The Ides of March is fast approaching, a time known in the ancient world for the assassination of Julius Caesar and in the modern world for the availability of shamrock shakes at McDonalds. In my world, both of these events are associated with childhood traumas and vomiting.
People will tell you that the best thing for kids is to have young, ambitious elementary school teachers but sometimes old and crabby actually works out better for the actual children. Take, for instance, my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Schulke who was certainly young and ambitious, not to mention overly optimistic about the skills of her students (at least this particular student). What else could have given her the belief that a bunch of 9 year olds could not only understand Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, but that they were fully capable of memorizing it and bringing it to life onstage for the cultural appreciation of their parents and fellow students.
I have no idea how Mrs. Schulke cast the other roles in the play but she saved the biggest talking role for the biggest, most disruptive talker in class. Thus I became Marc Anthony, with his exceedingly long “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar not to praise him” speech. For the record, I remembered those first two lines, even now, all by myself. There was no googling involved.
I must have been having trouble memorizing the other 35 lines in the speech as Mrs. Schulke gave me a cassette tape recorder to take home so I could record my speech and listen to it. I was at her desk the very next day to give it back, explaining that while I followed her instructions on taping, somehow there was someone else’s voice on the recording reciting my speech. (I know it seems unfathomable today that a child would make it to 4th grade without hearing their own voice but back then our parents didn’t spend their lives attached to a recording device.)
I was shocked and horrified when she explained that was my voice and that it just sounded different to me in my head than it did to everyone else. How could that be? My voice was my constant companion, my trustiest weapon, my reason for being! I thought it was melodious, beautiful, smooth and yet here was Mrs. Schulke telling me I sounded like a chain smoking old man with a nasal affliction! I was conceptually not ready for this information. Trauma #1.
Trauma #2 came in the form of another discovery, the discovery that while I liked to talk, I preferred a free form method whereby I said whatever came into my head. I was far less capable of actually reciting someone else’s words, even someone as illustrious as Shakespeare. And so I found myself onstage standing over “Caesar” in a toga, which was painstaking decorated with a Greek Key pattern by my own little hand. But what could I remember after all my practicing with my nasally old man voice? “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Ceasar not to praise him.” That’s it. No more, no less. The same two lines I can remember to this day. I said them and then I went all Cindy Brady (and kudos to all of you who got that reference. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who wasted my childhood watching The Brady Bunch).
All I could do was stand there holding a bloody toga and wait for Mrs. Schulke to feed me my lines from behind the screen onstage. It wasn’t pretty, although my friend Ray had really done a pretty nice job splattering the fake blood on the toga. Still, even with the good props, it was humiliating.
So much for my acting career. Trauma #2. This does, however, point to the upside of growing up in an era where parents only had black and white cameras. There is a rumor that a recording of this play exists but it has yet to surface and, even when it does, someone is going to have to dig up an 8 mm film projector to play it. This is a thought that comforts me.
So that explains the childhood traumas, but what, I’m sure you’re asking, about the vomit? No, I fortunately did not vomit all over “Caesar.” He went on to be the first boy I ever kissed and I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened if I had yacked all over him on stage. No, it’s time to turn to the modern harbinger of the Ides of March, the ubiquitous shamrock shakes.
We may not have had smart phones back when I was in fourth grade but we did have McDonalds. Not that our mother would let us go there. Like most mothers, she was opposed to the idea of McDonalds, even in this pre-Super Size me era. It wasn’t a nutrition issue. We regularly ate Spam, fried baloney sandwiches, La Choy Chop Suey made strictly from canned ingredients, and some kind of weird Chef Boyardee “lasagna” made with cottage cheese. But McDonalds, that was simply too expensive. All restaurants, fast or slow, were too expensive in her view. As were Pringles (“Chips in a can? I’m not buying expensive chips in a can!”). I did get to eat Pringles every year for Christmas breakfast (Thanks Santa!) but McDonalds was an even rarer treat.
So, of course, all we wanted was McDonalds. In particular, I craved a shamrock shake, the bright green seasonal harbinger of Spring that I was sure would create an unprecedented taste sensation in my mouth. But there was no way I was going to get a shamrock shake from my mother and, since they weren’t around in December, Santa was out too.
I’m happy to report that my sister has not maintained this tradition of denying her offspring an occasional McDonalds or a tasty shamrock shake. Here, for instance, is my nephew Tobey, demonstrating the proper way to drink a shamrock shake.
What makes this the “proper” way to drink a shamrock shake? First, it was purchased for or by him. Second, it is in a cup. Third, the straw. Fourth, it is still frozen. All exceedingly important things I wish I had known when I “drank” my first shamrock shake. The first shamrock shake I tasted looked like this when I discovered it.
Note the many ways in which this was not a proper shamrock shake that could be consumed in a proper manner. It was not purchased for me, not in a glass, no straw, and no longer frozen. Instead it was someone else’s shamrock shake that had been abandoned to melt on the sidewalk. And what did my little pea size brain think when it saw this sorry sight? “Finally! A shamrock shake! I gotta taste that thing!” And so I pressed my little face to the sidewalk and licked it up, an event which was followed by a truly unfortunate series of biological events.
Did you see the Exorcist? If so, then you can envision what ensued (here is where the vomiting comes in). Turns out you really, really, REALLY, shouldn’t lick up dairy products that have melted on the sidewalk. Nope. Don’t do it. LOTS of vomiting and Trauma #3.
And so, as the Ides of March approaches, the best advice I have to offer is skip the shamrock shake and avoid Shakespeare at all costs. Plays by 9 years old are probably also not a good idea, even if your own kids are involved. And, flash forward, you should also watch out for the Bushmills that appears a few days after the Ides. The Bushmills thing though isn’t a lesson I learned until high school.