I am a reenactor. Not a Revolutionary War or Civil War or World War II reenactor. Not a Colonial America or American frontier reenactor. Not a medieval times or ancient Greece or Roman times reenactor. Just a reenactor — not limiting myself to any time, any place, or any person. Everything that happens is history, right? (Remember the butterfly effect?) It’s sheer arrogance to label a miniscule number of events and times and people as historical reenactment-worthy and consign everything and everyone else to the purgatory of simple enactment.
Taking this approach, I must admit, does lead to some difficulties. For example, when I follow some guy off a bus, am I just another guy getting off a bus, or am I reenacting the guy in front of me getting off a bus? I’m never quite sure myself. Also, by reenacting things that normally don’t get reenacted, could I be messing with the timeline? Doubtful, but how can I be sure? Questions like these I consider minor annoyances, though. I refuse to let them bog me down. The real problem is dealing with people who willfully or in sheer ignorance fail to recognize my reenactor status.
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Take what happened last baseball season, when I traveled from my home in Chicago to Appleton, WI hoping to reenact a home run (his first of the season) hit by a nondescript Wisconsin Timber Rattlers player the day before. (The Rattlers were having a rough season and I figured they and their fans could use the pick-me-up.) I took carefully considered precautions to avoid trouble. I would not interrupt play, but would perform my reenactment at the sixth inning, while the grounds crew did their stamping and raking and dragging. I wore a Rattlers jersey with REENACTOR stitched on it* where the players name would normally go. I brought along a yellow plastic wiffle-ball bat of my nephew’s instead of a wooden bat so no one would feel threatened as I strolled towards home plate carrying it — stuffed in my pants so that no one, including security, would ask questions. (I wanted my reenactment to be a surprise for everyone.) And when the moment came and I hopped the fence and headed toward the plate while removing the wiffle-ball bat from my pants, I kept shouting: “Living history! Living history! Living history!” so that anyone within earshot would know that my intentions were commendable.
Well, just as I was digging in at home plate, I noticed a couple of angry-faced security guys racing toward me from the third base dugout area. I didn’t even have time to raise the bat over my shoulders. So I dropped it immediately and hightailed it toward first base (which further distorted the reenactment, because no real baseball player hightails it after hitting a home run), at which time I noticed a couple of additional security guys taking off after me from the first base dugout. I did manage to round first base, all the while continuing to shout over my shoulder: “Living history! Living history! Living history!” But all for naught. Apparently the security guys had no qualms about tackling living history.
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Then a couple of weeks after that, one afternoon after watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the third or fourth time that day, I decided to walk through my neighborhood reenacting the medieval tradition of pushing a cart around collecting dead bodies during a plague epidemic.
I figured my neighbors would play along, because most of them by then would have been clued into my reenactor status, since I had already made numerous reenactment forays into local business establishments (coffee houses, bars, bakeries, laundromats, etc.) and public buildings (library, senior center), and in addition, there had been scurrilous local media accounts** of the unfortunate incident at the Rattlers game.
So I dragged a wheelbarrow out of my tool shed to substitute for a dead-body cart (good enough, since I didn’t anticipate collecting any actual dead bodies), outfitted myself with a drab sweatsuit I had picked up on the cheap at Goodwill and then promptly shredded, fashioned a buff-colored kerchief into limp headgear, smeared dirt on my clothes and all my visible body parts, and started off around the neighborhood chanting: “Bring out your dead!” “Bring out your dead!” “Bring out your dead!”
Everything went as planned for about fifteen or twenty minutes. People played along, as I had anticipated. No rude remarks. Some sly smiles. Even some faux weeping and moaning. And a number of “dead bodies” were deposited into my wheelbarrow in the form of cracked portable radios, smashed remote controls, and waterlogged cell phones.
