I’ve struggled to find the right words to introduce Larry Shue. I’ve heard stories about him from my parents from a young age. I’ve read his letters back from Army basic training that were passed along by his family to my parents. I’ve read Grandma Duck is Dead, The Foreigner, and The Nerd. Unfortunately, the sum of all that knowledge still leaves me ill equipped to write a proper introduction to a man of his magnitude.
I was too young to have any lasting memories of Larry, as he died tragically in a plane crash, just as he was starting to get the recognition he deserved for his brilliance. He was always described to me as the “milk of human kindness” and his genius is truly undeniable when I go back and read through some of his work.
The following piece is from some of Larry’s coffeehouse material from college. My father collected some of it in the hopes of having it become a companion piece (primarily as a curtain raiser) to Grandma Duck is Dead, as Larry had expressed interest in expanding it beyond a one act play. As my father is better equipped to speak on Larry than I am, I asked him to write this foreword which I’m including along with this monologue of Larry’s. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
The following monologue is by the late, great, actor, director, playwright and all around Renaissance Man, Larry Shue. I was privileged to attend college with Larry at Illinois Wesleyan University in the 60’s when we were both Drama majors. He was my mentor in the Theatre along with being the best human being imaginable. He wrote this ode to a codfish during that time, for a comedy gig that he performed at the university coffee house. I have enjoyed sharing it with my son, Ben and hope you are as amused by it today as we always have been every time we’ve read it.
– Robb Alton
I’ve been having a lot of strange meals lately. Sometimes out of experimentation, but more often, out of necessity of one kind or another. One night lately, I had codfish. Not because I especially wanted to eat codfish, but because I had admired the box it came in at the super-market. And so I got me a box and,unfortunately, there was a codfish inside. And so, I had codfish. The box far surpasses the contents, incidentally. Ghastly stuff, codfish. It’s tough and salty.
I suppose part of the trouble is the image, or the lack of image, that codfish has surrounding it. I mean, you eat like swordfish, you know, and whether it’s tasty or not, the success of the meal can be saved if the “eater” conjures up pictures in his mind of a great, gleaming, leaping “Prince of the Pacific” swordfish – combining his wiles and weight in a thrust and parry, life and death battle against a sportsman’s line. But a codfish? What does one think of when one thinks of a codfish? The answer of course is nothing. Codfish has no personality. No glamour. If one absolutely forces oneself to imagine the aura surrounding the life of a codfish, he emerges with unsavory, unsettling images of a corpulent, grey-brown entity waiting moribund for death at the bottom of a fetid, unmoving bay. His eyes, bulging from their sockets but half closed with depression and disinterest – that see, but do not watch, the garbage dotted mire that is his home. He eats mud. He lives with other codfish (his family), but he has no love for them. He realizes perhaps that since they are his family, he must look like them. And this depresses him more. He moves only when he must. He has long since resigned himself to the fact that he will never grow to be a porpoise. When he is finally caught, on a piece of string with eight baited hooks attached, held by a corpulent grey-brown fisherman, with no romance, but only a dull sense of survival in his heart, he goes quietly to the surface without a struggle. Even without ill will for the fisherman, only a little deeper depression. And his fellow codfish eye him briefly, wearily, dully thinking: “It could have been me.” Not with fear, not with sorrow, nor even hope, merely observing: “That could have been me.” And each goes on eating his mud. One of hundreds of grey-brown entities waiting moribund for death at the bottom of a fetid, unmoving bay.