I want my excuse to be that I was still in my single digit years, and therefore more vulnerable to the Disney like nature of musical theater. But I distinctly remember living in the Lakeview house, and we didn't move there until I was eleven. One of those friends of the family that my parents had me call Uncle was on the outs with his wife. While I was shipped off to summer camp, he stayed in my room. He brought with him clothes, a stack of magazines ranging from The Weekly World News to Newsweek, and a small beige briefcase full of cassettes.
My parents listened to oldies, classic radio shows, and country music. When I was six, I told my grandmother that I didn't like any music made after 1967. That Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller, and an incredibly premature Best Of The 1980s collection. Tony Basil and Donna Summer became my favorite contemporary artists, and my favorite song on the Elks Club jukebox was Kool & The Gang's Celebration. So maybe the whole musical thing shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. Still, I'm thirty-four now, and much more comfortable talking about that hilarious time I ejaculated into a man's anus, then I am talking about the first time I listened to Cats.
Of course it was Cats. The green eyes on the black background, the catchy poems that Andrew Lloyd Webber set to saccharine music, the obligatory tacked on diva belted ballad. If you're going to leave a copy of Cats in an eleven year old's boombox the same week he gets the lead part in a play about fairy tales, you should go the extra centimeter and paper his bedroom's wall with pictures of greased up men with little or no clothing.
It's never been discussed why Uncle Mo spent two weeks living in my room while I slept in leaky cabins, and on the beach, but I suspect it had something to do with marital problems stemming from his pronounced lisp, gravity defying hands, and bright floral print blousy shirts. Or possibly he just needed a break from his own pre-teen boys who, the next year, would introduce me to ACDC, A Clockwork Orange, and the curious site of a twelve year old boy shoving a harmonica up his ten year old brother's ass. Whenever I start to think my own childhood was perversely gay, I think back on Cousin Bruce and Darren's oddly incestual Truth Or Dare games, and a wave of heteronormalcy washes over me. It feels like the opposite of a facial.
Once I'd memorized the lyrics to Cats, I moved on to Phantom Of The Opera, Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, and Hello Dolly. Later that fall, I grew tired of the weirdly homosexual overtones of Boy Scouts, and quit the troop to be in a production of Bye Bye Birdie.
When you grow up knowing all the lyrics to An English Teacher and Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, you have two choices: be a debonair straight boy who spends his teens and early twenties training to be a professional cunnilinguist, or be a fat homo with body issues and a fake girlfriend. All my exes describe me as "charming".
Even at eleven, I knew that liking musicals was, like waking up hard with your arms wrapped around your tentmate in Webelo camp, something you kept to yourself as long as possible. His future boyfriends would call him "charming" too. His ex-wife has other adjectives. Very few thesauruses connect her descriptions to "charming".
When Queen Sarah The Formerly Popular had her parents turn their loft into her Phantom Of The Opera style bedroom, I was the only one who described it as "cool". A week later, we sang a thirty second variation of All I Ask Of You on my answering machine, recording over my auspicious hip-hop debut. "You have reached 428-1383, we're not home right now, as you can see. Leave your name and your number right after the tone cause right now we can't be reached by telephone right now right now right now." I was born a decade too late to be a Beastie Boy.
Our recording caught the attention of precisely no one except for my parents who erased it because it was "too long".
The first musical I was in was You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. I played Linus. I had a crush on Schroeder, and rat tailed Lucy with my blanket on opening night because she decided to improv and kiss him on the lips. That the actor playing Schroeder was hopelessly straight, or that the actress playing Lucy was his sister didn't cross my mind until I was in my twenties. That there was a disturbing amount of vaguely incestual sibling activity on Cape Cod didn't occur to me until I started writing this paragraph.
I'd like to thank my parents for making me an only child.
The closest I had to a brother, growing up, was Kevin Harris, a professional wrestling fan who used to Weird Al Yankovic lyrics to pop songs, and expose himself to passing traffic. But if we were brothers, then our relationship was aggressively incestual.
