Well played

A couple of years ago I wrote a tribute to my brother Jamie, so it’s only fair that I proffer this post about my indomitable sister Becky.  To her friends—because I don’t know anyone who knows her who doesn’t find her fascinatingly fearless, funny, generous, loyal, and charming—my words will serve to reinforce their attachment to her.  Those who have never met her will be clamoring to become a member of the former group.

Be forewarned: She’s quite a bit of humanity to take in.

Middle Child?  Laughable.

Becky is the middle child among the three of us who grew up together, but you’d never know it.  Born sixteen months after my brother (the result of a fit of passion, my Aunt Joyce remarked), Becky and Jamie operated as a formidable team of two, but it was Becky who played the role of the alpha.  Featured imageI came along two and a half years later (the shake of the bag, my dad remarked), and as I grew to know these two bigger people, I realized in short order that I had my work cut out for me.  Both of them definitely had my number, but Becky, as the principal player of the two, used my arrival to hone her particular set of skills.  In me, she had a ready-made sacrificial lamb to serve as a tool to refine her machinations.

This aptitude for dominance would serve her well in her formative years.

On being a tomboy.

Becky was considered a tomboy, which in today’s world would cause parents to assume that their little girl wanted to transition into a little boy, reality TV show and all, but in our 1960s world it just meant that she liked to play with boys and was better at them in sports.  One Christmas, she sat on Santa’s lap and announced, “My name’s Joe and I want a machine gun.”  So she got one.  It wasn’t from Santa but from my parents who understood that being a girl was no reason to deny their daughter a weapon equal to the one my brother already had, and that playing with machine guns, footballs, baseballs, or GI Joes was a natural part of a little girl’s development. Becky was not singularly minded, though.  Once I grew up enough to be of interest to her, she started to exhibit a curiosity in playtime pursuits that were more traditionally girl-like.

On playing with dolls.

Because I liked to play with dolls—especially Barbies—Becky began to show an interest in dolls.  Nothing like co-opting your little sister’s passion.  We each had a set of Barbies; Becky’s were mostly blonde like her and mine were the less-popular brunette versions.  Her dolls remained neatly displayed on a shelf in our room, the plastic hair protectors still swaddling each Barbie’s blonde ‘do while my Barbies were the utility players—legs bent in the wrong direction and stretched akimbo as they sat astride our Johnny West horses, naked, with hair that had been inexpertly chopped with sewing scissors when Becky decided we were going to play beauty shop, and toes often chewed off because Becky dared me to.  My dolls’ clothes—such as they were—were usually torn, snaps missing, threads unraveling as a result of all the wardrobe changes we made when we played beauty pageant; her dolls were left dressed their original factory-chosen outfits and for their entire lives remained unscathed by unnatural manipulation, scissors, teeth, or blue ballpoint pens used as eye shadow.

Sports and competition—no longer a man’s world.

Becky played everything well, and played to win.  Basketball, volleyball, softball—her skills were unmatched; her natural talents were a coach’s dream.  Fortunately, Becky began high school right about the same time that Title IX kicked in, so while the rest of the female population of our high school was just beginning to get used to the idea of wearing the boys’ old uniforms and not using two hands to dribble, Becky had perfected the art of not only taking it to the hole, but executing the pick and roll, throwing elbows, and drawing charges.  She was a better athlete than most of the boys in her class.  She also had more trips to the emergency room, but that’s the price you pay for being an alpha.

The relentless pursuit of glee at my expense.

