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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G.
Chapter 21 – “Show-and-Tell.”
Returning from a 3-week vacation in the middle of the school year is a disorienting experience. Everyone else had been attending class while I had been gallivanting around the country. It’s not like coming back from summer or Christmas break, where you’re all starting things over again on an equal basis.
Popping back into the social scene was a jolt. I wasn’t up on the latest jokes, scandals, loves, hates, fears, or feuds. When I left, Jeff was still going with Mary, Ben’s voice still hadn’t changed, and the McKenzie twins were still virgins. Things were so different it was almost like entering a new school.
Still, I was the one with the stories about strange, far off and exotic places like “The Land of Oz” and “The Dakotas” and “The Ozarks” and “Wyoming.” Plus, thanks to my father’s interest in photography, I had pictures to share. The visuals were a big hit. Some of my classmates had not seen Mt. Rushmore other than in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” And, as my Uncle pointed out, “The kids from Mississippi hadn’t seen a shower other than in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’.”
Show and Tell
You probably had “Show and Tell” in grade school and middle school, just as I did. Once we moved on to high school, the procedure suddenly was called a Social Studies Report, or a Spotlight Segment, or whatever, but of course it was pretty much the same thing.
These Personal Pupil Presentations may have been silly or puerile or embarrassing (or all three), but we looked forward to them because they took time away from “let X equal the speed of a train leaving Baltimore at noon” or reading about how Lewis and Clark tamed the mighty Pacific Northwest with just a teeny-tiny bit of help from Sacajawea who basically did nothing except assist the Great White Explorers by guiding, hunting, gathering food, preparing meals, hauling water, building and stoking fires, setting-up and taking down tents, sewing clothing, repairing footwear, and interacting with various friendly and hostile Indian tribes along the trail, all while caring for her baby.
Actually, Sacajawea has a pretty impressive story but we didn’t have anyone to present it in Show and Tell. Instead, we had to rely on really incredibly clunky and boring textbooks that had been approved by some buffoons in the oxymoronically named Texas Board of Education. Note: the same is probably true for your children and you might want to look into it. I’m just saying.
But my point was that my classes would look forward to me wasting some time whenever I returned from one of my family’s expeditions to far-off foreign lands like Nevada and Oklahoma and New Mexico and Illinois.
Apparently, I was pretty good at presenting because I usually got two turns, one using visuals, the second as an oral/written “Report From America,” as the school insisted we call it. The first was easier because I just showed the photos my dad and I took along the way.
My photos were the regular snapshot kind of thing, although they were taken with a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm analog single-lens-reflex camera, which was better than the point-and-shoot cameras of the time. That camera helped me take some shots that I thought were very cool.
“Here’s what the Rocky Mountains look like if you’re falling off one of them,” I said, handing out some images I captured by tying a clothesline around the camera, setting the timer button, and swinging the camera out of the car window whenever we went around a tight curve that was extra-close to the guard rail.
“Here are some frightened deer,” I said, letting everyone look at a shot I got by fastening the shutter mechanism to a trip wire around the remains of my previous night’s Dairy-Queen burger dinner. Wish I still had these photos because one of them would have made a great album cover.
“Here’s a picture of my mom in front of the Pioneer Monument, which is at the Emigrant Trail Museum.” This created no big sensation for the kids until I pointed out that it memorialized the Donner Party, the group of hikers who wanted to get to California so badly they couldn’t wait for the transcontinental railroad to be finished. School kids always liked the Donner Party because, as you may recall, those folks were, um, shall we say, gastronomically-challenged.
My dad was interested in 3D photography. He had a Stereo Realist, which I believe was the first commercially available three-dimensional still camera. Working with a Stereo Realist took patience. You had to push a release button to wind the film, lift the lens cover, focus the twin lenses, set the aperture, set the shutter speed, cock the shutter, and then notice that whatever you wanted to photograph had moved away.
Or, you aimed at something that wasn’t about to wander away anytime soon. Like a building or statue. Or my mom in a women’s clothing store.
