Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Horrors; the Horrors

Originally posted Thursday, May 24, 2007

Our hands were clasped, and we gazed deeply into each others' eyes. We had run out of breath, our hearts were thudding with the passion of the moment. We heard music, and we were compelled at that moment to kiss.

We were barely sixteen, and a kiss like that seems like it lasts forever. But it didn't. We heard the crash of a door slamming open behind us, and we whirled around to face the one who had discovered us...

* * * * * * * * *

On the twenty-third day of the month of September, in the middle year of a decade not too long before our own, a young man was chosen to be the heroic lead in his high school's musical production of Little Shop of Horrors. In case you aren't familiar with this show, the "heroic lead" is not exactly heroic; he's more of a poorly dressed, awkward geek/dork/loser. And I was typecast in the role.

I'm not complaining; after all these years, I still love the part. I can still sing it, and could probably remember much of the dialogue. No, it was a blast, and I loved it. The whole cast did: Rick Marcus as the sadistic dentist; Keith channeling Levi Stubbs as the voice of the man-eating Plant; Paxton as Mr. Mushnik. Stacie, Julie, and... I don't remember our other girl, but Stacie could remind me... as the Brooklyn Greek chorus. And don't forget the band, tighter than any metaphor I could use in a high school setting.

But you may have noticed I didn't mention my female lead, yet. And that is because Alison, my girlfriend's best friend, was cast in the role of Audrey. Let us pause for a moment while you get all of your Jerry Springer associations out of your system, and talk about my high school romantic life.

If you recall an earlier blog entitled "The Monkee", you will have a good idea of what my love life was like during freshman year. Sophomore year looked to be a little better, as one of my choir mates seemed to take an interest in me. As thick-headed as I was, she eventually convinced me that I felt the same way, and we began an awkward, but very sweet, young relationship.

Along with this new girlfriend came something I had never had before, having grown up outside of the school district and attended a small church: a circle of social acquaintances. Suddenly, I was spending time outside of school with people my own age... and I liked it. But I came to notice that I wasn't nearly as into the relationship as the girlfriend was, and this presented a problem, since all of my new found friends were actually her friends.

What to do? I did what any socially awkward boy in my situation would probably do: I acted like a jerk. But this didn't seem to work. All it did was bring out the "concerned friend" in everyone around me, cautioning me that I wouldn't want to lose Her - the One Good Thing In My Life.

And then came the play. Being cast opposite Alison was no big deal to me, at first. I hadn't really read the play that closely. So, imagine my utter shock when I learned that we would have to kiss at the end of our big duet.

"You mean, we have to like, lean real close and just pretend, right?" I asked.

"No," said our no-nonsense director, "you are going to put your lips together and kiss for the last two measures of the song."

Everybody indulged in an "aw, cute" moment as Alison and I glanced at each other in horror. Everybody thought they knew why we were so floored, but I don't think they realized that the real problem was that I had not yet kissed my own girlfriend. Yeah, yeah, sweet sixteen and all that... I had a horrible choice to make. I had to move my relationship (which I didn't really want to be in) to a new level of intimacy that I didn't want to move to, or get my first kiss on a stage in front of who-knew-how-many people.

Alison was not enjoying the situation too much, either. You couldn't even call it a proper love triangle; I don't think it would even make a polygon. But in the end, I either summoned up courage, or I caved in to pressure (depending on how you look at it), and I kissed my first girlfriend after school one afternoon before play rehearsal.

It's hard to describe the weeks leading up to the show. My new found social status was building, and my budding romance was booming, and yet underneath it all, I was growing more and more unhappy about it all. I couldn't break up with this girl; after all, she was incredibly sweet, and loved by all. Not only that, but her life seemed to be a scary mess compared to the idyllic boyhood full of Star Wars men and long, solitary bike rides through the desert that I had grown up with.

It seemed every time I worked up the nerve to tell her that I thought we should end it, something would happen; her mother lost a job, her grandmother died, her alcoholic father came back to live with them... one thing after another for months on end. The only real escape for me was the play, where I was part of a team, doing something that we were increasingly proud of.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Which brings us to the dress rehearsal.

If you've never been in a theatrical production, you can't imagine the value of doing a "real" run-through, just to shake out all of the bugs. This is where the mistakes become apparent, and fixes can be made before opening night. For Alison and I, this was the moment of The Kiss. And for numerous reasons that I came to loathe later, our director had decided to make it an "open dress rehearsal". She wanted as many people as possible to come and watch, to see how we would handle the pressure of an actual performance.

How would you handle a "first kiss" in front of a jury of your bored peers?

We sang our hearts out, and we built that final note. Our hands were clasped, and we gazed deeply into each others' eyes. We had run out of breath, our hearts were thudding with the passion of the moment. We heard music, and we were compelled at that moment to kiss.

We were barely sixteen, and a kiss like that seems like it lasts forever. But it didn't. We heard the crash of a door slamming open behind us, and we whirled around to face the one who had discovered us... Mr. Mushnik.

Remember what I said about "bugs" in the production? Here was one: Mr. Mushnik's mustache. Paxton had insisted all along that he could grow a mustache for the production. He stopped shaving, I'll grant you, but after six weeks of rehearsal, he had only the barest whisper of hair fuzzing the vermilion of his lip. His lower lip. And so, come the night of dress rehearsal, Paxton showed up with a false mustache, and a bottle of spirit gum.

The spirit gum worked great through the first act, but after our big number, Mushnik & Son, perspiration overtook inspiration. What Alison and I did not know as we stood locked at the lip during the finale of "Suddenly, Seymour", was that Paxton had gone in search of an alternate solution to the false mustache. Thus, when he crashed through the door, startling our hero and heroine in love's stolen embrace, we whirled to find Paxton standing before us... with a "Charlie Brown" zigzag drawn on his upper lip in brown dry erase marker.

Alison was lucky; her part called for her to run offstage in tears, which she apparently found very easy to do. I, on the other hand, had to face Mr. Mushnik and look "scared", when what I really wanted to do was drop to the stage and roll around in gales of trouser-soiling laughter.

It gets worse.

Paxton's next bit of dialogue leads to the "ah-ha" moment, where Mr. Mushnik accuses Seymour of doing in the dentist, and cries "...I found THIS!" as he pulls the dentist's blood-soaked smock from a nearby trash barrel.

Instead, Paxton cried "...I found THIS!".... and frowned into the trash barrel for a moment before saying, "I must have left it in the other barrel," and dashing backstage to find his prop.

And there I stood, onstage, every emotion my hormone-riddled body could evoke, fighting for it's chance to surface. The music kept vamping -- a four-bar repeat of the "Oh, dear" music -- and I started to make stuff up.

I have no idea what I said. Something like, "Oh, dear! Oh, me!/What can it be?/What kind of evidence could he have on me?" Like Shel Silverstein on Tin Pan Alley. I was actually told by some kids who were there that when they saw the official version of the show later that week, they were disappointed that part wasn't in there again!

But the point is that, like all awkward moments, this one passed. I kept my head, somehow, and managed to survive it. The show, the kissing, the inevitable break-up... as difficult as it seemed at the time, all of it eventually worked out. Sure, it could have gone better, but then, it was all a kind of dress rehearsal, wasn't it? I like to think I did better in the "Real Show" because of it.

And the moral of the story, of course, is one that anyone with an ounce of common sense will tell you without going through all of the pain and agony: if you can't grow it yourself, you're better off without a mustache.

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