In retrospect, I probably should have gone the day before and stayed the night. Instead, I got up early and drove. Like the famous shopping scene from Pretty Woman, it was a “BIG mistake!”
I was doing a presentation for a school in Franklin, Louisiana. I was anticipating a tough crowd. The school was not doing well academically, and, as a result, my workshop was a command performance from the DOE. To make matters worse, it was being held on a Saturday, the same day as the popular Crawfish Festival in the nearby town of Breaux Bridge.
Leaving New Orleans at four in the morning, I had plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, though, there was a thick fog covering the Atchafalaya like a roux, and traffic on I-10 was backed up from Beaumont to Baton Rouge. At the little town of Sorrento, I took a detour. I turned south toward Morgan City and crossed the Mississippi on the Sunshine Bridge.
I figured it might be a shortcut.
My trek across the swamp took longer than it did for John Hanning Speke to discover the source of the Nile. And, my journey was probably just as eerie as his. Among the misty cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, I couldn’t help but think of the 1981 film, Southern Comfort, a Cajun version of Deliverance. I could almost hear “Dueling Accordions” wailing off in the distance.
I tried to call the school, but there was no reception. And, I couldn’t exactly consult WAZE since the app, or apps for that matter, didn’t exist yet.
When I finally reached Franklin, I was a good 45 minutes late. Entering the auditorium, I felt like Roger Moore on that tiny island in the alligator scene from Live and Let Die. I was in hostile territory. And, I didn’t have any cool gadgets from Q.
Like Alexander at Issus or Nelson at Trafalgar, I needed a bold plan. I would kick off the show with a riveting story that ended with a smashing crescendo. I would then facilitate a number of engaging, real-world activities, shower the crowd with resources and SWAG like Mardi Gras beads from Endymion, and then, for my coup de grâce, serve up boiled crawfish from New Iberia!
It was a fine plan! Definitely bold. But, alas, my coup de grâce got delivered prematurely…
When doing presentations, I always used a yellow Whiffle bat as a pointer. It was eye-catching, light, and fun to wield around like a sword. And, when I rapped it against a blackboard, or even a child’s head, it made a loud noise, but didn’t cause any significant damage.
Two minutes into my monologue, I came to the painful realization that my riveting story was anything but riveting. Peering into the audience, I noticed the Assistant Principal reading USA Today, several teachers playing solitaire on their laptops, and two coaches in the back loudly debating the Saints’ recent draft choices. So, I skipped ahead to my smashing crescendo.
I landed the punch line with an awkward pirouette, yelled the Cajun version of the cowboy, “Yee-haw!” “Ayeee!” and then slammed my Whiffle bat against an empty desk in the front row. There was a thunderous “Crack!” “If my audience hadn’t been paying attention before,” I thought, “it certainly would be now!”
When the bat hit the table, all heads popped up from their sundry, non-workshop-related tasks and glared at me through bulging eyes.
All but one, that is. A large, older woman in the second row craned her head toward the ceiling instead. She clutched her chest, gasped for breath, tipped over backwards in her chair, and collapsed on the floor like a sack of oysters. The audience shrieked, looked at the woman with concern, and then back at me with scorn.
I was the actor, John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre, only there was nowhere to jump!
As the paramedics carted the woman off on a gurney, the principal pulled me aside and said, “Mr. Dunbar, I think we’re done for the day.”
I looked down and shook my head in agreement.
I called to cancel the crawfish order, loaded up the car with bags of undistributed SWAG, and headed back across the Atchafalaya. The fog had lifted; the traffic was light.
Postmortem: I am happy/relieved to report that the woman survived. She and the school both eventually recovered from the ordeal – without my assistance I might add. As for me, I traded in my Whiffle bat for a Nerf sword. “En garde!”
Folwell Dunbar is an educator, artist and survivor of several disastrous workshops. He can be reached at email@example.com