Childhood = 100 Years Ago

Tom and Huck (and ADD)

Place: Tacoma, WA

Throughout 4th grade, my friend Alan Mann and I shared one common dream: achieving fame and publicly lauded genius status before high school. Somehow, some way, we’d be rich and famous. Our financial independence would allow us familial emancipation and the ability to buy a house where we and all of our friends would live. At our manor, the only adult allowed would be our English butler, Mr. Higgens, whom we’d play endless demeaning pranks on. But don’t feel bad for Mr. Higgens, we were positive he would always respond with witty one-liners and derogatory, but respectful, jabs.

“Take that, Mr. Higgens! We mock your having to work for a living.        Ha ha.”

Now, in order to accrue the theoretical lifestyle that we were quickly growing accustomed to, we had to do something of greatness, something that no one would believe was carried out by two fourth graders. From there, the ideas came to us like floodwater and we embraced each with an enthusiasm unmatched since Bugsy Siegel envisioned the Flamingo Hotel.  The way we saw it, the more things we tried, the more likely it was that lightning would strike. It was a similar logic that lead thousands of gold hungry Forty-Niners to their poverty-ridden deaths after years of backbreaking work. No way that could backfire!

“Is gettin’ rich worth the rickets, dysentery, hepatitis, cholera, dismemberment and frostbite? Yer darn tootin!”

Inspiration came when I watched a behind-the-scenes special that looked into the making of a Showtime original movie, something about a father and son lost in the woods and their brave attempt to survive in the wild. The lead actor, when asked of the experience as a whole, had said, “This is one of the funnest projects I’ve worked on. I love my job. It’s like getting paid to play in a big backyard.”

Wait a sec! I liked to play in my backyard and if making movies was like that, then filmmaking was our ticket to fame.

Later, I explained to Alan how, “…all we need to do is get a camera an’ some microphones on sticks an’ we could totally make our own movie. How hard can it be?”

Alan’s dad had an old 8mm hidden somewhere in the house. So, one night, Alan waited for the right moment, then approached his dad about using the camera. In what could only be attributed to his THC-induced haze of judgment, this usually A-hole of a man actually said, “Sure. Whatta you gonna use it for?”

“Mike an’ me are gonna make a movie.”

Before going to retrieve the camera, Mr. Mann looked at Alan with what was no doubt an alien look: an ounce of pride. “That’s dynamite,” he said. Handing over the camera and some film, Mr. Mann doled out some heartfelt advice. “Be careful, though,” he said. “There’s lots of Jews in Hollywood.”

“I wish my dad warned me about the Hollywood Jews.”

Quickly, we decided upon our first feature: a film adaptation of Tom Sawyer. It was perfect. It had adventure and fishing and treasure, an Indian and the characters were our age.

Camera bag in tow, we began scouting locations (that’s showbiz speak for ‘places to film’). Not far from our school, Idlewild Elementary, sat Lost Lake, which we immediately deemed the perfect spot to represent the Mississippi River. It was isolated enough that we could film without problems (i.e. older kids beating us up and taking the camera), there were overhanging branches, lots of mud, even one partially submerged trees from which to sit and fish through the thick, shag carpet of algae. The way we saw it, since neither of us had the slightest clue as to what the Mississippi actually looked like, what were the odds anyone else would know the difference between it and a pond? We were so keyed up about the pond, er, massive river, that we forgot to seek out a picket fence to paint or a cave to get lost in.

The Mighty Mississippi, Old Man River, the Muddy Miss, the Ol’ Blue, in all of its magnificent splendor.

Casting was simple. Alan wanted to be Huck Finn, which left the part (not to mention title character) of Tom Sawyer to yours truly. For what was no doubt upwards of several minutes, we toiled over what girl we could get to play Becky Thatcher. Secretly, I wanted Kara Pennyday, but I wasn’t about to admit it. “I don’t wanna kiss some girl,” I said.

“It’s in the story,” Alan argued.

“I don’ care. You kiss her, then.”

“Nuh-uh. In the book, Tom Sawyer….”

“I don’ wanna do it. Everyone’ll laugh.”

Alan thought this over. “Well, what about we dress my brother up like a girl an’ then you just gotta kiss him?”

“Yeah, that might work.” –Eventually, the character of Becky Thatcher was omitted all together, but we still needed more casting.

One day, after school, we approached Erique as he was unlocking his bike. “Hey, um, you wanna be in our movie?”

“Movie?” he asked with a smile. “For real?”

“Totally,” I said. “We’re making a Tom Sawyer movie an’ we wanna know if you wanna be the Indian Injun Joe.” –We had overlooked the fact that a 10-year old was being asked to play a middle-aged man. The fact was, Erique had dark skin, that’s all we saw.

Erique asked when the filming would take place and we told him on the weekends. “No can do,” he said. “I got Little League on the weekends. Sorry. I’d like to see it when you finish it, though.”

As desperate times called for desperate measures, we made the decision to only mention Injun Joe when necessary. For example, “Good thing we got away from Injun Joe before he could hurt us in that cave where he’s trapped, now.”

Look closely. That’s actually a toy playing Injun Joe. Most people think it’s a real-life, green actor, but it’s a toy. That is movie magic!

Otherwise, the character of Injun Joe would be represented by shadows and camera tricks. A distant shot of a feather sticking up from behind a log; a plastic toy would be just as convincing when we added the line, “Hey, there’s Injun Joe way-y-y-y down there next to that gigantic twig tree.”

