Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Here's the Story

I was a huge Brady Bunch fan-geek. Huge. In addition to the regular sitcom series, I also loved the animated "Brady Kids" series. I even loved the short-lived Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which featured the Brady family singing such classic disco hits as "Shake Shake Shake" by KC and the Sunshine Band and "Car Wash" by Rose Royce.

"In the 80's," when I moved into a new apartment with Disney Roommate Ben, we threw a Brady Bunch house warming party. Disney coworkers came dressed as Cindy, Greg, Carol, Jan, and Marcia, and even Alice. Ben and I dressed as the Silver Platters, in our own homemade version of the blue and white costumes that the Brady Kids wore when they first sang and danced on T.V. ("We're gonna keep on - keep on - keep on - keep on dancin' all through the night!")

We gave out prizes for the best costumes. Julie won for being dressed up as "Aunt Ginny," Imogene Coca's character (the one that looked exactly like Jan when she was a girl). Wendy was given a prize for showing up as "Bebe Gallini," the cosmetics CEO all dressed in pink, as portrayed by Abbe Lane.

Linda's boyfriend won for the Most Obscure Brady character, "Phil Packer," by simply donning a fake mustache. My fellow Brady-philes may recall the episode when Peter wore a fake mustache so that he could look older and go on a double date with Greg.

Everyone knew how geeked-out I was for the whole Brady revival. When the tour of the Real Live Brady Bunch stage show was scheduled to come to Los Angeles, I had four different friends offer to take me for my birthday. Four offers! Instead of buying my tickets the second they became available, I sat back and gleefully anticipated the different episodes I might get to see acted out on stage, including "Getting Davey Jones."

I did not end up attending a single performance. I had foolishly counted on my friends to come through - at least one out of the four, even, it didn't matter which one - for what was surely to be one of the most important and memorable entertainment events of my life.

As if to make up for this grave and regrettable injustice, I was asked a few years later if I was available to do background work as a dancer for the Brady Bunch Movie (thanks, Peggy Hickey!). It was for the dance-in-the-gym scene. How thrilling to be able to see up close and in person the actors portraying Marcia and Greg! You can even spot me behind "the new Jan Brady" when she comes out of the restroom, proudly sporting her big, black afro wig.

I have to credit the Brady Bunch as one of my influences for wanting to become a performer, at least, partially. I will usually list the All New Mickey Mouse Club and Fame among my first influences, as well as Dick Van Dyke. But the Brady Kids showed me that everyday suburban kids could become singers and dancers, too.

"How did they end up getting in the recording studio?" I had asked my dad. "How did they get the music that they're singing to?"

"Well, Greg wrote the music and the studio musicians recorded it before the Brady kids went in to record the vocals," my dad replied, his tone mock serious.

It was as simple as that. But at 10-years-old, even I didn't believe it was that easy, much as I may have wanted to believe that that's the way reality works.

Still, I was a committed fan. I watched the repeat episodes so many times that I had memorized the order in which they appeared. I knew which episodes came before the ones that they sang on, so that I could prepare my dad's reel-to-reel tape recorder to capture my very own recording of their songs. I had to - a trip to Thrifty's in 1976 had not resulted in owning a vinyl record of the Brady Kids songs as I had hoped.

I finally got the songs on CD in the early nineties, a CD which I still have today. As a true Brady fan, though, I was disappointed that the CD did not include "Good Time Music," as sung in the last of the three episodes that featured the Brady Kids singing.

Luckily for me, that was one of the songs sung by the fake Brady Kids of the 90's in "A Very Brady Sequel." Sing it with me, now:

Let me hear some of that good time music that I love to hear
I've got plenty of blues and sort of bad news and I need to find me some cheer

There's no sense in walking around with your feet stuck to the ground
It's much better to put yourself together
Create a lot of love and good vibes for humanity - that's fine with me!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I have been teaching children's dance, again, at a church in Pasadena. So far, we've had three performances of "Praise Dance" in Sunday morning services. Morgan is one of the younger and more enthusiastic dancers.

The first two songs that the children danced to were well known worship songs, beautiful ballads that were perfect for elementary ballet and basic arm movements. They were also kind of boring. The young dancers and I asked the Children's Director if we couldn't dance to something a little more uptempo. She agreed.

The song chosen for the third performance was "Shackles," performed by Mary Mary. It has a kid-friendly beat and a specific gospel message. Morgan, very excited, took her CD copy home to practice. However, once her guardian grandparents learned that it was a "hip hop" number, they pulled her from rehearsals.

It was a little heartbreaking to see Morgan's obvious disappointment every time I walked into the Sunday School class, before rehearsal. I told the Children's Director that Morgan's grandparents were welcome to talk to me if they had any concerns about the movement or the lyrics of the song.

I really felt for Morgan. Although it's been many years, I know what it's like to want to dance and not be allowed to, particularly for religious reasons. This restriction is even worse when an actual opportunity to dance becomes available.

