Wednesday, October 19, 2005

the first few months are the hardest

After several trains and a bus, a full day of work and meeting up to discuss potential writing gigs at an office in Chinatown, I made it over to Park Ave. for a show. TrayB had invited me to see Carol Channing and, no matter how tired and drained I felt, how could I pass up a chance to see a living legend?

So I show up at Feinstein's for Mrs. Channing's "The First 80 Years Are The Hardest." Get, ready, here's where we get the flashback.

This wasn't the first time I'd seen Carol Channing. Oh no. Back in high school, in Valdosta, Ga., our theater teacher Mrs. Eger packed us up for a weekend trip to Jacksonville, Fla. to see a revival of Hello, Dolly! at the Omni. Of course going to see the show was only half the reason for the trip. It was a way to get out of Valdosta. It was a chance to go shopping at a REAL mall with REAL stores like the GAP and Structure (see, do you not understand what it was like in the deep south? Oh, the hardships!) It was a way to spend time in a hotel room with my boyfriend Shane (a 28-year-old student teacher at the school who I'd recently begun to date). That's right. Carol Channing was my excuse to have surreptitious gay high school sex with a teacher.

Everything was lovely. We spent our time wandering the Landing along the St. John's River eating at exotic restaurant chains not found in our small town, trying on ways of dress that would be considered queer back home. That evening we went to the show.

Ms. Channing (she was unmarried at the time) was a riot. Everytime she came out on stage in her gown and big hat, the crowd would cheer and applaud, giving her a standing ovation. She would then wave, walk around the orchestra pit, waving and blowing kisses before she would then go back to the show. When she sang a standard, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" for example, more standing ovations, more prancing, "Oh you like that one?" she'd break character and ask. The show must have taken nearly 3 1/2 hours and included a dozen times standing and sitting and clapclapclap. You see now why I was never a big fan of musical theater?

Later, the seniors were told we'd been invited up to see the legend. Really, it was for Steven, Season and Jenna, the ones that planned to attend college and major in theater. The last great hope of our drama teacher. But I couldn't be left out without it looking strange, me, the less "serious" actor in the bunch, who was going to go and do English at a school without a theater major.

On the way up to Ms. Channing's hotel room we waited in the lobby and I said, "Oh my god. It's MC Hammer!"

And it was, it really was, he was just standing there about to check in to the hotel. "You mean Hammer. He's just Hammer now," Jenna said. Of course he was. All washed up, this was his first attempt to reinvent himself (this was 1994 and before reality shows and all that). Well Mrs. Eger decides if he's famous, she should go get his attention. So she walks over and tells him that we'd like to meet him. And he comes over and says he'll give us autographs although we didn't ask. And of course all we have is our Hello, Dolly! program for Ms. Channing to sign. So we let him sign that. Then we are whisked away to the room above.

After a bit, Ms. Channing comes out but we're told she can only stay a moment, she has a dental appt. that evening. There she is in a white robe, the largest woman I've ever seen in my life, a head and hands dismembered and huge in this robe. We wait for her to shake our hands (such big hands you have!) and say thank you for coming (what a big mouth you have!) and hand us a pre-signed program. And I just kept thinking: Carol Channing is a man!

Well, back to last night. Mrs. Channing comes out (you see she was just recently married two years ago to her junior high sweet heart) and she tells us stories and sings us songs. And somehow I'm no longer tired and drained. I'm laughing and clapping now. Not worried about how late it is, like all those years ago, so I will have time to sneak in some kissing with my illicit boyfriend. No, instead, this night, I'm left astonished that this woman is up there doing this at her age. And looking at her pantyline and brastrap and her old lady breasts and wondering: Maybe she really is a woman after all. A damn amazing woman. A fine old gal.


At 11:43 AM, Blogger dayone said...

Now all we need is for Angela to see James Brown again & the circle will be complete...

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Jerry said...

James Brown is definitely a man.

I think.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger TRAYB said...

Carol was amazing, but I'll have to say, her head really is huge. Not figuratively — when I interviewed her, she was as humble as can be — but literally. Maybe that's why she fared so well on stage. Even the folks in the cheap seats could read every line on Dolly's face.

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Dee said...

On St. Simons, we had nothing to wear but sea oats and sand until Glynn Place Mall opened up in Brunswick.


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