Then I came upon the McJerk*** residence. As I walked wearily and morosely past the McJerks, chanting my dead-body chant, they hauled out their perpetually drunken uncle, whose animate status, I must admit, has always been in question, and insisted I haul him away on my “cart” with all the electronic corpses. I didn’t want to point out the obvious, which I’m sure they knew anyway — that I was, in fact, not a dead-body collector, but a dead-body collector reenactor. I didn’t want to break character. Instead, I got into a heated dispute with them as to whether Uncle McJerk was, in fact dead (yes, just like in the Python movie!). Well, I don’t want to go into all the sordid details, but I just want to point this out for the record: no matter what the McJerks might claim in the upcoming court proceedings, I DID NOT at any time — I repeat, DID NOT — hit any McJerk on the head with my cudgel.****
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As I mentioned, I frequently do my reenacting at neighborhood establishments. This is, in fact, my favored form of reenacting — on the spot, “you are there,” spontaneous reenacting in honor of “ordinary” people.
This might involve stealthily following some random subject at the supermarket, mentally noting down all his/her movements and selections, and repeating them as precisely as possible once they’ve left the premises. (Resulting, unfortunately, in frequent unnecessary purchases, since half the items I check out — dog food, baby diapers, radishes, Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! and so forth — I have no use for.) Or listening attentively to cell phone conversations at my local Starbucks and repeating the half of the conversation I heard into my phone word-for-word (short conversations only, obviously) once the person has left. (Sometimes, although this, strictly speaking, does not qualify as reenactment, I even make up imagined responses on the other end. This can be quite entertaining.) Or, at the library, repeating questions to the reference librarian I just heard someone else ask. (Which has the side benefit of reinforcing the learning experience.)
During these pursuits, I usually meet with little resistance, outside of the occasional quizzical look or icy glare. Partly because I always remain as unobtrusive as possible, and partly, I think, because I always take care to wear my REENACTOR baseball cap and T-shirt — hand-embroidered by yours truly.
But something untoward did happen once on a visit to my favorite watering hole — The Shot and A Tear Lounge. I was sitting at the bar, wearing my REENACTOR gear, having just finished my first attempt at street reenacting, which went quite smoothly, if I do say so myself, except for a minor flare-up with the driver of a beat-up LeSabre. Anyway, I had just finished my second rum and coke when I got it in my head to attempt a reenactment of Ricardo the regular bartender’s bottle-flipping routine.
So, when Ricardo was safely down at the far end, I hopped the bar, grabbed a bottle of Seagram’s in my left hand, and proceed to flip it over my right shoulder from behind my back. Unfortunately, as I tried to grasp the spinning, airborne bottle with my right hand, I closed my fingers too quickly and proceeded to knock the Seagram’s into a row of liquor bottles lining the shelf in front of a large mirror facing the bar, shattering several of them (but, thankfully, not the mirror) in the process.
As he hustled me out of the bar and into the street, I kept protesting to Gerald the bouncer that I had not had “too much,” as he claimed, but that I was simply a reenactor doing what reenactors do. And when I finally stood up and regained some dignity after being deposited like a sack of unwanted diapers on the sidewalk, I looked Gerald in the eye, pointed at the lettering on my T-shirt, and said, “Can’t you tell the difference between a reenactor and someone who has had ‘too much’?” “No!” said Gerald. “And if you ever show up around here again, I’m gonna reenact the bombing of Dresden all over your face!”
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You might think that two impending court cases (the Rattlers have me up for criminal trespass) and a lifetime ban from a popular nieghborhood gathering place would dissuade me from carrying on with my reenacting activities. But you would be wrong. History is constantly happening — every day, every minute, everywhere. And wherever history is, it is calling out to be reenacted. I will be there to answer that call. Even in jail, if it comes to that. Because that’s what I am. The reenactor.
*$15.95 at notripoffs.com
**The media proved to be totally unsympathetic to my cause also. But what can you expect from a crowd of ink-stained troglodytes?
***Not their real name. Not Scots, either
****Meat tenderizing mallet