I also remember what it's like, as a kid, to feel left out of things.

Maybe I should dig out my old VHS copy of "Footloose" and loan it to Morgan's grandparents.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We Interrupt This Program

Procrastinatin' Pete is still working on his first novel, but he is waiting until the last minute, as usual, each time submissions are due to his writing group.

He shudders to think how much more procrastinating he would be doing if he didn't have a group to hold him accountable on a regular basis.

What's that D-word, again . . . 'deadline?'

I am currently out of the office this week, but only in the mornings, teaching dance classes at a kids' theater arts camp in Pasadena. I will catch up with you and my daily work duties in the afternoons.

Please do not feel personally persecuted if you think I am ignoring you, your blog, or my own blog. If it makes you feel better, I am also neglecting my workouts while somehow managing to squeeze in time to inhale a See's Truffle or two . . . or seventeen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Simple Meal

Top Ramen, yogurt, and an apple. This was the usual meal I made for myself in my "struggling artist days." Sometimes I miss it. It was simple, affordable, filling, and nutritious (if you don't count the MSG in the ramen flavor packet, and the fact that the ramen noodles were fried). I loved eating cold cereal late at night, too, three or four bowls full, right before going to bed. I swear it gave me more energy the next morning.

I didn't cook much in my early twenties. I mostly just warmed things up. I almost never bought meat, so I never really had to cook. I wasn't vegetarian back then, meat was just too expensive. I ate a lot of fast food hamburgers, too.

I remember these simple meals fondly because I was eating them when I was going to dance classes almost every night, and to various dance auditions, waiting for that first big break that would grant me the status of a working dancer, a paid dancer. Those simple meals represent the days when I was dreaming of becoming a Real Dancer.

Even though I can afford more groceries and better meals, now, I miss those meals a little, and those days. I still save money where I can, including taking my lunch to work five days a week. I'll usually chop up a MorningStar veggie patty and scramble that with eggs. And I still include yogurt and fresh fruit with my lunch.

I'm not struggling as much as I used to, financially, just struggling as a novice writer, attempting to get a first novel written. Maybe I'll look back fondly on my take-to-work lunches, too, some day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I Saw Your Mom in Her Underwear!

I saw my friend Julie's mom in her underwear, once, when I was about seven. I'm not sure why I remember this, but I'm happy to share it with you.

One of the families we were friends with at church was the Sahlstrom family. Julie Sahlstrom was the same age as me, so we were good friends. She was a middle child, with an older brother and a younger sister. She and her siblings had blonde hair and blue eyes. The Sahlstroms had invited us to their home for lunch after church, one day. Julie and I were in her bedroom, just talking.

"I have to go to the bathroom," she said. "Come with me."

Julie sat on the toilet to pee and I sat against the wall, side by side with the toilet. I was almost behind Julie, practically. It wasn't like I could even see anything. We continued our conversation until her mother burst in on us. Mrs. Sahlstrom was wearing only her bra and panties. She must have been changing out of her church clothes.

"What are you two doing in here?!" She was surprised and upset. I didn't really see what the big deal was, even though she was half naked in front of me.

My father punished me right away when he found out. He grounded me to the couch in the empty family room. This was just about all he could do, short of spanking me, as we were guests in their home. I was not allowed to read anything, however, which was torture because the Sahlstroms had a huge collection of children's books on their shelves, many of which were new to me.

This memory may serve as a good example of why I was such a goody-goody when I was younger, and why I was such a prude for so long, as a young adult. I used to have such a big stick up my butt (and not in the good way, either, as I'm always saying to my friends). Fortunately, I learned to have a much more relaxed attitude from many people I met while working as a performer. I'll never forget Jennie, a lovely dancer from England, who never felt it necessary to close the bathroom door when she had to pee. We also continued our conversations with each other while she was on the loo.

And I'll never forget Mrs. Sahlstrom, either. I don't remember exactly what her bra and panties looked like. I probably averted my eyes, being the polite, little Japanese boy that I was. But I do remember her as a very pretty woman, with bright blue eyes, soft bangs, and the rest of her natural brown hair pulled back in a modest ponytail.

I wonder if she recalls the time when that little boy saw her in her underwear?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cool Places Tonight

The Young Adult novel I am working on, titled Scooter Boy, is based upon much of my own adolescence. Mining my past for chapters and scenes has me remembering many details of specific locations, including Grand Central Station, an underage dance club that catered to the "21 and under" crowd in the early 80's.

The club was located in Pomona right off of the 10 freeway, near where the L.A. County Fair is held. One of the drama kids at Norco High first told me about Grand Central Station and drove me there. We took Archibald Road all the way from Corona to the 10 freeway.

I forget what the cover charge was back then, but they didn't check I.D. at the door. The bar inside sold only soft drinks, no alcohol. There was an outdoor patio where underage patrons were allowed to smoke. But people did not come to Grand Central Station to get high or drunk (as far as I knew). They came to dance, and that was the perfect club for me.

