As promised, here is the conclusion to the tale of my time in talent shows at Laura MacArthur elementary school. For part 1, CLICK HERE.
It had been nearly 12 months since the triumph that had been my air-drumming to White Lion's Wait. Tony had moved on to junior high, and had taken his air band and all his instruments with him. By the time I realized Brag Night time was coming back around, our triumphant performance was just a memory that grew more faint with each passing titty-twister. I had settled uncomfortably back into my role as shy fat kid, and had resigned myself to the fact that my days as a star were over. I was a one-hit air band wonder. Is there anything in the world more pathetic?
Turns out there is, because somebody talked me into entering next year’s Brag Night. I’m not naming names because as much as I would like to blame someone else it was my stupid idea, borne in the hours between going to bed and actually going to sleep, when my cheese popcorn-fueled imagination developed delusions of grandeur about what people actually find cool. In this particular case, my mind convinced the rest of me that what my classmates were clamoring to see was a fat kid perform karate.
I woke the next morning, and still in a fantasy world where you could do something as lame as this and escape with your sack unrapped, I signed myself up. When the weekend came, I assuaged my doubts and fears by deciding that anything could be cool if set to the right soundtrack. I scoured my collection of cassette tapes until I found the perfect background music for watching an out-of-breath fourth grader try to kick above his shin:
I grabbed my headphones, my gi and some fluids and headed to the basement, the place where all of my “great” ideas came to stammering, humiliating life. I clipped the cassette player to my pants and began to choreograph. I played the song through a few times while pacing across the carpeted floor, taking a moment to swing around the support pole every now and again just to get the blood flowing. Eventually I flopped my considerable frame down onto the beanbag chair, frustrated and blocked.
This song was an epic work of sonic power. Was I truly up to the task of expressing the raw sexuality of a lyric like “We’re heading for Venus, and still we stand tall” with nothing but my feet and hands? Then I remembered:
I could jump kick like a motherfucker. (mid-30’s version of Andy note: I couldn’t.)
Thus, my performance was born. After that initial breakthrough, the rest of the moves came in a rapid-fire rush of ass-kickery. Once it was assembled and I had run through it to the point of memorization, I knew I was untouchable. It was the perfect combination of rocking song and sweet moves. My enemies would tremble in fear at my powerful display and the girls would do something with their hair or lips or eyes to express how attractive they found me. I actually didn’t know what they would do because girls didn’t find me attractive, but I knew that would change and I would soon be able to fill in with specific examples what girls would do to show how attractive they found me. I was like Ralph Macchio without the headband or Peter Cetera soundtrack. Which by my calculations made me much cooler. I relaxed with a Gatorade and fantasized about the popular life I was about to begin leading.
I had sweet déjà vu the morning of that year’s Brag Night. The morning left me with the same feeling of unbearable boredom as last year, and I got the same rush when the principal excused the performers for the afternoon. I strutted out into the hall, flying solo this time, swinging the plastic bag holding my gi and Europe tape by my side as I marched to the bathroom. Because I’m superstitious (and had no taste in clothes), I wore the same ratty Wranglers and Arizona t-shirt to school that day, but once I stepped into the bathroom stall and put on my gi, I became a bad ass. I splashed some water on my face and stared at my reflection, psyching myself up like a prize fighter.
You can do this; you will do this. Kick high, remember to shout ‘Kie-Yai!’ every time you do something really awesome and powerful, and clench your butt cheeks in the horse stance so you don’t fart like you did last night in the basement.
Then I took a deep breath, punched the wall for effect, fought back the ensuing tears of pain and stormed out of the bathroom and into the auditorium. I grabbed one of the programs, scanning the order to see who had the misfortune of following me. A clogger.
Good luck, clogger, I thought. Good luck following THIS..
Then my eyes darted to the act above mine, and my spirits sank. In some secretary’s idiotic idea of performance order, the girl performing before me was also doing karate. I quickly regained my confidence, however, when I realized that this girl was not only performing sans music, but was also an albino, and was therefore teased more than me by my classmates. I would surely shine by comparison.
