He bounded through the high school’s halls like a giddy gazelle, greeting everyone he passed with a smile, high-five, handshake, or pat on the back. He seemed to know everyone. Countless other students rushed by, but he stood out. Who is this guy? I wondered as I stood next to my classroom doorway.
It happened again the next day. Lunch was over. Fifth period was about to begin. And there he was navigating the hall like a one-man welcome wagon. He’s just a kid, I thought, a sophomore at most. How does he know so many upperclassmen?
Weeks passed. I’d see him in the halls, joyfully rushing to class, but acknowledging everyone, he with his red hair and impish smile. But I didn’t know his name until I attended a drama department production and there he was, center stage. I perused my playbill in the darkened theater, searching for the cast. His name is Roscoe? I thought so loudly several neighbors shushed me. Seriously? Roscoe?
He had a supporting role, but he exuded an enthusiasm that drew attention away from the leads and he had a natural stage presence. He also showed enormous potential. This kid, I thought, has it, that “it” quality that goes beyond talent, that agents and casting directors look for. If Clara Bow was early Hollywood’s “It Girl,” Roscoe could be the future’s “It Boy.”
After watching him perform in several productions, I realized Roscoe took theater seriously. I had that confirmed when I finally spoke with him near the end of his junior year in a positive, upbeat conversation and learned he, in fact, did plan to pursue acting in college. But it was another snippet of that chat that has remained with me until this day. And it had nothing to do with acting.
As was the style, Roscoe’s pants always sagged, exposing at least two inches of underwear. Staff, of course, were not pleased with this trend, constantly reminding boys to “pull your pants up.” It was, however, a futile endeavor. Therefore, while I chatted with Roscoe, I was aware of the brightly-colored, whimsically-patterned underwear hugging his waist. “Why am I seeing your underwear?” I asked, hoping my question, rather than an authoritarian order, would trigger a trouser tug.
“Because they’re cute,” he said faster than a fly can be zipped.
And I learned, with that response, to let go of my old-fashioned perception of underwear. Roscoe taught me to appreciate “cute” modern boxers, to see them through the eyes of a teenager and to accept that manufacturers marketed them to be shown off.
We returned to school in September and I ran into Roscoe. He had physically changed during the three-month vacation. His boyish features were more manly. His shoulders were broader. His soft mid-section had been firmed up.
I looked at him. “Dude,” I said, “I’ve seen you in a number of roles, characters really. And now you’re ready to play leading men.” My saying this was a surprising contradiction because I had a vision of Roscoe, due to his outgoing and free-spirited personality, being cast in a TV sitcom, playing perhaps the quirky neighbor like Kramer on Seinfeld, or oddball best friend like Dobie Gillis’ Maynard G. Krebbs, or the weird co-worker like Matthew on News Radio.
Before he graduated, I took a picture of Roscoe. His red hair was shaggy, messy. His chin was covered in rust-colored scruff. He wore purple pants and mismatched tennis shoes. His belt, which rested on his hips, was a psychedelic mishmash of colors. “I want this picture,” I told him, “as proof that I knew you before you became a star.” He smiled, thanked me for my support, and went off to Southern California to study acting.
But I didn’t forget him. Several years later, about the time he graduated from college I began Googling him. Through Youtube, IMBD, and his own website, I discovered Roscoe’s determination, talent, and “it” quality had kept him afloat in Hollywood’s competitive and frustrating world.
But I did not see his commercials or small TV and film roles until I found them on Youtube. Therefore, there was no element of surprise and I longed for the day I would be watching TV and Roscoe would appear unexpectedly on my screen.
My wish came true recently. It was late-morning. I was channel surfing. And there was Roscoe, selling Daisy Sour Cream. It was but three brief moments in a backyard barbecue scene. But there he was, bearded and brushing thirty, and still flashing that impish smile.
I sat up so fast I spilled my umpteenth coffee. My heart raced. And, even though I hardly know Roscoe, I felt a special kind of joy, like the feeling a parent gets at his child’s graduation or wedding.
I then realized he’d entered that commercial’s backyard smiling and greeting the other barbecue attendees with the same joy, friendliness, and positivity he had had when I first saw him in that high school hall years ago.