Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"
Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
HEALING SHINE - THE PLAY
A few months ago my wife, Sharon, and I were in our usual spot at 5:30 a. m. - lying in the bed having our morning coffee. She said, “I want to talk to you about something.”
With that she shared her thoughts on our taking one of my books - Healing Shine - to the stage as a play. I was surprised and discounted the entire notion of the idea at first - but she said, “No, listen,” and began to describe what she had in mind - the characters, scenes, and voices. We began to laugh, and then we found ourselves crying. When that happened, we began to consider the possibility maybe we had something here. I wrote the play. 90 minutes of clean comedy, with stories, and six original songs. So much has happened since that moment.
A few weeks later as her birthday was approaching, I asked what I might get her that she would enjoy. She said, “I know exactly what I want. I want you to do an excerpt of that play for my family.” I agreed and we began to prepare. For the next 30 days we worked our fingers to the bone and reminded ourselves of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in those old movies - “Hey, I know! We can do a show in the old barn out back!”
We cleaned, we scrubbed, built a small riser, bought new chairs, and decorated the barn until you would swear the Disney people had a hand in the whole thing. As the date approached, we mailed invitations, contacted a caterer, and rehearsed late into the night. We worried about everything. The guests arriving on time, what the weather would be like, the lights and the sound system we wired together, and if the nearby train would come by with his impossibly loud horn at just the wrong moment. The day finally came.
The weather was ideal. The food - prepared by an old cowboy friend - was superb. Cozy fire in the outdoor pit, and love from my wife’s family filled the barn. Oh…and from all the dogs, too. My wife’s family consists of a number of professional people - pharmacist, insurance executive, pediatrician, attorneys, etc., and they are also devoted to their dogs…big dogs. And they take them everywhere they go. They were in the audience, too.
Thirty-five guests (and five dogs) settled in as the show was about to start. Sherry stepped onto the stage and welcomed the group. She introduced the play and then said, “Ladies and Gentleman…Heeeerrrreees’s Michael! I begin.
Opening soliloquy explaining the play’s storyline goes off without a hitch. First comedy bit works like a charm. Then we move to a poignant story about the loss of a particular horse in my youth (you know what they say on Broadway…you gotta’ make’em laugh and you gotta’ make’em cry). That emotional tale ends with a haunting old song…Good Bye Old Paint. My two grandchildren, Wynn and Bryce - ages 6 and 5 respectively - are sitting on stools close to the stage. Just as I hit the first chord on the guitar, those two little ones spin around on the stools to face the audience (we rehearsed it for hours) and begin to sing along with their Poppa. I mean it was just precious! The thought pops into my mind, “Hey, an Emmy is not out of reach for this show!” And then…
One of those dogs snapped at Rowdy. My first thought was, “Uh oh.”
Don’t get me wrong. Everybody loves our big Australian Shepherd called the Rowdy Cow Dog. I mean he’s just one of those people who is hugely popular with everyone. Wouldn’t hurt a fly…unless that fly wanted to fight. Rowdy was born in Oklahoma and everyone knows people in Oklahoma have no problem whatsoever standing up for themselves. I dropped the microphone and the guitar and bolted from the stage desperately trying to reach them before the bomb went off. I was only fifteen feet away and got a really good running start. I was waaaaayyy too slow. No matter how I describe what happened next, it was worse than you can imagine.
Little kids knocked backwards. Wine glasses flying through the air spilling all over our guests. Men’s spectacles sailing through the barn, and those two dogs? As both weighed 70 pounds, they looked like a 140 pound dust devil hitting the barn at 100 miles an hour. They demolished everything in sight. Ali and Frazier got nothing on these two. The worst dog fight I have ever seen in all my days. People were yelling, kids crying, and all I could think of was a line an old cowboy said once…
“God owes me an explanation for some of the things that have happened in my life.”
We finally get the dogs separated (they fought for a full two and a half minutes) and miraculously, neither was hurt. Now everyone is staring at me like a doe caught in the headlights as in “What do we do now?” I step back up on stage and say, “Welcome to farm life! Shall we continue?” And everyone howls with laughter.
I look at my two grandkids - who have never left their stools - and hit a G chord. With no time ticking off the clock, those two little troopers spread their arms wide and begin to sing…
“Good Bye Old Paint.
I’m leaving Cheyenne…
I’m bound for Montana
where they throw the hoolihan.
My feet are in the stirrups…
The reins in my hands.
Good Bye Old Paint.
I’m leaving Cheyenne.”
We got a standing ovation.