My best friends are usually excellent storytellers. This is alternately useful and problematic because the picaresque tales of M.E. sound completely incredible (unbelievable, full of lies, surely improbable) when told by skilled raconteurs, and consequently there is plausible deniability. Even so, every once in a while, acquaintances will meet each other and exchange stories and assume that the other is obviously a font of misinformation and they still have the market cornered on crazy M.E. adventures. I assure you, however, this tale is both the primary story told about M.E. by M.G., 80’s proto-podcasters, one of whom
will get tomorrow/is getting married today/ got married the day before yesterday. Indeed, this story was told to M.G’s groom on Sunday night/Monday morning by a 3rd party. I haven’t written it out in many years, as it occurred just a few years after the picture above was taken. It’s probably no “Black Swan”, though it might be, because I haven’t seen that movie. Based on the commercials, I have the feeling I’m more Mila Kunis than Natalie Portman, though I suppose I could be Natalie Portmanteau, because maybe I have some baggage. That’s terrible. I’ve had that gmail address since 2006, though.
On with the show!
Every Tuesday for about 12 years, M.G. and M.E. would meet up to go to ballet class. M.E.’s mom felt that it would potentially instill a certain physical grace in her obviously awkward-from-the-womb-on child. M.E. just appreciated it as an opportunity to hang out with her friend. And hang out they did. Basically, the product of every year’s worth of class would be a recital, in which all the classes would do performances.
One year, the performance was a choreographed version of “The Wizard of Oz”. This was notable as M.E. was the Mayor of the Munchkin City, because she was the shortest. M.G. was the barrister, if memory serves. (Fun fact: many thought M.E. was going to not grow up to be a midget, as she still had not topped 5 feet by senior year of high school/age 16.) It also meant that M.G. and M.E. had to go to extra rehearsals and essentially loiter for hours waiting to do their lines and moves. (Both still have sweet moves, as were demonstrated at the wedding, though M.E.’s all look sort of like iterations of The Robot. She works with many robots.)
M.E. and M.G. were competitive kids. While M.G.’s competitiveness came out in sports, and M.E.’s came out in academics, the spirit of a kid persists in most everything they do. As such, a score was always being kept. One day while loitering, (this all occurs in tutus, mind you,) it was decided that the M’s were going to competitively make each other laugh. This was a recipe for failure for M.E., for, though 95% of all girls saw themselves being described as Rivers Cuomo’s ideal lady circa The Blue Album, M.E., knew she’d never laugh for no one else. That’d be craziness. It takes so little to induce the giggles, at that point even the implication of potentially farting was almost enough. Even now, there was some chuckling involved in typing that. IMPLIED FART! Anyhow, not laughing—that was an opportunity to test self-control.
This went on for a couple weeks, with an eventual score of probably a couple hundred to twenty in M.G.’s favor. M.G. comes from European people who are better at not laughing. Or maybe she just had more sensible tastes, humor-wise. So, the two were sitting by a door one day, M.G. trying to make M.E. laugh, M.E., losing her shit, girls pretending to be a field of poppies doing their business about 6 feet away, when another little girl walks in. It should be noted that little girls can be a little vindictive, even awesome ones. Especially awesome ones, sometimes. So, L.G. (we’re gonna call the Little Girl who walked in at that point L.G.,) does, what was in retrospect, a fantastically haughty eye-roll at the M’s shenanigans (M.E., might have been tearing up trying not to laugh at fart noises, as someone typing this now is trying not to do).
Just like that. Then she went off to tell her equally haughty tightly bunned friends how silly and immature SOME kids there were. ENEMY FOR LIFE! So, poppy-field music in the background, the M’s decide that “the laughing game” was going to be turned into “the laughing AT game”. (Again, 2 totally cool kids, or at least moderately neat, and generally not especially un-nice, driven to the brink by irony and ego-preservation.) This, it should be stated, was about 2 weeks before The Big Recital, which is relevant because imagine 2 kids fake-laughing every time they saw someone, who they would see a couple times every afternoon for about 10 consecutive days. [I said this was a bit of a picaresque tale, right? Because these are maybe not the kind of protagonists that you want to like at this point. In this age, these actions might be construed as unacceptable bullying, even given a the tightly-wound L.G.’s tightly-knit support system. In the 80’s, perhaps that was the case too, but this story takes a turn for the weird and bizarre, so I should move out of this aside of recognition of the kind of maybe jerk that was an older younger M.E.]
Let’s skip the increasing frustration of the very haughty L.G. getting laughed at daily for a week by going directly to the NIGHT OF THE BIG RECITAL.
Backstage, the NOTBR, was similar to backstage the nights of many recitals: kids wearing FAR too much make-up, the rustle of tulle, tutus everywhere, very loud (in this case) Wizard of Oz music drowning out the titterings of a hundred or so little girls waiting to dance their piece and bask in the adulation of their parents. M.E., sitting on the ground, trying not to forget the meter for “As mayor of the Munchkin City, in the county of the land of Oz, I welcome you most reeeegally…”and so on. M.G. was much cooler and watching the stage. (The M’s were queued up in the wings past stage right). Tu-tus making sitting awkward. Wedgies. Sequins making certain areas very itchy. Pantyhose that just never sat quite right in the crotch. Little ballerinas are adorable, but it is seldom comfortable.