When it came time to write the script, Alan, who even had difficulty writing his ‘What I want for Christmas’ essay, left me in charge. So, in the matter of two hours, I managed, with the talent of any great Cliff Notes author, to transcribe the entire novel into half a page. This incredible literary feat was accomplished by condensing entire chapters, less all dialogue  (I figured we would, “…just make up stuff when we’re filmin’,”) into one-line entries:

In retrospect, I strongly believe Mark Twain’s ghost would have been duly justified in returning from the dead and snapping my neck in a copyright-driven fit of rage.

As the first day of the shoot neared, we fastened homemade fishing poles, got our costumes ready (Alan found a straw cowboy hat in his brother’s room and used a pair of scissors to cut more jagged edges in the brim, while I borrowed my dad’s red suspenders) and began preparing our Oscar speeches.

That morning we were to begin, Alan’s mom asked, “Where are you going in that junky old hat? You look like a hobo.”

With rare enthusiasm, Alan explained our project, to which Mrs. Mann replied, “I don’t want you near that pond! It’s filthy! You’ll get malaria!”

Alan was immediately and irrationally grounded, thus ending the updated and bastardized retelling of the adventures of Tom and Huck and a plastic Injun Joe.

Thanks a lot, malaria!

40 thoughts on “Tom and Huck (and ADD)”

  1. That ending was not what I expected, but it was great nonetheless. I love stories about kids and their zany ideas. Because they’re always hilarious and at the time, they seem like AWESOME, brilliant ideas that can’t possibly fail. You know, until the malaria kicks in.


  2. Oh my gosh, I love this. My neighborhood bestie and I were always trying to come up with get rich quick schemes that would enable us to live a life of kooky kid-only luxury, similar to what you describe. We had a poor sense of what qualified as “rich” though, so we collected cans for recycling and planned–but never executed–a house-cleaning business.


  3. Our attempt at movie greatness had a dozen kids. And smoke bombs.
    And nail polish for blood.

    I think we ended with twelve minutes of one of us just running around waving his hands.
    Your script was more polished though…


        1. I watched films I made in high school. They were sooooo bad. I can’t imagine how bad my Tom and Huck would have been. Your movie using nail polish sounds more, well, polished.


          1. We spent waaaay too much time arguing about how the blood would have flowed from a gunshot wound in an arm.
            And thinking about it now, I believe we were using glossy pink we nicked from someones sister.


  4. Bolshie longhairs offend just about everybody.
    This was a great story. I haven’t been reading Bold Lies and Other Garbage long enough to know if these characters (albeit real ones) show up in any of your other stuff. Alan’s parents seem like pretty interesting characters. Did he turn out okay?


    1. His parents were awful. They blamed this poor kid for anything and everything wrong in their miserable lives. I’m not really sure what happened to him after I moved. I’ve tried looking him up, but his name (his real name, I change names for stories like this unless I can get that person’s okay) is just common enough to make it impossible.


    1. She really was. This poor kid’s home life had about as much love in it as a murder trial. This poor kid had to wear footy pajamas years after he outgrew them and his feet broke through the ends. And they weren’t even poor.


  5. Le Calahan,
    When I was young, my friend and I had a similar plan to yours: before the age of sixteen, we would be married to Jeannie and The Flying Nun. I shit you not…not to Barbara Eden nor to Sally Field, but to their characters. And we had a plan to drive South to Hollywood, and fulfill our dreams. Our parents had other plans for us, and we ended up in our respective beds with a glass of milk.
    Le Clown


    1. Did you have any idea that nuns couldn’t marry? The first thing that came to mind was the image of Le Clown jumping off a building as TFN passed by and stealing a kiss before plunging several stories.

      In this post-9/11 world, though, I don’t know how far Sally Field could fly without being shot down.


  6. Wow, you guys could have really made it 🙂 Seriously, my sisters and I spent hours drawing detailed pictures of aspirational mansions we would live in some day but we never actually dreamed of doing anything to acquire the necessary wealth. Hats off to your entrepreneurial spirit!


  7. Recognize the City of Destiny!
    “If I forget thee, O T-Town, let my right hand forget its cunning…”

    I don’t actually know “Lost Lake,” or I know it by another name. There are a bunch of lakes tucked back there, it’s enough that I can remember Steilacoom, Louise and American.


    1. Lost Lake was tucked away, that’s for sure. There was a Lost Lake Resort somewhere in WA, but this particular Lost Lake was really just a pond and breeding ground for spores and muck.


  8. It’s so sad that Tacoma was airlifted to the Southern Hemisphere. That must have made fourth grade very difficult.

    I was about the same age when my friends and I decided to make a movie. I wish I had a copy of the script. It involved unicorns and princesses, if you can believe that! I know, most little girls HATE unicorns and princesses.

    Production got as far as making tissue paper flowers with several rolls of yellow and blue toilet paper and affixing them to a white plastic garbage bag for the princess’ dress. That got boring, so we decided to give up and terrorize our younger siblings instead.

    P.S. I love your rotating photos and BLOG-cronyms!


    1. Thanks for the compliment. As of today, there are 20 of those things in rotation, so hopefully you’ll see a new one if/when you return.

      Making a princess dress out of a garbage bag sounds amazing. Please, tell me there is a photo of one of you wearing that. Do you remember the plot of the unicorn-princess movie, at all?


      1. No photo. The dress, sadly, was never completed. It wasn’t very practical for the humid southern clime.

        It was my first attempt at writing a story, with illustrations and all. Drawing unicorns was my spesh–ee-al-it-tee. The plot was not memorable, though maybe it’s stored away somewhere deep in my unconscious. Maybe we’ll be lucky and it will come back to me in a dream.


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