Becky never missed an opportunity to make me question my self-worth or to diminish my faith in familial relationships; however, I am not bitter, nor do I hold her responsible for any adult angst that I may harbor.  Instead, her endless tormenting made me the woman I am today—unwilling or otherwise immune to putting up with anyone’s shizz.  I’ve suffered the indignity of being in the only grocery store in town on a Saturday with Becky while she hollered at the top of her lungs, “KELLY, DIDN’T YOU SAY YOU NEEDED TAMPONS BECAUSE YOU ARE HAVING YOUR PERIOD RIGHT NOW?  PLAYTEX OR TAMPAX, KELLY?  REGULAR OR SUPER, KELLY?”  I’ve suffered the torment of being duped into thinking I was eating whipped cream when really it was congealed bacon grease and sugar.  I’ve been locked in a room with a dog who had rolled in the carcass of a weeks’ old dead woodchuck and who smelled like a weeks’ old dead woodchuck all while I was suffering from a double ear infection and an undiagnosed case of strep throat.  I’ve eaten cheese that she chewed up and spit back out.  I let her talk me into piercing my own ears.  I even let her cut my hair.  You can’t do anything to me that she hasn’t already done.  You can’t scare me.  You can’t break me.

Toughened up.

In spite of all this, and in a strange twist of irony, I truly believe that I’m a better person because I have Becky as a sister.  Not only has the adult Becky grown out of her mirthful adolescent need for a whipping girl, she has surpassed all my expectations by becoming an amazing wife, mother, and grandmother.  She has also become the best sister, friend, and confidant I could have ever hoped for.  If being her goat was the price I had to pay for having Becky as my sister, I gladly accept that mantle, and I’d suffer through it again if I had to.

moh--becky and me

Maybe she just played me the way all older sisters do, I don’t know.  I’ve nothing against which to gauge her performance.  I’m fairly certain, though, that most girls of that era lacked Becky’s impressive talents and awe-inspiring imagination.

Well played, Sis.  Oh, and happy birthday.

Don’t believe me? Just read.

 

2014-03-23 09_08_22-Amazon.com_ The Gym Show eBook_ Kelly Springer_ Kindle Store - Internet Explorer

People I meet or even folks I haven’t seen or talked to in a while often respond skeptically when I tell them I’ve written a novel.  Their response is usually along the lines of, “Oh, well, isn’t that nice,” especially if I tell them that my novel is self-published.  Before writing and publishing The Gym Show, that would most likely have been my reaction, too.  There’s some real–how shall I put it–ill-crafted prose out there in the world of self-publishing.  When you can purchase a self-published tome about dinosaur porn, is it any wonder self-published books get a bad rap?

But that isn’t the case here.  Just because a novel is self-published does not mean that it’s not of the same caliber as a novel that is published by a traditional publishing outfit located somewhere behind the impressive but elusive edifice of a Manhattan skyscraper (a method of publishing, by the way, that is fast becoming obsolete).

The bottom line is this:  If I didn’t think that The Gym Show was a compelling read, I wouldn’t expect anyone to purchase or download it.  But I do believe it’s a compelling read.  And so do the following readers, who posted their reviews of The Gym Show on Amazon and on Goodreads.  Don’t believe me?  Just read.

Reader Reviews of The Gym Show
(click on each image to enlarge the review)

 

Giovanna Mandel Laura Baer Laura Flowers Renaye Parsey Dr. Pritchett Andrea via Goodreads Charlotte via Goodreads William Nist via Goodreads

And if you have read The Gym Show and want to comment, please do!

Blowing Out My Candles

Tomorrow marks another year I’ve blessed this planet with my presence—what year, you ask?  Silly you, I’m no good with numbers.  Let’s just say I’m somewhere north of 39.

Satisfied?

So today, I’m taking this opportunity to write down my birthday wishes in no particular order.  Know that, since all but one of these are wishes and not hard and fast goals with a clear purpose and a timeline, I reserve the right to embellish and, well, dream a little.

