Sunday, December 05, 2004

Because you asked.

So Ben's requested the full-text Food Drive speech for the blog, and this is it. It contains never-before-read sections (all of sophomore year), which were cut by Mr. Moore because "uh, it's really, uh, long." Plus it's about cross-dressing.

Keep in mind I wrote it from 10:30ish until late the night before... it's unproofed and didn't live up to its potential. But I read it anyway, and if you have a lot of extra time on your hands, so will you.


Good morning, Jesuit. Less than twelve hours ago, I was relaxing in my parents’ Jacuzzi with a cup of steaming mint tea and fourteen of my favorite aromatherapy candles when my little sister knocked on the door. “Ken?” she asked. “There’s someone on the phone for you.” Lo and behold, it was Gus Jewell, saying “I have a favor to ask of you, Ken.” Turns out when a show has a “surprise guest,” sometimes it’s a surprise for the guest, too. So here I am, a little tired, sporting an oddly-shaped burn from the candle I knocked into the tub and smelling like an Altoid from the tea that fell with it, but ready to prove to you that canvassing for the Food Drive can get you a lot more than a T-shirt. It’s all about the memories. So I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

My food drive tradition began when I was a freshman. My older sister, Kelly, was a junior at the time, and she decided that if she took me canvassing, we would bond. Unsure about the idea, I asked her what it was like. “So I just walk around to people’s houses and beg for food? I just say, ‘We’re from Jesuit and we want your canned goods’?” She said, “No, Ken, you smile really wide, hold out your bag, and say ‘Trick or Treat.’” I laughed, because I thought she was being sarcastic. Evidently we had not bonded enough for me to tell that she was, in fact, completely serious. She continued. “And then I say ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. My brother, he’s, well—he’s not well. I’m trying to collect food for the Jesuit Food Drive, and he wanted so badly to help, but he just has so much trouble with his words.’ And then they feel sorry for us and they give us food.” I stared openmouthed at the girl who at the end of the year would receive the Jesuit Christian Service award, and told her it would be a cold day in Hawaii before I would do that, but she was too quick for me. “I’ll tell Mom about the time you tried to crucify the next-door neighbors’ poodle.” We both knew that that was really just a practical joke that got a little out of hand, but my parents trusted Kelly more than me, and I knew I had no choice. “Canvassing it is,” I said cheerfully.

By the end of the week we had drummed up eleven bags of food, along with two bags of candy from an old man who had really thought it was Halloween. I quickly got into the spirit of things, and brought the total up to fourteen just by revisiting houses I had already been to. They’d open the door, smile sympathetically, hand me a can of 100% Pure Pumpkin or vintage 1967 Kroffler’s Cranberry Sauce, pat me on the back, and send me on my way. Surveying our results, Kelly and I felt drunk with power, but we eventually realized things were getting out of hand when we tried to use our trick to wrangle a couple free Peanut-Butter Parfaits out of the local Dairy Queen, and the girl behind the counter threatened to call the police. Sitting back on the couch at home and popping open one of the boxes of Golden Grahams we’d gotten from the Kramers, Kelly declared that we were finished. It was a gray moral area anyway, she decided, and really I had been very deceptive. I ended up getting off easy: Kelly let me get away with a sentence of going to confession and refusing a Food Drive T-shirt. She assigned herself the much heavier penance of eating the more appealing cans and boxes of ill-gotten nonperishables—she called it “calories for clemency.”

I learned a lot of lessons freshman year, but the only ones I really remember are from the food drive. First, it’s a bad idea to deceive the generous folks who try to help you. Although collecting the cans and dumping them in the back of our van felt really good at first, karma soon struck. When I set down the fourth box of food, it landed on the power cord to our outdated aquarium filter, and since we had been piling the food all around the aquarium, we didn’t even notice something was awry until a week later when we stuffed the food in the car to take to school. By then it was too late. Frankie, Zipper, Santa, and Fishie had all perished—clearly, a message from God. I did not feel any better when Kelly pointed out that the box in question contained a huge carton of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, and as I sent each friend on his first and last ride down the Porcelain Water Slide with a funeral flush, I pledged again and again that I would never more besmirch Jesuit’s honor with dishonest methods of food collection. The second lesson was much simpler. The more effort you put into something, the more you get out of it. No matter how you look at it, I brought a lot of food to school, right?