At this point, a quaternary little girl approached MG and ME. Let’s call her QT. QT was probably about the same age as the M’s, but maybe not so bright. Witlessness was …just shy of an inexcusable crime in the mind of young M.E., and to be punished with a lack of candor. Surely the exchange that follows makes sense only in that light.
QT: You know, L.G. is pretty unhappy with you.
ME: Really? Why?
QT: You have been laughing at her! She told her mom. And (mumbles names.)
ME: Oh…OH, oh, no, gosh, I hope she doesn’t think that. I…I have a medical condition, sometimes weird things cause me to chuckle. Like keys! *Riotous laughter, wipe away a tear* But we weren’t laughing at her. She just has a blue-hoo-hoo-hoo leotard, and that’s one of the colors that sets it off.
QT: *face lighting up having learned something new* OH! That clears it up. I’ll tell her that! *swishes away in her own little light blue tutu.*
M.E. and M.G. had a little chuckle about this. First “Welcome to Oz” scene came and went. Flying monkey girls went off to do their thing the first time around. They were older and in toe-shoes (the ones with wooden tips for extra pain inducement and extra fancy abilities, but oh god the toe knuckles cringe just thinking about them). After that scene, a fifth girl adds to our character sheet. Let us call her BEHEMOTH.
BEHEMOTH was easily a foot taller than M.E. She was probably about 4 years older, and while M.E. would go through a fairly chunky stage, at this point between the height and the relative largeness, neck-less BEHEMOTH probably had a 50 lb advantage. You’ll note that M.G. was far too sensible to get herself involved. She also had 2 brothers, but their interactions always seemed much more civil than those between ME and her 2. Anyhow, BEHEMOTH approached the two from behind M.G., a vantage giving M.E. ample time to realize EXACTLY what was gonna go down.
B: Get up.
ME: Yo. *gets up*
B: *with a fairly agressive finger poke to the middle of the chest* Have you been laughing at my friend?
ME: No? (Future ME notes, years of defusing tense situations later, that a simple denial was probably not the right choice of response.)
B: Have YOU been LAUGHING at my friend?
ME: I don’t even know what you’re talking about!
BEHEMOTH reached down (remember, she’s tall and broad, like the monolith from 2001, but in a leotard and tutu, which was also light blue) with her burly longshoreman hands and grabbed M.E. by the throat. Thumbs on the trachea, she lifted the not slight but not especially hefty mayor up. By the neck. Thumbs on the wind pipe. M.E. squirmed, as B repeated her interrogation, not seeming especially interested in an answer, which probably would have been a squeak of a lie anyhow. Realizing that the choices were limited as all be-leotarded witnesses watched this scene in semi-silent terror, M.E. decided that she had better go out swinging fists because the breathing was not getting any easier.
With all the grace of a slightly drunken canine, the flailing hands of M.E. tightened to fists and focused themselves on the BEHEMOTH, who dropped M.E. to quickly retaliate. While every re-telling of this tale usually sounds a little bit like Happy Gilmore (“She got in a few lucky punches, but I feel I won the fight”), the fact of the matter is that when a 4 foot tall person is trying to duke it out with a 5 foot tall person, it is far easier for the shorty to be conked on the head, while punching uselessly like Little Mac at the non-blinking stomach of King Hippo. (Fun fact: me and my older brother used to primarily only be allowed to play the display Nintendo at the Sears for most of my youth. He was the button man and it was my job to look for patterns and coach.) The surprise nut-punch, while villainous but at times necessarily effective on boys, was useless here.
Usually, there is some pantomime involved in this story, but lacking a physical presence, be once again reminded: This is all going on in the dimly lit back/side stage area. The BEHEMOTH: a blue leotarded monolith. Very voluminous tutu coming up to the top of her opponent’s abdomen. M.E.: So odd. So scrappy. So short. Blocking as best as she knows how. Also wearing a tu-tu. Flying-monkey music derrangedly loud. Horrified witnesses. This is what vindictive childishness and lies lead to. This is a lesson being learned, knuckles and all. Make-up being smeared. Hair being muzzed. The ruffles. So many ruffles. Finally, ages later, an adult noticed. 10 feet away. Miss Donna Lee. Not a cool adult. But Thank God for the intercession.
She flailed her arms in the air as she rushed over, like elbowless Olive Oyl, quickly sidling between the combatants. In her panicked soprano voice:
“Girls, girls! You’re ballerinas, not boxers!”
(Everything else is icing on the cake of that climactic line.)
BEHEMOTH was shunted off somewhere, probably told she should know better, probably. M.E. hustled off with M.G. to attempt to re-cake the face with stage-goop. M.G. said that M.E. had put up a heckofafight. Too young for swears. It’s an odd feeling, years later: in the retelling, there’s still a note of an oddly admired bravery, despite the fact that little M.E. A) didn’t really have a choice, and B) probably deserved no choice. There aren’t clear lines here, or at least lines I am choosing to see. I suppose It was almost heroic, what had gone on; a snarky but kind of adorable David being crushed by a Goliath who had been retained to assist a haughty little kid.
The smeared makeup was removed and a new layer shellacked back on. It would hide the growing bruises that night, but the next day, little M.E. had her very first shiner. She successfully avoided her parents, being “really tired” from the exertion of the previous night’s performance. The thing that they do on TV with bags of frozen peas on the face was actually pretty effective. Meat on the face seemed gross and for many years she’d hated eating peas, anyhow.