Thursday, September 15, 2005

Boys to men

Today, I was talking with a co-worker about her days on an exhibition gymnastics team.

(She described what she did as parallel bars "and other novelty acts." The invitation to use my filthy mind there sounds like my days on Safewalk, in college. Safewalk was, for lack of a better way to describe it, an escort service. What we really did was walk around with Maglites and walkie-talkies, walking girls too scared to cross campus to their dorms. Well, what we really did was hang around at the sororities, since we averaged about 1 call a shift. Technically, we were "escorting" them. But when people ask what I did, I like to see the look on their face when I say I was part of an escort service.)

Back on point, we got to talking about gymnastics, and I told the story of the gymnastics troupe that visited my junior high school. They were locals, and had a big reputation, and they set up in the gym and did their thing.

So there we sit, eighth-grade boys, bored out of our minds, pondering the curves in the leotards, when this girl falls on the balance beam.

Splat. One leg on each side. WHAM!

Every 13-year-old boy in the audience groaned.

(As Sara pointed out, this is why she stayed away from the balance beam. Yeah, me, too.)

Now I'm sure seeing a good groin shot will make grown men cringe, too, but there's something about being in the middle of puberty that just makes it godawful. I mean, you're already painfully aware of how sensitive you are down there, and how sensitive you are about being sensitive down there.

So I was a bit of a late bloomer, I guess, and a year younger than all my friends, to boot. That doesn't mean much when you're 29 and they're 30 - in fact, that's kind of fun. But when you're 15 and they can drive, when you're 17 and they can vote, when you're 20 and they can drink... who am I kidding. I was a frat boy. I was drinking at 17. But the worst part is, when you're 12 and they're 13, they know all kinds of interesting things they've forgotten to tell you by the time they happen to you.

This isn't really about those nighttime moments, when you start questioning the wisdom of letting your Mom do your laundry.

This is about how I was scarred for life by the eighth-grade Christmas play.

I've been an actor, on and off, for years. I got my start when I was about 10 and the Bloomsburg University drama director, a friend of my father's, needed a "Boy" for his "Waiting for Godot." He'd given me a pirate coat to wear as a Halloween costume, and when I went to his house to say thanks and trick-or-treat, he liked how I looked so much, next thing I know I was on stage. In hindsight, this probably makes me the only person who's ever had any fun having anything to do with anything written by Samuel Beckett.

But by seventh grade, I was more interested in playing soccer than playing a role. But my parents figured being in drama would give me something to do - after all, hadn't I enjoyed the other play? - and make me more friends.

Well, as Meat Loaf would sing, two out of three ain't bad. Good thing I had some good friends already.

So in the seventh-grade Christmas play, I was a Snidely Whiplash-esque villain, down to the fake moustache. (I still can't grow a real one. Sheesh.) They say you never forget the first time, but it was my second play, and I can't for the life of me think of the title. Hell, I even found a photo from the paper of it, when I was digging through some family pictures for the family tree. All I can really remember is one of the characters was named Anemia Strongheart, and Jim Dietterick kept pronouncing it "Anna-mia," thus ruining the joke and driving Mr. Ryan, the director up the wall. But I digress...

In the seventh-grade spring show, I was the comic relief handyman. (I still can't do anything handy, except file key blanks to fit warded locks - see previous post!) This was "Vaudeville's My Home," and the best part was I got a scene with Shannon Laudermilch, who I had a serious crush on. Plus, I got one of the bigger laughs of the show, but it's a visual joke.

And eventually, in the eighth-grade play, I was a doctor, probably raising my grandmother's hopes far beyond what I would achieve in her lifetime. That was "The Velveteen Rabbit," and marked the first time I really got hosed on a role in a musical because I can't sing a note.

But in the eighth-grade Christmas play (this name, I also don't remember, because I think Mr. Ryan wrote it), I was - I shit you not - the fairy godfather. So there I am, 12 years old, in front of the entire school, opening my trenchcoat like a flasher in front of Marci Gerasimoff...

... and I'm wearing a tutu.

Again, I might point out, I got the biggest laugh in the show. And fortunately, I was supposed to look mortified. But if, psychologically speaking, my other ball dropped about a year late, I think this was why. Hell, I was smoking in eighth grade (not the record, by any means; my eighth-grade friends got me started, and I remember little Tommy Riegel was smoking at 10 years old) so I probably had a shot at maturity that didn't really kick in for about another year. Before the dress.

This is one of those moments I remember with a vague sense of disquiet, even as I'm turning them into a joke among friends. Like the time I got really sick in about 10th grade and required one of those Fletch "Moon River!" exams. That's how I learned I wasn't a homosexual. That freakin' hurt.

Shifting gears; two jokes about rectums, neither of them mine.

The vet gave my dog (get well soon!) a rectal thermometer once. He lifted Morgan's tail, and Morgan's standing there, puppy that he was, looking innocently cheerful, trying to wag his tail, when YIP! Head up, eyes bulging out of his skull, accusatory look at me. Maybe that's a visual joke, too.

Other joke: When I went to college, my Mom gave me a digital thermometer, and so my friends could use it, a bunch of plastic sleeves one of my friends immediately dubbed thermometer condoms. So one day, Ed, my roommate, wants to take his temperature. He snags the thermometer (which he's never used), pops on the thermometer condom, pops it in his mouth.

Which was the moment I'd been waiting for, just so I could yell...

"Ed! That's a rectal thermometer!"

He spit the damn thing all the way across the room.

The moral of the story? (The drama one, not the thermometer one, that one should be obvious.)

Never put a boy in a delicate phase of life in a dress in front of everyone he knows.

SafeWalk, which still exists
Bloomsburg Middle School, where I didn't go, because I was in high school when they built it
The Tumblejets, the gymnasts who performed at the Middle School that awful day
Samuel Beckett information
Bloomsburg University theatre arts, a program my best friend from high school flunked out of in one semester
Put on your own version of "Vaudeville's My Home"!
Cross-dressing, Wikipedia style
And slightly later in life, Bloomsburg High School drama, where I learned way too much about acting and life

My latest acting gig? (Blatant shilling!) A small part in "Dead Hunt," coming to DVD this fall/winter from Timewarp Films. Maybe I'll fill in the space between (the high school and college part) sometime.

Randomly, I might mention another embarrassing moment from middle school: square dancing in gym class. Yeah, if they taught you to square dance in school, for a grade, you might be a redneck. That's not the point. The point is, who do they make square dance partners? Me and June Yen. The two Asians. The only two Asians. This is a genetic impossibility, like anti-racial-profiling. Yeesh.