Shakespeare, Kung Fu, and the Manhattan Countryside
I was at the Governor's Honors Program, which I did actually attend for six weeks during the summer of 1997, when I was seventeen. It's an enrichment program for high school students who are selected to be the "best" in their subject areas from all over the state of Georgia.
I wasn't sure how old I was supposed to be in the dream. It seemed as if I was a college student, and I had been selected for a second version of GHP or something. The good thing was that GHP was taking place in a very fancy New York City hotel (as opposed to reality, in which it takes place at Valdosta State University in south Georgia). I was there as an English major, just as I had been before. Everyone there was someone I either knew from high school or from GHP four years ago.
We attended class with a guy named Eph Ely, the actual name of the guy who conducted my high school chorus when we sang in Carnegie Hall in 1995. In the dream, he was in charge of the English majors. For four hours a day, beginning at seven AM, we did all these crazy things with this guy, from pretending to be in Super Mario video games to trying to identify Shakespeare sonnets by their numbers. The purpose was to gain points: whenever we got an answer right or proved Mr. Ely to be wrong, we got a certain number of points. The first person to reach 600 points would be declared the best English student.
I saw plenty of people I hadn't seen since high school, people I thought I had forgotten about. Everyone was really friendly to me, and the dream made me realize that I did actually have a pretty good high school class.
For a while, we sat with Mr. Ely at a bunch of tables in the hotel's ballroom. He was talking about short stories, and he happened to mention J.D. Salinger. He said something about how every short story character should be as memorable as Franny Glass. Everyone around me was nodding and taking out the J.D. Salinger books they had conveniently brought with them. I was embarrassed that I hadn't brought mine. Mr. Ely asked all these really detailed questions about Salinger stories, and people started gaining points for answering correctly. I didn't get any points.
Later on, we were all allowed to participate in other activities. I wanted to do tae-bo, but I knew I probably wouldn't be very good at it. So I chose kung fu instead. I found the "kung fu room" in the hotel. There were two other girls there and they looked at me suspiciously as I came in. They could tell I was a shrimp and had never done kung fu before.
In the room, huge colored metal blocks hung on chains from the ceiling. The blocks swung out in front of you, and you were supposed to kick and punch them away. I wasn't very good at it. I kept hopping up on the blocks and swinging with them. I also kept saying that I was doing "ka-ra-tay" instead of kung fu. I remembered that this was the way Ross on Friends pronounced the word. And, suddenly, he showed up. He said I was "very good at ka-ra-tay." The other two girls in the room continued to stare at me, but this time their looks seemed to say that I knew something about kung fu that they didn't.
The dream shifted, and suddenly I was heading to breakfast in the lobby of the hotel. They had lots of fancy food, but we had to cook it ourselves. We were allowed to come in for breakfast at 6:00, but most of the GHP students didn't get there until much later. Before us, everyone who came into the lobby was Spanish, and they had a mariachi band that played the same songs every morning. This wasn't so bad at first, but by the third or fourth day, I couldn't take the music anymore. I came into the hotel lobby, and one of the Mexican songs was playing, and I started screaming and trying to run away. The elevator was open, and I jumped in with two other girls from my high school. They both hated the mariachi songs too. We were laughing and sighing with relief as we took the elevator up from the lobby.
That day in class, Mr. Ely brought in a bunch of famous actors. The students were supposed to do improvisations. I was assigned to do a skit with Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce from Frazier. They were sitting in an office talking, and I got down on my hands and knees and pretended to be a dog. I started saying "ruff ruff" and shaking my head back and forth. Then I went up to Kelsey Grammer and licked his knees. Mr. Ely thought my skit was the most creative out of anyone's.
That day, I also found out that there were actually two levels for each major. I ran into my roommate Margaret, who was also there for English. I asked how her classes were going, and she complained that they were too short. She said that they only got five minutes of English instruction per day. I decided not to tell her that I had been meeting famous actors and all. She told me that her teacher was a graduate student with pink hair. Marg was in the "low" English group, while I was in the "high" English group. I felt pretty cool.
The next day, my mom and sister came to visit me at the hotel. I took them in for breakfast after the mariachi band had left, and I tried to teach my sister how to make a crepe. She couldn't do it. I made a crepe for myself and then took a few strips of "fakin' bacon" made out of wheat gluten. They were white and gooey, but I ate them anyway.
In English class that day, Mr. Ely gave us one line from a Shakespeare sonnet, and he expected us to be able to recite the rest. We all started mumbling words as if we knew it. We all wanted to impress him and get points. Mr. Ely noticed that none of us really knew the sonnet and that we were just mouthing nonsense words.
"Laurie," he said. "would you care to recite the sonnet by yourself?"
"Um, sure," I said, and I recited the "Tomorrow and tomorrow" speech from Macbeth. Mr. Ely frowned at me. Later that day, when he decided he wanted to film us all in a movie, he gave me one of the smallest parts, and he gave my old friend Janet the starring role.
After class, we were allowed to go out and explore the city. I met Janet and my friend Emily outside the hotel.
"Does anyone want to go to Greenwich Village and drink coffee with me?" I said.
"Nope," they both said. They wanted to stay around the hotel.
So I went inside, where I met my friend Katie.
"You're here for GHP?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I'm just here to meet guys."
This was very much in character for her. I asked if she would like to get out of the hotel for a little while and do some exploring. She said she would, and so she and I and her roommate Eve and some other girl I didn't know headed out of the city in a Ford Explorer. I wasn't sure whose car it was, but Katie was driving, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat. I was holding a full jug of milk, for some reason. Eve was holding a gallon jug of orange juice.
Within minutes, we were out of the city and among farms and pastures. The girl we didn't know requested that we listen to Savage Garden, so Katie put on "The Animal Song" very loudly. Katie wasn't driving very well. She was trying to take the dirt roads that led through the pastures, swearing that one of them would be "a short cut to a really quaint town in Connecticut," but all she did was nearly tip the Ford Explorer and come dangerously close to plowing into some cows. She finally stopped the Explorer on a dirt road, and we all got out and started walking. I was still carying the jug of milk, which was getting really heavy.
After walking a few miles, we saw a small yellow house off in some woods. We walked up to it and saw that a few men in overalls were standing in the backyard.
"I'm sure they're really nice backwoodsy types," Katie said. "They'll definitely help us get back to New York."
Katie was wrong. The men were angry with us for trespassing and told us we were stupid for leaving the city in the first place. The dream ended with the four of us still stuck in the country with a gallon of milk and a gallon of orange juice.