The Bananaplan

The day after Christmas, with distension of the belly due to broccoli casserole over-stuffing, my wife, Sarah and I decided to escape the holiday madness (and the chocolate covered pretzels on the kitchen counter) for the The Walmarts.

You, the reader, are probably saying, "The Walmarts!? The day after Christmas?! That's the very definition of holiday madness! And you're right. It's just a different kind of holiday madness.

We weren't headed to the The Walmarts just to people-watch, we had a tertiary mission of purchasing a game called Bananagrams, which we had a enjoyed playing the night before.

A short drive from Sarah's parent's home and we found ourselves in an overly-stuffed parking lot. In anticipation of the craziness inside the Big Box I said to Sarah, "Okay, here's our game plan. If you see someone going for the last Bananagrams game, you hit 'em high and I'll hit 'em low." To which Sarah replied, "Yeah, and then I'll hit the snack bar."



Many Thurdays past, two days before Halloween, I was standing in Rod Smith's kitchen enjoying some of his sister Jenny's world famous* curry. Parenthetically, I understand the term "world famous" is tossed around willy-nilly by just about every restaurant trying to convince you their dish is more impressive than it really is, but people have been ooh-ing and aah-ing across the globe over Jenny's curry.

Where was I? Yes, standing in Rod's kitchen.

Rod, with his back to the kitchen wall with an accent consistent with his South African heritage asked, "Ryan, have you ever done any acting?" A strange question I thought. It's the kind of question I would prefer to dance around. And I tried my best verbal two-step. "Um, not really. Well, I, uh, did participate in writing and performing in a, uhh, variety-type show in college, but I certainly wouldn't call what I did acting." Run! Ryan run before he asks another one, I thought loudly, but not aloud. His follow-up was too quick, "Would you be interested in playing Boo Radley for a party with my students this Sunday?"

Rod's curriculum at St. Richard's School, where he teaches English, includes reading and study of To Kill a Mockingbird, which culminates in a party where the students dress as a character from the book and celebrate over dinner and a screening of the movie.

"Your only line is 'I'd like to go home now,'" he said sensing my continued apprehension. Rod went on to tell me how he would like me to stand in the darkness outside the house where his students would be gathered until I am noticed. I was intrigued, but still not sold.

I wanted to decline, but I felt like my back was against the wall. I offered the softest acceptance I could muster, "Sure."

Later that night, I was complaining to Sarah about having agreed to accept this assignment. She reminded me that I was trying to live under the following pretenses: 1) say 'yes' more than 'no'; 2) choose adventure over safety. I try to live into these rules, but it doesn't come naturally. I'm uneasy with the unknown, mystery. I prefer safety, and am quite happy in my comfort zone, thank you. But Sarah had my number. I knew I had to do Boo.

I found the rattiest clothes I could and rummaged through Sarah's make-up bag looking for something to make me look sickly, like I had been in a cellar for 20 years. I opened one of her compacts and found some green something-or-other and dipped my finger then spread it around my eyes. Yes, I was looking quite ill. Perfect. "You know I have brushes for that," Sarah sniped as I looked at my green finger. Normally, I might have responded but I just stared forward emptily. I was, um, getting into character — goodness shrouded by mystery.

I arrived to the party site, found some dirt to smear on my clothes and face completing my ensemble and walked to the back of the house where Rod had instructed me to go. I stood looking into the room where Rod's class focused on the wall-mounted silver screen. I tapped gently. No one noticed at first. I tapped again. I saw a little girl's eyes widen. She tapped the girl next to her. They both screamed. Then everyone screamed.


Rod coaxed the chaos to quiet. He asked, "Would anyone like to invite this man inside?" Several volunteers threw their hands up. Then one by one students peeked outside and retreated. I couldn't blame them. Rod invited Boo inside. A little girl dressed as Scout Finch escorted me through the crowd to the front of the group. Some students asked questions, to which I offered short and nervous responses. Others simply thanked me for saving Scout and Jem's life.

I stood, back against the wall, enjoying every minute. I said my one real line and another girl dressed as Scout grabbed my arm and we floated through the crowd and she released me back outside. As soon as I disappeared from sight I was no longer in character. I was smiling ear to ear. On my walk back to car, it occurred to me, this experience was very much my Boo — goodness shrouded by mystery. I'm so thankful to Sarah and Rod for providing the encouragement and opportunity to find the goodness.

The following day I came home from work to find a 9 x 12 envelope from St. Richard's School with "Boo Radley" scrawled on the front. Inside was a thank you letter from every 7th grader in Rod's English class. It was page after page of goodness. I'd like to share some of the goodness with you:

Dear Arthur Radley,
It was nice of you to come all this way to Indiana. I never expected you to be there at the party. You were very brave to come here to the party. I know that you aren't used to having people around you, especially when coming to a party full of children. You are a very nice man Boo Radley. I thank you for coming to the party.

Dear Mr. Radley,
Thank you for coming in for us and acting out what happened in the book. I truly believed that the way you acted it out is the way it would have happened in real life. At first I didn't know who you were outside, and you kind of scared me, but that is good because in the book he didn't try to be scary but he was a scary person. I know you meant no harm as well. Thank you again for coming in to show us what happened.

Dear Mr. Arthur Radley,
Thank you for coming last night. I know being around a lot of kids can seem intimidating, but you did a great job. I enjoyed your company very much.

Dear Boo,
Thank you for taking your time and coming out to our party. It was something when you were just standing out the window. You really need to get out more. Thank you for coming.

Dear Mr. Arthur Radley,
Thank you for coming to the party last night. You definitely know how to make an entrance! At first, we were a little scared of you, but then, we realized what was going on. You made the night exciting! I wish you had stayed for dinner!

Dear Mr. Radley,
Thank you for coming and saving Jem and Scout. I know you are shy so thanks for coming out.

Dear Arthur Radley,
I would like to thank you for coming to our party yesterday. I know that it was hard for you because you hadn't seen kids in a very long time. I think that you handled it very well being yourself with a bunch of frantic kids screaming at you. I just wanted to say that it's okay. You did a fantastic job coming to talk to us. It must have been scary for you but I think you did well. You handled the situation nicely. I hope to see you again in the future. Again, I want to thank you for coming.

Dear Mr. Arthur Radley,
You did a great job of acting as Boo Radley. At first, I thought you were a criminal but then my teacher said it's just Boo Radley. You did a great job of acting.
Dear English Class,
Thank you for your kind words. It was my absolute pleasure to spend the evening with you. I learned a lot.

Boo Radley (or whoever I really am)