Saturday, November 7, 2009
Once Upon A Time: I won a golden ticket
It is an odd sensation when you look back at some events in your seemingly little life and realize that they are quite extraordinary indeed.
I was always "art boy" in school, it was my thing, it's what I did. Danny Rosenburg was known for how many boogers he could eat in a single sitting. Cindy Manning for how many boys she had French kissed by the 4th grade. And I was known for the stuff I could make. Any art contest...sign me up! Any art challenge...I was there for the smack down! I was extremely shy unless it had to do with art...where (in my own mind) I was king of the world!
In 1973, Diorama contests were all the rage. Kids were making planets from Styrofoam balls and hanging them in black shoe boxes with little silver gummed stars all across this great nation of ours.
So when I saw a sign-up sheet on the library bulletin board, I marched my little burgundy-corduroy-bell-bottomed-self right up there and proudly scrawled my signature. The rules were simple: create a diorama from your favorite book you read that year. No Problemo. The obvious choice was "Where The Red Fern Grows" which I had just finished with a tearful classroom declaration that it was the best novel written to date! (applause, applause) This insightful and dramatic book review was challenged with taunts of: "Fag", "Book Fag", "Book Worm Fag", ad nauseam. Those boring bullies had pea brains, that was the extent of their wit. So holding firm to my opinion, and with shoe box and white glue in hand, I translated my emotion into reality: a small midnight scene of the old wood mill complete with two clay dogs and a small (yet dashing) boy/leading man.
I won First Place!
My Prize was a private lunch at an Irvine California pizza parlor with the children's author Roald Dahl, a freakishly tall and scary man. At the age of ten I felt my bowels go icy in a very adult way when I realized that I should have done his book. The sequel "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator" had been released the year before, and it was what all the other kids were reading. I always tried to be different, not one of the Lemmings...thank you very much.
I was dropped off by my chauffeur (MOM), And when I sat down for lunch I exploded with apologies as to why I had not had the time to read his current novel and that "Where the Red Fern Grows" had soooo moved me that I was taking a break from literature. He seemed a little shocked, as if there was some miscommunication with his secretary, and needed me to clear it all up. "So...You Have Not Read My Book"? no sir "HAVE YOU READ ANY OF MY BOOKS?" yes sir "YOUR DIORAMA WAS NOT ABOUT MY BOOK?" no sir, where the red fern grows...sir "OH...That is a good book too". At this point I was wiping sweat off my forehead...when Roald Dahl confided " I am not very good at conversing with children, I have some, and I write for them, but I find it tedious". I have always remembered that word...tedious...it's one of my favorite put-downs. I watched him as he was fancily looping some mozzarella around his finger and landing it on his outstretched tongue with a sidewards glance. Very much as Willy Wonka Himself. And despite being a real curmudgeon...I warmed up to him.
I admitted from the start that I was not to be confused with most boys...I had an artist's soul and thus an appreciation for life through an artist's eyes. He concurred as he gobbled up most of the pizza. He told me that it was a "wondrous" thing to be an artist and that I should hold steadfast to my creativity...least the EVIL forces strip it away, and depending upon your class..it will either be easy or it will be a struggle. It was all so dramatically British, but I got the gist of it. He was as creative as his history would allow him to be. He presented me with hardcover volumes of his written works that were all personally autographed beforehand (then I read "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator" and enjoyed it very much). As I said my goodbyes, Roald Dahl was busy inscribing one last book from his satchel as our time was almost gone: a hardcover copy of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". He handed it to me and said, "I have learned much from this book, I hope you enjoy it"... I did.
I remembered it much later when I was sitting on the steps of Grace Slick's old mansion on Golden Gate Park. I had eaten "some kind of mushroom" with my dorm friends... and realized, this is the life I have made for myself. My own personal diorama. It's pretty Cool.