Saturday, July 25, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek: Keeper of the Keys

Back in the dim mists of time, some enterprising student at Silver Creek High found, stole, or otherwise acquired a set of master keys to the school. For many years most students thought this was just a legend designed to intrigue gullible freshmen. But these keys were not a legend they were real. And they were handed down from generation to generation (OK, from one outgoing senior to a suitable junior) throughout most of my memory.

The keys were never used maliciously, which was always amazing. No theft. No graffiti or vandalizing. Just practical jokes of varying degrees of imagination and daring. There was the year all the jars of pickled dead critters from the biology lab ended up in the girl’s locker room. The time all the chairs in the library were stacked on the tables in a series of impressively unstable pyramids. And the time when the floor of the cafeteria was covered with a giant Twister board.

In my freshman year, the pool was turned into a giant luau complete with tiki torches and a grass shack hut. A surfboard and a large inflatable shark bobbed around the deep end and there was an endless loop of Beach Boys and Sam and Dave music playing. In my sophomore year I was let in on the secret when a friend’s older brother was keeper of the keys and he needed help switching all the desks, bookcases, and posters from the English classroom with the furniture in the chemistry lab. It took a lot of stealth and two weekend days, but we did it. Shakespeare now presided over the rows of gas jets and steel sinks. And the walls were lined with Dickens, Hemingway, and Austen. While in the other classroom Madame Curie looked down with French inscrutability upon Bunsen burners, microscopes, and test tubes place on desks, rather than long tables, and presided over by a large Oscar Wilde quotation painted on the ceiling.

Oddly enough, the administration never did much. They’d give the usual serious announcement over the loudspeaker system and talk in stern tones about suspension and detention. But, in actual fact, they seemed as amused by the whole thing as the rest of us. All year long people would wait for the joke and speculate on who would be behind it and what it would be. I remember hearing several teachers laughing at the ingenuity of the joker who took everything out of the principal’s office and set it up in the main hallway.

The last week of my junior year I was stunned when Malcolm Headley told me I’d been chosen to be keeper of the keys. I couldn’t understand why, but I wasn’t about to refuse. All summer long I plotted who I would let in on the secret and what my contribution to local lore would be. Eventually I swore my two best friends, Carmen Martinez and Sean Logan, to secrecy and the three of us began to set into motion our version of the grand plan. It involved a lot of babysitting and minimum wage jobs to pay for all the needed props. Then it just required the right time. The week before the drama club produced “West Side Story” was our cue.

We went in after their last dress rehearsal and made the balcony look more Romeo than rumble. Then we hit the biology lab for Heckle and Jeckle, the two plastic skeletons that stood like naked sentries on either side of the blackboard. These we moved to the theatre and dressed them the closest we could find to Renaissance wear from the costume shop. Heckle, as Juliet, completely with long blond wig, we placed on the balcony, turning her, well, it really into a sort of “come hither my long-lost skeleton lover” stance.

Jeckle we got down on one knee, with the aid of some legos and rubber bands. He wore black tights we bought for a buck at the thrift store and some sort of brocade cloak thing and a big flowered hat. That hat we also got from the thrift store and it would cause some amusement as it had often been seen on the mousy head of Mrs. Caspitor, the choir mistress at St. Edith’s.

We then filled every seat in theatre with stuffed animals, potted plants, bits of sporting equipment, even a life size cardboard cutout of David Hasselhoff (in the front row, of course.) We put more animals on the stage and gave them violins and flutes to set the music. We tried for a tuba but discovered your average teddy bear is incapable of supporting a tuba.

And the final step was to sneak into the library for the classic recordings section for the recording of Orson Welles and Romeo with miss forgettable (and I’m sure she was famous, but it was a long time ago) doing the balcony scene. Sean figured out a way to using fishing line and some small electric gears to move the arms of the “actors”. So when everything, lights, the recording, the movements came together it was the freakiest thing I’d ever seen.

The reactions upon the next school day were universal. I actually heard about it before I left home, someone called to tell me the keeper of the keys had acted and I had to get my ass down to the theatre. The place was packed, four deep trying to get in, even the faculty had to push through. And it didn’t disappoint. It was surreal and imaginative, and quirky and kind of cute. I was damned proud of myself all day.

The only thing left to do was to pass of the keys to the next keeper…

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