Well, we did. At the moment she needed it more than anything else.
I always tell the truth. All my stories are true and actually happened at some usually bizarre era of my life, which constitutes most of it. In this instance, it was 6th grade and we not only slapped her, we tackled her to the ground and jumped on her head. Many times. Afterward, she and her parents were grateful.
My best friend was Steve. He lived across the street and we attended the brand new neighborhood elementary school Cyril Wengert. It was the same year I had ‘called out’ Tony Francisco in Mr. Saxon’s class at recess. At 94 pounds clothed and wet, I’d no business calling anyone out (an expression which, in that era, meant “I’m mad and want to hit you but I can’t do it in class so by all means, let’s beat each other up in front of the entire school at the next recess when we can both be horribly embarrassed and humiliated at this critically formative and impressionable age.” Tony my scheduled adversary, was the class fat boy and as scared as me as we watched the hours pass, counting down, knowing that when the bell rang, thirty two kids were expecting a show that neither of us were equipped to perform. If he was the class donut, I was the french fry in a mismatch of weight divisions.
But I digress.
Steve and I had good parents. That is to say they were parents who forced us to be well rounded in extracurricular activities, which necessarily included Chorus class. At that age, it was a gender humiliation exercise because, to my recollection, we were the only boys in a big sea of cooties. I could be wrong, but when you hear our story, you’ll understand.
It was Christmastime and the final day of school before Christmas break. Miss Neurosis (not her real name, but appropriate) had drilled us on the Christmas concert rehearsal for weeks. She was less concerned with how we sounded but she was absolutely ape shit about choreographic perfection. It was her first year teaching in a new school with a reputation to build and this Christmas concert was the pageant in which her disorder would be revealed to all. Vocally, 6th grade is typically not good for on-the-cusp pubescent boys, but to her, the sound was much less critical than the spectacle she’d prepared for staff and parents.
Okay, so the night of the performance had arrived and Miss Neurosis had gone over the procedure for blowing out our individual candles at the very end of the last song for the very last time before we made our dramatic ascension up the stairs.
The room was packed and the choral ensemble was robed in perfectly ironed black gowns with white starched collars framing 70 partly pimpled faces illuminated by individual candles. Two lines entered up the stairs from both sides of the room. It was quite dramatic. Steve lead the group on the right and the little black girl lead the group on the left with me right behind her. Our lines met in the top center of the library balcony, candles aflame on the last line of the final chorus of Silent Night. We all were looking forward to our two weeks off.
Flanked on either side by Steve and I, the little afroed black girl’s head was a huge, bulbous globe of stiff AquaNet flocked hair, like a dandelion, only black and with no breeze. It was the style back then, but not for much longer.
Miss Neurosis’ choreography was for one slow, unified and dramatic move whereby our candles and illuminated faces would extinguish simultaneously as a group one the last sung word. Each student was to blow “Peeeeeaaacceee” as a stream of air that–at least hypothetically– would blow out the candle as we bowed our heads in unison. We had never practiced with real flames.
Try it now. “Peeeeeeaaaacceee.” There is no fricative with sufficient air force to extinguish even a match stick much less a 12 gauge candle. Though we all tried our best, Miss Neurosis was flustered in the back of the room at this huge error in enunciative judgment which kept the staircase of candles flickering much longer than expected. But as if that wasn’t enough humiliation….
Bulbous AquaNet afros are flammable, and 6th grade boys can’t do two things at once. Especially without fricatives.
She burst into flames between me and Steve like some not so silent night explosion. For a moment, it was beautiful. Like a Chia Pet caught fire. The flame rounded her head in a circular pattern faster and faster until she didn’t know what hit her.
Recognizing the heroic opportunity, Steve and I pushed her to the floor and pounced the smoldering do. In the back of the library, Miss Neurosis had long since fainted in disgrace missing the crescendo of applause offered for our valiant effort.
And with the stunned little black girl still on the ground in ashes, we stood up and took a bow to a roaring audience. And Tony Francisco and the entire 6th grade class forever knew me as a hero the same year someone invented the cornrow.
And we all had a Merry Christmas for two whole weeks!