One of the great challenges of being a parent or a grandparent comes around this time of year, when every grade school and high school puts on a play or a musical.
I don’t have to tell you the joy of seeing your own flesh and blood standing there on a stage desperately trying to remember their lines. Sadly, this thrill lasts for only a few minutes. Then comes that moment that you realize your incredibly talented child’s one big line or one big song is over and now you have to listen to all these other little kids who, frankly, have no place on the stage compared to your child or grandchild who, with a little luck, can easily go on to become the next Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan, minus the drugs, drinking and shoplifting, of course.
My own career on the school stage came to a disastrous end when I was 8 years old. I was, naturally, a child prodigy, and I played the mandolin. I was given the honor of playing for the assembly at PS 95.
My job was to sit alone on the stage playing “Pomp and Circumstance” on the mandolin while the entire student body of the school marched down the aisle to their seats.
So there I was, sitting and waiting for the music teacher to hit the two chords that was my cue to start playing, when I started daydreaming. The teacher, old fat Miss Rossman, kept hitting the same two chords, and I was just staring straight ahead. Then, when I realized it was time to play, I froze.
Finally Miss Rossman heaved her 280 pounds onto the stage, forcibly removed me by pulling me by the arm, and then she dashed back down to the piano to play the students in. I was the laughing stock of the third grade.
However, my disgrace on the stage of PS 95 pales by comparison to the worst school play experience of my life.
That came a few years ago when I was summoned by my daughter to view a command performance by two of my grandchildren in a school production of the much-hated Alice in Wonderland.
Do you know a single human being who ever liked Alice in Wonderland? When you talk about over-rated pieces of doo doo, Alice has to be on the top of everyone’s list. And yet, since 1865, when it was first written by Lewis Carroll (while he clearly was on crack), we have had the Alice in Wonderland conspiracy,” which has been passed on from parent to child.
Every child comes out of the womb hating Alice in Wonderland, but from the moment they are born they are force-fed the Alice treatment. They get started with musical mobiles spinning Alice characters around their cribs. They are read to sleep by the Golden Book version of the book…they watch Alice cartoons…they are forced to sit through Walt Disney’s interminable flop version. As they mature, they realize they’re bored, but they don’t want to break their parents’ hearts and tell them that this so-called classic is a stiff.
Then they grow up and have children of their own and what do they do? They inflict this moronic, confusing book on their own children. And if that’s not bad enough, every once in a while some jerk at the movies (last year it was the 3D bomb version starring Johnny Depp) or one of the networks takes a shot at boring the entire nation with still another version of Alice in Wonderland. There’s even been a porno version of Alice, and for crying out loud, that was boring too (er…er…that’s what they tell me).
So there I was, sitting alone in this loud high school auditorium filled with giddy parents warmly greeting their neighbors with a sweet sincerity that you can only find in the suburbs.
Then the show started. It was beyond boring. From 20 feet away every school kid looks alike, so I had no idea which of the kids were my grandkids.
Every second was an hour. “This is a nightmare,” I thought. “This will never end. I’m going to die here.”
A minute/hour later, the thought of death began to grow on me. I can just see those headlines: “Kindly old Granddad Dies Happy While Watching Grandkids Perform in Alice in Wonderland” in The Daily News. The New York Post’s headline would be “Murder in Kiddy Theatre,” with the subhead “Did the Mad Hatter Run Amuck?” Finally, after what seemed like a month, the lights came up and many of the parents and grandparents gave the performance a standing ovation. Many mistook my tears of relief for tears of joy.
I write this because in a few weeks, my very talented grandson Zach—who has straight black hair—will be playing the part of Curly in the school version of Oklahoma. Oklahoma runs rings over Alice, and to make the show move along, I have purchased eight little airline-sized bottles of vodka, which I will hide on my person to assure that when the curtain comes up to his singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” I will be looking forward to “Oh, What a Beautiful Night.”
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