Thursday, July 21, 2011

Oh, sure. I'm the crazy one.

 Spotting a dachshund.
It’s 90 degrees out today and so humid that you could bottle the air. On the phone this afternoon, I told my mom that I had taken Charlie for a run in the jogging stroller, and before I even finished my sentence, she said, “You’re nuts.” I made sure she knew that I’d coated the baby in three tubes of zinc-based, non-toxic sunscreen, and that I’d run down the shadiest streets I could find, into the breeze when possible so that Charlie could feel the wind in his curls. “Oh, good,” she responded. “You’re nuts.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that message today, either. In the middle of our jog, my friend Erin slowed to a stop in her air-conditioned car and rolled down the window. We trotted up to the driver’s side and I said, “Hey, Erin!” She smiled and said, “You’re nuts.” About three blocks later, a guy at a stop sign shook his head at me and made the “crazy” sign (i.e., point at head, trace a small circle in the air). Very slowly, he mouthed the words, “Yoooou’re nuuuts.”

Then, off in the distance, I spotted a woman coming toward us with her stroller. At last! A compatriot! “This’ll be great!” I thought. “We’ll have a nice bonding moment. Maybe one of us will say, ‘Nice day for a run,’ and the other will laugh a little.” I trudged along, buoyed by the anticipation of a few steps of companionship.

And then, we were upon them and I made several realizations all at once. One: The lady wasn’t running. Two: In her cushy stroller, the lady was pushing a small, froufy dog. Three: Clipped onto the sunshade and directed at the dog were two small, battery-powered fans.

As Charlie kicked his legs and cooed, the dog stared at us and let out one quick yip. “Yeah, yeah,” I said under my breath. “I’m nuts.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Holy Pain

I woke up this morning with a terrible crick in my neck that no amount of stretching could touch.  As I poured my first cup of coffee and tried to shake it out, I had an instantaneous flashback to 1989, to the first time I recall feeling the equivalent of a hatchet wound in my cervical spine—a memory I haven’t considered in decades.  I saw myself at age 12, lying on the floor of my bedroom in a dress.  My parents were having some kind of open house or party or something – an opportunity for other grown-ups to walk through our house, peering into our rooms while eating delicious hors d’ouvres.  And there I was for several hours arranged on the floor, moving only enough to keep all my limbs from falling asleep, my head arced at a strange angle, conspicuously reading the Bible.

Why, you may ask, did I choose that particular pastime?  Was I working on an assignment for my religion teacher at our parochial elementary school?  Had I exhausted our family library except for the Good Book?  Was I looking up a clue for a crossword puzzle?  None of the above.  I’ll tell you what I was doing: The night before, I had woken up out of a deep sleep to the revelation that reading the Bible would be a very interesting, very unique, and probably very impressive thing for a young girl to be doing when a group of adults wandered by.       

I don’t recall why I decided to sprawl across the floor, but I am certain that it was a conscious decision.  Probably I didn’t want to risk people thinking I was reading a Sweet Valley High book, and the floor seemed most likely to showcase my King James edition.  I chose my outfit carefully with a mind to non-wrinkling comfort and settled on a cotton dress, as similar to the wardrobe of a character out of an L. M. Montgomery book as possible.    

I daydreamed as I dressed, imagining how things would go.

“Hello, Meg,” a grown-up would say, and I would turn my angelic smile upward. 

“What are you reading, dear?” the guest would ask, and I would say oh-so-serenely, “The Bible.”  Then I would turn my attention back to the passage at hand, likely a parable. 

The adult would raise his or her eyebrows and say one of the following: 1.) “A noble pursuit!” 2.) “She puts me to shame!” 3.) “What an interesting, unique, impressive young girl!” 

Word would spread quietly through the party that Mary and Terry’s daughter Meg was a serious, pious, near-perfect child who exhibited uncanny similarities to Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. 

“Someone should write a book about her,” someone would say.

“A book?  Someone should write a series about her!  And then someone else should turn the series into a Broadway musical, a movie, and a successful TV comedy/drama, airing immediately after Doogie Howser!”

I couldn’t wait.  I found a spot where the sun shone down on my open Bible and experimented with a accessories.  To underline with a pencil, highlight with a highlighter, or neither?  Maybe a pencil would be just the right touch, while a highlighter would be over the top.  Ultimately, I decided to have the pencil handy in case the spirit moved me or the audience seemed to demand it.

And finally the guests arrived!  I could hear them making small talk downstairs, so I made sure I was ready.  Dress spread artistically across the floor?  Check.  Legs crossed daintily at the ankle?  Check.  Holy look on face?  Check.  Bring on the adults!

I waited and waited and waited some more.  Oh, it’s not that people didn’t walk by—they did, and they did say hello to me.  It’s just that no one—not one curious person—inquired after my reading material.  An hour in, I had a terrible crick in my neck and I’d read the same passage 15 times.  Then the foot traffic dried up, and my ray of sun dissipated.  “Don’t give up,” I told myself and stuck it out for another hour. 

I don’t know exactly how long I stayed there, but it was long enough to write a poem in the margin of Mark’s Gospel about a girl who heard the call of God but succumbed tragically to consumption before she could attain martyrdom.

