Happy Thanksgiving. Long time readers might recall me mentioning long ago a particular affection for Woody Guthrie. What you don’t know, unless you have known me for twenty years, is that it began with his son Arlo. Today, I wanted to tell you the story. Then I want to follow up the story with the best version of Alice’s Restaurant complete with the Richard Nixon story ending. Before I get there though I would ask that for proper understanding of this story you all remember the simple meandering guitar while reading the rest of this post.
You see it all started about 20 Thanksgiving ago, that is 20 years ago Thanksgiving, when myself, my buddy Glen, and our debate coach Ron had an idea. This was not just any idea. They had an idea to make a skinny debater into an actor. I real live bonafide cry on demand actor. The only problem is that I am not an actor. Their solution was that I wasn’t going to act.
You see they had the idea that I could perform a song called Alice’s Restaurant. I said, “but Ron, I can’t act, I can’t sing, and I definitely can’t play guitar.” He said, “good.”
You see all that was really necessary to recreate Alice’s Restaurant was to speak slowly and kind of funny. I was good at that. Then they said at one point you gotta hold your breath and get all red. I could do that too. So I decided to give it a try.
They entered me in an event called “prose.” I only had one other concern. “Coach” I said “This isn’t prose, it’s a song.” He said, “It isn’t if you don’t sing it.”
When I went to that first tournament I felt a little strange. You see I was a debater. We wore suits. We carried filing cabinets. These people all wore black. They looked like they bought all their clothes straight from the Johnny Cash collection. As they read selections from David Bowie’s book club, I felt a little out of place. Then this girl dressed in all black stood up and read something from a book called “The Bell Jar” by some woman named Sylvia. I was worried about that girl. I also finally know why Syliva’s mother was so worried too (If you are over 50, you might want to reread that last line.)
You see after that girl sat down, I stood up and said in my best actor’s voice, “This here is a story about Alice’s Restaurant” and the room looked at me like I was crazy. You see in my performance no one died, no one cried, and no one harbored a deep seeded resentment for their father. It was all pretty calm until I got to the point where I held my voice, turned bright red and said, “Shrink, I wanna kill.” I don’t know if you can imagine a six foot tall 125 pound boy with a voice capable of landing him in the Vienna Boy’s Choir jumping up and down while beet red shouting, “I wanna kill”, but that is what I did. Then I finished up and sat down.
I did that again for the next round. Then later on that day my coach told me something peculiar. He said, “David you need to do it one more time because you made the finals.” So I did it one more time. Later that day they had an awards ceremony. I stood up next to all of the other kids in their black clothes on a big stage. It took a long time for them to call my name. In fact I was the only person left after they called the names of all of the kids in black. When they called my name they handed me a trophy that said, “First Place Prose.” I took my trophy and went to sit down. After it was over the girl who read from that book about bells and jars came up to me and said, “Alice’s Restaurant isn’t prose.” I looked at her and said, “I disgree, because it says prose right here on this first place trophy.”
I did the same thing a few more weekends. I got a few more of those first place trophies, Then I got to take a trip with some other actors and my coach Ron to the state tournament. I did my Alice’s Restaurant a few more times. Then they called me into the final round again. After that I stood on a really big stage in front of a whole lot of people. I was up there with all of the other kids in black when a strange thing happened. They called my name first. Instead of one of those fancy trophies they gave me a little medal.
Afterwards I looked at the ballot that judge had filled out and it said, “Alice’s Restaurant is not prose.” I said to myself, “that is what I thought but is sure beats the heck out of that crap all those depressed kids kept talking about.”
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Without further ado here is Alice’s Restaurant: