Saturday, March 20, 2010
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975, GREAT BRITAIN)
(AN ALMOST TRUE STORY OF THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GRAIL OR AT LEAST THAT OF THE MONTY PYTHON VARIETY FROM THE YEAR 1978 A. D. OR THEREABOUTS AND THE ATTEMPT TO AVOID DETENTION HALL ALONG THE WAY)
Scott scanned his answers before handing his paper back to Mr. Hickman. He took his place at my side, ever so slightly to the left of the teacher’s desk.
Mr. Hickman looked surprised but pleased at the rapidity with which his two star students had finished. He smiled as he reached into his drawer and gave us the wooden blocks with the words hall pass boldly written with magic marker on the front of them.
As I held mine in my hand, the coldness of that little block of wood made me shudder. I felt empowered. This pass gave me strength…and…
“Are you all right son?” Mr. Hickman asked, since I was obviously staring at the wood a little longer than was socially acceptable.
I apologized for my momentary distraction.
“That’s not a problem,” the teacher continued. “I’m so impressed that you boys could finish a calculus test so quickly. You’ve definitely earned your trip to the library, I mean media center. Sorry, I’m old fashioned. I still call it by the antiquated term.”
Scott and I forced out a laugh as we headed to the door before he stopped us.
“Oh, don’t forget to stay out of trouble,” Mr. Hickman added as he came close to us, out of earshot of the rest of the class. “And don’t you boys go outside and smoke grass. It may seem innocent enough, but it’s not a big leap to get from there to the harder stuff. First it’s a cup or two of Juan Valdez, which leads to a little grass. Then the next thing you know, before you can say incense and peppermints, you get curious and want to try some bennies, which leads straight to goofballs and before you know it you’re in a purple haze and jammin’ to Hendrix playing Voodoo Chile and not that Jimi isn’t the king…Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on. Enjoy your trip to the media center.” Mr. Hickman used exaggerated quotation marks with his fingers to accentuate his contempt for this new-angled term.
“I thought we’d never get out of there,” I said as we headed down the hall.
Scott told me his theory was that Hickman had had a bad drug experience during the 60s, which forced him to abandon his career as a concert violinist. After years of rehab, he got his education degree and had been teaching indifferent high school kids the joys of upper level Mathematics ever since. I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe this story, since I knew Scott had a tendency to stretch the truth all out of proportion, but I wasn’t thinking about that now.
“Scott, is your hall pass abnormally cold?”
He took mine out of my hand. “It feels like wood, and wood of moderate temperature at that.”
When he gave it back to me, it didn’t feel any different than any other hall pass I’d held for the last four years. Well, that was awkward.
As we went through the door of the media center, I could have sworn I heard orchestral music, but I didn’t dare mention it to Scott after the hall pass embarrassment.
The librarian at the desk, Ms. Hitt, (it actually said Ms. on her name plate!) looked at our passes.
“I’m glad you boys are here,” she said with a smile. “You may want to check out our just-in shelf for a new illustrated volume of Emily Dickinson poems. I wouldn’t say that to most of the students, but I’ll bet you two are of a more literary bent.”
“Yes, thank you, Missus…Miss Hitt. I’d like to look at it.” I took the book in question and thanked the librarian again on my way to a study carrel. Scott grabbed a magazine and sat next to me.
“When do we make the move? I didn’t know Hitt was going to be here. I didn’t come here to read a bunch of old poems!”
Scott was laughing. “Hey, look at her touching her hair. I think she really likes you. You two should cuddle by the fire, roast marshmallows and read sonnets and haikus to each other.”
“Come on, man! She’s probably thirty-eight or something. I’m not into necrophilia.”
“Like you can be so choosy, AV boy.”
In reality, I secretly thought about Ms. Hitt that way often. The slightly graying hair almost always strapped neatly into a ponytail. Those thick eyebrows that danced when she was looking something up in the card catalog. Those oversized black-rimmed glasses. Those small lips that she scrunched into a circle the moment before she spoke. Not that I was paying attention or anything.
“Shut up and wait for her to go,” I said, keeping one eye on Hitt and one eye on the book.
Ms. Hitt smiled at us as I began to read I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed. I turned to Scott after reading a couple of lines and said, “Hey, there’s a poem in here about beer.”
Scott didn’t answer, but indicated with a tilt of his head that Ms. Hitt had gone to the back office.
This was our chance.
We leapt up and quietly slipped into the media center’s AV room, closed the door and drew the curtains.
I looked around. There was a projector carousel filled with slides of the Italian renaissance, rows of predominately mangled audio cassettes, dusty reference books-mostly dealing with the preservation of audio visual materials, a collection of phonograph records, none of which I would ever play by choice, and a Super 8mm of a 50s instructional film called Dating Do’s and Dont's. I was wondering whether it was the one that had Dick York in it when Scott pulled out a cardboard satchel from the end of the shelf.
“That’s it! It’s in here!”
I tried to grab it from him, but in my nervousness dropped it to the floor.
“If that thing breaks, I’m not the one going to jail!” Scott shouted.
“Keep your voice down! It’s fine. Go ahead and open it,” I said as I picked it up. The locks were fastened tightly, but I held the cardboard down while he pulled, and it came out.
