Sunday, December 4, 2016

One of my first stories

I've decided that I'm going to start posting things I've been writing for years. Some of it is fiction, some of it is fact, some - a little bit of both! However, I was pretty popular in high school, and this is only one incident of a series that proves it. My high school has a LONG tradition of a gymnastic competition between the junior and senior classes. (There are other stories that elaborate, I'll post them here, too.) Every year, the junior class votes on their mascot, and that 'character' becomes the mascot for two consecutive years. There's a general assembly for that class to hold auditions for a person to BE that mascot for the two years. This is my story.

At Girls High, they had a policy that if you were taking a freshman class you had to be in a freshman homeroom, even if you were a sophomore. I spent my sophomore year in a freshman homeroom for this reason. Well, even though I was in this freshman homeroom, I was well aware of all the things going on with the sophomore class.

The school had an event every year called ‘Contest.’ It was a gymnastic competition between the juniors and the seniors. Every year they elected a mascot (you got to be mascot for 2 years if elected.) Every year they held an audition. It was the biggest sophomore assembly of the year.

Each year the classes get to pick a cartoon character to be their team’s mascot. It’s great because there are pictures in both the junior and senior class yearbooks. So it’s your choice if you decide to get two yearbooks because you do it as a junior and again as a senior.

The audition for the Contest Mascot was at the next assembly. I had been hanging around with a couple girls that were in the band. One of my best friends who was in the band said she thought it might be fun for me to audition. The class had chosen the Pink Panther. There’s a very popular song called Alley Cat that the band had just learned to play. Ann suggested that I use that song and act like a ‘cat’ and just generally do a ‘cat’ imitation as the audition while the band was playing that song.

We worked it out with the band director and it was a go. We didn’t rehearse or anything because we all knew it would just be spontaneous and I was rather extroverted during my high school years, so it was going to be great fun.

It was the middle of winter in Philadelphia. We used to bundle up and slip and slide our way down the street on a daily basis. It had snowed the night before so it was cold and frozen over that morning.

When I got dressed for school that day I considered whether I should wear my tights, or put them on at school. I had already decided that I would put the leotard on backstage and just draw a couple whiskers on my face with a black grease pencil. So I figured I would just wear the tights. I was bundled into a sweater, a skirt, my pink tights, my woolen scarf, my matching hat and gloves, and my long soft wool gray coat.

That morning, I negotiated my way carefully down the frozen cement stairs in front of my house. I was proud of myself for making my way without slipping and falling and ruining my brand new pink tights.

I took two public buses to get to school each day. One bus ran about a block away from my house. I rode that one to a connecting bus that went the rest of the way to school. I got on the bus, as usual and got off at the stop in front of Ann’s house so we could ride the next bus the rest of the way to school together.

I was walking toward her apartment and slipped and fell face first and smashed my hands and knees on the sidewalk. It only took me a split second to decide that I didn’t have time to feel bad or hurt, I was sure my tights were shredded. I had to find some more tights fast, get inside, change and get going. Ann had seen me slip as she was coming out of her front door and ran to me. There were tears running down my face, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was the cold or if I was crying.

“Wow, are you ok? Look, you ruined your tights!” I didn’t have to look down to know that they were ruined. I could feel the icy cold wetness on my knees.

“Do you have ANY tights?” I asked, pleadingly, as I attempted to get up and shake off the damp snow.

“I don’t know, let’s go look.”

We ran back into the house, as Ann’s mother was getting ready for work. She was standing in the bathroom door which faced the front door as she twisted her long, black hair into a knot at the nape of her neck. She saw us come in and asked, “What happened?” as she looked at my now soggy tights.

“I fell,” I said meekly.

“Ann,” she called over my shoulder, “I think you have some red tights in the hall closet.”

Ann had finished digging in the closet and was waving a pair of slightly dusty, but perfect red tights. “I know you’re supposed to be pink, but nobody will care.”

“I know,” I said, “because I don’t care, I’m going to perform, who cares what I’m wearing!” And we gave each other a high five as I plopped down on the floor and proceeded to remove my shredded tights to change into Ann’s red ones.

