Tuesday, February 14, 2006
The summer before I left for college, I did some community theater. I was supposed to be an English and Theater major in college. That was my original plan. I even had a scholarship from the English Department at my high school. But something in me snapped, and, for reasons I cannot clearly remember, I decided I was going to do Russian Area Studies. This came as a surprise to my English teachers. I think it may have been a surprise to me, too. I was a teenager. Go figure.
But I still loved theater, and I wanted so badly to be part of that local scene one last time before I left for Minnesota. I tried out for one of the Greek tragedies in the park in Rock Island. I got the part of the Nurse in “Hippolytus.” He got the part of Hippolytus.
We met at auditions. He was tall and blond and somewhat beefy, probably a good five years older than me. His 80s haircut flopped in his eyes, hidden behind tortoise shell horn rim sunglasses. He grinned and called me “Sweetie” and sat with me in the stands while we critiqued the local gentry coming out to try their hand at stage play. He made me feel warm from my head to my toes.
We were both always early for rehearsals, sitting alone, chatting away about music and movies. I wore a painters cap from my intended college, Macalester, and I remember him taking it from my head one day and wearing it throughout rehearsal. He’d gone to my college, it turned out, but then dropped out to just pursue theater and art (I guess now we’d call him a “designer” from what he liked to do then.) One day, by chance - not difficult in the preppy uniform 80s, I suppose - we both showed up in red polo shirts (collars up), khaki shorts, and, strangely, red Chuck Taylor Converse high tops. Matching sunglasses, matching haircuts, matching clothes, matching personalities. We laughed a good, long time.
The next day, he showed up with his Walkman and put the headset over my ears. Elvis Costello sang to me:
Oh, I used to be disgusted
And now I try to be amused
But since their wings have got rusted
You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes
But when they told me 'bout their side of the bargain
That's when I knew that I could not refuse
And I won't get any older, 'cause the angels wanna wear my red shoes
And every day after that, you’d hear him singing around the set, “Oh, I won’t get any older, ‘cause the angels wanna wear my red shoes…” and he’d look around for me and just smile that crocodile grin. Between scenes, while the stagehands moved the set, he’d sit next to me, leaning into me, an arm around my shoulder, whispering conspiratorially in my ear, all while my heart pounded away. He was handsome, we were inseparable in the park, and, lord, he knew all his lines cold by the third run-through! I was so impressed and so amazed by this man who gave me all his attention for two or three hours every day for a handful of weeks.
He talked about how he should come up and visit me at college in Minnesota that fall. Show me all the places where he’d hung out that one year at Mac. I just beamed at the thought of this man wanted to come visit me. This tall, blond Scandanavian man, cultured, handsome, so… everything.
And then, the day of the dress rehearsal, he came up to me and said, “Hey, hon – this is Andrea, my fiancée. Andrea, this is Melissa, that sweet girl I was telling you about.” And this gorgeous, tall, blond woman smiled at me with her own crocodile grin and offered me her hand to shake.
I think I smiled back. I think I said something. I think it took a long time for the muscles in my face to loosen up from the rictus I wore. I know I did an awful job on stage. I sleepwalked through each performance. The director screamed at me backstage. No one could hear me through my mask. He’d made an awful mistake in casting me. What was my problem?
He was my problem. And I was a fool. Welcome to Idiot in Love 101.
I still have those red shoes, although I never wear them now. I haven’t done any theater since then, and, for the life of me, I can’t remember his name. But whenever I hear Elvis sing, I still remember his crocodile grin and the way I felt when he whispered in my teenage ear.
Oh, I won’t get any older, ‘cause the angels wanna wear my red shoes…