Excerpt of an essay from Open Trench
There was someone else in my family who also had performing aspirations. And she was more organized, had better follow-through, a producer’s aggression and the corralling ability of a Border collie. This person was none other than my older sister. She was bright, articulate, cute, bossy, determined and not unlike Lucy Van Pelt in overall energy. It should be no surprise then that she mounted watered down versions of the Peanuts television specials in our backyard, on, of course, the deck. She would play Lucy. I was usually cast as Charlie Brown. And my poor brother, who had as much interest in these shenanigans as I had in playing cops and robbers, was forced into playing Linus. He never knew his lines. He did carry a blanket with no incident. Ruth Barrett from next door, ever accommodating, played all the other parts, or Peppermint Patty, I can’t remember. She looked like a young Anette Benning. I had a crush on her. She was a year older than me and one year younger than my sister and was also my sister’s best friend. When I was six and she was seven, we played the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” game. Her idea. It was also her idea to immediately pee all over each other as soon as our bald bits were exposed. This happened in the driveway in my front yard right in front of the garage door. After our thighs and calves were covered with urine she warned me in a tone that suggested unique knowledge, “We better go to the backyard and hose off, or we’ll get mildew.” We went to the backyard and hosed off. She must have been right because I never did get mildew. And we never did anything like that again. Which was fine with me. I didn’t like being peed on so much. Not that it revolted me, it just didn’t give me the zing I was looking for. If she had only kissed me! But she never did. Later in life she married a chef, got a bit chubs and ceased to resemble Anette Benning. But she maintained her easy going nature. I don’t know if she pees on her husband but if she asked me for another go ‘round, I’d probably do it all over again. Maybe this time I’d opt for the mildew?
Back to the show. So, we were performing my sister’s version of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! there on the deck, the same standard issue development deck that most of the neighborhood Jews would turn into harvest shacks during Succoth. Succoth is a wacky, old-timey holiday Jews celebrate. It’s all about the harvest, man. They eat in there to celebrate. I guess in historical times they set up these shacks while collecting around the desert. Cute shacks. The decks of suburbia had all sorts of things going on. The shacks seemed to say, “You can do whatever you want on these decks. It’s all fair game!” Okay, back to Charles Schulz’s and the little Christians with their Great Pumpkin. We got to the well known section where we would pretend to knock on people’s doors and say, “trick-or-treat.” Lucy got candy. Linus got candy. Ruth Barrett got candy. And of course, I got a rock. This went on twice. The audience of bully kids was bored to death. My sister looked panicked. The ring leader in the cheap seats, Peter Tosto, tall, thin, Italian-American, ever my tormentor and the oldest kid of the nasty bunch of me-haters, was ready to pounce. I sensed it and I needed to deflect the bullying. I felt bad for my sister because the show was going poorly, yet conversely, I wanted to let the audience know that I was cooler than the material I was forced to perform and with this profound awareness, perhaps they would like me. So we knocked for tricks-or-treat the third time. Lucy and Linus got candy. And I got an apple. I bit into the apple and per the script yelled, “Ugh, a worm!” It was then that I seized my moment. Feeling the raging boredom of the audience (hell, they could see this on television with better actors, who were cartoon people and eat Dolly Madison Sno Balls while their fathers smoked Lucky Strikes) and also sensing the ludicrous nature of staging this bad script up high on a suburban deck, after I said, “Ugh, a worm!” I threw the apple off the deck and tried to make it land in the stream that ran at the property line behind our house. So bad. So cool. Throwing like a girl, the apple didn’t make it but merely thudded off the edge of the railing, leaving a bit of apple there and then clunked onto the grass. This was so off script. And worse, it did not have the desired effect of making me appear cool but further solidified my clumsy fagosity. Though, the nasty kids did chuckle, a bit, but not so much for me but against the show in general. My sister was so embarrassed that her show was not being well received and that her own ranks were in dissent that she did the only thing she could under the circumstances to try to retain control and order. She walked across the deck in front of all the neighborhood kids that hated me and she resolutely slapped me across the face. I come from a hitting family and my sister hit real well. It was the slap that was heard halfway across Spring Valley. Local deer lowed. Rare birds fluttered their wings in sapling fruit trees that were still attached to tall stakes by red rubber covered wires in a figure eight twist for support. The show was tanking. I was humiliated, so was my sister and the audience took my sister’s slap as the cue that the show had fallen apart. They could say and do whatever they wanted to now. And they did. I don’t remember what they said and did because I was so busy nursing my wounded pride while also exalting in my ballsy theatrical risk taking. I do remember chairs and props being overturned and people leaving and my sister still trying to maintain order with her very red face and yelling at me to go down to the yard to get the apple. It was such a scene and we never finished the presentation. My sister and I never worked together after that. Though, I was able to eat lunch in that town again.