Secret Pop

Jan 9, 2004

"Stuffed whale? Wow!"

Put on your Sunday clothes, there's lots of world out there. Break out the brilliantine and dime cigars.
Beneath your bowler brim the world's a simple song. A lovely lilt that makes you tilt your nose.

I played in the orchestra for a production of Hello, Dolly! in the autumn of 1994. I was simultaneously cast in a production of Somerset Maugham's Rain, so on some of the show days, I only played the matinees in the orchestra, then I rushed across town -- sometimes stopping home to make a batch of homemade cookies or fried rice or some other treat to bring to the theater -- to costume and make up and act for a while. Our backstage area was largely outdoors, and we all used to sit around a table and play Skip Bo when we weren't on stage. When your cue came, someone else would sit down and take your hand. And when you exited, you could come and reclaim your place. It was all very civilized. And everyone loved me. And my fried rice.

I don't know how I found the energy, now that I think about it. I guess I do a great deal these days, too, but it never feels like it. And if I make a habit of writing down the obligations, I get overwhelmed just thinking about them. There was a time when I readily planned to be in two places at once. Nowadays, I often don't even plan to be in one.

I was retelling an anecdote from my youth this evening after dinner. When I was four or five years old, my sister and I were dropped off at a boy named Matthew's house to play and/or be looked after by Matthew's mom. We were out chasing each other around in the yard, and I slipped and fell, sort of in a sliding-into-home-base kind of motion, somehow managing to land in a pile of dog poo. It got all over the back of my pants, from the knee to the hip on the right leg. How embarrased I was. My mom came to pick us up in the big Chevrolet station wagon she used to drive in those days. The kind with the big bench seats. When she saw what I'd got into, she had me ride home standing up in the front seat, gripping the dashboard to make sure that I didn't accidentally sit my poo-covered pants down on the blue vinyl. It's easy to laugh about it now. Even though it might seem a travesty of driver's safety. But I guess we rarely wore our seatbelts back then anyway. I just remember that it was very difficult to not sit down. Inertia being a verifiable force of nature and all. And looking back, I wonder why my mom didn't just have me take the pants off. We were all girls in the car, after all. And after all, this was the same year of my life when my sister and I beat the summer Philadelphia heat by running through the sprinklers in just our underpants. I guess I assumed she made me stand up because she was mad at me. Anyway, that was one of the stories I told.

Hello, Dolly! is on the television at the moment. This movie gets a bit of a beating when people talk about it. Barbra Streisand was wrong for the part. Gene Kelly wasn't the finest director. All of that. But it does have Walter Matthau in it. And I do so love Walter Matthau. It also has lovely music and costumes with fancy hats. And it's in pretty Technicolor -- or something like it. I didn't watch in the credits, so I can't be sure. All the same, the music reminded me of that autumn when I was double-cast in two different cities. I was asked to read for Rain by a friend of mine who was cast in the play. They were having a hard time casting a part, and I was invited to come in on a Saturday afternoon. When I went to read, I wore a little white midriff-baring t-shirt and a short, flouncy little white skirt and probably tennis shoes. I used to get teased by one of the cast members who recalled that the ensemble left little to the imagination. But he didn't say it in a scolding way, and I didn't take insult. I do recall being in a white phase, at the time. A lot of white and cream and beige and very pale yellow in my wardrobe. I often painted with a very monochromatic brush, fashion-wise.

Side note: The big parade scene in Hello, Dolly is unbelievably boring.

That year was a renaissance in my performance life. I played in the Hello, Dolly! orchestra that season after having played in the orchestras for Guys and Dolls and Carousel earlier in the summer. And preceding all of that, I played Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. (I do a great Billie Burke, you skeptics.) I rememer being at a full cast rehearsal for that one when everyone was crowding around boombox radios to hear what was going on with a certain white Suburban being slowly chased on the L.A. freeways. My father was on those same freeways at the time. Driving to LAX to catch a flight back to Italy, where my family was living. I remember getting home that night to find a lovely note he had written me in his distinctive, fine handwriting. It was written on legal paper, and it made me well up with precious tears. Oh, and during one of the performances of Guys and Dolls, my hair caught fire in the orchestra pit, causing a horrible smell and great deal of anxiety for me. It's a long story, involving a stand partner and her citronella candle. Fortunately, it happened during the Manhole Dance, and the dry ice and smoke on stage hid my shame from all but the very first row of the audience. It was one of a number of bad things that had befallen me right around that time, and I was quite at the end of my rope when I called my mom in Italy to tell her what had happened. When I told her, she laughed. I did not laugh along with her. For the rest of that summer, when I went to the pit, I would find little ratty clumps of my burned hair lurking in the corners, near all the electrical cables, and I would stew over it.

Holy moly. What a flood of memories from the simple undamming effects of a few minutes of Hello, Dolly! It's a good thing they don't air these old classic musicals more often. I've played in so many of them, I'd probably be crippled by the time-consuming impulse to catalogue a great glut of reminiscences. What luck that there's no Rodgers and Hammerstein channel. I'd never get a thing done.

I finished a few art projects today. Larger formats than I'm used to, in some cases. A collage that started as a vague idea when I was looking through the paper offal I was planning to discard. Also, I returned to my art journal. I haven't painted anything in it for a while. I've been dabbling on other surfaces. It felt familiar. It seemed to appreciate my attention.

My pink satin pajama pants don't keep me very warm.

Anyway, the movie's on. And I will probably let it play while I fall asleep. I'm picky about what I fall asleep to. This film should be flattered.

I'm ready to move out in front. Life without life has no reason or rhyme left.

I post a lot of pictures, and I know there are people who won't believe it when I say this, but the more I look at my face, the more I hate it.

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