Lame-O-Tard – Part One
When I was twelve-years-old I got accepted into the CAPA middle school program. This stood for Creative and Performing Arts- Americans love an acronym. To get in I had to try out and I sung “The Heat is on in Saigon” from Miss Saigon, an upbeat number, sang by a gaggle of prostitutes in war-torn Vietnam. With each plucky hooker’s part I transformed; from sassy black diva to shy Vietnamese girl, I trilled about VD and being stiffed by Johns, I had no idea what I was really singing about, but that didn’t appear to have mattered to the audition panel.
I was so psyched when I got my schedule in the mail and it included classes like Theatre and Modern Dance. I was sure I would get my big break in the CAPA program and be discovered by a mega talent agent who would come backstage and congratulate me on my startlingly accurate portrayal of Mammy Yokem in Lil’ Abner. “I really wanted to commit to the role,” I would tell him, “so I used shoe polish to black out my teeth.”
Not only was CAPA new to me, but I would be attending a whole new school, and one that, for the first time, I couldn’t walk to and had to take the bus. My new school was in what I heard my parents describe as a “sketchy part of town”. It sounded dangerous and thrilling and I’d never wanted my summer to end so badly.
We pulled up to Anna’s School of Dance and I leaped out of the car, my clothes all of a sudden felt too tight, my throat burned, and my mouth was dry. I was absolutely off my face with pre-teen hormones and excitement. We went inside to shop for my Modern Dance costume and were immediately swallowed up in a Quaalude-induced Pepto-Bismol dream. Everything was pink and delicate. Well, everything but me.
My mom flitted around the shop pretending to be checking sizes and not prices. With her legally blind status, there was no way to do this inconspicuously. She held the tags so close to her face it was as if she was trying to make it into paper mache. My dad, always loath to get too involved in anything relating to my growing up, supported the wall and tried not to make eye contact with anyone.
I spun around, smiled with all my teeth and gave the woman behind the counter my best pliae. I must have looked like I was going to faint or defecate on her floor, because she ran towards me with an outstretched hand and a scowl. I straightened my downy, rubbery limbs which stopped her charge and she sighed loudly and redirected her attention to my mother.
“Can I help you?” scowl-face asked my mom in a voice that dripped with insincerity.
“Are these the prices for real?” My mother spoke out of the corner of her mouth in a voice she thought I couldn’t hear. I always could. Her “inside voice” was always better suited to outside.
“Of course, ma’am. This is professional dance attire.” She turned to face me directly but continued addressing my mom. “Can I ask for what purpose you’re looking to purchase such items?” She cocked an eyebrow and looked at me so hard I realised I had inadvertently entered a full-on staring contest with a middle-aged woman.
Mom looked at me and smiled, “My daughter has been accepted into the CAPA program, so we need some leotards and tights for her classes.” I could hear the pride in her voice and see the disbelief in scowl-face’s face as I approached.
Mom reached for my shoulder in a way that suggested she was afraid I might have bit her, “Honey, we can’t afford anything in here.” My face burned.
“Are we poor, mom?” I raised my voice and she pulled her hand away. “I’m starting a new school and I’m going to look like an idiot if I don’t get my stuff here!”
“Well, get ready to look like an idiot, then, young lady. We are most certainly not poor, but I’m not spending this kind of money to save you embarrassment. You’re twelve and growing like a weed, plus you’re just going to get period stains on everything anyway!” My mouth dropped open as I searched the store urgently for a hole to climb into, or for my dad. But he’d bolted as soon as he heard the word ‘period.’
Stay tuned for the Part Two of the Lame-O-Tard series on Friday, July 3rd!
more by LEE ANNE HILL
photograph by Imani ClovisHire An Editor