High School and A Drama Queen in Training

After much anticipation, the big Frog Pond Holler hiker extravaganza was a wash.


It came a gullywasher of a storm and rained through alot of the activities. The weather didn't keep the hikers away though, the one time I ventured out towards town, the sidewalks were wall-to-wall covered with drippy, hairy people. I didn't attempt to get out of the truck and take any pictures. I just can't rock the wet t-shirt look like I once could.

Did you catch the Barbara Streisand concert on the boob tube last night? I know.. I'm usually going on and on about spandex clad, eyeliner wearing headbangers, but I have an appreciation for show tunes too. When she sang "Memories" I was immediately taken back to the 9th grade, when I massacred the hell out of sang a watered down version for my chorus class audition at Maury High School.

I didn't get very far into my rendition before the chorus director cut me off, having determined that he knew everything he needed to know about my singing ability.. or lack thereof.

"But Mahala," I hear you ask (because publicly acknowledging the voices in my head could be dangerous,) "I thought you said you went to Booker T. Washington High School?"

Well, yes but after my private school career came to an end, I first attended Maury and was asked to transfer to Booker T after one semester. Apparently my class skipping, bathroom smoking, armed security guard harassing skizzles weren't the lessons they had in mind for me and the powers that be decided I'd be better off at a rougher school, with more armed guards and regular city police patrols.


So I sat in the dark and watched Miss Streisand, whose voice is still amazing, and remembered those days. Ma was working as an office manager at the small Roses store on 21st Street in downtown Norfolk. The drama professor from Old Dominion University would shop there for props and clothing for costumes whenever there was a new play opening and he'd have to see Ma for all the tax exempt form.. thingies. Ma was a little sweet on the drama professor, newly divorced and finding her inner wild child.. she'd bat her eyes and fawn and eventually it became a regular occurrence for him to get us tickets to every new production.

Ma always amazed me with her ability to use her baby blues to get just about anything. It must not be hereditary because on the few occasions I've tried it, I just end up looking stupid.. or offered a bottle of Visine.

The university theater was just off campus downtown, not far from Roses. During a time when we'd gone from "comfortable" to dirt poor, seemingly over night, proudly announcing we were on the guest list before moving through the ornate theater doors made me feel almost normal again.

I must have been around 14, trying desperately to be one of the cool kids, while hopelessly trapped in eternal dorkatude. Walking through those doors transported me to another time with the aroma of fresh, hot popcorn served in tiny paper bags, red carpet, velvet ropes and thick, heavy hanging drapes with gold tassels. Like much of the downtown area, the decor had a strong art deco influence with rich, black marble tile. I remember telling Ma that the bathroom was real fancy.. it even had a chair where you could sit to powder your nose.

After I moved to Booker T. and had been there for nearly an entire school year, someone somewhere realized that something must be wrong for me to have gone from being a lifelong honor student, band geek, basketball player and student council member to one who spent an entire semester in in-school suspension and on the rare occasion that I did show up for class, I was chemically altered in some way.

Gee.. ya think?

So anyway, whoever that was, teacher, councilor.. I'm not sure.. started getting me tested, pushing me to get involved in things and eventually lead me to the office of Hugh Copeland, the head of the Booker T drama department.

I ended up taking some drama classes which only drove the final nail in any hopes of a show biz career in my lifetime. I so sucked. I was fabulous backstage, but the second I walked out on stage in front of the class, I could barely spit, mumble and spew my own name. But Mr. Copeland found me something to do, he allowed me to run the tape player at the next big production. It was such a small thing, but when I told all my slacker, druggie friends, you would have thought I was directing the entire production.

I was a proud puppy.

Eventually, my fascination with musicals and theater came full circle when, after I had finally given up and dropped out of high school, I saw an article in the paper that Hugh Copeland would be starring as George M. Cohan with the ODU theater group's production of "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

I tried to hide the tears that rolled quietly down my cheeks as I sat in the theater for the last time. I wanted to be a part of the glitter, the beautiful music, the rousing applause. Ma wasn't with me that time, by then she'd taken up drinking and carousing most weekends and I didn't see her much. I'd dropped out of high school, working at a department store during the week and trying to keep Ma's latest too young, too drunk boyfriends from "accidentally" sneaking in to my bedroom in the middle of the night.

Isn't it funny how many memories can be churned up just by sitting in the dark, watching Barbara Streisand on television in a tiny trailer, in a tiny town, in the middle of nowhere, 30 years later?

Eventually, the Amazon came wandering in to the room, griped at me for sitting in the dark and turned the lamp on. As Barbara spoke of "Romeo and Juliet" and how hatred can cause such tragedy, the Amazon said, "Well, love didn't work out so great for Romeo and Juliet. They both ended up dead. And besides... Romeo was really in love with someone else and.."

I interrupted, "Do you mind? I'm watching this."

"I'm just sayin'..." she continued. She went on for a couple minutes about the real meaning behind the play and on and on... and I smiled. I thought.. she's a pretty good kid. Maybe it wasn't all for nothing. Maybe.. I have done something right.

Everything happens for a reason.

Ya'll have a good week.

Later Taters!


BetteJo said...

Thank God for a good kid, right? I know what you mean.

rennratt said...

Yes. Everything happens for a reason.

Thanks for saying so; I needed the reminder today.

kenju said...

Mahala, you can REALLY write!! It's hard for me to believe that you dropped out.

Maury was right behind De Paul Hosp., where I used to work. I also went to Old Dominion for 2-3 semesters, taking the science courses I needed to get certified in Cytotechnology. I used to shop the Roses at Ward's Corner. You bring back a lot of memories to me too!

tiff said...

I so love this post.

Inanna said...

You said it.