Charisma Up the Wazoo
This poem was written in 1981 about Scott McClelland, who was seventeen when I was teaching art at James Fowler High School. Scott wasn't exactly one of my students, but you'd never know it: he was actually in the class of the other art teacher, but since both classes shared a room with only a partial division between them, Scott was always able to bop over to my side. Not that I minded. He was more enthused about what he was trying to do than most students, and he had a vivid imagination and a natural talent that made many things come easily to him. Eventually, I thought of him as my (adopted) student, if there is such a thing.
At the time, the Star Wars movies were very big (the first time around), and Scott was trying to do a sculpture of Yoda, from memory. I had very little patience with this, and told him he should hunt down some photos of Yoda before he went any farther. We had that kind of relationship: he would ask for my advice, I would give it without pulling any punches, he would make excuses and complain bitterly about what I said, but he'd come back for more. I think he knew I cared enough not to dismiss him out of hand, and not to take the easy out of flattery. The Yoda turned out pretty good.Scott had been a magician since he was thirteen. I'd never seen Scott's magic act when I wrote the poem, but he told me about his guillotine act, where the nervous subject hopes his or her finger will not be chopped off. I had seen Scott dressed up as a mime: he has the kind of strong features that can actually survive white face, and the right kind of natural energy to make it work without seeming forced, like most mimes. The suspenders he wore as a mime had rainbow stripes -- "the echoing elastic rainbows" of the poem.
Scott was an extremely noticeable and memorable person, even at seventeen. When he walked into a room he electrified it. Suddenly, I understood what they meant when they said someone had presence: it's even rarer than being photogenic, and I've only ever met two photogenic people in my life. You think you know what presence is, until you experience it: then you know you didn't have a clue. Scott had an incredible store of what I thought of as energy, but not physical energy particularly, but a kind of energy of personality. I swear, you could be blindfolded, and feel him walk into a room. He was a born entertainer. He really needed a stage. If you want to get some sense him, think about Jim Carrey, including his over-the-top energy, and incredibly elastic face.
Anyway, I wrote this poem in a fit of enthusiasm, and I showed it to Scott, who was impressed, but not altogether certain what I meant by "the incredible convexities and concavities of his face," or the "penny-dreadful grin," which I did my best to explain (he really did look like the face in a lot of those old penny-dreadful cards).
I determined that, once I was no longer teaching at his school, I would pursue his friendship (the only student I became friends with: quite an exception, considering I'd taught over 30,000 kids in my 6-year stint as a substitute teacher). I was only teaching at Fowler for one semester, substituting for the other permanent art teacher, so it wasn't long before I felt free to see Scott from time to time, making sure I caught his Medicine Show (a vaudeville-style magic act) at the Calgary Stampede every year.
In August of 1984, I ran into Scott downtown. Always in the forefront of the latest fad, he was on his way to buy a Ghostbusters T-shirt from the first shipment to hit Calgary. By then, we were just old acquaintances, the teacher-student thing having become irrelevant. We spent the next week getting reacquainted, and he invited me to his 20th birthday party, where I met my (future) husband, John Hooker, who had acted with Scott in a haunted-house gig called "The Black Castle." Scott was always riding on a wave of interesting fate and fortune, and I thought it appropriate that he should bring John and me together in such an unlikely way.
Scott is still an entertainer, and the last time I saw him, he was travelling with his new show, the Carnival Diablo. This year (2001), he saw this writeup, and emailed us that he would be back in Calgary for Christmas, so we hope to see him again, after nearly ten years!
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