Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Nice going, Ace

When I was in eighth grade, I was in my first play. It was the dramatic classic The Sky's The Limit, which concerns the wacky hijinks that ensue when a cheerleader mixes up her family's phone messages. My friend E. played the cheerleader, Sunny Sky, and I played her boyfriend, Ace, a football player.

That was the first and last time anyone has called me "Ace."

I remember I very carefully drew the cover art for the program - a set of interlocking arrows - because they're all going in different directions, get it? - and I believe hijacked the copier at my mother's office to print it up. I wouldn't be surprised if I stole, er, borrowed some of my family's furniture to use on stage; my mother got used to all the phones in the house vanishing (I needed them!) or half her dishes appearing in a starring role in a dinner scene.

E., the star of the show, was as unlikely a cheerleader as I was a football player, but she was very funny. We had become friends in fourth grade when I changed schools, and stayed friends up through high school.

In seventh grade we started having long phone conversations at night - I remember once we were trying to stay up all night on the phone, actually falling asleep at points during the conversation. I used to plug another phone in near whichever phone I was using, so I could have a phone on each ear, creating a stereo effect. Thinking back, I can't imagine what a pair of 13 year olds could talk about for hour after hour. But we did.

At this point I developed a severe crush on E., but for some reason couldn't tell her. I would leave anonymous presents on her doorstep on my way to school, and anonymous poems in her locker. This lasted for maybe two months - I wanted her to know it was me, and yet I didn't. By the time she figured it out, I think the crush had broken, and we were able to go back to being friends.

We never went out on an actual date, although we hung around together all the time and went to a few dances together. We entered a costume contest at the Halloween dance, going as Kermit and Miss Piggy (this was at the height of the Muppet Show's popularity.) My dad got into the act, creating two giant paper-mache heads for us to wear.

My parents had a long tradition of being involved in making Halloween costumes; back when we kids were very young, they built a pair of paper-mache Bert and Ernie heads and wore those for Halloween themselves. More on the Halloween traditions some other time.

It took a couple of weeks for the heads to be born: there was a base of chicken wire which had to be shaped; then it was covered with paper mache and sculpted a bit. It's not as easy to build a Kermit head as you might think: it's an unusual sort of shape, and everyone instinctively knows if it's "right" or not, having seen Kermit for years on Sesame Street. After the shapes were right, they were painted, and had styrofoam eyes put on.

E. got some lilac-colored satin elbow-length gloves, and off we went to the dance, wearing our giant heads. We came in second. I forget who won, but no giant heads were involved. Everyone we knew said we'd been cheated, but we didn't care. We danced the night away. With our giant heads.

E. had an interesting family. She was Jewish, which was a little unusual for Tucson; her parents were the hip-cool-likely-pot-smoking type. Her father ran a record store and wrote record reviews for the local alternative weekly; they had shelf after shelf of albums in their house - old jazz players, punk bands, European pop groups I had never heard of.

I don't remember how we came to be doing The Sky's The Limit. This was probably part of a class I was in at the time - the kind of class where they rounded up the creative kids and let us do whatever the hell we wanted, more or less. I Googled up the teacher who ran the class - ordinarily I wouldn't put someone's full name here, to avoid search engines - but Renee Wallner, if you ever see this, you were an amazing teacher. I found that in 2001 she had planned to take early retirement, but had it rescinded so she could go on teaching - still at Amphi Junior High (now Amphi Middle School.) She was listed as a Dreams teacher - and that is exactly right.

All my friends, the creative types, were in the play - Maggie, who had to spray her hair gray to play the grandmother. She and I became boyfriend and girlfriend later that year - until the unfortunate Fondue Incident. Another time for that. The grandmother's male admirer was played by my friend Anthony, squashing a fedora down over his face, swinging a cane and doing his crotchety-old-man voice. (All of us who knew Anthony wondered why he never wanted a girlfriend, considering all the girls swooned over his Mayan-Prince good looks. Well, of course, now we know.)

Another friend named Julie (not the one I've mentioned here previously) was Sunny's little sister, who likely had some other punning name. I've forgotten the rest of the cast - whoever was playing the other members of Sunny's hapless family.

I'm sure the play was ridiculous - something we probably found in the pages of Dramatics magazine - but we had fun. I wore an oversize football jersey and did pratfalls over the furniture: "Sunny! You're kidding! You did what?!"

Of course, what I really wanted to do was direct.

That came later - directing a couple of one-act plays for the National Junior Honor Society - but I was clearly hooked. I didn't yet have my heart set on having a life in theater - in those days I had thoughts about going to Harvard and becoming a lawyer. It's funny to think that this silly play was one of my first steps to where I am now.

I heard from E. again about five years ago. I had registered at Classmates Dot Com, and she found my e-mail address there. She was married and I believe still living in Tucson. I wrote her back a long reply, catching her up on every move I'd made since we'd lost touch. I included the fact that I was gay - something I was sure she wouldn't be surprised by. I mean, come on, she and I memorized the entire spoken section of Moon Zappa's "Valley Girl," and would perform it for each other. That's just ... gay.

I never heard back from her. I didn't know if it was just one of those things that fell through the cracks, or if she felt that we were so different now that there was nothing more to say.

But wherever she is now, I'm glad that she (wearing a backward-facing baseball cap and one of her dad's shirts) sought me out and became my friend in fourth grade, when I was the new kid. It was great for all the years it lasted.


Blogger David said...

Goblin is happy that she is the beneficiary of your family's Halloween costuming tradition. At least, I think she's happy.

Goblin, come down off of that ledge! October is MONTHS away!

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

My middle school friend and crush was Tanja, who became my constant pen pal after we moved in ninth grade. When I was eighteen, she sent me a picture and she had gone from dumpy pre-adolescent girl to hot tamale! She called me the first week of college, when she lived just a few hundred miles away. During our time apart she became quite the partier - smoking, booze, sex. I was shocked!

And never called her back.

At the time I was completely freaked out. If only I knew her today - I bet we would have an awfully good and dirty time.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Knottyboy said... killed me here.

This post brought back memories of my school daze and the hell that heaped up on my shoulders being closeted in HS. A Lutheran Christ-centered HS, Christ almighty is right! I wonder what their policy is about gay and lesbian students today. The memories are bittersweet. I've thrown away every yearbook and every picture from those days as a show of good faith that things would be better down the line. And they've better exactly that...

Thank you for sharing your past and the friendships kindled there.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous barb said...

When outside or in the foyer, I often caught glimpses of E on her bike riding headon toward the carport, during monsoon days in her yellow slicker & hood. If I opened the door or looked directly at her, if I said "Hi E", she rode away faster than when I stayed put.

1:30 PM  

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