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" Our Home By Degrees

Little Orphan Annie "

10.27.07 4:32 p.m.

If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.  

- Baal Shem Tov

 


Rocky Horror

I give Emily what I consider the customary warnings. She may get hit on, people may try to touch her, she must not say she is a virgin. She states and sincerely means that people are permitted to hit on her, but she will punch anyone who tries to touch her. It has been years since I last did anything Rocky Horror-related and, while this is the play and not the movie with stage show, I feel the same rules apply. We refuse to dress up as characters in much the same way that we do not dress up for the Renaissance Faire anymore. We've put in our time in a more professional setting and no longer feel that sort of thing is applicable to us.
Choking  
Brad and Janet, before the accident

We are understandably shocked to see not teenagers to thirty-year-olds poured into unflattering costumes and bald wigs but people in their late middle age costumed in sweater vests and slacks, sporting actual bald heads. I was aware that, despite the obvious and salacious subject matter, the theater group, Trinity Players, was originally affiliated with a church, but I did not assume that this meant it would be considered a normal play. These are parents, bringing with them preteen siblings of the players. Many hold bouquets of flowers for this opening night, not toast and toilet paper. I had worried to Emily that we would be some of the oldest in attendance, now I realized that I concerned myself with the wrong extreme.

Rocky Horror has, for almost a decade, had a thin sheen of revulsion for me. I have no quarrel with the movie, its actors, or callbacks. Though it was not my scene, as I shall detail, I didn't begrudge people who patronized the stage shows weekly. The issue comes from when I was sixteen. I had been working at the Haunted Mansion in Bowdoin Park and, owing to my association with some of the actors there, ended up cast in the stage show on the Mansion property. Since I had a pale complexion and hair halfway down my back, the logical choice for me was Brad, the nebbish, bespectacled innocent and not Riff Raff, the pasty, longhaired ghoul. Typecasting is a bitch. I was cast opposite Coley's Janet. This lead to my dating Coley for a second time (the first time dissolved because people in a chat room claimed I was a vampire because she was often lethargic and she was desperate enough, despite her affection for me, to believe it) and, eventually, cheating on Coley when I realized that I wanted to kiss my best friend Jen more than I wanted to be a devoted boyfriend. (Jen, incidentally, dated the actor playing Rocky in our stage show - I can't remember the boy's name - who cheated on her with the man playing Frank-N-Furter, who himself was involved with the director, but we did not discover this until after Jen dumped him. Infidelity was sadly typical at this point in my life.) The part of Riff-Raff was given to my then best friend Nick, who had a shrub of curly black hair and a goatee. He began dating the actress portraying Columbia, who was actually engaged to someone else and had two other boyfriends (sadly typical, as I said), so most everyone was romantically connected to everyone else on a long enough time frame, a thought that does not hesitate to make me a little nauseated even now.

My three or four performances in the chilly October air wearing nothing more but white briefs were observed by some busybody, who wrote into the local paper and decried the production as nothing short of child pornography. For the lack of teenager sex I got at that point given the shy violet I was dating, I found this screed particularly laughable and took things in stride. The director, a large woman who then claimed to be a decade my senior, was horribly offended by this criticism. She, if I remember correctly, said this was the reason she severed her relationship with the Haunted Mansion by the end of the season. Others, most notably the gentleman who ran the Haunted Mansion, said it had more to be with her bad behavior toward the patrons while on the grounds. I can vouch for the fact that, while ostensibly working in some part, she tackled me and bit my neck so hard that she left bruises and a scrape. I should clarify at this point that, when I say she was a large woman, I mean that she easily outweighed me by at least a factor of two and I was trapped under her girth while she gnawed at my neck and I screamed and tried futilely force her off of me with terrified punches. Given the nature of the Mansion and her predisposal to dramatic acts, it was easily thirty seconds before the actors watching this scene realized I was not faking distress and ripped her off of me. She would later claim I was immature for feeling violated by this and later still claim that a fatal brain tumor caused her to act this way, a fatal tumor that somehow never required treatment and has yet to mar her health.

