I was fortunate. My fifteen minutes came early in my life, so I can pretty much coast from here on in. Don't get me wrong. Those fifteen minutes were magical, and I can understand why some people devote the rest of their lives to keep those minutes alive. They work and slave to find the spotlight, and are willing to step on anyone, just so long as the sound of applause and the murmur of the crowd never fades. There is no drug that can compete with the rush of fans and admirers. The sensation of being loved en masse is a tough act to follow. I'm sure that it's only competitor is a position of power, and they just don't seem to be handing those out, or at least not to the right people.
So what was my fifteen minutes about you might ask? About three days really.
I have a natural born gift you see. I am a ham. I love to laugh, but even more, I love to make others laugh too. More than anything, I want to see milk shoot out of your nose at some goofy thing I have done or said. This has been a life-long affliction and has prevented me from being any kind of real success. So be it, or at least, as long as Flannery can stand it. God love her, she does have a great sense of humor.
My fifteen minutes came along in the eleventh grade. I joined the theatre department and performed in two plays that year. The first was an English sex comedy called "Meanwhile Back on the Couch". How they got this past the school board I'll never know. I played Albert, one of the patients of the main character, the psychiatrist, and stole the show. Mind you, half the play I was in my underwear, running about, and I was the only player willing to do this, but it didn't hurt at all that I was dating the director. I was also was the only one who had any carpentry experience and knew how to build the set, but trying to lay the director doesn't hurt. It was a small smash in my area. (Then and now, I have a very limited area.)
The production that followed it was to be my coup de grace, my crowning achievement, and like most things, I just fell into it. The play was "The Phantom of the Opera". Mr. Weber was doing very well with it on Broadway at the time and Mrs. Moore, the head of the theatre department, felt that perhaps a little coat-tail riding would be in order. We purchased the rights to do the play for a very modest fee, as the copy we had bought was by two unknowns who I'm sure were glad to see their little whelp off their desk and out turning a buck. I'm certain that the two authors had sired their little play on a long weekend coke binge. Yes, it was that bad. But to rectify the fact that our script was a good candidate for outhouse paper, we chucked the last act and swiped Mr. Weber's, as well as his music, which we played during scene changes.
I tried out for the part of the police inspector. I felt it held the greatest potential for laughs and I was prepared to give it my best Peter Sellars impression. I didn't try out for any of the main parts as several of my friends in theatre were seniors, and it just seemed natural that they would have their pick of them. The part of Christine was given to a crush of mine, and when the directors asked her to come in and read few more lines they asked me to read with her, almost as an afterthought. It was the scene where she pulls the mask off the phantom and sees him for the first time. I should have read the lines like I was reading the newspaper aloud, but no, I hammed it up. I couldn't help myself. So they made me the phantom. I was as surprised as the rest of the troupe.
I guess none of them had yet mastered their maniacal laughter, while I had mine nailed in the eighth grade. Hey, if you can't make time with the girls, and you don't play any sports, it was always good to have that maniacal laugh and some Peter Lorre/Marty Feldman wild eyes to fall back on so the jocks didn't kick the crap out of you. Just simple high school survival tactics. Guys don't mess with a guy like that.
Anyway, I get the part of the phantom. I have the smallest part and the fewest lines. Hell, I don't even show up until the second act. It was good that I had so few lines. Then, as now, I have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering something exactly. I can always remember the gist, but word for word is hard.
I built the set. Not because I am a woodworking genius, but I was the only one who could drive a straight nail and I also had all the tools and materials. I did get to see our leading lady topless once as I dashed backstage to grab the hammer to fix a sagging piece of canvas. When I got back to center stage I just smiled and gave the hammer to someone and told them I was too busy thinking about nailing something else to do any real construction.
"The Phantom of the Opera" was the most expensive production that the school had ever put on, with the final tab running several thousand dollars over budget. It was also the greatest financial success they had ever had as well. The play ran for two nights. The first night was a packed house. Every seat was sold, all of them. The second night they sold "standing room only" tickets, and they sold those out too. Imagine paying $15 to stand and watch a two hour high school play. I can't picture it, but there it was. A sea of people waiting for our little show.
We gave 'em hell, and they felt like they got a bargain.
My finest moment came at the end of the play of course. I release the sweet smelling and well endowed Christine to her lover, the Viscount, and send them off to the bliss that is new found love, which is funny because the guy who played the Viscount was as romantic as a pay toilet. They leave the stage and I am left alone in the glare of the spotlight. I turn to the audience and throw my arms up to heaven and cry out "Christine" in much the same way that Mel Gibson cries out "Freedom" in Braveheart. Their wasn't a dry eye in the house. The sound of the mob coming to kill me gets louder and I sit down on my throne. I pull my cloak over myself, as if to hide. The first of the mob to arrive is the head of the ballet who pulls back the cloak to reveal only my mask, which she holds up and it becomes the focus of a rapidly shrinking spotlight.Fini.
What the audience doesn't know is that the throne is rigged so that the back swings out and I sneak off stage left and am watching from the wings. I watched grown men cry as they gave a standing ovation. I watched women who had enjoyed years of being happily married turn to their mate and wonder how they could have ever settled for what'shisname. There was no curtain call, but the crowd just howled for twenty minutes in the dark. As they left the cast was there to greet them. It was the only time in my life anyone wanted my autograph, other than to sign a check.
The play ran Friday and Saturday night. On Monday, I was the talk of the school. Even the school slut started talking to me and asked me if I would wear her Whitesnake pin. I assured her I would. The cool kids started to say hello in the hallways. The hot chicks still giggled as I passed, but it was a kinder giggle than before. The football team would nod "hey" when I walked by instead of the icy stare that I usually got. The Principal even took me aside to ask me how I disappeared from the throne at the end. But most importantly, I passed Geometry. Just, mind you, but I passed. My teacher had a soft spot for actors and she knew I was spending all of my free time working on the play, so she would give me credit for the little cartoons that I would draw at the bottom of my tests, just enough to get me a D. To tell the truth, I had a soft spot for her too.
So, there you have it. That was my fifteen minutes. For three brief days I could inspire envy, moistened panties, and enjoyed the respect of my fellow man. And when a really rotten day finds it's way to me, I like to think that somewhere, out there, is an eighteen year old kid who still has the playbill I signed who thinks to himself "Someday, I'm going to make it, just like he did."