As a seventh grader, I only knew one thing about my future, that I would be a Bruin at the University of California, Los Angeles. As it turned out, I was a Duck at the University of Oregon but I had the conference right.

About that same time, I announced to my mother upon arriving home from church one Sunday morning, “I quit.”

“Quit what, honey?”

“Quit church.”

“What on Earth possesses you to want to quit church, pray tell?”

Of course, being in seventh grade, I answered her question with a question.

“Mom, can God see everything I do and hear everything I say?”

“Of course.”

“Then why do I have to go into that boring confessional?”

“You have to ask the priest that question, honey.”

I did ask the priest that question the next time I found myself in the confessional.

“Father, I have a question.”

“What is it, son?”

“Can God see everything I do and hear everything I say?”

“Of course.”

“Then how come I have to come inside here every time I mess up?”

The answer I got was so esoteric I could not understand a word of it, and I came away from there an agnostic if not an atheist. I was sure I would go straight to sheol, and maybe I will.

By and by, I went to see the movie “The Ten Commandments” and Charlton Heston nearly took me back to my lost religion. This was 1956. Little could I know I would have a chance, years later, to talk to Heston during a radio interview about his time as Moses. Years later yet, I would have to smile upon reading Mark Twain’s words regarding the matter, “Remember what the schoolboy said, ‘Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.’”

During my time in seventh grade, my older brother received his driver’s license and he was just crazy about driving. He asked a girl to go with him to see Elvis Presley at the Oakland Auditorium, but when she saw what kind of driver he was, she got a case of the mumps, and he took me. I was in love with Brigitte Bardot at the time; I sent her a letter, and am still waiting for a reply. I had next to no interest in Elvis, but my brother told me I had to go with him or pay him for the ticket, so I went. Cynical as I was at the age of 13, I knew when Elvis started singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” I was seeing something special, though he failed to supplant Brigitte Bardot in my 13-year-old mind.

Bill Haley and His Comets were riding high on songs like “Rock Around the Clock” when my parents made the mistake of buying me a drum set. My drumming to Bill Haley and His Comets nearly drove my parents into the Napa insane asylum before they demanded I stick to the piano when they were at home. I didn’t know how to play the piano, but that detail was of little consequence to them at the time.

Years later, long after Bill Haley died, His Comets, still together, warmed up an audience for Mark Twain, or at least somebody pretending to be Mark Twain. (You see, Sam Clemens came into the world with Halley’s Comet in 1835 and rode it out in 1910.) Well, there I was, backstage, smiling and drumming on a tabletop with my hands while the Comets belted out “Rock Around the Clock.” I was in seventh grade all over again, and life was good.

McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at


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