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Is That Bread?? Am I High??




 

Fitz didn’t love details. When he was in second grade, he heard the phrase “Big picture kind of guy,” on an episode of Letterman and he adopted that motto for his entire raison d’être. This specific life outlook made sense to Fitz. You had to take a big if not giant step back from the situation if you wanted to make a splash in this world. A year later and seven minutes into his third-grade lemonade stand, he canvassed the block. He noted that there were three important corners to set up shop if he was going to make enough cash to purchase the new handheld Sega Genesis that had commandeered his dreams. 


At eight years old, he knew he needed investors and employees. So he drew up a Crayola-created business plan, presented it to his grandfather who spent his late mornings asleep on a kitchen chair in front of the living room TV, and managed to finagle twenty bucks from the octogenarian before he’d even arrived at phase two of the lemonade empire. It was a good start. Fitz was so jazzed about the whole situation that he ran to the closest neighbor instead of the smartest or most responsible neighbor and successfully recruited six kids to run his business. 


Fitz was the King of Enthusiasm, he could have rallied his peers to do much worse than sell lemon-flavored sugar water, but luckily for all involved, Fitz had a good heart. But, in his haste to make $149.99 (and this included the Sonic game,) he didn’t organize or structure his employees in a way to avoid infighting or dissent among the ranks, and his big dreams for his lemonade conglomerate were abandoned by lunch.


Instead of contemplating where his business went wrong over his tuna sandwich on the front porch, Fitz was onto the next idea. After he loaded his plastic plate into the dishwasher, he stole a can of Coke from the back of the fridge and gently tucked his seventeen dollars and fifty cents of “profit” back into his Pop Pop’s suit pants, barely disturbing the rhythm in the man’s upright snoring. 


What was Fitz’s follow-up to the failed business? Well? He tried to start a neighborhood circus. This ended before it opened when Stuart Childers fell off the monkey bars and insisted on going to the emergency room even though everyone agreed that his arm looked extra cool at that angle. 


Fitz then tried out for basketball but had no patience for the men with the striped shirts and their constant, constant whistle-blowing. The interruption of this supposedly fun, fast-paced game was more than he could deal with.


So this was our Fitz:  a dreamer, a budding entrepreneur, and always on the move. This was in the late 80s. Maybe now he would have been diagnosed with an official-sounding acronym but, hey, this was during the Regan administration and all kinds of wild stuff was happening with the world.


Grace, Fitz’s mom, had tried almost obsessively over the years to try to help her son slow down and focus. But, sometimes, kids can’t hear things from their parents and Grace’s attempts went in one ear and then who knows which direction they disappeared. 


There were countless parent/teacher conferences where the feedback was always the same: if Fitz could just slow the hell down and pay attention to the details, he would be killing it in school. Because Fitz was smart. His dad was an engineer for GE and the youngest son had obviously inherited a knack for big thinking and problem solving. Grace would often tell her freckle-faced child that she knew that he could be a great success, but his inability to give anything his full attention was going to bite him in the ass. And this is how you had to talk to Fitz if you wanted to receive any kind of reaction.


Up until this point, his academic career was peppered with late assignments, sometimes early assignments, papers written on the wrong chapter, addition tables calculated as multiplication, and one time a very embarrassing kicking of a volleyball during a gym class. That’s why Fitz, his mother, father, and older sister, Penelope, had great hopes for his high school career.


“You should shut up more,” suggested his older sibling as she sprayed a highly flammable amount of Aquanet into the artistic sculpture that made up her bangs, “like, don’t talk. Then, maybe people will like you. And, hello? Look at them while they’re talking to you. Just try it.” Penelope grabbed the hot-pink Maybelline blush that her brother was absent-mindedly painting on the back of his hand.


“What are you doing after school?” He asked Penelope. She was definitely one of the cool kids. He suspected that she was always up to something as well, and was just better than him at not getting into trouble. He caught his sister’s eye in her Barbie-pink framed mirror. Fitz was genuinely curious what a high schooler did when the bell rang. He assumed they all drove to the train tracks to see a dead body. Now is a good time to mention that Fitz couldn’t sit still throughout an entire movie so his story narratives were often disjointed and conclusion-less.


