Have you ever looked back at something you did when younger that was so terribly unreasoned and irrational you wondered, “What could I have been thinking?”
Once in grade school I did something that still makes me ask this question, even after all these years. That something had to do with Jimmie Rodgers and a song called “Honeycomb.”
For those too young to remember, Jimmie Rodgers was a pop singer in the 1950s and '60s. He was a young, good-looking guy with a sweet voice — a winning combination for a pop vocalist back then. He had a number of hits, but for me his greatest song was “Honeycomb.”
I loved “Honeycomb.” I loved it so much that I asked my fifth-grade teacher at Abbey Lane School in Levittown if I could play my guitar and sing it to our class. He said “yes” right away and asked if I wanted to perform it the next day.
“Absolutely, no problem,” I happily guaranteed.
Except there was a problem; actually there were a number of problems.
One was I couldn’t play the guitar. I did have a guitar I kept in a case under my bed, but I almost never took it out. Another was I couldn’t sing; I wasn’t able, as the expression goes, to carry a tune in a bucket.
Still another was that, as often as I heard the song, when I sang it to myself I couldn’t remember more than a few words. “Honeycomb, won’t you be my baby” was about it.
But none of these details bothered me. They weren’t even on my radar.
I believed with all my heart that the next day I would sing like Jimmie Rodgers, play the guitar like Jimmie Rodgers — even look like Jimmie Rodgers, though I was a pudgy 11-year-old with a flat top.
I was so sure of myself, the idea of practicing beforehand never entered my mind.
The next morning, I slid the guitar case out from under the bed and opened it to make sure the guitar was still there. I walked to school thinking how cool I looked just carrying the case. I thought about how I was going to wow my teacher and classmates. I couldn’t wait to stand in front of them and sing.
Even when my teacher called me up and announced to the class I would be singing “Honeycomb,” even as I strode to the front of the room, it never occurred to me I couldn’t pull this off. But disaster was ahead. Reality finally showed up.
I began. I strummed my guitar without purpose and barely squeaked out the word “Honeycomb,” which I repeated over and over. I kept waiting for the powers of whatever cruel spirits made me think I could do this to kick in. They never did.
It was embarrassingly clear to all, especially me, that the emperor had no clothes. The snorts and giggles from my classmates and the pained look on my teacher’s face proved this. I was no Jimmie Rodgers.
I slinked back to my seat, humbled.
David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, once said, “A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.” Obviously, this thought was lost on me.
To this day, I still wonder: “What could I have been thinking?”