When you got your pictures back from the lab, each slide had two film images, one for each eye. The slides could be seen by one person at a time using a portable viewer. With a room full of kids and only one viewer, looking at 3D images could take up quite a bit of time. This made my presentations especially popular with my classmates (“If this goes long enough, we might not have time for the algebra quiz!”)
Therefore, they liked my dad’s photos even if his 3D images were not quite up to the level of the most recent 3D production in the movie theaters. Which was called “The Bellboy and the Playgirls,” an eye-popping film starring June Wilkinson, whose measurements were a rather astonishing 43-22-37 even though she was only five-foot-six. This was a woman who entered the room before she entered the room, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
Normally, it was not the kind of film I would have been allowed to see. But with my Uncle as part-time guardian, I sometimes got to do more fun things than the average kid. “It’s in that new-fangled triple-D,” said my Uncle, “so it’s technical and educationally stimulating.” Yes. Yes, it was quite stimulating in a purely technical and educational way.
As a side note, the film was co-written and co-directed by Francis Ford Coppola (yes, THAT Francis Ford Coppola, of “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now,” and “Captain EO”). It had this for an advertising tagline: “June is busting out all over! In COLOR plus the new depth perception… it puts a girl in your lap!” As previously noted, it was stimulating.
Assessing my dad’s 3D photos honestly, I’d have to say that his shots were just okay: “Here’s my mom standing in the center of downtown Weehawken.” Or “Here’s our car parked on Main Street in Dickersonville, which is in some Southern state that doesn’t have electricity yet.” Or “Here’s the tour guide at the Rugglesnout State Forest Reserve where it looks like that big tree is sprouting from the top of the man’s head.”
Sometimes, the shots led to interesting stories. . .
“Here’s me at the Colorado Prison Museum. . . ” While the kids took turns peering into the viewer, I droned on about the exhibits, which included an actual hangman’s noose, a gas chamber, a ton of confiscated inmate weapons, and several displays of what the museum called “disciplinary paraphernalia,” but which we all knew as torture devices. Well, I knew they were torture devices because I had spent that one year in Catholic School.
Every once in a while, my dad would take an absolutely stunning photo. . .
“Here’s what a road sign looks like in Alabama,” I said. “The sign says ‘Keep Off Center Median,’ as though there was any other place the median might be. The holes in the sign spell out ‘IOIPX,’ which could be a Ku Klux Klan word of some kind. Or, maybe it’s a sports word. There’s a semi-professional football team in Alabama called the Crimson Tide and fans say ‘Roll Tide’ to each other. So IOIPX could be ‘Roll Tide’ in some Southern language. Or very bad Pig Latin.”
I would just make up stuff like that until everyone in the class was able to view the image. Sometimes I saw the teachers looking at me kind of funny, especially if they were from the South. But I kept talking in a normal tone of voice, all innocent sounding, and there was no trouble. Anyway, this particular image was a great 3D photo because you could see clouds through the bullet holes in the sign.
When it came time for the written/oral report, things got a little more serious. This was mandatory if I was to avoid being marked as absent for three weeks. Usually, I would just rewrite the Chamber of Commerce literature that I collected from each tourist trap and then read it to the class. For example, I took the regular C-of-C hype and turned it into something a bit more fun:
Settled in the picturesque Pecos River Valley is the pleasant city of Roswell, New Mexico. Once known as Rio Hondo, which means “Deep River” or “Waterway of the Yawning,” Roswell has a rich and historic history of historical facts and things that actually happened, which thus formed a rich part of our rich history. For example, the area of Roswell was a cattle center for some time after the Civil War. This continued until the war-ravaged parts of the country could be repaired, at which time the cattle were moooved back to places like Kansas, where they belonged.
Sure, a lot of the stuff I wrote was juvenile, but the funny thing was that no one found it funny. No one found it not funny, either. No one found it, well, anything. None of the teachers ever marked up my papers and only those students paying the closest attention to my oral presentation noticed the bad puns and inane jokes. But I was pleased with my sarcastic writing. Here’s more of it:
Everything is completely ordinary in all parts of New Mexico, although there is one very surprising and indeed shocking fact about Roswell: According to a completely reliable website called ePodunk(dot)com, Roswell was used as a holding area for German prisoners during the Second World War! I know, it’s totally wild! But everything else is normal about Roswell. Oh, except that an alien spacecraft landed there in 1947 but the Air Force is denying it.