My Bible-In ended in the least picturesque of ways.  My older sister Mary Claire strode into the room, stepping over me on her way to toss her bag onto her bed.  Then she turned around and left with just as much authority, pausing only to glance at my torso.

“Get off my side of the room,” she said. 

By the time I had peeled myself off the floor, I knew that my elbows would retain the imprint of the rug for a week at least.  And my neck … oh, my neck!  It smarted like you wouldn’t believe.   So much for piety being my avenue to stardom.

This morning, sipping my coffee and tipping my head from side to side, I mourned a missed opportunity.  Then I packed my Bible in the diaper bag in case Charlie and I found ourselves with a moment to read in the park.  The kid’s got a future in novels, series, film, and TV.  All he needs is an interesting, unique, impressive hook … 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Get out your tap shoes, Frances! Julian Marsh is doing a show!

That's me in the teal hat on the risers behind the leads.
Don't I look happy?
Last Thursday, I picked up a copy of Artvoice, Buffalo’s independent newsweekly, and casually paged to the audition notices. Theatre hiring interns, show choir needs gospel singers, Christian production company seeks people who look like Jesus … wait, what’s this? The Kavinoky Theatre seeks strong tappers and singers for their fall production of 42nd Street? My heart fluttered, I started humming, and I began to salivate out of control while experiencing spontaneous IBS. It was that old familiar, extremely unpleasant, violently-ill feeling: The stage was calling!

I rushed home to call for an audition appointment, and left an eloquent message in my most theatrical voice (deep, throaty, irresistible). I got a call back not an hour later and found myself blithely telling the caller that yes, I was a tapper, and yes, I couldn’t wait to learn a combination! It was only after I’d hung up the phone that I realized the enormity of the exaggeration I’d just made.

Some backstory: As a child, I believed that I was the next Cyd Charisse. I taught myself the basic ballet positions from a book I got out of the school library. After watching Singin’ in the Rain, I nearly dislocated my shoulder attempting to swing my body gracefully around the maple tree in our front yard. In my aspirations toward Broadway greatness, I secretly considered myself a triple threat. The hitch was that by the time I reached high school I had exactly two years of formal dance lessons under my belt, both in beginner-level ballet.

With the announcement that the 1993 Orchard Park High School musical would be 42nd Street came the tandem announcement that Mr. Jack “Sir” Greenan, the legendary OPHS choreographer, would be holding free beginner tap classes in the auditorium for anyone who wanted to strap on Teletones and learn their time steps. “Bliss!” my heart cried. “Rapture!” my feet answered. “ Be careful to tastefully accessorize your leotard!” cautioned my brain.

Every day of Sir’s tap clinic, I’d struggle with fa-laps and chugs and the rest of the mysterious, complicated language of tap. Every evening, my sister Mary Claire and I would retreat to the basement for intense, sweaty practice that was, I am certain, music to absolutely nobody’s ears. And by the time auditions came around, I was ready. I executed my military time step and my Buffalo steps with enough aplomb to earn a slot as a general, all-purpose, background tapper. I, the top-secret successor to Debbie Reynolds, had pulled it off! My mom made me some fantastic tap shorts and a matching sailor collar, and the rest is glorious, back-row-second-from-the-left history.

And aside from a brief and beautiful detour through Mr. Joel Seger’s wonderful world of tap in 2006-2007 (at CCS Dance in Massachusetts, where I took ballet and tap with some hilarious, funny, fantastic women), that pretty much brings us to the present. A several-week tap clinic in 1993 and a handful of performances of 42nd Street formed the basis for my telephone claim to be a strong tapper. No one ever said I wasn’t confident.

At 5:30pm this past Tuesday, I drove up to the Mullen Sisters School of Dance in Snyder, NY with my tap shoes in my bag and my spirits high. I strode into the studio and handed my headshot to the Kavinoky’s choreographer, who smiled and asked me point-blank, “So, what’s your tap history?” I mumbled something about having tapped in high school, but not much for the past five years or so. I will point out, dear reader, that my statement was technically true.

Minutes later, the other auditioners and I were lined up in front of full-length mirrors learning the show’s opening combination. Within three steps, I was mind-boggling, dizzyingly out of my element. Wing time steps? Traveling what, now? I felt the fleeting desire to simply walk out the studio’s open front and never look back, but I was checked by my dad’s voice in the back of my head saying something like, “Quitter? I didn’t raise you to be a quitter.” (Though I’m pretty sure that philosophy was intended to apply to baseball games and math tests, not foolhardy musical auditions at age 34.)

I stuck it out, thinking it was bound to get better. It got worse. When I was called to perform the combination for the auditors, I mostly just smiled really big and made noise with my feet. On my way out the door, the choreographer’s “Thank you” had a note of pity in it. The accompanist hid his face in the music to avoid my eye. Someone said, “We have your contact information, so we’ll be in touch,” which means, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” which means, “PLEASE don’t call us.”

I retreated to the lobby and unbuckled my tap shoes. Considering that I was a patent failure, I was strangely happy. For a half hour, I had worked hard, sweating and straining over a really fun, if too difficult dance. And for that half hour, I had felt a little like a character in a musical. You know … the musical where the underdog tries out for a show and at first, no one sees her potential. Then something amazing happens and our heroine is plucked from obscurity to become a star!

I’ve got the obscurity part down. Now I'm just waiting for my big break.