Read an Excerpt
The Boy from Oz
I could swear the lighting instrument was falling at seventy-six frames per second. (Aside: That’s movie talk for slow motion.) And yet, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
The speed of the world around me slammed back to normal as the lighting instrument crashed onto the stage only a few small feet from Sam’s small feet.
Then there was silence.
That lasted about three seconds. Then the screeching began. First Heather, then Cindy (I mean, Cynthia), and finally Suze.
I’m proud to say that Sam did not get all screechy. She simply stared down at the twisted metal and glass shards that settled around her red-sequined shoes.
“Is everyone okay?” Mr. Randall asked as he bolted out of his seat.
“I think I found the light,” Sam replied as she pointed down to the shattered glass and twisted metal.
Leave it to Sam to break the dramatic tension.
Jimmy raced past me and leaped onto the stage before Mr. Randall could even get out of his row. When properly motivated, that kid can move.
Jimmy is our passive-obsessive stage manager. He can usually be found buzzing around behind the cast and crew, looking over their shoulders to make sure everything meets with his detail-oriented eye. He never quite criticizes anyone directly, but you can always tell when he wants to get in there and do things his way. That’s just on a normal day. During emergencies like these—or on opening night—there’s no metaphor created that can properly describe his frantic behavior.
Me? I was still at my seat. But I wasn’t exactly doing nothing.
Once it was clear that Sam’s wit had survived the accident, I started snapping pictures of the aftermath with my trusty digital camera. Not only would the near disaster make front-page news for the school paper, The Orion Star, but the shots of the Dorothys freaking out would provide hours of entertainment for Sam and me.
“Okay, Bryan. You’ve got more than enough pictures for the lawsuits,” Mr. Randall said as he gently pushed my camera down. (I hadn’t even thought of that!) “Besides, the lighting instrument landed on the other side of the stage.”
I saw that Mr. Randall’s look of concern had been replaced by that same wry smile I so rarely see from other teachers. He must have realized that my camera was aimed at Heather, who was cowering behind the stage-right curtain. She looked like she was afraid the lighting instrument was going to jump up and bite her.
(Aside: We rarely refer to lighting instruments as “lights.” Technically they’re called “lamps.” But I didn’t want you thinking I was talking about some cheap, plastic desk accessory from IKEA. These things have heft.)
Once the dust settled, Mr. Randall joined Jimmy and the Dorothys up onstage to examine the fallen lamp. As there was nothing I could do but add a well-timed quip, I sat back in my seat. Sam already had the quip quotient quite covered. (Say that five times fast, I dare you.)
“I’m guessing the fitting is over?” Sam asked. “I’d say it was a smashing success.”
We both groaned over that one.
“Yes, Sam,” Mr. Randall said. “You can all change out of your costumes and get over to the soccer game.”
“Thanks,” Sam said as she fled the stage, quickly followed by the other Dorothys.
Not that Sam had any intention of going to the soccer game. We aren’t big on hanging out with the masses who flock like sheep to the soccer field. We are very much our own people, with lives full of excitement way more interesting than some high school sporting event.
Even though we didn’t have any other plans for that particular afternoon, we’d come up with something eventually.
With the shrieking Dorothys gone, I decided to hop up onstage myself and check things out. That’s the kind of thing menfolk do, you know. While the girls are off changing outfits, the guys stand around examining the broken equipment, trying to determine what caused the accident.
Maybe we’d even call in the Malibu CSI team.
“So, what do we think happened here, fellas?” I said as I moseyed up to Jimmy and Mr. Randall. I would have spit some tobacco into a spittoon had either been available.
Actually … no, I wouldn’t.
“I think that, maybe, the clamp could’ve rusted through,” Jimmy said, pointing to the metal clamp that usually hooked around the pipe grid up above. “I mean, obviously, it rusted through … see all the rust … and the through.”
Jimmy doesn’t always make the most sense when he speaks. But he was right about the rust. The metal was brown and holey and missing the all-important top part that hooked it to the pipe. (That’s about as technical as my terminology is going to get here.)
“I keep telling the headmaster we need to replace this equipment,” Mr. Randall said, shaking his head. Suddenly, I had a stellar idea. I’d ask my parents to make a contribution. The Bryan Stark Light Grid has a nice ring to it.
Or, maybe not.
“What about the safety line?” I asked. Each lamp is supposed to be clamped tightly to the pipe. But in case something goes wrong, an aircraft cable is looped around the bar to make sure if the clamp goes, something like this doesn’t happen.
Jimmy was silent. This in itself was an amazing feat. Jimmy is never silent. Not even backstage during a performance. Even his whispers are loud and agitated.
“Jimmy?” Mr. Randall asked.