“Do I have to drive you all to school now?” her mother asked as she stepped over me sitting in the middle of the hallway.

“If you could just take us to the bus stop,” Ann replied.

“Okay, tell me when you’re ready and we can go.” She turned the corner and went into the living room to get her coat out of the front closet.

I quickly pulled up my tights, adjusted, pulled on my boots, and we were ready.

We cautiously walked to the assigned space where their car was parked. She had a 1966 ½ Mustang convertible. It was white with a black ragtop. It was slick. I loved riding in it. Although climbing into the backseat was difficult, it was always worth the ride!

She dropped us off just as the bus was pulling up. We shouted goodbye as we ran and hopped the bus and rode off to school.

We got to school on time, and the assembly was right at the first bell. I really didn’t ask if I could go to the assembly, I just walked up to the teacher and said, ‘I have to go to the sophomore assembly now.’ And I left the room.

Backstage I stripped down to my tights and put my leotard on in the wings. Francesca DiCosmo and Alameda Smith were in the wings to audition as well. Francesca was also wearing a leotard and tights. She was all in black and she had a top hat and a cane – a la Gene Kelly. Alameda (Ali for short) was pacing around reciting something. Ann had found a headband with ears on it, but she was holding onto it. We didn’t really want to give anything away. And although the entire band was in the wings as well, it wasn’t really a big deal and nobody thought anything of it.

The first person to audition for the part of the Pink Panther was Francesca. She was an Italian who had a twin sister named Andrea. They weren’t identical, but they looked enough like sisters, and they were both in my homeroom my freshman year (and I knew they’d be in my homeroom again next year.) She did a modern dance to ‘The Look of Love’ – it was interesting. I think that she believed that the entire Italian contingent would vote for her in solidarity. The problem was, the Pink Panther is not elegant, and I don’t believe in their heart they could have voted for her. But they did applaud because it was quite a nice dance.

They closed the curtain and Alameda Smith went out to the podium.  Ali was a ‘sister’ who read a poem about how ‘perfect’ she was to be the Pink Panther because she was so ‘cool.’ Now we both know that being cool and saying you’re cool are two different things. Her entire poem practically concentrated on the fact that she should be the Pink Panther just because she ‘said’ so. I don’t know who she thought would vote for her. I think she believed that the ‘sisters’ would vote for her because she had come from hard times, and worked hard in school despite – well, despite whatever she had to overcome – and was counting on a sympathy vote. While she was reading her poem, the band was setting up on the stage behind the curtain. When she was done, she got very weak applause.

Now, there weren’t that many people who knew that I was going to be auditioning with the band. Actually, it was just my friends in the band and the band director. But, without introduction, they started playing ‘Alley Cat’ and I came strutting out of the wings. I was crouched and holding my arms folded and my hands limp. Only part of the audience could see me. People were beginning to laugh while others were craning their necks to see. I stopped and preened and looked around. I hissed and I spat. Then I walked downstage and across in front of the band so everyone could see me. The audience howled.  

Next, I leapt up onto the box that the Band Director was standing on. I began to purr and mew and scratch and lick. I’d rub up against the Directors leg and then I’d turn up my nose and look disagreeable. The class went CRAZY. People were holding their sides from laughing. People would applaud and cheer when I would sit up on my knees and lick my ‘paws.’  

As the song was ending, I climbed on all fours off the box and crawled off stage lifting one hand at a time to the beat of the music so I was all the way in the wings as the song ended. The curtain closed and I peeked out. I got a standing ovation. I never reappeared from the curtain to take a bow, but lots of people were bum-rushing me backstage. I put my skirt and my sweater on over the leotard and the red tights. Girls were trying to catch up with me as I was coming out from backstage of the auditorium.

That was great. You were wonderful. That was so funny. You did that so well. You made me laugh. Ali and Francesca were both nearby. Andrea came backstage to talk to her sister. Ali ended up all by herself. I thanked them both and wished them well. Then I went to my next class. I had done my job.

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