So here they are, the five things I’d like to do before my next birthday:

  1. Build a time machine. Once I’ve programmed the time machine to transport me back to the mid-1960s, I’ll travel to New York City’s Madison Avenue where I, dressed and coiffed in my best Pucci-designed mini-dress, white go-go boots, and bouffant hairdo—accentuated by aquamarine eye shadow and frosted white lipstick, of course–will walk in front of the building that houses Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and wait for Mad Men’s Don Draper to emerge from its monolithic edifice for no other purpose than to light my cigarette.  I don’t smoke, I am not planning on taking up smoking, but before I die, I want to hold upright between my pink lacquer-nailed fingers an unlit cigarette and watch Don Draper whip out that old school Zippo and light me up.  That’s all.  After a long and thoughtful inhale, I will look up smolderingly through thickly false eyelashes and thank him in my best sultry 60s voice, and without taking my eyes off the candy, be on my way.  Once I’ve turned a corner and know that he is no longer looking back at me, I’ll carelessly toss the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grind it out with the toe of my boot.  It is the mid-1960s after all.
  2. While I’ve got the use of a perfectly good time machine, I want to go back even further to 1924’s Downton Abbey and shake some sense into that Droopy Dog of Downton Edith Crawley. Poor Edith (Do we ever utter Edith’s name without prefacing it with the modifier ‘poor’?) bears a bastard child and has to watch it being raised by the farmer in the dell and his shrill-voiced wife while sister Lady Mary (who really is no lady, let’s be honest) has not only ****** a Turkish diplomat to death (To the death!), but has just recently taken poor Lord Gillingham out for a test drive and found him to be somewhat unsatisfactory. That Lady Mary had enough foresight to protect herself from the fate of her sister (what her Granny calls “an unfortunate epilogue”) doesn’t endear her to me at all.  She practically forced her lady’s maid Anna to go into CVS, embarrassed and shamefaced, and buy the rubbers she used on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (you see now why Julian Fellowes didn’t allow us to be privy to that scene), which further proves that she has no intention of marrying the poor bastard.  Mary wasn’t even woman enough to take a chance on making another baby.  Edith, hold your head up high, girlfriend.  While your less than virtuous sister looks down her nose at you—even without knowing your shame—she herself is busy breaking every rule of Edwardian society.  Be a woman and go get your baby back.
  3. Sit down with Lena Dunham (writer-producer of HBO’s Girls and author of an awful memoir) and tell her the things her mother should have told her years ago, like, “Lena, you’re somewhat on the chub-chub side.  No one wants to see your naked body.”  Or, “Lena, no one cares about your twentysomething angst.  You really don’t know what angst is,” in addition to, “Just because you were drunk and high and he didn’t call you afterwards doesn’t mean that it was rape.”  And most importantly, “Lena, some things are better left unsaid.”  You see, whereas I think Lena Dunham is somewhat intelligent and may have talent as a writer, apparently no one’s loved her enough to tell her that most of the country doesn’t want to see or hear about her weirdness, her “unwanted sexual encounter” at the hands of a made-up boogeyman, her courageous “alternative-ness”, or her dabbling in pedophilia.  Give it a rest.  You don’t seem to realize that the east coast salon society is but a thimble-full sampling of the rest of the country.  This goes for all you other creatives out there who think it’s cool, it’s hip, and it’s a thing to wallow in multiple sex partners and be proud of it, live off your parents, experiment with bisexuality, cry rape when a random hookup doesn’t go your way, and chronicle it all because people will think you’re so “brave”.  It’s not a thing.  It really isn’t.  It’s just disgusting.
  4. Become a software engineer.  I won’t go into too many details, but just understand that if I became a software engineer, my day job would be a whole lot easier.
  5. Now this is a real goal, not a dream or a wish, and the one thing that I want most to actually happen:  Have someone out there in the world of publishing read The Gym Show and see it for what it is—a compellingly good and solidly written story that should be published by a mainstream publisher.  A story that could potentially be made into a movie that people will actually want to see.  Maybe an indie film?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  How do you get the powers that be to read your work—do you have to be a Lena Dunham? Because if that’s the criteria, forget it.  Write a better episode of Downton Abbey than Julian Fellowes?  At this point, it wouldn’t be that hard, let me tell you.  Don Draper is a marketing and advertising genius, maybe after he lights that cigarette for me I can pitch him my novel. Bottom line, it’s going to happen, and I intend to make it happen before my next birthday.

So wish me luck.  And a happy birthday!

