Monday, February 23, 2009

Living History

The following is an excerpt from Living History by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Farb Press in March 2009.

The first member of the Civil War Re-enactment group to suggest other events was Jim.

Jim read about the lives of Frank and Jesse James after learning they were Civil War veterans.

He proposed a production of the failed Northfield robbery. Jim played Frank James and prepared for the part by reading several works by William Shakespeare and brewing applejack liquor. It was really good time.

From there the full imagination of the Civil War Re-enactment Group was let off the chain.

They began to recreate countless historical events. The acted out battles from the Boer Wars, soup kitchens from the Great Depression, even the Kennedy and Khrushchev talks during the Cuban missile crisis.

Slowly the recreations of military or even political events moved to entertainment. Jim was tall enough to play Dean Martin in re-enactment of a Martin and Lewis nightclub act. They did Elvis on Ed Sullivan, The Ramones at CBGB’s, Elvis Costello going off script and changing numbers on Saturday Night Live.

Based on an excellent impression, Simon put together a proposal to recreate Steve Martin on his Wild and Crazy Guy tour.

Jim was actually there. He was in high school and took Linda Gallo to the recording of the album as a first date. He bought her an official arrow through the head but both of them were too concerned about looking cool to try it on. They made some small talk about their upcoming final exams; both agreed the finals would be hard.

Steve Martin was too far way to see. He was a tiny white dot, like a distant star, cutting up in the dark. Jim laughed a lot more than Linda. At times he recited catch phrases along with Steve but there seemed to be no recognition of them from her.

During the show a scuzzy guy old enough grow a moustache like Freddie Prinze smoked a joint and stood in front of Linda so she couldn’t see. Jim tried to say something too him but the high guy gave him a thumbs up as he smoked and for that moment his approval seemed more important than Linda Gallo’s. He stopped speaking and smiled weakly at Linda.

They didn’t talk on the drive home and at the door Linda said “You sure have an odd sense of humour,” and “You are a good friend” For a moment Jim thought about shaking her hand.

The recreation was booked in a local community hockey rink. Simon did a very job on Steve Martin, white suit and everything, and most of the seats were filled with cardboard cut outs of audience members.

Jim coached Kate Dubois on how to be Linda Gallo. She maintained the bored look, the awkward pause, the strain to hear Steve Martin’s distorted tinny voice over the P.A. system.

After the re-enactment Jim drove Kate home in silence and at the lobby of the condo development she rejected him with the same offer of friendship.

Once inside Jim called her on his cell phone and told her it was perfect. For the first time a primary source verified the authenticity of a recreation.

From there the group rejected popular history for personal history. They re-enacted events like talent shows, fist fights, bush parties, and even a traumatizing session of spin the bottle.

Jim received a phone call from a man introducing himself as a hard core authentic re-enactor of General William Tecumseh Sherman. His voice sounded weary and brow beaten like he had seen too many theatrical representations of war.

“We are looking to stage a Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and we need more men to mount the campaign. Can you raise the troops, son?” He asked

“Well, to be honest we actually don’t do much in the way of Civil War Recreation anymore. We should update the website.”

“Joseph! Please tell me we haven’t lost you to the Creative Anachronisms. We don’t need good men sitting around drinking mead and playing a lyre.” His voice crackled like a phonograph cylinder.

“We actually recreate events from our lives.”

“That’s plum ignorant! You can’t keep working over the past. That’s not how Sherman won the war. You win with No Retreat and No Surrender!” Looking back Jim was not sure if he said Sherman or I.

“It helps us work out some stuff.” There was tone of whining to this that unsettled Jim so he added “Sir.”

“Work out what? Everyone had bad times. Hokum! You think it was easy having mutton chops in high school. Do you? Do you son?”

“No Sir.” Despite the’ Sirs’ and ‘Sons’ Jim was starting the wonder if they were roughly the same age.

“Where is this going to end? You going to re-enact what you did last weekend? What did you do?”

“Uhmm, we re-enacted an air band contest.”

“A what? You can’t re-enact a re-enactment. You’re not making anything happen for you because you’re too busy with what happen to you before.”

“I guess we could re-enact a really good re-enactment.”

“You’re not hearing me son!” and the man dressed a soldier from 1864 told him “Stop living in the past.”

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