My Part in the Musical
By Daniel McGinn
My mother liked to dress me. Slacks were required with the school dress code. After school I wanted to wear Levis, just like other boys. Mother was insistent about maintaining a dress code after school. She did not want her son wearing blue collar work clothes. She wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was in the third grade. I wanted to be an Indian chief, or better yet, a cowboy.
Mother kept a record player on the top shelf of the closet beside a box of records. She loved musicals, especially the ones by Rogers and Hammerstein. My sister and I were weaned on these records and as soon as we could speak we could sing. My father worried about me. Songs like “I Feel Pretty” or “June is Busting out All Over” were fine on a record, but it seemed a bit girlish for a boy to be singing as he danced around the house. He thought, maybe that was why the boys in the neighborhood liked to beat me up. Dad tried to teach me how to box but I wasn’t a fighter. I wouldn’t play sports. I wasn’t coordinated, not at all.
One day three of the neighbor boys were waiting on the lawn when I came around the corner singing, “Doe, a deer, a female deer; ray, a drop of golden sun.” My father was watching at the window. He locked the door thinking this is the only way the boy will ever learn to be a man. The three boys blocked my path. They pushed me and hit me in the back. They kept following me. My father heard me try the door knob. He could hear the boys continuing to push me against the front door. When they began punching me, when my father could hear the thud of fists on flesh, he finally opened the door and said quietly, “That’s enough.” The neighbor boys ran. I was bent over on the porch crying. My father said nothing. He went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. Three fingers of Jim Beam, two rocks. My father stood at the kitchen sink drinking and looking into the front yard.
My father did not know that my mother liked to dress us up and take us to the neighbor’s houses for impromptu singing sessions. My sister and I were afraid to tell him because our mother would punish us. We were ten months apart, almost twins, which made us cute enough, but when we sang show tunes we were even cuter. Mother decided that her pleasure needed to be shared with the neighborhood bridge ladies. So she dressed my sister in a flapper outfit and a Carol Channing wig. She dressed me in a red, white and blue sport coat, with white slacks and a straw hat. In my mother’s eyes, I looked just like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. The three of us practiced for an hour and then knocked on the neighbors’ door, interrupting dinner and television time for our quick show. In my mother’s mind, this was like having Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney come by for a visit. For the neighbors, it was nothing but strange. My sister and I did not want to sing for the neighbors but we were afraid of our mother. Found ourselves standing in the homes of the neighbors singing a show tune.
I began with, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true. I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage; I can’t afford a carriage, but you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two …”
My sister, batting her Carol Channing eyelashes, would respond with, “Daniel, Daniel here is my answer true. I’m not crazy all for the love of you …”
It was kind of a creepy show, considering we were brother and sister.
Daniel McGinn’s work has appeared in OC Weekly, Next … Magazine and several other anthologies and publications. He represented Los Angeles at the 1997 National Poetry Slam. He was one of the hosts of Tebot Bach’s reading series at Golden West College. He and his wife, poet Lori McGinn, are natives of Southern California. They have 3 children, 5 grandchildren, two parakeets, several fish, and a very good dog. This poem originally appeared in his book, 1000 Black Umbrellas, from Write Bloody Publishing.