Quest for Rhinestones, Part II

crown

As promised, here is my follow-up piece to the first “Quest for Rhinestones” I published last month where I chronicled the various Misses Crawford County that my mother Susan Abercrombie was privileged to pimp mentor and later chaperone through their various public appearances and during their collective shots at the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant.  I must first, however, correct some inconsistencies that appeared in my earlier post.

Kathy Stevenson, from lil’ ol’ Harmonsburg, PA, was the first Miss CC from our area (and right down the road from chez Abercrombie); however, neither my sister nor I remember if my mother had any responsibility for her crown.  Regardless, she did the area proud.  Additionally, Sandy Steiger was a runner up at Miss Pennsylvania and I know this for a fact because she told me so, and not in a “Did-you-forget-that-I-too-was-also-almost-Miss-Pennsylvania?” way, but more like a “Good-grief-I-was-so-relieved-not-to-win” way.  Apparently the quest for rhinestones carries with it some measure of burdensome responsibilities, because I recall a conversation with my friend Jane who was a First Runner-Up at the Miss Indiana Pageant in 1980-something.  I had asked her what was going through her mind as she stood on that stage after the judges had carved away the Indiana contingent to just two, and one of them was about to become Miss Indiana.  She told me she kept thinking, “Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me” and was hugely relieved to not be the one going to Atlantic City that September.

Her talent?  Jane is a musician.  Not a gymnast.  Hm.

For me, though, growing up inundated with the whole Miss Crawford County Culture was intoxicating.  During our youth, my sister Becky and I were more than just fascinated with the pageant; we, in fact, lived it every Sunday afternoon in our bedroom with our Barbie dolls and one or two of my brother Jamie’s GI Joes that we had lifted from his closet.  First, we had to set the stage for the pageant.  This involved making a mock-up of the real Miss Crawford County stage, which was, in reality, picnic tables lined up in a ‘T’ festooned with linen skirts to hide the fact that they were picnic tables.  This runway was situated adjacent to a flatbed trailer that was also decorated thusly to hide the fact that it, in all likelihood, had served as a conveyance for some manner of farm implement in its off-season life.  The picnic tables and flatbed trailer were placed in the middle of a dirt racetrack that would, in the days after the pageant, host a stock car race and various harness races.

Once Becky and I had constructed our pageant stage, it was time to dress our Barbies in their evening gowns for the Evening Gown Tableau.  This was reminiscent of the first “Tableau” of the actual pageant where each contestant, in her evening gown and white gloves, would be escorted out of the Cadillac convertible that had ferried each prospective queen to the Crawford County Fairgrounds.  Thus the need for the GI Joes.  I only had one Ken doll, and he was too refined to do anything but serve as Master of Ceremonies. The camo-fatigued GI Joes did the heavy lifting.  Among our toys, we didn’t have anything that resembled Cadillac convertibles, so there was much imagination to be rendered during that portion of the bedroom Barbie pageant, though during one make-believe pageant I think I had each girl arriving on horseback, courtesy of our collection of Johnny West horses.

During the actual pageant, which began with the contestants alighting from their vehicles, the Evening Gown Tableau introduced the the waiting crowd to each contestant, and it was at this point that the more savvy and serious-minded audience members could begin their own process of elimination, whittling the contestant number from 20-25 down to the top ten.  Those top ten girls would get to perform their talent.  For Becky and me, this was a waste of time because we already knew who the top ten were going to be because, you see, the Sunday paper the previous week had included an enormous spread featuring all of the contestants, their bios, their talent, and a senior-picture quality portrait of each young lady who was vying for the title.  Becky and I would painstakingly pour over each girl’s CV and make our initial list.  My dad also took this opportunity to weigh in with his pronouncements of who the losers would be by pointing to a picture of an unfortunately un-photogenic or just genetically sorry-looking young girl and call her a “poor soul”.  He also had a knack for picking runners-up and winners by virtue of their last names, which was a puzzlement to me at the time.

But it wasn’t until Mum took us with her to the two pageant rehearsals during “Pageant Week” that we would know exactly who was going to be on that top ten list.