After a few years of doing these reports, I got bored. The whole thing just seemed to be a silly exercise. My mind was not working in synchronization with the teachers. Sitting at home, writing my next report, I put on some of the new music I was discovering, like John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Art Pepper, Hank Mobley, Thelonious Monk, and Bill Evans. In line with Dolphy’s album, “Out There,” I was inspired to go in a different direction. Next day, taking my place in front of the assembled students, I began with the most poetic words I could find:
“I have returned from a journey across the face of America,” I said, “and it needs a shower and shave.”
I paused a second and my eyes swept across the eager, puzzled, and sometimes sleeping faces of my fellow students. “Fortunately, the motels of this great nation come well-equipped to handle these fundamental requirements, with a full complement of mirrors, hot water, lights, power outlets, and more.”
It was now time to bring out the materials for the “show” part of my show-and-telethon. “My fellow students, I invite you to gaze upon the bounty that greets today’s weary traveler in cities, towns, burgs, and hamlets. Behold these magnificent tiny soaps, each one individually wrapped for your protection.” I upended a paper bag and about three dozen motel soaps bounced out across the table at the front of the student body.
“All of these react with water to create a lather that will help clean any human being. Some of these even have soothing cold cream. And just look at this. . . . ” I ripped several open and handed them out to those seated near the front of the room. “Some contain fragrant aromatic additives with an effect not unlike those little tree-shaped air freshener thingies you can get at the car wash.” I said “Oooooooooh” and several students joined in.
I turned back to my supplies. “Observe these delicious individually wrapped mints!” I poured dozens of them from another bag and began handing them out. I said “Ahhhhhhhhh” and now everyone was with me. “Open them, place them on your tongue and enjoy! Ummmmmmmm!”
I popped a mint into my mouth and continued the presentation. “Mmtums ths are lft on your pwlow,” I said. Yipes, the mint was bigger than I thought. I quickly swallowed it. “Sorry. What I’m trying to say is: Sometimes these are left on your pillow. Because, here in America, you have the absolute right to ruin your teeth before watching the late news and nodding off for the night.”
I made the same points using shoeshine buffing cloths, miniature shampoo bottles, wash cloths, towels, pillowcases, clock-radios, and finally, the Big One:
“Now my friends, you may not believe it, but in each motel room in this country you will find, absolutely free, this fine book, filled with amazing stories of sinners and soldiers, poets and peasants! Teachers and preachers, beggars and blindmen! Saints and angels, warriors and peacemakers! Miracle workers, moneychangers, betrayers and soothsayers! And what book is this?” I lifted high a thick black volume. “The Bible, written by The Gideons!”
“All right, that’s enough!” said Mr. Bentrodde, my Home Room teacher. “Did you STEAL a Bible?”
“Not at all,” I said. “They’re free. Free, I tell you! In every motel room!”
I lifted a cardboard box and tilted it to send the contents spilling out across the table. Lots of Gideon Bibles.
“You, you, you — ” Mr. Bentrodde was almost stuttering. Several teachers were converging on me now, grabbing the books and frantically replacing them in the cardboard box. “You pack those away and sit back down!”
“You mean you’re saying that these fine young people should be denied the poetic presentations of this most excellent book? You are keeping from them the knowledge for which they thirst and yearn! Shame on you, sirs. Shame, I say!”
“Sit down this instant!”
“Okay,” I said, shrugging. “Canterbury Tales is better, anyway. It has more sex.”
From this point on, I was no longer required to make oral presentations upon my return from each vacation.
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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G, is Copr. © 2011-2012 by JSG, all rights reserved under U.S. and international copyright conventions. Commercial use in any form is forbidden without express written permission of the author. Originally published on eNewsChannels.com with permission. Credits: Book cover design: Phil Hatten; Author Photo: Phil Hatten.