meme (2)I was cast as one of two narrators in the kindergarten play. Hutchison Elementary, 1983. The Tawny, Scrawny Lion, adapted from a Little Golden Book. The script was ditto’d in landscape format, and sent home weeks in advance; the lavender lettering Mrs. Bunting was careful to highlight for each student. Tiny Erica Kuzma was Narrator 2. Narrators 1 and 2 were to alternate lines and sport the same costumes, inspired intertextually by the production of The Hobbit that the 6th-grade gifted & talented kids put on earlier that semester: red felt beanies laid like yarmulkes over the head, long white tunics, tights the color of little chicks. Mike Grubb—wild, ravenous—got typecast as the title character.

Hutchison held two stages. The one along the east wall of the cafetorium was wide with an accordioned, hard-plastic curtain and reserved for schoolwide assemblies and large-scale productions. The Tawny, Scrawny Lion got booked in The Theater, a tiered-floor, low-ceilinged room of yellow carpet annexed off the library where book fair browsing took place every spring, as well as Young Astronauts Club. Parents of the cast members were a wall of big smiles. The chairs they sat their off-work asses in were brown, stackable plastic. Mrs. Bunting in the corner held poster boards filled with the script, because no five-year-old can be trusted with a line.

A précis: In some Hicksian forest, a lion has a set menu of animals he devours each day. Bears on Thursday, camels on Friday. Given all the running, claims Tawny-Scrawny, he can’t ever feel full. Hence the skin stretched so taut the other animals can count his ribs. His hunger affects his logic. ”You could stop running,” he suggests. ”I would get less tired and eat fewer of you.” The other animals, played by tots keeping safe the milk money in their corduroys, beseech a rabbit passing through: help us with this idiot. The rabbit tells T-S of a carrot stew he’s fixing at home, with the help of four fat brothers and five fat sisters. T-S drools over the very word fat and agrees to follow. The rabbit takes his sweet time getting home, picking berries, fishing in a pond, gathering mushrooms. By the time they arrive at the family warren, by the time the stew is ready, T-S is about to feast. Instead, the rabbit siblings offer him a bowl, and Tawny-Scrawny is for the first time in his life fully glutted, and everyone’s lesson’s learned.

But what lesson, exactly? The Tawny, Scrawny Lion is not a triumph of vegetarianism, for there are dead fish thrown in the stewpot. Pescetarianism, perhaps, but at no point does the rabbit—played hammily by future playground girlfriend Deborah Agurkis—teach the lion how to fish. The lion eats only for a day. Tomorrow he’ll wake up hungry, and terror will return to the jungle.

Back then, nobody brought guns to Hutchison, but Chris Yarborough went out of his way to punch kids bigger than him and kick them when they fell, and to do it all again once freed from the principal’s office. Of every kid in school he was the angriest, with the kind of smile we prize in four-year All-Americans. Twenty-six years later he raped a child in Culpeper.

Mike Grubb became a ”Weird Al” fan who drew faces on the edges of his fists. “’Sallright? ’Sallright,” they’d say. He never tired of it, a new set of lips each school day, and eyes of different shapes. During Cursive, they’d float in close to classmates’ faces, angling always only for a kiss.


Dave Madden is the author of The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy and the story collection, If You Need Me I’ll Be Over There, forthcoming in May. His shorter work’s appeared in Harper’s, The Normal School, The Rumpus, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco.

Photo by Marcia Krause Bilyk