There were two rooms for dancing. We never stayed in the first one because they played all break dancing music in there. It was a room full of quite a few black kids, popping and locking in crazy, impossible, coordinated moves. The dancers in the first room weren't all black, but there were always more African American teens than we were used to seeing at Norco High.

The music that was played in the second room was one of the reasons I kept going back to Grand Central Station: "Keep Feeling Fascination" (Human League), "Cool Places" (Sparks and Jane Wiedlin), "Young Guns Go For It" (Wham), "Situation" (Yaz), "Shy Boy" (Bananarama), "Our House" (Madness), "I Want Candy" (Bow Wow Wow) etc. etc.

The other reason I kept returning to the club was because of the young patrons and the way they dressed. They were different and creative and utterly original in what they wore, many of them wearing elaborate jewelry and black eyeliner, both boys and girls. And they were confident in their dancing too, wearing independent attitudes as complimentary accessories to their various outfits.

The bravest and most confident dancers would go up on the stage at the front of the club, either dancing alone or with anyone around them. One of my favorites on stage was a dark-haired girl dancing in front by herself. I remember her hair was ratted in the Madonna wannabe do, wrapped in a floppy white lace bow which matched her long white lace skirt. She had topped off her skirt with a plaid flannel shirt, knotted in the front and with the sleeves rolled up. Of course, she had the two dozen or so black rubber bangles and bracelets on one arm. The one detail that makes her so memorable to me was the red plastic swizzle stick she kept shifting in her mouth. It only reinforced how aloof she was, how lost she was in her own world of the music and her dancing, and how she didn't care what anyone else thought about her.

At seventeen, I admired her confidence and independence. I wanted to be like her.

I had a rather innocent and uneventful adolescence, but I have several good memories. I feel lucky that my memory's inventory includes such great scenes as Grand Central Station that I can use for my own writing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Making Amends

Edith was a fag hag. She wanted to be my fag hag, in the 80's, but I was reluctant. She was too needy, necessary as that trait may be for this specific type of codependent friendship. We worked together at Disneyland and joined the show choir at Fullerton City College, along with our friend, Eddie.

Edith was cute, bubbly, and flirtatious. Straight boys liked her. When she was between boyfriends, though, she would make a beeline to me and Eddie, expecting us to be her surrogate boyfriends.

Eddie got a phone call from her. "Take me out to dinner for Valentine's Day," she had practically ordered.

Eddie called me right away. "I wanted to say, 'Bitch? I need a guy to take me out to dinner,'" he told me. Eddie and I felt that we always ended up paying for Edith whenever we went out with her, so we were not anxious to spend a Lonely Hearts evening with her.

After leaving city college and being ousted from the Mouse House, I managed to ditch Edith for a couple of years. She found me at my dinner theater job, eventually, when attending a show with some mutual friends.

She confronted me. "You have avoided me for two years. Well, I'm not letting you go, this time. What are you doing tomorrow?" Once again, she was insisting herself into my life.

I sighed. "I'm going to church tomorrow." Edith invited herself to go with me. She hit it off right away with the college age crowd. She became a regular in Sunday morning services, at weekly bible studies, and at any social functions.

Flash forward to 2008. Edith and I reconnected via facebook, as well as at a Disney reunion, last year. We have both survived and grown from our respective emotional issues and have a healthier friendship, now.

"Remember when you told everyone at church that I was your girlfriend?" she asked me. "I was mad when I found out because I had been wondering why no one at church was asking me out. You said you did it so that no one would guess your true gay identity."

I have absolutely no recollection of doing that. It's possible that I used Edith as a beard, though, being that I was involved in ex-gay ministry at the time. If I did, I feel bad about it. Now.

"And I didn't even get any girlfriend perks," she added. "I covered for you, and told people that we broke up."

I guess I owe her?

What I do remember is when she had asked to speak with me, alone, in the empty choir room at church.

"I wanted to talk about us being more than friends," Edith said. "I think I'd be perfect for you because I know about your past and I am fine with that, as long as you would be faithful to me."

Yeah, maybe with a rubber band and two popsicle sticks.

I did not want to be more than friends with Edith. I bluffed my way out of the situation by telling her I had never thought of us as a couple because she was 'way out of my league.' Thankfully, she bought it.

I am a bit ashamed of the immature and selfish young man I must have been, back then. Hopefully, I have grown enough to be more considerate and honest with my friends.

And Edith has definitely grown. She is now the mother of two beautiful girls. She eventually became divorced after surviving a tough marriage. She could no longer think that depending on a man was her only option, she told me, both emotionally and financially. Through hard work, sheer effort, and determination, she has been able to work her way up in the corporate world, earning six figures a year, and all without completing her formal education.

I admire Edith. She is much happier, now. She is able to be with her boyfriend because she wants to be, not because it is an economic necessity or obligation.
She is someone I sincerely want to be friends with, and I am glad that we are still in touch. I'm glad that we are able to laugh over so much of our mutual past, both the good and the bad.