She mounted the stage for her practice run, and the solid swath of black adorning her middle really should’ve tipped me off. I certainly should have gotten an inkling once she pulled out the gigantic metal sais that I had never seen in the hands of anyone who wasn’t a mutant turtle.
She was awesome.
I don’t mean elementary school talent show awesome, either. I mean trophy-winning, could seriously hurt you if she wanted to awesome. She ran through her routine and the whole place went quiet. The only sound was the ching of the sais as they blurred in a lethal dance of violence and the steady thwap of her pressed, spotless gi as she executed textbook roundhouse kicks that made my classmates burst into spontaneous applause.
Needless to say, I was screwed. But it was too late to back out now. Not only had the programs already been printed and I desperately wanted one for my scrapbook, but I had told all of my friend that I was going to do this routine and I would look like a fool if I backed out now. So I gritted my teeth and decided that she could bore the audience with her calm, deadly attacks all she wanted. Let her demonstrate the boring sequences she’d learned, her performance would be cold and clinical. That’s fine.
Cause I was going to entertain.
I had Europe on my side, wicked improvisational skills and a flair for the dramatic. I ran backstage and quickly began restructuring my routine. There were moves she hadn’t incorporated that I could, there were sequences I had to remove and replace with severe looks to the audience and louder “Kie-Yai’s”; there was gravitas to add.
I worked right up until my performance slot, which was probably for the better, as I missed the extended ovation my albino nemesis received. I was grabbed by the math teacher and herded to the wings just as my introduction ended and the lights dimmed. I strode onstage and stopped dead center, turning my back on the audience I imagined was now sitting on the edge of their seats, precarious with anticipation.
The first ethereal chords of “The Final Countdown” began and I popped one chubby hip out to accentuate the downbeat, like some rotund mini-Fosse. Then, in what I imagined to be a greatly effective and powerful moment, I raised my arms slowly above my head. And then I lowered them. And then I raised them again. And then I lowered them.
As I was raising them for a third time I realized that this new choreography might suck, but before I could process just what lay in store for me in the next several minutes, I had turned and was throwing punches in time to the beat. I flung my fists to the side like I was discarding my smoking 9mm’s and ambled to the front of the stage, where I again raised my arms.
I was boring the shit out of everybody. My friend was reading his program, my teacher appeared to be sleeping, and the only person watching me with any sort of interest was the resident bully. Turns out he was only staring at me with such intensity to get me to look over at him. When I did, he pointed at me and mouthed “Fag” before returning to shooting spitballs at the gym teacher and ignoring me like everyone else.
My own brain wasn’t interested enough to stay focused, and I promptly forgot all of my new choreography. I stopped, out of breath, and raised and lowered my arms dramatically while I searched in vain for my forgotten moves. Panicking, I began doing jump kicks. Nothing but jump kicks. For a good, solid 30 seconds. It was around the ninth one that I realized I was no longer even getting off the ground. My jump kick had turned into a half-hearted slide across the stage floor. I was exhausted, I was humiliated, and I hadn’t even reached the bridge.
Finally, some semblance of sense took hold. I came to a stop, turned and, with the song still blaring, took a bow. The audience, startled at this change of events, broke into confused, scattered applause, and I ran off stage and into the bathroom. I used up a whole roll of toilet paper due to all the sweating and crying I was doing in there, and by the time I had calmed myself enough to put my normal clothes back on, Brag Night was over and everyone had returned to their classrooms.
Just like last year, I stepped out into a silent hall and made my way to my classroom. Just like last year, I took a deep breath and opened the door on a lesson already underway. Just like last year, everything stopped and all attention turned to me.
But this time nobody clapped.
SPECIAL BLOG BONUS!
Here's me, in my 30's, on stage at Laura MacArthur one last time, re-creating my routine from that final Brag Night. A few weeks after this video was made, they tore my old school down. But not before I could unleash a little more jump-kicking fury.