Playing With Fire by Craig J. Clark

This was the last piece of fiction published in Pork Pony before it slipped into a coma. It actually made me pretty sad to look at this and realize PP ended here. It's a very, very funny and well-written slab of story. People really wanted the site to keep going, but I just couldn't do it anymore. I feel like I let a lot of people down by disappearing for a while, but now we're back and all is well. If I had to end on any story, I'm glad it was one by Craig, one of the most consistently funny, enthusiastic, and grammatically-capable writers for PP. In this story, Adrian Zmed visits a college campus and hilarity ensues. (CL)

I knew I was asking for trouble. In a way, that's kind of why I did it in the first place. I should explain.

It was the spring of my senior year at Barstow State College, and as president and sole member of the Fire-Eaters Society - a club I had started in my sophomore year and which never really "caught fire" with the student body (if you'll forgive the pun) - I had a certain amount of funding to "burn off" before the end of the term. (There I go again.)

In previous years, I had spent my allotted budget, which came directly from the Student Activities Fund, on equipment - fire-eating torches, lighter fluid and the like - and recruitment efforts. However, with no one to "carry the torch" after my graduation - the result of my less-than stellar recruiting drives - I wanted to take what remained in the coffers and do something which would be burned into the memories of my fellow undergraduates. (I'm sorry. I'll stop doing that.)

Very quickly, I realized that whatever I did, it couldn't have anything to do with fire-eating. For some reason, fire-eating had never caught the student population's imagination, even when I did demonstrations during the annual All-Nighters. No one even batted an eye when I had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital with a singed trachea my junior year. I guess they were just jaded.

With fire-eating-related activities out, I cast about for an alternative and finally decided that I should use the Society's funds to invite someone controversial to speak at the college. Unfortunately, I only had a few hundred dollars at my disposal, the SAF Board having chosen to give more money to organizations such as the student newspaper, the student theater group and, of course, themselves. (Am I the only person who saw a conflict of interest when they voted to give themselves several thousand dollars to go on a skiing trip to Vail, Colorado? I think not.)

On the plus side, there were many other campus organizations in the same boat as the Fire-Eaters Society, and, after some convincing, I managed to get enough money out of such groups as the Tag-Team Chess Club, the Mauve Appreciation Society, the David Copperfield (the Dickens character, not the illusionist) Fan Club, the Reasonably Flat Earth Society, Jews for George Steinbrenner, the Omnisexual Alliance (a group that promised to have sex with anyone and anything at any time, membership: one), The Hen's Tooth (the student literary magazine, which never got around to publishing a single issue the whole time I was in school), the Virtual Parasailing Club, the Illogical Negativists, and the 15-strong Ocarina Choir to make an enticing enough offer to... Adrian Zmed.

Yes, Adrian Zmed - the man who dared to replace Deney Terrio as the host of "Dance Fever."

When I made the announcement that Zmed would be coming to the college to speak, there was enough of an uproar that I knew my instincts had been right. My actions were condemned by the administration, I was vilified by the campus radio station, and the student newspaper went so far as to compare me to Hitler, Charles Whitman and the Prince of Darkness. I still have the editorial cartoon that showed my mangled corpse (which had already been hanged and tarred and feathered) being violated by a masked figure which was identified as "The Student Body." Clearly, I had struck a nerve.

All this was a mere warm-up compared to the day that Adrian Zmed arrived on campus, though. The administration had hired extra security, but the phalanx of protesters which gathered in front of the student center - which was where the speech was to take place - turned out to be larger than they had anticipated. And despite the outrage - or perhaps because of it - the event had been sold out for weeks in advance, and a standing-room-only crowd awaited Zmed's entrance.

I had not gone to pick him up at the train station - I had my hands full fielding phone calls from the media and my team of lawyers - but I did get to meet Zmed briefly in the green room before I had to go out and introduce him. He shook my hand and told me how much he appreciated being given a forum to speak, and I thanked him for accepting my invitation. Then I went out to face the restless crowd. They were ready for me.

I couldn't say how many eggs I was pelted with, or how many salads could have been made with the rotten produce that had somehow been smuggled past the security guards, but it was nothing compared to the reception that greeted Zmed when he took the stage. I had been able to keep my introduction brief, so as to expose myself to as little of the audience's ire as possible, but Zmed had an hour-long speech prepared and he was damned if he wasn't going to deliver it.

To be honest, I don't remember what it was that Adrian Zmed spoke about that night. All I can remember is standing in the wings, toweling myself off, and marveling at how he spoke with such conviction, even in the face of formidable opposition. Undeterred by the booing and the barrage of food products, he stood his ground and delivered what must be the most impassioned speech that Barstow State ever refused to listen to a single word of.

At the end of the hour, I hustled Zmed out of the auditorium - wisely foregoing the question and answer period - and into my car, which was parked around the back. As I drove him to his motel, I let him do all the talking. Still pumped up from the speech - the first he had made in public in some years - he shared with me some of the lessons he had learned from his life. I must confess that, like his speech, I don't remember a single thing that he said to me during that car ride. I was simply in awe of this man, this pariah who was sitting in the back seat of my car, dripping with foodstuffs.

When we reached our destination, Zmed got out of the car. We shook hands once more, and he told me to look him up after graduation. I told him I would, but never actually said goodbye. That would have been too hard. As I left the motel parking lot, I looked back briefly and could have sworn that I saw Zmed get jumped by an angry mob that had followed us from campus, but there was no way to be sure. For all I know, they could have been lying in wait for him at the motel the whole time.

When I returned to campus, there were still enough hooligans for there to be rioting aplenty. The student bookstore had been looted, the cafeterias had been sacked, and, to my eternal shame, I used the opportunity to steal a couple cases of chicken croquettes myself. Too bad they all went bad when I couldn't find a way of keeping them frozen.

Eventually it all blew over, but not before I was burned in effigy by the Student Government Association, banned from graduation, placed in stocks in front of the administration building, and publicly flogged. But I had had my moment, and nobody could take that away from me.

Leave a comment

Entry Archives

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by published on September 30, 2002 8:52 PM.

A Cannonball for Mother Nature by Chris Leavens was the previous entry in this blog.

The Return of Gimble and the End of an Era by Stuart Gimble is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.