WEB EDITOR'S NOTE: Some names in this story have been changed. But not mine.
All the World Should NOT be a Stage
I used to think Shakespeare was overrated and that his writing had little effect on our own time. Surely those dusty old verses, so ancient they are halfway between modern-day and Middle English, could mean nothing to us in the 21st Century. Now, thanks to a positive experience with a U of I Shakespeare class and a negative one with a girl I knew from high school, I’ve realized that before I was dead wrong. You know that popular old quote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players?” Cassie Cotter made me realize that, to some people, that line is more than just art: it’s their life.
I don’t know whether Cassie Cotter ever actually read Shakespeare, but I do know that her stage acting and her everyday life looked pretty similar, from my point of view. The experts say that stage acting and screen acting are different because when onstage, you have to project louder, gesture more widely. While the close-quarters media of cinema and television encourage actors to value realistic acting, everything is exaggerated in plays and musicals. I don’t know whether she brought her work onstage to life or vice versa, but I do know that to watch Cassie Cotter enter a room is to watch a performance.
I learned this in high school, or more specifically, my sophomore year Honors English class. Nearly every day, her entrance would be pronounced as Kramer’s from Seinfeld. In she would stomp, huffing and puffing like a blowfish, her mighty thighs thick and pale as white birches jiggling all the way to her desk, where she would slam down her textbooks, notebooks, and folders, and slam down on her seat with the force of a bellyflopping warthog. She would then proceed to gripe to her friends about her parents, her boyfriend, a friend who betrayed her, another teacher, or whatever was on her mind. Of course, her friends weren’t the only ones getting the details. The whole class was subject to the complaints emitted from her megamouth, all equally victimized by her Paul Bunyan voice.
And so I decided that making fun of her from afar was the best kind of revenge. She used to have this low grunt, which is hard to spell phonetically, but I’d say “HUHGHUWUHGH” is about as close as I can get. Class would be in the middle of discussing To Kill a Mockingbird or a book of that sort when suddenly, “HUHGHUWUHGH!” And so, from across the room, I would repeat her odd animal call: “HUHGHUWUHGH.”
Pretty soon my friends all started doing it, too. It became a real riot, her HUHGHUWUHGHing and four of us HUHGHUWUHGHing back, then watching her face sour a little. It was pretty damn funny, at least to me. But as I knew then and relearned firsthand this July, she must not have shared the same sentiment. One time she even sicced her little friends on us. Too bad the teacher that day was a substitute, a retired Biology teacher with half-inch-thick spectacles and a Southern drawl, who just laughed and said we were flirting with Cassie. We laughed at that too.
That was six years ago. I’d nearly forgotten about Cassie and my annoyance at her overacting when I encountered her again in mid-July of this year, when her longstanding grudge against me must have inspired her to attempt a cock-block against me. When Cassie saw me entering my friendly Neighborhood Applebee’s hand-in-hand with my soon-to-be girlfriend Alice, she got all flustered and googly-eyed. Turns out Alice is in the same co-ed service fraternity as Cassie, which somehow marked her as Cassie’s property. She yanked Alice off to the bathroom for interrogation, leaving me twiddling my thumbs in puzzlement.
“Why the FUCK are you here with JEFF BRANDT?” Cassie said. “Granted, he’s a step up from your last boyfriend, but still . . .”
As I found out from Alice when leaving Applebee’s, my mockery all the way back in high school had a lasting effect on Cassie. I had made her cry with my torment. I was such an asshole, a dickhead, a mean guy with whom Alice should not be associating as a friend, much less someone she’d call her beau.
Well boo fucking hoo. Maybe I helped her learn a life lesson. If I were Dr. Phil, I’d say the lesson was to not let the naysayers get her down. But I’m not Dr. Phil. I’m Jeff Brandt, and I say that she should learn to stop making guttural noises in public places and stop treating the world as a stage.