It turns out that this effort idea applies to more than just acting. My sophomore year, I went canvassing with my friends instead of Kelly, hoping to avoid controversy altogether and get it done right. Somehow, that plan never quite works out for me. After a twenty-house run with my partner, who I’ll call “Jake,” we compared bags with a pair of our female friends, and they had literally three times as much as us. Not that we were competing or anything, but my friend and I felt like perhaps we weren’t being as efficient as we could be, so we snuck up behind the girls as they approached the next house and watched their routine. They’d walk up to the door, look at their reflections in the window, primp their hair, put on lipstick, unzip their jackets just the tiniest bit, and ring the doorbell. When the resident appeared, the girls would beam, flash their Jesuit ID cards, and bubble out their cute spiel about helping the needy and doing well whatever they did, prompting whoever had come to the door to smile warmly and say “Let me see what I can do for you ladies.” Invariably, they returned with an armload of cans and then—get this—asked if it was enough. The girls would smile awkwardly, say, “well, sure, I guess so,” and be rewarded with boxes of cereal or mashed potatoes. It looked so ridiculously easy. Clearly, Jake and I had only one course of action.

We returned to my house, where Kelly, now a senior, was only too happy to help save the world by dressing us up in scarves, skirts, and wigs, and applying several pounds of makeup to our once-manly faces. Jake and Ken, now Jaycee and Kenrietta, were on the beat. Over the course of the next three hours, we solicited nonperishables from no less than ninety houses, learning valuable lessons about friendship and cross-dressing along the way. Token friendship lesson: my friendship with Jake is dead now that I have mentioned this incident. Token cross-dressing lesson: uncooked spaghetti strands poking out of a wool hat cannot effectively pass for long hair. At the end of the day, Jake had collected five cans of food, and I had a box of Au Gratin potatoes and a bag of fortune cookies. It turns out that there’s a fine line that you have to walk between a deep, coarse sophomore manling’s normal voice and a shaky Mickey Mouse falsetto to be a convincing woman. Neither Jake nor I could do it, which in retrospect does not bother me at all, but it meant quite a few doors were slammed in our faces. My sincere advice to the sophomore boys is to learn from our mistake and never, ever canvass in a skirt without first shaving your legs. In fact, it would probably be best if you avoided the skirt route entirely. And if you don’t, for the love of God make sure you don’t know anyone in the neighborhoods you canvass, or take my word for it, you will have a lot of explaining to do.

Anyway, this doesn’t mean that I was wrong about putting effort in; it just means that the appropriate effort there would not have been becoming temporary transvestites but rather emulating the girls by being friendly and persistent and smiling. Who knew. At least that year I got a T-shirt.

So Junior year rolled around, and I was very excited for the Food Drive. After all, Kelly had moved out, which meant things couldn’t go wrong nearly as much as the last couple years, I could drive, which meant freedom and power no matter how you looked at it, and I had a brand new cell phone, which made me feel really cool. Most of all, I was an upperclassman. Nothing could stop me. I was absolutely sure it was going to be a banner year for the JHS Food Drive until the day I’d planned to begin canvassing, when my friend Patrick arrived to help me out and it started to rain. I don’t mean your-mama’s-sprinklers-in-August-because-you-feel-like-it rain, either. This was Noah’s Ark rain. This was rain like a your-sister-dumping-a-whole-frickin’-bucket-on-your-head-because-you-drowned-her-Ken-doll deluge. But I was determined. Patrick and I set out for the neighborhood we’d planned on anyway, figuring that if worst came to worst we could always just get back in the van and dry off.

