka Michele said...

She sounds like my kindergarten teacher. I really do wonder why certain people choose to work with children, when they clealy can't stand them.

Good for you for walking out on that a-hole! :-)

Anonymous said...

I think we had the same woman at our library! She was Martha the Mime for us though. Same grey bob and same attitude it seems! The more the kids participated and enjoyed themselves, the more annoyed she seemed to get!

Anonymous said...

Did she ever DO anything with her animals? That's what I want to know!

Miss J :-)