The Fairy Tale Begins
I stand eight feet above the stage, dressed like an ant.
It’s Fall, 1969, a grad school show at University of Minnesota, and instead of wearing pretty costumes, speaking immortal Shakespeare or Chekov, I am the “Head Ant, Leader of the Colony” in the scintillating Czech classic Insect Comedy. I’ll never get a chance to thank authors Karel and Josef Kapek because they are long dead. At this moment, I wish I were too.
“Okay everybody, take a ten,” the stage manager decrees.
The cast exits stage right, but I remain in my spot high above, hands moist from the knit “ant mitts” I’m required to wear. The designer thinks these mitts make us look like we have feelers.
In any event, I have a problem to solve so I don’t join the others in the green room downstairs. I hear the “ka-chunk” of the heavy stage lights releasing and though it’s cooler, I’m now in the dark. I take off the “ant hood” leaving bits of frayed material in my mouth, but at least I can breathe
As “Head Ant”, it’s my duty to keep my fellow ants active, increasing the pace by beating on a special “ant drum” the designer placed eight feet above centerstage . The problem is, though I need to keep a steady rhythm, the combination of vertigo and hands sweaty from the mitts make it impossible to grip the drumsticks. They keep slipping and so do the rhythms.
I peel off the criminal mitts, tough to do since they ‘re sticky with sweat. I dread the thought of putting them back on since I know they’ll be awful. And god forbid a human hand should show in this highly realistic scene of ant industry. But, my bare hands feel terrific. My energies are renewed. So I begin to practice my ant drumming, mitt-less.
BOOM, boom-ba-boom, boom-ba-boom, boom-ba-boom! For a solid two minutes. Very resonant and loud.
Hey, I can do this! At least without the mitts. Maybe if I practice enough, they won’t matter! Just let me get the rhythms into my arms, and maybe…yeah! So, more “Boom”-ing. Lots more “Boom”-ing. Then, slipping the mitts back on, it is easier for me to keep a steady pace. I raise my arms to practice more.
From below, I hear a gentle voice: “Hey, how’re doin’ up there? “
Looking down, I see a dark-haired guy in a saw-dusty work shirt climbing up the scaffolding. He holds a Tab, and it looks so cold, the can is sweating. He extends the diet soda toward me. Is this a dream?
“Thought you could use this?” he suggests. I lower my drumsticks,, remove the heinous mitts and take the icy drink, gulping half, then hold the can up to my forehead. The wire-rimmed angel grins, climbing back down to the stage.
He sure knows his way around a scaffolding, I think. I toss down the empty can, which he catches effortlessly.
And that’s how I met Paul.
He later told me that he had no concern for my thirst – he just wanted me to stop the damned drumming.