My friend Diane was an unrepentant practitioner of practical jokes: her favorite was staging a “performance” in a public place.
The first time she picked me up at the Dayton airport, I was staring at the luggage carousel when suddenly she said, “Does your wife know you are here?” Not married, I turned to see whom she was talking to; when I didn’t reply, she grabbed me by the shoulders and shouted, “You haven’t told your wife about me!” About this time, everyone around us were silent and looking in our direction. I was perplexed and embarrassed until I realized it was a performance and then I joined in with, “No, you know her temper and that she is deadly with a pistol.” At that point, I retrieved my bag and we left a muttering group of strangers behind as we exited the terminal.
Diane had other routines. In one, she would whisper loudly, “Make sure you get the right suitcase. I put the money in it” and in another, “That’s an undercover cop over there and I think he has spotted us.” I saw little harm in playing along with her, enjoying the theatrics, until I was the victim of her ultimate performance.
Flying in from Toronto, I was looking forward to taking my future wife, Terri, to dinner. As I exited the jet way, suddenly a 6’ 7” gorilla of a man grabbed me by the lapels of my coat and flung me against the airport wall. Holding me off the floor, with his face close to mine, he loudly exclaimed, “This time I’m going to make sure you are not going to get out of here without marrying my sister.” He stepped aside and standing there, appearing to be pregnant and wearing a wedding gown and veil, was Terri.
Scared and in shock, I couldn’t comprehend what was going on until I saw—standing next to Terri wearing a bridesmaid’s dress, corsage and carrying a bouquet of flowers—Diane and knew it was a performance. In front of us appeared a minister and—wearing a suit complete with a boutonniere—my close friend Frank, as he declared that he was the best man, stepped to my side.
I could hear the comments of the crowd that had gathered around us: “It’s a wedding, right here in the airport;” “She’s going to have a baby, that’s why they’re making her marry him” and my favorite, “Her brother may need a shotgun to get her to marry him!” The crowd grew silent as the preacher—it turned out he really was a minister, who from then on was stuck with the nickname: the “not so right” reverend Kreps—began the ceremony and when he pronounced us man and wife, they erupted in cheers.
We didn’t tell the onlookers that the wedding they “attended” was theater and over 25 years later, I’m sure there are people who still tell the story of the “shotgun” wedding.
Part of the human makeup, people engage in theatrics beginning at an early age. I remember at three-years old, my son interrupting a tantrum to make sure people were looking. It’s true that the lessons learned early are often used later.
The members of a board of directors of an association I was managing were having a spirited discussion when suddenly one stood, gathered his papers, announced his resignation and stomped from the room leaving a stunned and silent group of colleagues. Concerned, I followed and found him outside the door laughing about his performance.
The three-year old and the member of the board of directors both understood—as do many others—by utilizing theatrics they could manipulate the behavior of others. I am suspicious when people are unexpectedly emotional and I have learned to not respond to melodramatic outbursts.
“The world’s a theatre, the earth a stage,
Which God and nature do with actors fill.” – John Heywood