“I can’t … umm … I could’ve …,” Jimmy said. “I mean … I might …”
It was clear to me that Jimmy didn’t want to admit that he could have missed attaching one of the cables. He tends to freak over little mistakes like that. Though, in this case, I guess it wasn’t a little mistake.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Randall,” Jimmy said. “I should have paid more attention. You’re always telling me not to rush so much. And I usually listen. I try to listen. But there’s just—”
“It’s okay, Jimmy,” Mr. Randall interjected, laying a calming hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. I was glad that Mr. Randall stopped him because it looked like Jimmy was on the verge of breaking into tears.
Jimmy is equal parts sweet and intense, with a small dash of scattered in the mix. In spite of that, there’s no one else I’d want to have in charge on show night because when he’s on, he’s on fire. Unfortunately, the flip side is also true: When he screws up, it tends to be noticeable. Still, he’s loyal like a Labrador, doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, and is kind of adorkable in his own way.
While Jimmy and Mr. Randall cleaned up the mess, I grabbed a seat in the front row to wait for Sam. It really wasn’t a three-person job. I’d probably get in the way.
Besides, I’m incredibly lazy.
I just realized I’ve been babbling for quite a few pages now. I never really introduced myself, you know, properly. This is the problem with not being a main character. You tend to get lost in the introductions, even when you’re the one doing them.
So … who am I, anyway?
As I wrote earlier, my name is Bryan Stark. I can’t be sure, but I think my last name should be longer. My dad changed it, either for business reasons or because we’re in the Witness Protection Program. I honestly couldn’t tell you. I think the full last name was something like Starkinovichskysteinenberger … or something like that. Though I guess if we were in the Witness Protection Program, he wouldn’t have just shortened the name. He would have changed it entirely, to something like Smith or Jones or someone else who starred in Men in Black.
I think I may be Jewish, too.
At least, part Jewish. I don’t really know much about my dad’s family. His parents died before I was born, and I guess he was an only child. I know my mom used to go to some church. I’m not sure which one. We do celebrate Christmas every year, though.
Let’s stick with what I do know about myself.
I’m on the periphery of popularity in a school with no losers, slackers, or geeks, but a ton of Future Media Moguls of America. I’m surprisingly grounded (if I do say so myself) considering that I’ve rarely been lacking for anything in my life. Not that I’m spoiled, but I’ve never had to worry about my college fund.
I haven’t quite figured out my hyphenate quotient yet. If pressed, I’d say I’m an actor-photographer. But photography is really more of a pastime than a lifestyle. Let’s just say I’m half-a-hyphenate on a quest to complete myself.
Oh, I like that.
I’ve been acting pretty much for as long as I can remember. I blame my grandma Millie for that. She used to be a Radio City Music Hall Rockette and had small parts in a bunch of Broadway shows in the fifties. I doubt you would have heard of her, but she was scandalous at a time when scandal wasn’t nearly as commonplace as it is today. Since I started going to school I’ve been in at least one play a year. I kind of take after Grandma Millie since I haven’t really broken out with any major roles yet myself, but I’m getting there.
Wizard is my first leading role. I play Scarecrow #2. Figures the first time I get a good part I have to share it with someone else.
As for how I look … picture if Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell had a love child. That child would look absolutely nothing like me. But it’s fun to imagine, isn’t it?
Me? I’m kind of tall and kind of skinny. Lanky, might be a good word to use. Not by me, mind you. I’d never call myself that, but other people have. They were all born before 1950, but it’s been said.
I tend toward a paler shade of pale, which is somewhat annoying because I do live in the beach community of Malibu. What can I say? Credit my father’s Eastern European skin tones. Having jet-black hair only makes me look paler than I really am, too. Even my eyes are gray.
Grandma Millie says I look like a young Cary Grant. Sometimes I wonder if she means that I look like I belong in a black-and-white movie. She’s always talking about how handsome ol’ C. G. was back in his early movies from the thirties, like Sylvia Scarlett.
You ask me? I think I look more like Cary Grant as he is today: dead for over two decades.
But that’s only my opinion.
(Aside: Sylvia Scarlett is not a particularly great film, but it was the first time Cary teamed with Katharine Hepburn, which makes it interesting from a historical perspective alone. In the movie, Kate dresses up as a boy for reasons defying explanation and falls in love with a man while in her drag king disguise. And the movie came out in 1935!)
By the way, Grandma Millie’s the one who usually calls me lanky. I’m pretty sure she means it in the kindest way possible.
I could go on about myself but, believe it or not, I’m not my favorite subject. Okay. Don’t believe it. But, in all honesty, this story isn’t really about me anyway. Think of me as the Greek Chorus. I’m here to comment on the action, but rarely do I get involved.
Okay, I may get involved, but I’m not the star. That would be Sam. And though you might think that the story began when the lamp fell, you’d be wrong. As far as I’m concerned, the real inciting action occurred when Sam came back from the dressing room, held her hand out to me like a proper English gentleman, and uttered the following line:
“Shall we go to the game?”
© 2007 Paul Ruditis