Friday, March 23, 2007


When I was in high school, I participated in forensics. For those of you who watch CSI, that doesn't mean analyzing evidence left at a crime scene. It means public speaking. I was on the speech team.

My junior year, as I recall, I competed in the category of "extemporaneous reading - poetry." Walt Whitman was the poet of the year, so any poem by him was fair game. You drew the title of one of his poems and had 15 minutes to get ready to read it out loud. It was an interesting category. I got to know Whitman pretty well.

My senior year, I switched to a category called "Creative Expression." Each participant had to write his own 10-minute routine. Mine was a one-man play, a comical send-up of the Ten Plagues of the Book of Exodus, titled "The Fall of the Ancient Egyptian Bureaucracy." I loved performing it because it made most people laugh. Unfortunately it made a few people angry - a demographic I have consistently pissed off with my sense of humor. At the regional finals, from which the top two placers from each category would go on to state competition, I performed my routine in front of three judges. Two of them gave me First Place. The third gave me a total thumbs-down, and I went home with a third-place medal. So ended my stand-up comedy career.

The reason I tell this sad tale is to introduce the following poem, which trust me, was never EVER meant to be taken seriously. Between repeat performances of my Creative Expression routine, I got to hear many other competitors do their routines. I recognized some of them as sketches plagiarized from Bill Cosby and other comics. But most of the Creative Expressions were performed by "goth" teens - dressed in black from head to foot, with facial piercings and makeup apparently intended to make them look like victims of end-stage leukemia. And there were striking similarities between these goth numbers. 50% of them were titled "Why, God, Why?" And 75% of them were the tragic story of an idealized female whose name, in every instance, was Cassandra. I came to loathe the name Cassandra. And this is what I did about it:

Oh, woe to my amorous eye, yea, and woe
To the moment Cassandra I saw,
For she’s stolen my heart like a bandit I trow,
And continues upon it to gnaw.

Her eyes put the dazzle of daylight to shame;
Her hair, less of flax than of gold,
Overhangs such a frame as would make a man lame
Were he cut from a mushier mold.

Alas, my Cassandra she loveth me not;
Oh, my cardiac muscle is rent!
I tell my beloved to get in my arms,
And my love telleth me to get bent.

IMAGES: Thomas Webster, A Classroom Recital; Julie Philpaut, Racine reading "Athalie" in front of Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon, 1819.

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