6th Grade Typical Tracy with her Little Mice Men

When I was in the sixth grade, our chorus teacher decided to put on a school play. Her idea was to take the classic tale of Cinderella and add songs that she wrote herself, thus turning it into a semi-musical production. I cannot, for the life of me, recall auditioning for this play. It doesn’t surprise me that I did…I tried out for every play out there. I even took improvisational acting classes with a few friends of mine at our town’s rec center. So audition I must have, because for the first and last time in my life, I got the lead.

Yep, this gal, back at the tender age of 11, was Cinderella in the sixth grade play.

The chorus teacher, Mrs. Haspel, was a bit of a wack-job and was generally not liked very much by the students. She had just taken the place of Ms. Macari who for reasons I can’t remember, left our school. Perhaps she went off to get married. In any case, she was a tough act to follow. All the kids loved Ms. Macari…she was pretty and blond with large eyes and an overbite kind of like Beverly D’Angelo. She had a great soprano voice – I remember her cast as Marion the Librarian in our town’s production of “The Music Man” and she killed it.

Mrs, Haspel, on the other hand, had long, frizzy, graying hair and was a tad Bohemian in appearance. The kids had zero respect for her, and goofed off in class on a regular basis. I felt kind of bad for her too…she tried hard to make music class interesting. I remember her bringing in Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” to play for us during class which was pretty cool seeing as the album had just come out and “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” were big hits. Hell, it was better than listening to classical.

The songs she wrote for the play were pretty bad. I can only remember one of them because it was my solo at the beginning of the show. It was called “Never a Moment” and told of Cinderella’s life of misery and woe. Singing it was pretty embarrassing. Another embarrassment was who she cast for the prince. It was this guy Paul who was in the 7th grade, and I barely knew him. That may sound like no big deal to the average reader, but this guy had to kiss my hand at the end of the play, and that was devastatingly icky to my little 6th grade brain.

My mom went to work sewing my costumes, and I threw myself into rehearsals. They were fun because my ugly stepsisters and evil stepmom were played by 3 dudes, Arthur Jones, David Wallach and Andrew Shalit, and I was friends with them. As opening night drew closer, I began to get more and more nervous. We had two shows on Friday afternoon for the school, followed by a night performance. I then had a Sunday night performance for any parents who could not come during school hours.

During school that Friday morning I remember my stomach began to hurt. I was a nervous wreck anticipating my stage debut later in the day which made my guts start to churn. I asked permission to go to the bathroom, and while walking down the hall I felt the need to pass gas. The hall was empty, so I figured I’d just let it rip on my way to the girl’s room.

Now this is where my story takes the first of several hideous turns.

As I gently tried to release the gas, something more, ummm,  solid came out.

Wide eyed and panicked, I clenched up with all my might and shuffled to the girls room. To my utter horror, I realized that I had actually shit myself. It was only a little, but enough to have left a spot the size of a quarter on the back of my pants. What the fuck was I going to do?  There was no way I could go through the rest of the day with a shit stain on my pants. I grabbed a pile of the brown, industrial style paper towels, wet them with water and went to work in one of the stalls trying to scrub out my panties and pants when mercifully, the bell rang for lunch.

I was saved! This was back in the day where you could leave school grounds during lunch. After a quick trip to my classroom, I grabbed my jacket, tied it around my waist like a skirt to hide my shameful spot and sprinted home. My house was a good half mile from the school, and I ran those 9 blocks like an Olympian. Once home, I cleaned up and changed, and darted back to school. The horror of crapping my pants actually took the edge off the fact that I had to get on stage, and my performances for the school went fine.

The following Saturday I went into New York City for a sleep over birthday party. My girlfriend Leslie Nuchow’s parents were divorced. Her mom lived in our hometown, but her dad lived on the 20th floor or so of a high rise in the city. During the party, a bunch of us thought it would be fun to have a few girls go down to the ground level and stand below her father’s balcony – we wanted to see if we could scream to each other from that distance.

As hard as we tried, it seems that 20 floors was just too much space for our voices to cover. I know we tried hard because I woke up Sunday morning with little to no voice. And I had my final performance that night. Upon my arrival home my mom lectured me for being a dumb cluck and had me gargle with salt water and not utter a sound until show time.

When showtime arrived I recall standing center stage, and as Mrs Haspel played the opening notes to my song I began to sing. “Never a moment to see the sky, never a moment to wonder why, never a moment to see the sunrise or take a walk….” (I told you the song was bad) In any case, each time I went to sing the word “moment,” which was the highest note in the verse, my voice would disappear. My mouth would move, but my stripped vocal cords refused to produce any sort of sound.

It was utterly humiliating, but what was I to do? I had to stand there and alternately sing and not sing to the masses crowded into the Anna C. Scott auditorium. You would think that would’ve been the end to my suffering, but the powers that be weren’t quite done messing with me yet.

Gene Shalit - Don't make me laugh, ha ha ha.

My cast mate Andrew, was the son of Gene Shalit…the film critic from NBC and the Today Show. He had arrived late to the play and was standing in the back of the auditorium. As I looked up during a scene where I was supposed to be weeping over the fact that I can’t go to the ball,  I spotted him silhouetted by the rear doors – the reflection of his glasses added to the comical outline of his rather large mass of hair, made me spontaneously burst out laughing. It was only one rather loud guffaw…I quickly recovered and commenced with my sobbing, but it was still pretty embarrassing.

My parents were proud of me none the less, and threw me a big party with a cake back at our house after the show. I’ve been in many plays since…some with mishaps, others that went off without a hitch. But there is something about that 6th grade play that always reminds me of John Hughes movie. So many things went laughably awry, but it all turned out ok in the end.

Never a moment to see the sky, never a moment to wonder why,
never a moment to see the sunrise or take a walk.
But maybe someday when I am free, I’ll have a moment that’s just for me
I’ll be so happy when I am grown. I’ll have a moment of my own.

I can’t believe I still remember that.

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