Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dinner Conversation

"Mom I'm so excited I got a part in the 5th grade Christmas play."

"You did? What is your part?"

"I want it to be a surprise. I didn't get the part I really wanted, the lead Benjamin."

"Who did?"

"The music teacher's son."

She's the one that does the programs. "Nepotism!"

"What's that?"

"Well, it's when you give a job or role to a family member over other qualified people, but don't tell them I said that. It's kind of a mean thing to say. Anyway, he's a good actor too."

"Yeah, he's a good actor, maybe better than me, but I'm a way better singer."

"Oh, try not to compare. You are both good actors. And yes you are a very good singer remember how everyone was talking about your performance in the class opera last year? It was amazing. And next year you will have the new drama teacher in middle school. His kids are way younger than you, no competition there."

"Did you ever try out for a play?"

"Me? Yes! But not until 10th grade. I was so shy. The first year I got a part in Oliver Twist. It was a small part, selling roses on the street. I had a solo. Want me to sing it for you?"


"Will you buy my sweet red roses two blooms for a penny."

"I like that."

"Then my part got stolen from me. There was this girl, she was a senior and very loud, and she wanted my part. Next thing I knew a few days later I was the girl selling strawberries singing Ripe! Strawberries ripe! That was her part. I figured she complained to the director, who was really just a nice art teacher. It was a bit of a stretch for me, because I'm not a soprano."

"Yeah, I like the other part much better. Weren't you mad?"

"A little, but I was excited to be a part of the production, and I really didn't want to deal with any drama with this girl. It wasn't worth it. I just sang the part I knew I got in the shower, on the way to school, etc."

"Were you ever in any other plays?"

"Oh yes! I had a much bigger part the next year in the fall musical. It was The Music Man. I played Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. She wasn't the lead, but she was the mayor's wife, kind of the comedy role. I got to dress as the Statue of Liberty and pop out of a Grecian Urn! It was so fun. Everyone was very surprised. Even my school headmaster came up and praised my performance. He told me he thought of me as the girl always looking at her feet in the school hallway not a stage ham."

"I want to watch that musical. Did you ever do any others?"

"You should YouTube some of the songs. No, I didn't. My senior year I did other stuff. We'd better get to the play downtown. Opening night of A Christmas Story."

By the Spring of my junior year I was in a rebellious mood. It's kind of tough being a rebel when you are a white girl in an elite public school, but you cannot help the situation you are born into, and I was determined to rattle the cages as best I could. I started by plotting a coup. I and all my friends had been on the Pom Squad or cheerleaders for the last three years. It's what you did there. Being gravity challenged, I was on the Pom Squad. I enjoyed the fellowship and the dance routines - I was good at it, but all the extra duties were beginning to grate on me. Helping the cheerleaders cheer during basketball season, when there were so many games. Making posters and care packages for all the basketball and football players every homecoming. I like to show off my bubble letters as much as any teenager, but what about me? I showed up at every game. I never got a sign or a care package. Screw this gig.

So I started talking to my friends. "It's going to be our Senior Year! Last year of high school. Do we want to spend half our nights and weekends cheering and traveling when we could be partying and going to the movies? I'm quitting. Please join me." My insidious plot worked. I decapitated the senior leadership from the Pom Squad and managed to get one of the most popular girls in our class to quit cheerleading. The coaches were livid. I received some lectures. "All the Moms are so angry with you. I'm so disappointed in you." I smiled sweetly, told them I was sorry, and thought I don't really care.

By Senior year, I was wanting to replace Pom Squad with a different sport. Me and four of my guy friends - all of us had hating team sports and loving academics and art and music that was not on the radio in common - decided to start a swim team. We found a place to swim and a couple of coaches and carpooled each other to the practices. A few months in, one of the guys pulled me aside at my locker. He told me he was feeling really uncomfortable and had to tell me that the junior coach was making very lewd statements about me during practice to all the guys. They hated it. They didn't know what to do, but thought I should know. I was so angry. I knew just who he was talking about - he leered in the worst way. I stewed on what to do for a couple of days.

The next practice came around, and I told my friends to count me out. The next morning they rallied around me and tried to persuade me back. "You are the best one on the team. Please come back. You are our only chance of winning. The head coach said he would do anything to get you back." I told them sorry but no chance in Hell. I thought winning is not nearly as important to me as not being made and object. I'll swim alone.

Later that Spring, I was publicly tapped with the homecoming queen to spearhead a Just Say No to Drugs campaign for the entire school. They called us up at assembly and handed us green Just Say No ribbons. This didn't settle well with me - the admin didn't even ask me. Four days later I made an appointment with the vice principal. I sat in his office and told him I had to decline. I hadn't done drugs, but would feel like a hypocrite being an ambassador to a campaign I didn't fully support. I told him I believed some drugs are ok, even illegal ones, and I hadn't ruled out experimenting someday. He respectfully accepted my resignation, and another student was named to fill my place.

I didn't tell Jack all of this, but someday I will. When I graduated in the Spring of 1990, even though I pissed a lot of people off, I felt good that I had stuck to my principles, rather than maintaining the status quo.

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