The pageant rehearsals took place at the fairgrounds (which is how I know what the stage and runway really looked like) before everything was decorated for the big night.  Miss Arita Lee Blair, as director of the pageant, was in charge, and with her cat-eye spectacles and skunk-striped hair, she made more than one girl cry during the rehearsal process, so much so, that I’m surprised any of them ever made it to Monday night without peeing in her pants.  Becky and I would watch in rapt fascination as Arita Lee, her wrecking-ball-like demeanor frightening the ugly out of everyone in her midst, would halt the proceedings–usually at the point where the girls would traipse awkwardly down the runway for the fourth or fifth time–and screech into her bullhorn using her best whisky-tenor voice “Do it O-ver!”

Note:  For those of you who are having trouble visualizing what Arita Lee looked like, rent the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  She’s Baby Jane.

Arita Lee even managed to scare the tinkle out of Becky and me.  Late one afternoon during rehearsals and tired of sitting, we stood watching from the first rail of the grandstands whereby Arita Lee loudly and emphatically shrieked into her bullhorn in what I can only imagine was a fit of unbridled frustration at the audacity our failure to promenade properly, “Will the Abercrombie girls please sit down!”

Back in the safety of our bedroom, we acted out the contestants’ talents, all of which were, of course, some type of gymnastic floor exercise, in what was known as the Talent Tableau portion of the pageant. This was followed by the Swimsuit Tableau.  Owing to a lack of proper pageant wear, each Barbie contestant modeled either in her talent togs or bare-naked during the Swimsuit Tableau.  Everyone was a winner here because doesn’t Barbie look good even when she’s naked?

In the actual Swimsuit Tableau, each Miss Crawford County contestant was outfitted with a modest, matronly one-piece solid-color Jantzen swimsuit (most likely purchased in downtown Meadville at Mayfair or The Crawford Store) featuring an armor-like front panel that erased any suggestion of the 1960s-1970s version of a camel toe.  In real life, at that time, girls were wearing bikinis to the beach, but at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, the goodies beneath the swimwear were just as cleverly disguised as Barbie’s were–with or without clothes.

Of course, the highlight of the real-life Miss Crawford County Pageant (as well as in our bedroom Barbie version) was the crowning of the queen.  But first, the previous year’s winner had to take her final walk down the runway as Miss Crawford County to the dulcet tones of K.K. Roberts singing, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”.  K.K. Roberts, whose most indelible feature was his prolifically long and wiry eyebrows, served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, and in my six, seven, and eight year-old mind, I imagined that he was Arita Lee’s boyfriend because he was the only one she was nice to during the whole rehearsal ordeal.  In reality, she was probably nice to him because he was the only one in Meadville who knew the words to any Broadway tunes.

Once the real pageant was over, my dad, usually in a state of inebriation equal to his bagful of sarcastic remarks about what he considered to be the most wasteful hours of his life, would take us home, reveling only in the glory of his innate ability to have, once again, picked the winner and the runners-up.  Too bad he wasn’t a betting man–over the years, he could have changed the fortunes of our family with the over-under.

As for the bedroom pageant, all things came to a screeching halt once Jamie discovered the missing-in-action GI Joes or Becky and I collapsed in a fit of giggles over the pitiful pageant performance of the one Barbie whose hair Becky had cut off the previous summer (in retrospect, I should have dyed a skunk stripe in that doll’s hair and made her pageant director).  Then my dad would come in our room threaten us with an ass-beating for having a giggle-fest when he had to get up and work in the morning.

For us, time seemed to stand still until the next August when we could once again bask in all things Miss Crawford County and dream of the days when we would begin our own quest for the rhinestones.

.

Quest for Rhinestones

sharonstoneharpersbazzar

I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be Miss Crawford County.

There was a time, oh, about forty or so years ago, when the whole idea of being Miss Crawford County was a mainstay of my childhood fantasies. That and having a horse. And blue hair.

