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June 22, 2009


“Home, Little Fag?”

    My first brush with theater was an absolute disaster.  It was a Christmas production that my fourth grade class performed for the entire school.  I played a reindeer and had to sing some lame songs along with several other reindeer.  For some reason , I felt it would be more realistic if my front “hooves” dangles at chest level rather than down at my sides like the other sleigh-pullers.  I can still remember standing up there, stuck in that lame pose but unable to unfreeze my limbs.
    To make matters worse, my friend’s dad filmed the whole thing and we had to watch the footage for several years to come.  I swore I would never get on stage again.
    I was able to dodge school performances for the next few years by taking “behind the scenes” jobs and volunteering for labor tasks that would keep me away from acting such as Bingo set-up and mopping the church parking lot.
    Three years later, my teacher announced that our seventh grade class was to perform Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”.  Panic washed over me but I knew what to do.  I volunteered for the props crew.  I was safe.  Wrong.  
    “There are so many characters involved in this production”, said Teacher, “that I will need most of you to take on an extra role or duty”.  Shit!  
    And so it happened that I had to take to the stage once more; this time as Young Scrooge.  Fortunately, I only had to utter two lines, “Home, Little Fan?” And “Can this be true?”  I can do this, I thought.  I didn’t know what a little fan was but I could force out the line and move on.
    It was an hour before the play was to begin in front of 400 students, parents, faculty, and priests when I was approached by a group of girls.  As a smallish seventh grader, nothing frightened me more than being approached by a group, especially a group of females.
    “Hey, Mike”, the ringleader of the posse said.  “We want you to do something for us”.
    “Okay, what is it?”
    “Instead of saying ‘Home, Little Fan’, we want you to say, ‘Home, Little FAG’, got it?”
    “Oh, I don’t think so”, I said as diplomatically as I could.
    “Oh, we think you will.  There’s five bucks in it for you if you do”.
    “Wow”, I said, “That’s a lot of money...but I think I’ll stick to the line I memorized”.
    “You’ll say the line or we will kick your ass”.
    Two years earlier, the same little girl kicked me in the nuts hard enough to lift me off the ground.  I believed her.  What do I do now? I thought.  
    Five buck was a lot of money back then.  You could get a Coke for a quarter from the lunch counter in those days.  (Two years earlier the same Coke cost a dime).  I think they raised the price because some of the students were getting so jacked-up on caffeine that kids were getting hurt on the dodgeball court.
    I was stressed out.  And I questioned these girls’ motivation.  Why pay me so much to flub one line?
    Was there some weird female rift between the ball-sack-kicker and the girl who played opposite me in the scene?  Did these girls just want to inject some comedy into an otherwise tedious production?  Did they just want to make me squirm?  They could kick my ass whether I said the line or not.  Would they honor their word and fork over those five singles they flashed me?  These one dollar bills weren’t the rumpled, crumpled ones that jostled around the Sunday donation baskets, these bills were green and crisp, like the ones that Grandma used to hand out to my siblings and I just for the hell of it.  
    I’m backstage now.  My scene is seconds away.  What do I do?  

    Dollar bills or a beating?  

    Straight line or laughter?

    Fag or Fan?

    On stage now.  Curtains open.

    Little girl runs up to me.  

    “Brother, brother!  Father has come to take us home!”

    My mouth is completely dry but I manage to force out the line.

    “Home, little Fang?”

    No ass kicking.  No money.  No more theater.  Ever.