Cats led me to try out for musicals. Phantom Of The Opera influenced my outgoing message recordings. Les Miserables enticed me to read the unabridged Victor Hugo novel when I was twelve. It wasn't for another decade, when I was playing Eddie and Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show, that I started connecting the dots between my affinity for musicals and long showers after gym class.
Last week, I found myself at a party with Wiz, Emily, and an assorted mix of poetry friends and strangers, when a girl pulled a eukalale out of her backpack, and began playing songs from The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Evita with honest to tone deaf sincerity. A group of lispers and belters joined in. I knew all the words but had no desire to sing them. This is what I call Gay Pride. Unfuck parades, drag shows, quilts, and rainbow glow sticks. I am proud every time someone shouts "One!" and I don't reply with "Singular sensation!" That's what I call progress.
My two years at Pilgrim's Academy proved that it wasn't the public school system that was lacking, it was my attention. So, in ninth grade, I began my career as a Freshman at Cranberry Lake High School. The nerdy kids that I'd hung out with in elementary school decided I was too popular to hang out with them now. And while the popular kids appeared to like me, I never felt comfortable hanging out with them. Since I was failing at playing the role of myself, I threw myself into the one thing I felt I was actually good at: acting.
My parents had taken me to an audition for The Bogtown Players' production of Our Town when I was six. Since then, I'd played Linus in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the narrator in a bunch of kids plays, and even had the occasional small role in shows like Bye Bye Birdie, and the horrendous stage version of the popular TV show, M*A*S*H. Near the end of my days at Pilgrim's, a bunch of actors from M*A*S*H decided to try and redeem themselves by getting parts in the UMass Cranberry Lake production of The Crucible. My mom decided to let me audition, since the show was supposed to be for college students and adults, and the odds of them casting a thirteen year old were slim. Of course, nowhere on the audition sheet, did they ask your age.
I got not one, but two parts. Admittedly, two of the smallest parts in the play, but when combined were...still, one of the smallest roles in the play. But I was ten years younger than the next youngest cast member. I was invited to parties where I got to watch people get drunk. And since I didn't have much stage time, I did some homework, and some writing during rehearsals.
On Wednesday nights, while we rehearsed in the main theater, an acting class took place in one of the studio rooms. The teacher didn't seem to mind if the upstairs actors crashed his course, so I sat in and watched grown men and women perform terrible monologues, improvs, and terrifying acts of mime. On monologue night, most of the students got on the makeshift stage and performed something from Shakespeare or Sophocles. They didn't get into costume or use any props, they just boringly recited a familiar set of lines. I was about to go back to the dressing room to do my homework, when one of the students said "I'm going to do a reading from Tarzan, King of the Apemen." He, then, ripped off his t-shirt, and wiggled out of his jeans, revealing a leopard skin g-string. This was going to be worth sticking around for.
I don't remember any of the lines from the monologue. It was something that was supposed to be funny. But the lines were trite, the jokes were predictable. And while the actor showed amazing energy by leaping around the stage, he had the verbal delivery skills of a tracheotomy patient. He kept pausing for laughs that didn't come. And then, during a dramatic leap into the air, something magical happened. His left ball swung out of his g-string and hung there while he said something stupid. The class began to chuckle. The chuckle grew into a murmur of laughter. Encouraged, the student leapt more frantically, delivering his static lines. Then his right ball fell out. Chaos of laughter. My face was red rocks under a waterfall. The professor was applauding. When the monologue ended, the actor did a sort of half curtsy-half bow, and it wasn't until his head was pointed in the direction of his crotch, that he realized what everyone was laughing at. I caught every class after that, but nothing exciting happened.
A week before The Crucible opened, the director scheduled an extra rehearsal on a Tuesday night. "I don't think I can come." I told the director. "My mom is going to Florida to visit her parents, and my dad has to work."
"Can't you borrow one of your friends' cars?" She asked.
"I'm thirteen." I told her.
"Holy cunting fuck!" She said.
When my mom picked me up that night, the director apologized for all the times she'd swore in front of me. "I thought he was eighteen!" She said. "I knew he was a student, I just assumed he was a student here. I mean, he always goes to that acting class during rehearsals, and I thought he was in the class or something."
"Don't worry about it." My mom said. "I can assure you he's heard worse."