We didn’t realize what a nice neighborhood we’d selected, though. The houses were hundreds of feet apart, and even if we drove from driveway to driveway, there were still long sprints through the downpour to get to the doors. Scanning our surroundings, Patrick casually said, “Maybe we should canvass later, Ken.” No, no, no. He didn’t understand. We were juniors, we were upperclassmen, and now was the time! I was in my groove, and any thought of giving up was treason. Canvass later? Canvass later, Ken? Yeah, paint later, Picasso! Compose later, Chopin! Teach later, Jesus! Actually, Jesus must have been listening to my arrogance, because He really tried his best to put me in my place. The first doorbell we rang brought us a weaselly-looking guy who said he’d see what he had. Trying to lift the canvassing morale while we were waiting for him to return, I cracked a joke about his appearance, something warm and witty, along the lines of “Jesus God, for his children’s sake, I hope he marries someone pretty.” I didn’t see that the intercom light was on. Oops. No soup for me. The next house found us face to face with a man who seemed nice enough, but when asked for nonperishables handed me an open, half-empty box of Cheerios. We politely told him that we could not accept opened items. He smiled, nodded, left, and returned with the same box of Cheerios, this time with the cardboard flap tucked in. Now we had to explain that the opposite of “opened” was “unopened,” not “closed.” When he came back the third time, he had removed the plastic bag of Cheerios from the cardboard box and stapled it shut, eighteen times. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t mocking us. He just didn’t quite get it. The next two houses gave us eight cans of garbanzo beans. I tried to explain to the five-year-old who was bringing us the cans that we had plenty of garbanzo beans, and he seemed to understand, but when I suggested maybe donating some box macaroni and cheese, he started to cry, so his father sprinted to the front room, saw me trying to explain myself to his bawling child, and shut the door in my face.

So far, we were not performing up to Chopin or Jesus standards. I decided that we’d try one last house, then give up. It seemed to be going really well until the old man asked to speak with my mother to prove I wasn’t just stealing his food. To make a long story short here, I dropped my cell phone in a puddle, and when I let the man take the phone so he could dry it off, he decided it would be more efficient to microwave the phone than to use a towel. That marked the end of last year’s canvassing experience.And now here I am, a Jesuit High School senior. I have one more try, and I’m going to make the best of it. No pity plays, no cross-dressing, no arrogance. I am going to put my all into it, from searching my pantry for cans to purchasing the rest at the grocery store. No, I’m kidding, I’ll canvass. Fourth time’s the charm, right? Right?


Note: I replaced sophomore year with something about it being disturbing and my therapist not letting me talk about it... I mentioned Kenrietta, skirts, and lip gloss. Also, Mike Merz advised me backstage that "some people haven't heard of Chopin" so I replaced him with Beethoven. 'Cause who hasn't heard of Beethoven?

Final point: none of it (except for the guy with the cheerios, and that was exaggerated) happened. And if it did, three words: statue of limitations.

[edit] I really am going canvassing, just not sure when. Anyone up for coordinating a massive sweep?


Shakeer said...

Dammit, I knew you'd secure the coveted exclusive blogging rights to that story first Ben!

PS. Ken, it's statute not statue of limitations.

Adrianna said...

Bravo, Ken! Another masterpiece... you crack me up. Oh, and I'm a go for canvassing. Andrea and her sophomore buddy already hit up my territory. Pssht, next door neighbors who go to Jesuit can offer a lot of competition for this sort of thing. Aw, who am I kidding, I love that girl!

Cynda said...

What Ken was wrong?!?!?! My entire belief system has shattered...Ken tell me it was a typo....please....

Ken said...

Don't know if you'll believe me, Shakeer, but that really was a typo... damn, and I pride myself on that. Depressing.

Cynda said...

Oh thank God now I can rest easy tonight...well maybe not tonight I do have two essays to I guess I'll rest easy tomorrow night

Nancy said...

Yeah, I need to go canvassing too. I pledged a box and $5. Anyone wanna loan me $5..or some cans?