by Don Hall
When I was in fourth grade, my mother moved us to Peoria, Arizona. We lived in a trailer park - the kind with trailers without wheels sitting on lots with cacti everywhere all in a tiny subdivision. I started my school year at Alta Loma Elementary School and my new best friend was Tom Flaherty.
Tom was a stutterer and so he made an excellent friend to the smartass new kid from Kansas. He also was as completely reckless as the smartass kid.
It turned out the summer before fifth grade (and before we moved to Phoenix) the rage on the several blocks surrounding our respective trailers was the venerable Lemonade Stand. Kids all down three streets had set up little stands and were charging a quarter for a glass of cold, watered down, shitty lemonade.
Tom and I wanted in on some of that easy spending cash but Tom and I were not normal. We looked around and where some might see an opportunity to sell better lemonade or find an optimal location to sell fruit punch, we saw an absence of...pancakes.
I understand now that pancakes in the heat of an Arizona mid-day makes no sense. I understand that even another completely unoriginal lemonade stand would have been a better idea than a stand selling roadside pancakes. But Tom and I were about the originality, not the business savvy. And what could possibly be more original than getting my mom to make several stacks of pancakes, go get four or five bottles of syrup, some paper towels and a sign that said “PANCAKES! 3 For $1.00."
We set up our stand in a high traffic area of the block. We put up our sign and displayed our pancakes (with surplus carefully sealed away in foil. And we waited for the money to roll in.
Person after person walked by and laughed or ignored us. I decided we needed some razzle dazzle to get their attention. So I got up on the table and sang.
Unfortunately for me, I have some disconnect in my brain that refuses to let me memorize lyrics to songs without a great deal of effort. So I could only sing the one line hook of any one song at a time.
“Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody. I’ve got my money cuz I just got paid.”
“Blue jean baby queen, prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. See her face on the movie screen. Rock on.”
“What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happening.’ What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happening.’
For hours, I sang and danced. For hours, people passed our pancake stand by. Tom got bored and started eating the pancakes. I would take a pancake break or two myself. At one point, Tom went home and borrowed a dollar so he and I could get a couple of glasses of lemonade - it was hot and pancakes make you thirsty.
I wish I could say that the experience taught me something but given that as an adult I founded a theater company that produced DADA shows (nonsense poetry with an audience alienation bent), improv that was dramatic rather than funny and decidedly non-commercial fair, and starting a nationally known story slam with a poem for five years, I’m pretty sure the lesson didn’t really land.
“Different isn’t always good,” an actor once told me as I described another whack-ass show I was thinking of producing.
“Different is always good." I replied. "It’s just rarely commercial."
I'll add that different is always good but it is rarely popular.