For the uninitiated–those of you who did not grow up in Crawford County Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 70s–the Miss Crawford County Scholarship pageant was held the first Monday of the opening of the Crawford County Fair. Young ladies between the ages of 18 and 23 were eligible to be nominated as a contestant in the scholarship pageant, a precursor to the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, the winner of which would go on to the Super Bowl of beauty pageants, Miss America. You see, to the Abercrombie girls, Miss America was the only legitimate beauty pageant. Forget your Miss Teen Something or other, or Miss USA, or even Miss Universe. For us, the only real pageant was Miss America, and to get to the Miss America pageant, you had to first become Miss Crawford County.

My mother, little go-getter that she was, became involved in Miss Crawford County when she pimped some of her former students as contestants. When I say, ‘pimped’, I don’t mean it in the literal sense (c’mon!), for Mum made absolutely no money for her involvement, but her machinations toward getting her girls to wear the crown were no less committed. She was the original pageant coach before anyone had ever heard of such a thing.

I forgot to mention that other thing that set the whole Miss Crawford County to Miss America Pageant experience apart from the others: The Miss Crawford County contestants had to have a talent. They had to perform. My mum’s girls’ talents? Duh. Gymnastics. And, unless you’re one of the twenty or thirty people on the planet who haven’t read The Gym Show by yours truly, Linesville-Conneaut-Summit High School was the only game in town featuring a gymnastics team.

Her first successful queen was one Sandy Steiger who became Miss Crawford County in 1965. Her talent? Gymnmastics. Then it was the 1969 queen Connie Williams–again, gymnastics. She followed that with the 1970 queen Cindy Styborski. Now, here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. Cindy Styborski was an outlier–she was from Cambridge Springs High School, but her talent was still gymnastics. Don’t ask me how that all came about–I was only seven–but I distinctly remember Mum sitting at our kitchen counter gluing silver glitter onto a pair of canvas gymnastics slippers as part of Cindy’s costume. Who knew that girls from Cambridge Springs could tumble?

Apparently, the Miss Crawford County Scholarship Pageant director Miss Arita Lee Blair, the dance doyenne of Crawford County, felt that Mum’s success at pimping pumping out queens was a talent that would be best served as the Official Chaperone for Miss Crawford County. You see, Miss Crawford County, as ambassador to the entire region, was often called upon to make public appearances. No young lady of such sterling virtue as a Miss Crawford County could be seen out at the Kiwanas or Jaycees without a proper chaperone. Who knew what manner of dirty old Rotary Club men were going to ogle our virtuous Queen? That’s where Mum came in. Arita Lee (who by that time in her life was certifiably batshit crazy) felt that if Mum was good enough to turn out winners, she would be good enough to make sure the winners were properly behaved and the beastly male-dominated environs in which our queen were subjected to were on notice: Don’t mess with Miss Crawford County.

Nineteen seventy-one ushered in the first of Mum’s queens to be chaperoned, Janet Mead from Conneaut Lake. Her talent? She played the piano. While it wasn’t gymnastics, evidently my mother felt she could work with Janet (even though I’m sure she privately felt that piano playing–a lesser talent–was best left to the buck-toothed and the cellulited-thighed, neither of which Janet was). Apparently her chaperoning talents paid off–Janet was second runner-up in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Not bad for the tri-state area.

The 1972 Miss Crawford County was Jan Amboyer. I don’t recall what her talent was, probably because she wasn’t a gymnast (and probably the reason why she didn’t place). The following year, Becky and I were big enough girls to attend the 1973 Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Our girl Lori Doutt from Conneaut Lake didn’t place, but she was cute and perky, and I wanted to wear my hair all the time the same way she wore hers that night–piled on top of her head in big, loopy curls.

sharonstone

The 1973 pageant experience was Mum’s last, and I don’t know if Miss Crawford County was ever the same after that. Ask Sharon Stone–she was Miss Crawford County 1976. Sharon’s talent? A dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address. I was there and in my naivete I thought she was perfectly awful. Another of my mother’s early protégés Alice Gillette was, in a cruel twist of unfairness, first runner-up and I still to this day think she should have won. Her talent? The perfect trifecta of gifts–she sang, played the flute, and performed a gymnastics routine.

