“Butterflies” is a Spoonerism, a “spoonerism” defined as “the transposition of the initial or other sounds of words”, a verbal slip associated with English clergyman W.A. Spooner (1840-1930.) In a spoonerism, a “flutter by” which in reality is what they do becomes a “butterfly.” I mention this so that if this post is not to your liking, at least you learned something.
“Spoonerism” substantiates of my assertion that sometimes, when a person is associated with a certain behavior, their name evolves into a commonly used descriptive for that behavior. Pierre Legerdemain’s acts of amazement bafflement made his name synonymous with the word “magic.” The latter example, however, may possibly be made up. Though this does not exclude the possibility that it was made up but on further investigation it actually turns out to be correct.
Camp shows were invariably on Saturday nights. Sometimes, they were “book shows”, scripted musicals like Peter Pan where I played “Smee” a secondary role which I used to steal the show, or Hans Christian Andersen, where I played “The Dance Instructor”, a role not in the original script but was which added to give me a part to play because they wouldn’t let me play “Hans” even though I had learned all the songs and I really wanted to do it.
They had a girl (Tanis Rohr) play “Hans Christian Anderson”, following their having a girl (Wendy Krangle) play “Peter Pan” the summer before. I mean, geez, maybe there are fewer great parts for women, but do they have to take the men’s parts away from them and hand them over to girls? Man, that pissed me off fifty years ago! And I am not entirely over it today.
Aside from the “book shows”, there were also “talent shows” scheduled on Saturday nights, where I got a chance to regale the assemblage with my heartfelt performance of “The Wayward Wind”, or a comedic “song reading”, in which I’d do hyper-dramatic renditions of 50’s pop songs, such as…
Put the bomp
In the bomp
Put the ram
Finally, Saturday nights also delivered message-laden dramatic pageants, serving as culminations for three-day camp-wide programs proclaiming the urgent need for world peace and international cooperation. (For campers, six to sixteen.)
I remember a line, in reference to the casualties resulting from the World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that went,
“Where will they ever get enough wood to build fifty thousand crosses?”
Ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not Christians.
I generally got big parts in pageants. I played the martyred leader Imre Nagy in the “Hungarian Revolution” pageant. I also played Ghandi, less because I was a good actor than because Ghandi was known for his hunger strikes, and I was the skinniest kid in camp because I refused to eat the food.
“Book show”, talent show or pageant, Saturday night was “show night.” At least three Saturdays a summer, I was up there, performing in something.
And whenever that happened, I would always get “butterflies.” (Boy, that took a long time to get there, didn’t it?)
The “butterflies” attacked the moment I got up. I was distracted the entire day, and no fun to be around. A situation that made me even less popular with my cabin-mates than usual, if that were possible, and it turned out it was. Though not entirely without reason.
EARL: I know I didn’t catch the ball. Will you leave me alone? I’ve got a show tonight!”
I tried to exploit my condition to get out of things I didn’t like.
“Can I skip ‘Swim Instruction’? I’ve got a show tonight.”
That would never work, because I was unable to establish a credible relationship between “Swim Instruction” and the show.
“How can I concentrate on the ‘Flutter Kick’? I’ve got a show tonight!”
The biggest price I paid for having “butterflies” on “show night” was at the Saturday dinner. This was the unkindest cut of all.
I ate nothing at camp. I needed two sets of clothes – one set for July, and another for August when I had lost so much weight my July clothes didn’t fit anymore. The one exception, the only meal I excitedly anticipated because it was edible was hot dogs and chips (French fries.) That was my favorite meal. I looked forward to it all week.
When did they serve hot dogs and chips?
And on show nights, I was too nervous to eat them.
The “butterflies” multiplied as we got closer to show time. My heart would start pounding. My throat would close up. I’d feel constantly thirsty and have to race down to the “Pump House” behind the Rec Hall where the shows were put on, where I would lap down gulps of the coldest, most metallic tasting water I have ever drunk. It was like licking a frozen, water pipe.
All that drinking and I’d have to pee. (And the Boys’ bathroom was at the other end of camp.)
I could not remember my lines. I could not remember what play I was in. I could barely remember what I was doing there. But I was dressed in costume and wearing makeup, so I knew I was doing something, probably a show.
As the time to go on drew closer, my hands were shaking. My voice suddenly turned raspy. I could not have felt more anxious, more feverish, more miserable, more scared.
And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“Butterflies” means it’s important.
A heightened experience that matters.
“Butterflies” reflects the climactic confrontation between the moment and the guy. And the outcome – good or awful – was entirely up to me.
To this very day, when I go to a show, I identify with the people about to perform. Sometimes, I actually feel their butterflies.
And I envy them terribly for having them.
Well, at least I experienced them at camp. And a time or two afterwards. During four episodes on The Bobbie Gentry Show. The warm-ups for Taxi and Cheers. A fundraising production at my daughter’s High School, where I performed a monolog I had written before hundreds of people.
And every time it happened – there it was.
The ultimate compliment concerning that agonizing condition?
It is worth missing hot dogs and chips for.