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By Staff | Aug 6, 2010

It’s a mystery as to how I got into this mess. A while back I agreed to be part of Pipestone Civil War Days, taking place during the second weekend in August. All I really recall about the recruitment process is that it involved one Myron Koets.

Myron is a farm equipment salesman. He is also a peripatetic provocateur and rapscallion raconteur.

Using his powers of persuasion – I think hypnosis may have also been involved – Myron got me to agree to go onstage with him during Civil War Days. He is to portray Mr. Mason, representing the Union, to my Mr. Dixon, representing the Confederacy.

Our hope is that we will be able to tell, in an educational and entertaining manner, the story of the ironclads the Monitor and the Merrimack.

I’m like many writers: give me three weeks to complete a project and I won’t get started on it until the final hour of the 21st day. The most potent creative juice on the planet is 11th-hour flop sweat.

Determined to avoid that particular pickle, I recently met with Myron to kick around a few ideas. Our goals are modest: we just hope to write, direct, produce, and act out a short play – with no experience in doing any of those things.

“Short” is a relative term. We’ve been allocated 20 minutes to put on our production and I couldn’t see how on earth we could fill such a vast amount of time. I envisioned going onstage and muttering:

“You know the Civil War? Well, there were these two ships in it that were the first ever to be clad with iron. They shot at each other a bunch of times and nothing much came of it. The end.”

We would then stand on the stage like a pair of possums caught in the headlights, desperately hoping that nobody notices that we had run out of things to say.

Myron is much more sanguine about the whole situation than I am, mainly because he’s had a good deal of experience with Civil War Days. He’s been part of the event for a number of years and has even developed and refined the persona of a 19th-century phrenologist.

I wished he would palpate the bumps on my skull and tell me which of them induced me to volunteer for such a high level of potential public humiliation. And also to dress up in a wool uniform during the Dog Days of August. The combination of heat and wool will no doubt have me panting like a dog.

Myron is a spontaneous guy, the kind of person who will impulsively, and without thinking, blurt whatever springs to mind. I bet he was the sort of schoolboy who was given such labels as “disruptive” and “motor-mouth.”

All of which will serve him well in this situation. I, on the other hand, was an extremely quiet and introspective schoolboy. I have to plan months in advance if I want to be spontaneous.

I told Myron that I would lean upon him heavily during our presentation.

“Then we’re up the creek without a paddle!” he replied. This sentiment wasn’t the least bit comforting.

When Myron and I met to discuss ideas for our play, we both arrived armed with reams of Monitor and Merrimack information gleaned from the Internet. It soon became apparent that there was no way we could fit it all into the allotted amount of time. Our puny little 20-minute one-act play had suddenly grown into something longer than “Dr. Zhivago.”

Which is a good thing, I guess. Whenever you go to a picnic it’s better have too much baloney than too little.

One of the most difficult parts of this process will be collaborating on a writing project. I have never done such a thing before.

Writing is an intensely private act. To me, knowing that a person is looking over my shoulder while I’m writing feels similar to having someone watch as you pull up your undies. Which is also how I feel about getting up in front of a bunch of people and trying to act.

My wife, on the other hand, is extremely excited about attending Civil War Days.

It’s not just because she doesn’t have to go up onstage, but mainly because she will thus have an excuse to dress up. My wife is a total girly-girl who simply loves lace and frills. And the Victorian Era was chockablock with lace and frills.

As soon as Pipestone Civil War Days are over, I’m going to launch a “60 Minutes” type investigation to uncover how I landed in this mess. I bet psychotropic substances were involved. Or maybe it was that free lunch at Lange’s Cafe.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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