Good Night, Mary Ellen. Good Night, Miss M


It was my senior year in high school. I sat in the second desk in the fifth row in a rather sassy and self-assured AP English class. Our instructor, Miss M, was insistent that we be versed in oratory, so she insisted further that we constantly read aloud: narratives, ballads of olde, and excerpts from the classics. Without fail or exception, I was always one of the select few called upon to deliver.

It was not that I was without the inclination or the talent. The child of a writer and an oft public speaker, I was well aware of the impact of pauses, intonation, and the general drama of the “read.” After all, I had such home tutelage since I was in “kindergarten for the disgustingly precocious!”

My timber was extremely deep with a mature resonance, having gone through “the transition” of voice at age ten or so. Those teenage years were cursed in that friends’ mothers always obsessed over my sexy speech … which drew even more attention to my bookishness and reserved ways. I was always afraid that I was becoming a novelty but, as high school unfolded, I soon realized that such a mixed gift was simply one of so MANY, many issues.

But I digress.

Early in the initial quarter of my senior year, Miss M insisted that I read aloud a lengthy passage from the “Faerie Queene” and was unrelenting, urging me to continue. When the class drew to a close, I welcomed such relief.Mmy classmates sighed, noting the ease at which I had read. Of course, I was embarrassed: neither wanting to be a focus of such a discussion nor be complimented and possibly mocked. And then the “coup de grace”: Tena F. added “oh, you sound so much like Johnboy when you read, Mark!” You should note, my friends, that this was in the prime of “The Waltons” era.


Not only was I destined to be my English class’ reluctant lector, but I sensed it would escalate with increased regularity. And I would be yet forced to humbly tolerate being likened to a television character … one that I found obnoxiously principled and , moreover, from a show I found sappy and predictable. Needless to say, I read aloud twice a week usually for a half hour for two semesters; graduated; and never looked back.

That is, until years later, when doing a voice over for some commercials. Overall, it was a dreadful experience: I was rather nervous and fidgety. Would I merit their interest and belief in my ability? Would I effectively create a vocal allure for this sixty second spot, one that felt like hours but lapsed in mere moments?  What would my friends and neighbors think?

My thoughts turned to the ever-stern, but prodding Miss M and my thirty or so discriminating classmates. Hell, I conquered a much tougher audience than this small studio! We wrapped up the recording session shortly thereafter and the director turned to me and matter-of-factly said:
 “That was great, Mark, very professional. And your delivery reminded me of that narrator on that old TV show, “The Waltons!” What was his name? Oh yes. Johnboy!”

Oh, the pangs in life are cloyingly bittersweet!

(Image: “No.358” by David Dalla Venezia, 2003.)