[In honor of Mr. Clemens’ upcoming birthday (Nov 30), a memory from my Twain phase.]
For 12th grade English in my high school in Brazil we had to write and perform a dramatic monologue based on a character in one of the books we had read in the last two years of our International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Most of the girls chose characters from One Hundred Years of Solitude. They performed in flowing white shifts on a stage covered in flower petals and candles, wailing of their hopes and sanity, lost in the hot sun and imagined swamps of Macondo.
A friend of mine and I had both transferred in from overseas, so we had alternative repertoires from our junior years. She chose Sylvia Plath. She wrote a long, complex poem that dramatized Plath’s final moments making sandwiches for her children before putting her head in the oven. It was terrifying and brilliant and greeted with awe (at least, I was impressed, maybe others were just freaked out by the intensity and the verse.)
I went a different route. I decided to portray the hairball that Jim uses to tell the future in Huckleberry Finn. Somewhere in the teenaged guidebook to social suicide is a special case study about standing in front of 60+ smug Brazilian high school students and telling them, in thick Southern drawl, that you are a hairball, puked up by an ox.
I fucking loved it. I started and ended as Mr. Clemens himself, but through most of it I twitched and contorted and sprawled my coarse language all over the auditorium, transformed into a storytelling glob of saliva-soaked hair.
Moving to Brazil is poor timing for a Twain phase. I’m not sure that classic Americana translates culturally. I also don’t think my classmates’ lack of cultural connection to the Mississippi River was really my problem.
My problem was that I was small and weird. I’d read Crime and Punishment in my junior year too. The raw dirtiness and unrelenting suffering of the book was profoundly affecting for a kid my age, a kid who was loath to do anything wrong, never mind bludgeon an old woman to death. Irreversible and unthinkable error. It was a like a gruesome accident you couldn’t look away from. But for my dramatic monologue? I wasn’t a tortured Russian, plagued by my past hopes and the crumbling façade of my increasingly unlikely future.
I was a hairball. A partially digested wad of backwoods mythology. A brief and soon forgotten oddity hurled up from the acidic depths of a place we all ignore. I was a minor character, not even a character, a minor set-piece, a dumpy little piece of the backdrop come spitting and retching into life for just a moment on stage. It felt like destiny. That hairball told me of my future as an awkward little freak and I hugged it close to my heart.