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Open Mike Night and “Mr. Harvard”
Many RV resorts have social calendars full of group activities so that people can get to know each other and, perhaps, be distracted from obsessing over the crummy weather or the outrageous rental fees that they’re paying. Popular activities include shuffleboard, Texas-Hold-Em, Line dancing, BINGO, sewing, painting, and an “Open Mike Night” where residents are free to exhibit any talents that they might have.
Maureen and I thought that the latter sounded like fun. She’s a great impromptu singer and I, well… Let me see… I can read and write. Now I know that reading and writing is a fairly common skill (except maybe in some of the RV parks that we’ve visited, you know; the ones with trailers that haven’t been on the road since Dewey ran for President and each site has a collection of discarded appliances and miscellaneous yard junk on display, along with the requisite pack of semi-feral cats or overweight dogs).
I, on the other hand, am an author. That’s not too pretentious to say, is it? I have been told that I have some small talent for stringing words together into somewhat readable sentences and even paragraphs. And so, even though one family member commented that some of my work was “wordy,” I decided to exhibit something that I’ve been working on at Open Mike Night.
I have a few short stories I’m rather proud of and a novel that I’ve been struggling with (for the past five years; you just can’t rush genius). It was the introduction and first chapter of my novel that I chose to read from.
After a few of the park’s staff got up to sing and perform some magic tricks, Maureen took the mike and sang “My Man.” It’s one of my favorites. I like to think that it’s about me. She did very well (one of the best performances of the night, in fact, IMHO).
I went next. The “stagehand” positioned the table and chair that I requested, all the while making a suspicious face at the stack of papers I held in my hands. That particular body language should have been a a loud and clear warning to me of what was to come.
The clubhouse has a fairly respectable lending library. This fact had led me to believe that there were at least some literate folks in the audience who might enjoy hearing an author (okay, a scribbler) read from his latest work in progress.
I imagined myself on a book tour, speaking at the local Barnes & Noble to an enraptured audience who had stood on line for hours just to hear a selection from a famous author’s latest bestseller. Once again, I imagined something grand and God stood by laughing.
My novel takes place in the future. It follows a small family living during a modern ice age and a worldwide pandemic. The survival of mankind is in question and my hero is valiantly trying to record the stories of the displaced peoples that have lost their homes to the advancing glaciers or are fleeing from a terrible disease that had already killed millions.
As the story progresses, the family sets out on a trip to a flooded Manhattan, now a Venice-like shadow of what it once was, but still a thriving metropolis. The populace is struggling to save their city and live normal lives during a time when Nature has gone berserk. I try to portray how humans might respond to terrible circumstances during a time that many believe is the end of days for humanity.
During their travels, the family learns several amazing secrets that, if known, could tear the world asunder with worldwide riots and race wars. Because of their knowledge of these things, the family is pursued by different groups, each with their own reasons for gaining this knowledge or making sure that it is never revealed.
As I began reading, there were several calls from the back of the room complaining that I couldn’t be heard. I moved the mike closer to my mouth and forged on. I quickly learned that at least some of my audience didn’t appreciate my novel or, perhaps, just being read to. There was one particular voice calling from the back of the room. Striving to finish my reading, I heard only what sounded like mumblings until one word broke through my concentration and nearly stopped me cold. “BORRR-ING!” It was that same person, sitting in the back of the room with his friends and getting his jollies by issuing a play-by-play critique of my reading.
I glanced up at my audience, trying to gauge their interest. Most of them seemed to be politely listening. I decided to forge on, knowing that I had only a couple of pages left to read and sure that the story would soon capture and excite even my vocal critic.
Well, a few momentrs later I got the “hook.” The park manager marched up and announced that there wasn’t enough time for me to continue, even though it was still early and, as far as I could see, there wasn’t a long line of people waiting to grab the mike. In fact, there wasn’t any line at all.
Trying to maintain my dignity, I announced that I was done and would welcome any comments or questions that the audience might have (sometimes I’m a glutton for punishment). “NO,” the manager announced, “We don’t allow that!” “Allow that?” “Allow that?” What did she mean, “Allow that?” I hadn’t noticed any rules of order posted on the wall when we came in and thought that pretty much anything goes at an open mike gathering. Even so, I relinquished the mike and returned to my seat, glad that at least there was some polite applause as I did so (And NO, I’m sure that they weren’t clapping because I had finally shut up and left the stage—at least I hoped not).
As a nice lady who was sitting next to me began to praise my writing and assure me that she loved to be read to, Mr. “Boring” approached the mike. For some reason, he felt the need to justify his rude remarks by announcing to all of us that he had attended Harvard and knew something about “Global Warming.”
Well! Who the heck cared where he went to school (I doubt that it was at Harvard) and didn’t he hear anything that I had read? The novel wasn’t about the causes of the ice age or the pandemic, but only about how people might cope if there was one! JEEZ! Gimme a break!
Well, “Mr. Harvard,” as I have come to call him, proceeded to sing. Or at least try. No, he couldn’t even have been trying; he was terrible! He must have realized half-way through his selection that things were not going well, for he interjected a lame apology, claiming, “At least I’m better than the last guy!”
Hmm, this guy deserved a fat lip. But no, I didn’t dash up to the mike and give him one, and no, I didn’t even go looking for him afterward to question his curriculum vitae, which I was positive didn’t include any ivy-covered halls of higher education. People who have attained that lofty peak don’t usually feel the need to go around bragging about it. Especially to a bunch of RV’ers. Right? And I’m sure that the closest this guy ever came to doing research on global warming was when he studied the ice melting in his gin and tonic.
I learned something that evening about expectations and my fellow man. Oh, alright, I already knew that stuff, but I sure had it reinforced. And I did get some helpful advice and encouragement from the nice lady at my table. I’m pretty sure that SHE went to Harvard…