A number of years ago I received a phone call from a rather panicked Government Administrator. There was a huge weekend Arts Conference being held, for all disciplines in the province. A reader who was to present – well, entertainment – at lunch was unable to attend. Could I fill in for him. It was two days away.
Yes, said I.
My Elephant stories are all under five minutes, and they are all amusing. They read themselves. Why not.
What I did not realize was the extent of this conference. Nor did I fully appreciate that the readings were to be held during the luncheon. Something like an after dinner speech. In the middle of the day.
There was one other English reader, the late Bill Bauer. Bill is a genius, a wit, a funny fellow, and an excellent reader. A tough act to follow so I was glad to be a co-participant. The other two readers were reading in French (New Brunswick is a bi-lingual province). They were to go first, Bill and I second.
The venue – for a reader – was a hell-hole (if I may be blunt). Two large rooms filled with tables and post-meal listeners. There was no way to face them all at the same time. Bill seemed fazed by nothing but I was uncomfortable. I was glad enough the French readers went first.
They were both poets (as was Bill). My French is far from the best but, by their reading method and the reaction of the audience, it appeared that they read the most dour and angst-filled poems imaginable. Sadness and despair crept through the room(s). At least Bill and I would be a contrast.
Bill is an excellent reader – a performer, in fact. He knows when to show them and knows when to hold them. He is insightful, philosophical, inovative and just damned funny. I will laugh at a poem of his which I have read a dozen times. Few can successfully end a poem with the main character screaming the immortal words: “Aphids, aphids, aphids.” Bill does.
It may be that we were both assisted by the dour poets, for Bill’s applause was enthusiastic. I was admittedly disconcerted by attempting to read to these hundreds of people scatted upon two sides of me. But – let’s face it – ya gotta laugh at The Elephant as he takes his concerns to God. And (I hope) appreciate God’s thoughtful and kindly replies. If Bill left them laughing (and he did) then The Elephant left them laughing more.
At the end it was time for all the participants to bustle back to their conferences. But some did come up to make comments to the readers. And then occurred an event which I will cherish to my grave. An elderly French nun (in real nun garb) came up to me. She was assisted by a younger nun. The old sister put her hand on my arm. She looked up at me, and in a conspiratorial voice, thick with her French accent, said: “Ah, that Elephant.” And she smiled.