Sharon didn’t need to be Miss Crawford County to go where she was headed.

In Part II of “Quest for Rhinestones”, I’ll outline Becky’s and my humiliatingly hilarious experiences with Miss Arita Lee Blair and the Miss Crawford County Pageant fantasy. Stay tuned.

Sneak Peek at THE GYM SHOW

gymnast charm

I came up with this crazy idea to provide my blog followers a snippet from Chapter XIII of ‘The Gym Show’.  If you haven’t yet read The Gym Show’, give it a go!  According to the hundreds who have already read it, you won’t be disappointed! 

XIII

January 1970, Mercyville, Pennsylvania

The Fifth Dimension’s “The Age of Aquarius” blasted from the record player’s speakers until Peggy Huffington heard JoAnn Donaldson’s shriek for her to turn it off.  Not wanting listen to JoAnn’s bitching any longer than she had to, Peggy hastily lifted the needle off the album.

“God, stop!  That was awful!  Beth, you gotta’ turn when the other girls turn, and Debbie, that last part when you do the jazz square then plant your feet apart?  Your feet are supposed to be apart, not crossed.  Man.  That was bad.  Again.”

Forty girls were crammed onto the stage, some sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, some standing with arms folded in front of their leotard-clad bodies looking bored and wondering why Mrs. A. was forcing them to be there; only five of the forty were busy learning a dance that was supposed to be performed during the Gym Show between equipment changes.  While it was true that this first week back after Christmas was the first solid week of preparations for the Gym Show, things were not boding well for JoAnn Donaldson and her troupe of amateur dancers.

JoAnn had talked Mrs. A. into letting her take charge of the dancers in this year’s Gym Show.  She had been taking dance lessons from the venerable and demanding Miss Arita Lee Blair since she was seven, and thus considered herself far above anyone else in the dance milieu at Mercyville including Mrs. A.  Since a dance milieu didn’t exist at Mercyville, Carol was more than happy to let JoAnn (who displayed a rather poor showing during last year’s floor exercise portion of the Gym Show) take over the dance part.  Maybe then, Carol hoped, she wouldn’t throw a tantrum when Carol broke the news to her that, no, JoAnn would not be performing a floor exercise this year.  Carol didn’t care if JoAnn was a senior—JoAnn, with her awkward un-pointed toes and bent knees—her tumbling was simply awful.  She and her jazz hands could dance instead.

Once again, this year Carol was competing with the basketball coach Ken Montgomery for time in the gym.  As far as Ken was concerned, Carol’s little project ranked far, far below his quest for a Lake County championship in basketball (this could be the year) and so he had no problem telling Carol (and he didn’t give a shit who she slept with every night) that during his practices, she and her girls could be on the stage with the curtains closed, as long as they kept the music down.  As if anything would have drowned out Ken Montgomery’s particular brand of coaching vernacular, liberally laced with various four letter words designed to inspire his players to greatness.

Carol, for her part, would play her accompanying music as loud as she wished, and Ken Montgomery could stick it up his fat ass; in fact, she would tell him that very thing as soon as he was finished insulting Danny Teague’s parentage and questioning the more personal details of the poor boy’s anatomy.  If he could scream like a lunatic and swear like a longshoreman, then she would play that damn record player as loud as the dial would take it, and if he didn’t like it, here it is, mister, you can kiss my sweet little tushie.  That would shut him up for a little while at least.  Carol sighed.  “Count to ten, Carol,” she whispered to herself.  She reminded herself that she   must be careful to avoid using her position as the boss’ wife to leverage things in her favor—even she knew how devastatingly dangerous that could prove to be for both she and Jim—but every now and then, some folks needed reminding of their place in this school, and Ken was one of those people.

Pulling back the black velvet curtains and revealing herself to the entire basketball team, the coach, and the assistant coach resulted in a sudden halt to the verbal assault on poor, skinny Danny Teague (so pale and freckly, that one).