“Sam and I are going to the art room. We want to paint scenery for the school production.”


A school production? That sounded like fun. 


“Ten minutes!” Grace called from the kitchen.


Fitz tried his best to hurry up in the bathroom. He slicked his hair back in an attempt to embody every single member of The Brat Pack, managed to stand still long enough to force his toothbrush into contact with the majority of his teeth, and threw his new Trapper Keeper into his old Eastpak backpack and rushed his corduroy-ed butt out the door. 


Mornings were always really tough for Fitz. He started doing one thing and then got totally distracted by something else and then the bathtub would be overflowing and causing a waterfall over the stove in the kitchen. 


This year is going to be different, he told himself. This was high school There wasn’t any room for fucking around. He was going to get his shit together. He was going to make a homework list during the day so he wouldn’t forget what he had to do at night. He was going to lay out his clothes before he went to bed to avoid having to make an important decision first thing in the morning. And, he told himself, he was going to try something new. He was sick of struggling at the same activities, over and over. He wasn’t going to run track and field because no matter how fast he was going, it made him want to fall asleep. He wasn’t going to play the violin or try to take pictures of people doing nothing for yearbook, no, he was going to find something that sincerely interested him, and he was going to give it his all, and he was going to be successful.


The first day at Ulysses S. Grant Regional High School was a big deal. Everyone was in their coolest outfits, trying their best to look as confident as possible. The hallways were thick with girls in shoulder-padded striped sweaters, boys in collared rugby shirts, and enough hair product to light the entire higher learning institution up in flames. There were hugs from old friends and awkward, uncomfortable hellos to new ones. Fitz stood frozen in the quieter hallway to the left of the school's entrance, closer to the administrative offices. What was he going to do here? This school was huge. 


The hallway’s brick walls were covered by an enormous bulletin board. It wasn’t anything particularly remarkable. There were large, red, cartoonish-looking letters welcoming everyone back to the school named after the country’s often-forgotten 18th president. There were signs informing students of new policies and warnings not to smoke inside the school. There were flyers for bake sales and a large photo of a sunny-side-up egg reminding everyone to D.A.R.E. to stay away from drugs. But none of this registered with Fitz. No, because his eagle eye noticed something else. A flyer. For the school play.


A familiar wave of adrenaline soaked his already sweaty forehead. This must be the production that Penelope was talking about. Why hadn’t he thought of drama before? Forget business or basketball or bargaining for good grades, this, this was his calling. Fitz’s brain spun, imagining his theatrical debut and it won him three Academy Awards and an Emmy before he’d even sat down in his (hopefully) correct homeroom class, printed on a piece of paper with all those holes on the side. 


What was Fitz’s homeroom teacher’s name? What kind of advice did she have for her new crop of incoming Freshmen? What time were each of them supposed to eat lunch and have study hall and sign up for the bake sale? If anyone knew, it was not Fitz. No. Our Fitz spent the entire day in the wrong classrooms, at the wrong lunch period, and was blissfully unaware of the fundraiser for baked goods taking place at the entrance of the school’s first football game. Fitz’s head was somewhere else entirely. By the time the school bell rang for the day, it was in the Drama section of the library.


I’ve gotta blow these people away, thought Fitz. I need a monologue that will melt them to tears. Fitz paused his haphazard search through the library cards, realizing that he was certainly not paying attention the day that someone was explaining the Dewy Decimal System.


He imagined himself with his perfect slicked-back hair, in a tight black T-shirt, standing alone on the school’s auditorium stage, illuminated by only a single spotlight. In his head, he saw three, four, maybe five teachers and the principal sitting in the fifth row, all holding their own Trapper Keepers, taking notes with wet, black pens. He saw them putting down their writing utensils, holding their heads in their hands, unable to watch him finish, absolutely sobbing at his genius.