Scott held it aloft triumphantly, and I could have sworn I felt the warmth of the sun consume our space even though we were in a storage room, and a storage room with closed curtains at that.
Scott squinted as he turned it to read the writing on the cover. “This is definitely it! Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I repeated in reverence. “Let me touch it.” I rubbed my fingers against the label, though I was careful not to touch the tape itself. “I can’t wait to stick it in,” I continued.
“If someone walks by and hears us saying how you want to touch it and stick it in, they might get the wrong impression,” Scott said as he let out a guffaw.
“Stop jawing. This is a serious moment. Go ahead and put the tape in, ‘cause I’m not exactly sure how it works.”
“What kind of AV geek are you?” He looked hard at it. “Of course, I’ve never used one of these machines before either.”
“Well push some buttons and see what happens,” I said.
We pushed the four buttons on the front of the machine. Lights came on, at least I think there was light. The illumination could have just been my imagination getting the best of me again. The lid on the top of the player finally popped up.
“Was it supposed to do that? I hope so,” he said.
“Put it in. Or should I say put in the video cassette so no one will misconstrue your meaning.”
“I’m not sure how to stick it in.”
“Give me that.” I took it and looked at it. “Shouldn’t you have the label going down?”
We tried it but nothing happened.
“Other way. It must be the other way,” he said.
We pushed it in label side up and heard a clicking as the tape went down. I could hear it running now.
“That means it must be working! It must be!” I tried to keep my voice down, but this was an exciting moment.
Scott turned the TV switch on and we saw…squiggly lines on the screen. I put my ear to the glass of the TV and could make out a bit of the opening credits. I thought it was the opening credits anyway. I pressed my ear harder against the glass.
Scott switched places with me. “Definitely the opening theme. At least we’re getting something out of this.”
“If we can’t get any more,” I said, "This is still a working television. And I think I heard that Phil Donahue was going to have a lesbian on or something.”
Scott shrugged and flipped the channels around. When it reached channel two, we saw it. A picture.
“Oh my God!” he said. “It’s the movie. It’s playing!”
“Unbelievable! We’re controlling what’s on the screen. I feel like a god or maybe even a network executive,” I said.
I marveled at Arthur, King of the Britons, and his sidekick Patsy pretending to ride their horses about the English countryside while only clicking two coconuts together to make a hoofbeat sound. I marveled at the dialogue we were listening to. I marveled that we were watching a videocassette at school during class time and were in control. Total control. We listened.
You’re fooling yourself
You’re living in a dictatorship
A self-perpetuating autocracy
In which the working classes
We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune
We take turns acting as executive officer for the week
But all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified
At a special bi-weekly meeting
By a simple majority in the case of strictly internal affairs.
But by 2/3rd’s majority in the case of
We were completely wrapped up in the dialogue and then the bell for the next class rang.
Scott punched the button, and the tape popped right out. I looked at him crossly.
“Hey, this was one of the greatest moments in my life, but it’s not worth going to detention hall for,” he said.
I took the tape from him and put it back in its satchel. I dejectedly motioned to him that we might as well leave, but then he took something out of his pocket. He balanced two extra hall passes delicately between his fingers.
“Cool.” I said. “But what’s your point?”
“We can clack them together like coconuts and jump up and down as we move down the hall, just like Arthur, King of the Britons.”
I was a little skeptical. “People might think we’re dorks, don’t you think?”
“Are you kidding? We’re talking about Monty Python here! Dorks-Ha!”
He said ha derisively as if the very thought of anything associated with the greatest movie of all time could ever be seen as anything but cool.
“I’ll be Arthur and you can be his sidekick,” Scott said.
“Wait,” I said. “Why can’t I be Arthur? You can be the sidekick.”
“Fine. Be Arthur. But you have to go first.”
“Why do I have to go first?” I asked.
“Arthur always goes first, stupid.”
I couldn’t deny his logic and grabbed the extra hall pass. I kissed the piece of wood in my hand. I went to the doorway of the media center and saw the students going to class.
This was my moment to shine. I waved to Scott to follow me and instinctively grabbed a plastic cover from the AV room that I draped over my back to mimic a cape. I took a step into the hall.
“Come on, my merry man!” I shouted as I exited the media center and began hopping down the hallway clacking my hall passes together. “I am Arthur King of the Britons!” Everyone was smiling at me. This was a statement. This was my statement.
“Onward, loyal sidekick.”
I motioned to urge Scott on, but as I turned back, I realized he wasn’t there. I caught a glimpse of him sneaking into his next class, paying me no attention. And those smiles that I had seen on the faces of my classmates had turned into laughs. Or were they laughs all along?
Ms. Hitt stuck her head out for a moment, sighing as she disapprovingly raised her sexy eyebrows before heading back into her precious media center.
I turned back around and saw Mr. Hickman, who confiscated the hall passes from me.
“I’m very disappointed in you,” he said. “Grass…isn’t it?”
He shook his head before taking my right arm and escorting me in the direction of the principal’s office.
It was then I realized that I had been close, very close. But the Holy Grail had eluded my grasp once again.