Despite what I considered a middling at best theatrical experience, I was still keenly interested in acting. There used to be a website called SixDegrees.com, an early social networking website, to which both this woman and I belonged. I posted a message to a local theater board saying that I was interested in hearing about auditions and productions, but that I wasn't interested in being in the stage show for Rocky Horror Picture Show. Coley had continued to perform with this woman and her company as Janet and soon earned the nickname of the Stealth Slut apparently owing how innocent she seemed while acting far from. They performed in Pearl River every weekend for free and rarely got home until dawn. I had no interest in spending my weekends in this way, especially once I began dating Jen in earnest. My posting had nothing to do with this woman, though I was understandably apprehensive about her, simply that I wanted to be in actual shows and not merely gawked at by strangers as a movie played behind me. This woman turned feral, feeling that I cast aspersion on her from all angles, insisting that I publicly humiliated her by not wishing to do Rocky Horror again (a fact of which I had previously made her aware). What she didn't seem to get was that there were other people advertising to fill holes in their stage show cast and I had no interest in any. She declared war on me, an act I found more than slightly odd given that she was supposed to be an adult and I was a teenager and totally disinterested in being a part of her life. She devoted a good portion of vitriol my way, insulting and defaming me when she could. I realized her tact and would just call her silly, because it really wasn't going to do a bit of good for me to give her credibility by accepting her declaration of war. She increased her "attacks," telling people that I summoned a demon that flung her around her room. (My response being when asked by third parties, "Do I look like I could summon a pixy let alone the steroid freak it would take to lift her?") After Nick and Jen became romantically involved while I was at Summer Scholars for two weeks, the former became a fast friend with her (Jen, I heard it reported, continued not to like this woman but endured her for Nick's sake). I had come to feel that anyone that boasted this woman as a friend was likely going to do me no good, since I saw people as potential friends and not potential followers/soldiers.

This woman and Rocky Horror had been out of my life for years when I noticed that Dutchess Community College, my college at the time, was putting on a production late one night. It seemed safe, enough time had passed. I believe that I went with Katie or meant to. I cannot quite imagine that I went alone, such was my need for a social buffer. Of course, this woman was there as a cast member (as was Coley in audience capacity and Nick as Frank-N-Furter, the main transvestite). It was my college - my domain - and I wasn't about to cede it to her despite my discomfort. I sat and enjoyed the show as best I could until this woman felt the need to single me out under the auspices of some audience participation and try to hump me as I sat, towering over me and trying to push her belly into my face. I think I made my annoyance clear, put up my elbows and knees up and growling for her to back off. It has been a while, so my memory - short of her trying to hump me, unfortunately - is fuzzy.

I have to admit, to my disgust, that I was half worried that this woman would be at the Trinity Players' production. Even though I know she is states away, I somehow thought she might show up in Poughkeepsie for this dinky opening night. She was not, my story is not quite so twisted.

The cast consisted of actors who, while not specifically seasoned, were at least salty enough. Their Janet, an eighteen-year-old I had in a classroom at Arlington, started a bit weakly but blossomed into the role. Their Brad was almost two decades her senior, but geeked himself up more than enough. Their Riff-Raff caused me to remark that I didn't know an alien Loki was Riff-Raff's understudy, so unearthly was his make-up and performance. Even their Rocky, though mute, was so ridiculously muscle-bound to be unnerving (plus, for no reason we could figure out, he had painted his armpits neon pink). The rest of the cast was more than adept enough to keep us amused, though the presence of so many sweater vests in the audience negated some of the raunchy spirit of the play.

Emily said that I was easily the most annoying person in the theater, aside from the tattooed and pierced man in a skirt who was cast simply to wander and provide callbacks to the action on stage to hopefully liberate the audience to do the same. I was pleased that I remembered so many, occasionally knowing one or two that the professional caller did not.

Despite this neutral to positive experience with the play, I can't say that I am cured. It galls me that this woman could, a decade later, still affect how I feel about a potentially fun activity. I don't wish to give her even this small purchase in my head, preferring to rent only to those I love. I suppose the only way to fully combat this is with systematic desensitization.

Now where does one get fishnet stockings in men's sizes?

Soon in Xenology: Little Orphan Annie.

last watched: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
reading: Portable Darkness
listening: The Rocky Horror Show

" Our Home By Degrees

Little Orphan Annie "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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