Before his daydreaming could turn the principal into Stanley Kubrick and offer him a starring role opposite Emilio Estevez in something dark and obviously brilliant, Fitz shook the fantasy out of his head and forced himself back to the task at hand. The flyer, if he remembered, and if he read it clearly, said to “prepare a monologue.” So Fitz knew that he needed to find a play with a character about his age, where they spoke a lot of words in a row without being interrupted. Those were the marching orders given to him by the Gods of Entertainment and, so be it, Fitz was going to take those drama wings and fly. But, he wasn’t cocky - yet. Fitz had the wherewithal to ask for help when needed. So, he quietly sauntered up to the green-painted desk where Miss Libby, the longtime librarian, looked up at him over her thick, coke-bottle glasses.


“What's the one story that always makes you cry?”


Now, Miss Libby had been asked a lot of questions from a lot of students over the course of her 22-year tenure at Ulysses S. Grant Regional High School, but this was the first time she’d been posed this specific one. And, it gave her pause.


She gave herself a moment to take in this jumpy, freckled, earnest student with the overly-product’ed hair, and decided that if this young man was looking for a good cry, a real cry, then she was going to give it to him. She put down her copy of Valley Of The Dolls and led this young man directly over to the hallway crammed with worn-out paperbacks. And, without scanning the shelf for more than five seconds, as she was an absolute genius at the Dewy Decimal System, Miss Libby deftly reached down, pulled out a slim volume, placed it in Fitz’s waiting hands and told him,


“This is all you need.”


Fitz filled out the library card like he’d learned on his first day of first grade in public school and rushed the copy home. He quickly flipped through the volume, and as Fitz was wont to do, scanned it until he found a page that was all words, spoken by a single character, with no interruptions.


This is it, thought Fitz to himself as he pulled out a fresh page of lined paper out of his Trapper Keeper and a Bic ballpoint pen. He painstakingly copied the words, line for line. And then he did it again, and again until he could feel the actual spirit of the actual Anne Frank running through him. Yes, Mrs. Libby gave our Fritz the one play that always made her cry. 


Each time he wrote the page, he found himself memorizing more and more of the words. This was it. He found himself more focused on the task at hand than on any bit of schoolwork that he had in his entire elementary career. He stayed in his room until his mom called for dinner and Penelope called him a loser for missing the first after-school pep rally.


He stood in front of his full-length mirror, which had only been used up until that point to pretend that he’d gained forty pounds of muscle and was appearing in a Got Milk commercial. There, he read the lines over and over and over, finding the pauses and the beats, utterly instinctively, until he swore he could almost make himself cry.


That night, over canned corn and meatloaf and what felt like two thousand questions from his parents about his first day of high school, Fitz’s brain was somewhere else entirely. His excitement about his life’s new mission was something that he swore he’d never felt before. Maybe he’d found his calling? Maybe this was exactly how Emilio Estevez had felt before he woke up and knew that he needed to be in the Outsiders? That night, he could barely get through level nineteen of Sonic on his Sega. His heart just wasn’t into it. 


That first week of school, Fitz ignored everything that didn’t align with his new life plan. He’d have to wait until the following Tuesday to officially audition for the play. And it could not come soon enough. Now, Fitz had been excited, devoted, obsessed with all kinds of different opportunities before in his life. But this was the first one that he kept to himself.  He couldn’t explain it. It was too big, too special. He didn’t want his friends to know what he was planning. He only wanted to surprise everyone with the outcome. So, those first two weeks of school, his old buddies thought he was being a weirdo and the new kids he met, well, they thought the same.


But Fitz didn’t care. He knew that when roles were announced and he landed the starring one in the all-school production, his social life would skyrocket to teenage stardom, and that everything would fall into place. He briefly considered what his family would say when interviewed for his E! True Hollywood Story. Fitz made a mental note to make sure his mom knew to keep her mouth shut about his still-beloved Hot Wheels collection. The world didn’t need to know about that.  It was this confidence, this deep belief in both himself and his life and, well, fuck it, his entire future, that allowed our hero to walk into the auditorium the following week as if he had, in fact, hit the jackpot on the growth spurt like the model in the Got Milk? Commercial.


He waited, impatiently, in the wings as the students ahead of him walked onto the stage, shakily holding their hand-written pages, and trying their best to perform their monologues.


