The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Oh, Madonna SO Owes Me For This One!

“Every few years I try to re-invent myself. You know, change
my hair (laughs) I’m surprised it hasn’t fallen out by now!
I love experimenting with new music, working with really great musicians,
and learning from them. I loved doing the ‘Material Girl’ video
because I got to pay homage to Marilyn Monroe, one of my idols.
That was probably the video I had most fun doing.”


I advise all of you with whom I went to high school who are drinking any beverage—especially a carbonated one, to set it down, because if you laugh with beer in your mouth, it will come out your nose.

For my high school Facebook friends, I need not explain the absurdity of what is about to follow. If you didn’t attend my high school, let me try to explain what I was like. I think a bullet list will sum it up:

  • Glasses wearer
  • President of French Club (yay, Mrs. Young!), Editor-in-Chief of both the school newspaper (yay, Mr. Kruzel!) and the literary magazine (yay, Mr. Donahue!) A member of Latin Club (yay, Miss Emhoff!) typing editor of the yearbook (another kudo to Mr. Kruzel!) High honor society, President of the Thespian Society (yay, Mr. Saginario!) and God knows what else.
  • Wore hand-me-down clothes from my older cousins. Not cool.
  • Absolutely no athletic ability whatsoever (Mrs. Yuzuik was the only one to understand this)
  • Never saw the inside of Mr. Bates’ office.
  • Had 20 million words in my vocabulary and had to use them all before I could start all over again.

Yeah. That was me. A nerd, a geek, a dweeb, you name it.

Okay, now that that’s set up, we move on to the hideous embarrassment.

My high school was kind if structured pretty weird—instead of grades 9-12, it housed grades 7-12. Whoever came up with this plan deserves to be hanged from the highest yardarm. 7th &; 8th gradewas “junior high,” and 9-12 was legitimate high school.

The principal of the junior high was a nice man named Mr. Spain. Because he was in charge of discipline and I had never broken any rules, I had very little to do with him aside from passing him in the hall and saying, “hi, Mr. Spain, how’s it going?” and he’d say fine and then ask me where I was supposed to be and why wasn’t I there yet.

Mr. Spain was in charge of the junior high school graduation dinner, held at the new defunct Roosevelt café. I have to admit, he went all out; the restaurant (which sort of resembled a VFW hall) was covered in streamers and silver glitter, and I always had to suppress a laugh because it reminded me of the prom scene in Carrie.

It had long been a tradition at this banquet to have music entertainment, although absolutely no one danced. Mr. Spain, apparently not connected to any DJ’s, always asked good old Victor if his seniors who had starred in the musical that year to perform a song from the play. This worked out fine; in my junior year, I watched Joe and his cronies happily singing “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls. Then, Joe and I did a duet of “I’ll Know When My Love Comes Along.” Neither Joe nor I had a problem with this since everyone in the audience knew these songs.

And then Victor lost his mind entirely, and for my senior year he put on The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Don’t even bother looking it up; there are no songs you will know in there. Having had the lead, I couldn’t imagine how Mr. Spain was going to get out of this one. I was soon to find out.

In spring of my senior year, Mr. Spain called me into his office. I was stunned that Mr. Cameron, my art teacher, was also there. Mr. Spain then explained to me in graphic detail what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to wear an exquisite red silk dress (from wardrobe) and sing Madonna’s “Material Girl,” while Mr. Cameron (who was also musical, it seemed), played his Casio keyboard.

I nearly hacked out a lung, then stared at Mr. Spain as if someone has spiked his coffee with LSD. Mr. Cameron was new to my high school, so he didn’t know my reputation of being the one everyone bullied and made fun of and teased. I tried to reason with Mr. Spain, reminding him of who I was (after all, he’d known me six years), and that there was no way in hell anyone would buy someone with my face and my body doing a Madonna cover. I was the one everyone in school reviled. I explained that his fancy banquet would be ruined by catcalls, laughter, and possibly thrown baked potatoes.

Mr. Spain, who saw he was being cornered by logic, reluctantly agreed, and asked if would consider it if I had two boys dressed in tuxedos flanking me, just like Madonna did in the video. He was so desperate that I finally relented (I figured they could block the potatoes). Mr. Cameron and I began practicing after art class (I had study hall the next period, and was excused), and eventually the tuxedo guys (underclassmen) showed up. As they both had the same first name, I’ll call them Thing One and Thing Two.

The red silk dress had been custom-made for me in New York, and, dripping with diamonds, everyone said I looked great. It also cost Victor a small mint. Thing One and Thing Two were so excited that they, as a sophomore and freshman respectively, got a chance to strut their stuff they paid no attention to the amount of Valium I was taking.

Now, I had two things working in my favor:

1) I had a superbly trained voice from all those years in theatre, and could reach from first soprano to low alto. Madonna sings a combination of mezzo-soprano and first alto, so I had no trouble with her notes.

2) By the time I, Thing One and Thing Two, got around to performing (during dessert) all the parents of the graduating 8th graders were so sloshed that I could have performed Camper van Beethoven’s “Take The Skinheads Bowling” and they wouldn’t have known the difference.

Thing One and Thing Two stood peering out of the curtain (rookie mistake—didn’t it dawn on them that if they could see the audience they could see them? And finally, my moment of truth came—Mr. Spain went up to the microphone and deftly said that instead of a ballad from the music, BeowulfGirl would be performing a hit rock and roll song. I prayed desperately for a meteor strike.

I honestly don’t know how I did it. Yes, there were catcalls and smart-ass remarks. My parents were there, sitting at the same table as Thing One and Thing Two’s families. Mr. Cameron grooved on his Casio. There was nothing to do but to try to become Madonna.

Thank God for Thing One and Thing Two—they mugged so dramatically that I happily let them take over. It seemed to last for days. Finally, it was time to promenade back stage.

While explaining my woes to my friend Sue the next day, she gave me a clap on the back and said, “well, it could be worse. Mr. Spain might have asked you to do a Joan Jett song!”

Oh, the horror…