Chickenpox Saved Me From Possible Life-Altering Embarrassment… Seriously
We can all think back to our childhood and identify a few (maybe more) specific moments in time where we'd do something completely different. Whether it was blowing it with your first love, or trying to be a fashion trendsetter, only to fall flat. I feel ya.
It was spring 1989. I was living in Rio Rancho, NM, near where my father was stationed in the United States Air Force. I was in the 5th grade, enjoying a year without my older brother at the same school. A bout of chickenpox struck, and it kept me out of school, possibly saving me from catastrophic embarrassment.
I've always been more than willing to be the center of attention. OK, so I was a loud mouth. Obnoxious. Intolerable at times. Got it? Of course, nobody tells a 5th grader these things. As a result, I thought the only thing holding me back from super stardom was the fact that I had yet to be discovered. The school talent show was my chance. My first choice was to lip-sync. Any idea what song I wanted to lip-sync?
Ouch. That would have been embarrassing!
How I was ever going to manage lip-syncing a song with vocal harmonizing wasn't something I had though clearly about. Luckily, the teacher in charge of the talent show was thinking more clearly and convinced me lip-syncing would be a bad idea given that three other (better rehearsed) acts were already barking up that pole. My answer? Comedy. Yes, stand up comedy from a 5th grader.
I put together a little set cracking jokes at my family's expense. Most of what I presented at first was deemed too vulgar (content, not cursing) for the good senses of the audience at Puesta Del Sol Elementary School. I reworked things as best I could. That's when I found out that clean ain't funny. It was a struggle to find something not completely embarrassing, but once again no one was willing to tell me I was about to make a fool out of myself.
I must have a guardian angel, because someone put in a word with the Big Guy upstairs, and (for the 2nd time in my life) I came down with a case of chickenpox. I'd had it as a baby, and now I got it again. "No problem", I thought to myself, "There are still two weeks until the talent show. I'll be all healed up by then." Think again. At the same time the chickenpox struck, I had a cast on my left arm because of a home plate collision in baseball. When I went in to get the cast removed the nurse almost passed out at the sight of the greatest collection of chickenpox anyone had ever seen. They thrived and surged in number in the moist, dark feeding ground underneath that cast.
It was with great disappointment that I had to inform the teacher in charge of the school's talent show, my spring board to super stardom, that I was unable to make the required rehearsals for the talent show. I was actually back at school for the first time since the chickenpox struck on the day of the talent show. I wasn't able to perform because the school hadn't approved my final act. I was devastated. My dreams of being a comedic child prodigy, taken under the wing of Howie Mandel or Sinbad, comedy's answer to Doogie Howser, were dead in the water.
Looking back now, not performing in that talent show is the only reason I'm able to speak in public as an adult. As a vulnerable boy, 10 years old, to hear nothing but crickets when a joke was told would have forced me to run away to be raised by wolves. The jokes were so bad I'm convinced not one person would have laughed WITH me. But if, for some reason, I'd actually been a hit, it might have ended even worse... I might have actually become a stand-up comic... and that's a fate worse than crickets.