But their auditions were different than the one Fitz had prepared. They were… funny. They were about mistakes and mishaps and littered with what Fitz would consider, ‘dad jokes.’ One kid had a kazoo. A fucking kazoo. How was this guy planning on moving the director to tears with a plastic instrument reserved for toddler birthday parties and discount circuses?


Fitz’s disdain for his fellow thespians grew with each passing moment. Their overt hand gestures, huge smiles, and winks to the audience turned him off with a vengeance.


He was confused. He checked the lineup. There was another actor before his slotted time so he walked into the lobby of the auditorium. There, where you couldn't miss it, was an enormous poster leaning against a white metal easel. It was a large, professionally drawn picture of two 1950s teenagers in an embrace. The font, dripping above the characters smiling faces, was the word Grease. 


Wait, what? How could he have not clocked this, um, super important piece of information?


The school was putting up a production of the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John movie. In Fitz’s haste to stun the world with a groundbreaking performance of Anne Frank, he hadn’t bothered to note which play he was actually auditioning for.


“Fitz?!” 


Seriously? How fast was the actor in front of him? What did he do? A 30-second Travolta impression? Fitz frantically searched his buzzing brain to bargain a way to buy some time. It wasn’t happening.


Whatever, thought Fitz, just because I’m a trained dramatic actor doesn’t mean that I can’t do comedy. Also, some comedic actors played things very straight, like Leslie Neilson in all of the Naked Gun movies.


As Fitz crept past the large velvet drapes onto the school stage, he felt his heartbeat quicken and his palms begin to sweat. He looked up at the powerful spotlight and squinted out at the audience which consisted of a handful of faculty and the school’s drama teacher who would be directing this year’s show.


Without a ton of options, Fitz began his impeccably memorized monologue.


I find myself, and God, and I... We're not the only people have had to suffer.


There've always been people that've had to. Sometimes one race, sometimes another, and yet...I know it's terrible, trying to have any faith when people are doing such horrible things,


Fitz tried to ignore the teachers sitting twenty feet from his face, but couldn’t help but be aware that they were shifting uncomfortably. This was the place in the monologue where Fitz had practiced, for hours if he were being honest, in front of his mirror, forcing himself to cry. Sometimes the tears were big and real and wet, sometimes he would chastise himself for looking like a daytime soap actor.


Today, with the anxiety and the lights and the choosing a play about genocide that was decidedly not a comedy, Fitz cried actual tears. He gasped through the next three minutes, putting all of his focus into being a teenage girl hiding in the attic in the midst of a devastating world war. At the end, he paused, gazing past the seats and towards the back of the auditorium. There was no applause. One could hear a person’s ego blow up and die.


So Fitz did the only thing he could think of doing. He tried to save himself. So, he improvised. He took a step back to the center of the stage, glancing up to temporarily blind himself while ensuring that the light was hitting him right in the face. This is when he yelled,


“IS THAT BREAD? AM I HIGH?”


And then promptly sprinted off of the stage, through the auditorium lobby, down to the parking lot where he kept his Schwinn ten-speed locked on the rack, and pedaled home as if he were being chased by the German army.


Now, Fitz did not land the role of Danny Zucko. Nor did he get a place as any of the T-Birds. His name wasn’t even on the list of “chorus members” that was posted on green and white striped printer paper and taped to the school’s bulletin board.


But, something good did happen. Mr. Barstow, the history teacher, had just started an improv group. And he invited Fitz to be part of it. Two days a week, our hero would play ridiculous games on stage with a group of five other students. And he loved it. It taught him to listen, and to pay attention to detail, and kept him on his feet for two hours so afterward he was able to sit still and actually finish his homework a couple of days a week. And Fitz’s audition made him a somewhat famous freshman that Spring. Because, word got around.


Occasionally, in the noisy hallway between classes, an upperclassman would spot Fitz, smile, point, and yell, “IS THAT BREAD? AM I HIGH?”


And Fitz couldn’t feel anything but pride. 


So many years later, Fitz still does improv. And he pays just a bit more attention to detail…


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