“Coach,” Carol began, “we can hear you swearing all the way up here on the stage, and I just wanted to remind you that the young ladies who are so hard at work preparing for this year’s Gym Show really have no need to know the exact length of Danny’s penis.”

Luckily for most of the team members, they happened to be, at that moment, situated out of Coach Montgomery’s range of sight, so Ken wasn’t able to see the thumbs and forefingers estimating, in centimeters no less, just how small they knew Danny’s little willy to be, and if Ken or Dan Baxter, the assistant coach, heard the teams’ bubbling snickers, they chose to ignore them.  Ken fumed at Carol.

“Mrs. Adamson, I’m surprised you can hear anything at all with all that goddamn hippie music playing.  Now why don’t you just go on back there, conduct your little practice, and let us finish ours.  We play Iroquois Lake this Friday, and I would like for us to at least look like we’ve shown up.”

“I, too, Coach Montgomery, want to do win this Friday.  My cheerleaders, who also have had no time in the gym, have been practicing out in the cold lobby every night after school, and they’ve worked very hard to support your boys.  I certainly do not want their hard work to have been in vain.  Now, I will excuse myself and return to our Gym Show preparations, but please know,” Carol glanced at the caged-in clock that hung on one wall of the gym, “that you have exactly eight more minutes left in which to practice in this gym.  In eight minutes all forty or so of my girls will descend upon this floor and begin erecting the equipment necessary for them to, once again, draw a standing room only crowd come Friday, May 8, 1970.  Oops,” she said, looking down at her petite silver watch, “looks like you have seven minutes now.”

Montgomery looked at Carol with pure hatred in his eyes, blew his whistle, and yelled at his players (who were painfully stifling themselves over Mrs. A. saying ‘erecting’) to the east end of the gym to begin running pro sprints.  Carol turned and flung the velvet curtain aside with a dramatic flourish and returned to her girls.

Oh, that man.  As if my girls, who don’t have a basketball team to play on, deserve to be treated as second-class citizens simply because they’re girls!  This is precisely why Vinnie Tagliaburro and his asinine idea of putting boys in the Gym Show is about as fair as the way his wife gets to traipse all around this school dressed like a hooker even on days when she isn’t substituting!

Much to Carol’s continued distress (and her beleaguered husband’s list of shit he had better take care of before his wife makes his life even more miserable), Vinnie Tagliaburro had been persistent in his quest for a male presence in this year’s Gym Show.  At the staff Christmas party, hosted every year by Carol and Jim, with their three children spying wide-eyed and curious at the outrageous nighttime behavior of the usually staid and conservative faculty, Vinnie had made his move.  Loosened up after several shots of Black Velvet, and feeling as if no woman present would be able to resist his charms, Vinnie had cornered Carol as she was digging through the garage freezer for more ice.

“Carol, come on, hun.  What could you possibly have against having some ah…the more, you know, talented and athletic boys doin’ a little something-something during the Gym Show?  What, are all they’re good for is moving mats and breaking down equipment, uh?  Building that throne a yours for the May Queen?  Come on.  We could even think of some things they could do together—like build pyramids or something.  Hey, my Dreama’s got some really cool ideas—‘member she was on some dance squad or something like ‘at back at Slippery Rock.  She’s got some good ideas for getting the boys involved, an’ ‘at.  Whaddya say, uh?  Come on, Cupcake, do me a favor—do all of us a favor–and just think about it, uh?”

What made it even worse, and what had nearly ruined Jim and Carol’s much looked forward to and well-deserved two week Christmas vacation, was that while Carol brought up the subject nearly every day, Jim brushed her off.  Whether he was buying time or whether he was just hoping that Carol would move on to another crusade or campaign, he didn’t really know.  He was more bothered by the whole stage incident, the board’s reaction to it, and his moral obligation to protect the students at Mercyville High School.  Vinnie and Dreama Tagliaburro were way down on his list of priorities.