You can’t do that anymore

I once shot a student. You can’t do that anymore, and I must admit that I miss the good old days. More about the student in a minute.

As the world grows more complicated and therefore dangerous, there are so many things we can longer do or even attempt. Used to be you could leave your car unlocked when you went to church, but as a few unfortunate Jacksonville residents discovered last Christmas Eve, even a sanctified parking lot isn’t safe. Some were even robbed with their doors locked. You just can’t do that anymore. Okay, I’ll admit that I still leave my car unlocked when churching in Arenzville. It’s not that our little German community is trustworthier than other places, but the ladies of our church have this delightful habit of putting pies and cookies in the front seats of aging bachelors, and there’s nothing in my car that I wouldn’t trade for a banana pie.

Something else you can’t do any longer … use the wrong restroom. My Shriners bagpipe group were famous for going into the toilet that they claimed said, “Laddies.” I never did this myself, but they got a kick out of it. And once upon an Alaskan excursion, my group stopped to take a hike to a glacier. The little park had only minimal facilities, including a tiny gift shop, a small museum and two restrooms marked “men” and “women.” On this particular journey my group consisted mainly of ladies and we’d been on the bus a long time that morning. We barely had time in our schedule to hike to the glacier, much less spend a prolonged period of time using the restroom as bladders were full and the clock was ticking. The men in the group did their business with rapid dispatch, thus leaving the men’s side of the small building empty. It was at this point that the gals decided to commandeer both sides of the restroom, and to prevent some unwitting man to walk in on, them they posted a local fellow, Don Rhoads, at the entrance to the men’s room to keep all males out and waiting. If you ask Don now how he liked his trip to Alaska, he’ll respond with enthusiasm about the glaciers, the whales and the great cruise ship dining. But it’s likely he’ll omit telling you about the frustratingly embarrassing 20 minutes he spent guarding the door of the john. It’s a pity. You probably can’t do that anymore, especially in places like North Carolina where the legislature has made tinkling in the wrong room a felony.

Okay, back to shooting the student. I’d been hired by the music teachers of Cass County to direct their mass choir at the area’s annual music festival. Each school dumps its singers into a set of bleachers and the result is a hoard of perhaps 200 hormone-crazed teenagers who signed up just to get out of school for the day. I still have no idea why they had asked me to direct the group. I have absolutely no training in choir direction, and in fact, I had to call a teacher friend of mine the night before to ask which way to move my hands when conducting singers. I’ve spent a great deal of my life outside my comfort zone, but in this case I was in the next county. I have a feeling they hired me because the previous directors, all university teachers, would no longer take the job of corralling these mustangs. The setup: the high schools unload their charges, they spend the entire day rehearsing their six numbers, then that evening the parents come flocking in to listen to the concert. Sounds so easy. Not.

Since crowd control would be a more hairy issue than the music, I went to a toy store and bought a cap gun revolver, loaded it with explosives, and found a kid singing in the front row to be a part of my plan. That morning when they introduced me to the students and I walked to the podium, my young actor friend did as instructed and started talking loudly to the kid next to him. I asked him to be quiet. As directed, he kept talking. It was at that point that I took out my very loud cap gun, aimed it at the kid and shot him. I didn’t know the boy ahead of time but he turned out to be a marvelous actor, grabbing his chest, screaming, then falling onto the floor right in front of a shocked pianist and 200 kids who decided at that point that they would pay attention to the day’s director. You just can’t do that anymore and I miss those days terribly.

An interesting side note: Before the evening’s concert I was wandering through the Beardstown High School library, fretting and praying about my inability to do what I had been hired to do, and my eyes came across a copy of the play, “The Music Man.” If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a flimflam instrument salesman who pretends to know something about music and in doing so fools an entire town. I guess the one thing you can still do is fool them.

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