I was driving my thirteen year-old son Jefferson home from baseball practice yesterday when we (I) decided to flick on a classic rock station. On came Led Zeppelin’s Livin’, Lovin’ Maid. Did that ever bring back memories. Naturally, I had to tell Jefferson about the time I lip-synched the song in front of my entire fourth grade class while wearing green and white checkered pants, a yellow shirt, a Daniel Boone vest, saddle shoes, eating a cherry Tootsie Pop—which served as my microphone—and guessing madly at the lyrics. I hope I did not make a mistake confiding this indiscretion to my youngest son. Jefferson left home this morning with a bag tied to a stick slung across his shoulder, so when he returns home (if he does), I will ask him.
The year was 1969. The occasion was a fourth grade lip-synching contest. What sort of manic teacher would conduct such a competition, and for what purpose, I do not know. But now, in a bout of remembrance, I do know. It was the infamous Miss Clouse.
I remember the day Miss Clouse first walked into our classroom. Actually, she ran. She was late, and our first vision of her was of mincing red heels. She had hair that rose above her forehead in a That Girl pompadour. The hair was Harlow gold, however. Lips: Sweet Surprise. Her hands were always cold; she had Rumplestiltskin eyes.
Each student was to bring a record and be prepared to humiliate him or herself to it. Miss Clouse was the Mistress of Lasting Embarrassment and stood ready at the turntable. Today, I hope it was worth it to her. I hope, at least, that her children are unharmed by the events of that unforgettable afternoon.
Classmates before me did acts like The Rhonettes. They lip-synched to singers like Bobby Darrin and The Everly Brothers. One crazy kid did Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.” He wore Buddy Holly-style glasses but he looked ridiculous in them because he weighed two hundred pounds and his head was the size of a Swiss exercise ball. He did the “…Peggy Sue-a-hoo, hoo-hoo-a-hoo-hoo” part, and everyone laughed. Everyone thought it was ridiculous. But no one had seen ridiculous yet.
My aforementioned clothes (the pants, the jacket, the shoes) were not only a part of my act, they were part of my regular school attire. For me, every day was an act.
I had begged my mother to buy me the green and white checkered pants. Something about the pants reflected my soul at the time (it was my Green and White Checked period), and I wished to display that to the world. My mother, however, wanted denim for me. Her idea of normal was blue jeans. This clashed impossibly with my idea of normal, which was green and white checks. My mother said, “Why don’t you want to wear a regular pair of pants like a normal boy?” I answered that normal-boy clothes did not reflect the current state of my soul. Mother had no answer for that, so she bought me the pants. Winning this argument was easy compared to the time I wanted saddle shoes—that battle took time.
“Saddle shoes are for girls,” my mother said.
“Not really,” I said. “I saw a picture of Uncle Jim in saddle shoes. He’s a famous writer and he lives in Hollywood.”
“Your Uncle Jim is strange.”
“What if I’m the artsy type?”
“Then I’ll probably have to take you to a psychiatrist.”
“Oh, look! Here’s a swell pair of saddle shoes. And they have my size!”
My mother bought me the shoes and I became the talk of the class. I was obviously a trend-setter. It was not my fault that no one followed my trends. At least I started conversations. I got people to thinking. Kids actually wanted to be seen with me. I was a ten year-old Happening.
I got the Daniel Boone jacket at the Myers Lake Shopping Plaza. A
men’s clothing store there was giving them away. In fact, they were giving people a quarter to take one. Once again, my poor mother was at my side. I said, “Look, Mother! They’re giving away Daniel Boone jackets! In fact, they’re paying people a quarter to take one. Have you ever seen a sale as crazy as this one? Have you? Look at the cool fringe hanging off the jackets! I sure wish I had one of those. I could settle Kentucky in one of those things. Can you imagine how I would look in that Daniel Boone jacket and my checkered pants, and my saddle shoes? Why are you stopping? Mother, are you getting dizzy? Look! That man is handing us a quarter!”
The shirt I procured later was the color of the Beatles’ submarine, only yellower.
The Swiss ball kid sat down to resume his life of doom, and it was my turn. Miss Clouse dropped the needle on my 45, and I was off to another world. It was a good world. I liked the world.
Most of my classmates still remember my performance. For some, it was a pivotal moment in their lives. One has since said, “Martin, when I saw you do Livin’, Lovin Maid, it opened doors for me. I realized then that anything was possible. You were outside yourself; it was like you had no self-consciousness, none at all. None of the things that normally hold people back affected you that day. And you kept eating that sucker! It was the way you ate it. And how you licked it like a lunatic at the end when Robert Plant does that crazy thing with the ‘L’s.’” My friend got teary. “You changed my life, man.”
But it was another boy who gave me the “thumbs up,” through the glass, as I sat alone in the principal’s office.
© 2006 by Martin Zender