Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Let There Be Lips

Part 8: I have never been a quitter

Maybe it was that I had taken over all John's other duties, or maybe it was just that I had been there so long, or just that, as the MC, I was the most visible of the cast. Whatever the cause, I began to be seen as the leader of the cast. The decision-maker, at least. I didn't mind, since by and large we were an agreeable bunch. Until someone got a bug in their britches about something. Then it would be full-on drama.

Frequently, it had nothing at all to do with the show. Dawn was constantly calling cast meetings--at which she would start in on Chris over some bit of ex-girlfriend business. And with all the teenagers in the group, there would be the attendant hookups and breakups, with all the ensuing tears and recriminations at inopportune moments.

Then there were the people who were just...well, not quite right in the head.

If you've done any reading up on the origins of the Rocky Horror phenomenon, you've undoubtedly heard about some people who just take things a little too seriously. Fandom is replete with people like Dori Hartley, who become so spiritually fixated on Frank N. Furter that they change their appearance, get tattoos, or in one extreme example, change their sex to be more like him.

What is it about Frank? Well, of course, he's the main character of the movie, the one who drives the plot, and gets the best entrance. He smokes, he drinks, he fucks who he wants to fuck, and does it all in three-inch heels. He can seem quaint in this age of (yawn) Marilyn Manson or (double yawn) Slipknot, but back in the day, he was just the thing to inspire rebellion against...well, whatever you can find to rebel against. As personified so magnificently by Tim Curry, Frank N. Furter becomes an androgynous force of nature.

We had our own Dori Hartley, a woman named Valerie.

She seemed okay at first. She would come to the shows in costume. Great. Seriously, we encouraged people to dress up. It didn't even have to be from the movie--if I wasn't performing, I would often dress up as Alex, from A Clockwork Orange. Valerie would come in a very faithful reproduction of Frank's costume, right down to the 4711 tattoo on the thigh (thankfully, drawn on with a Sharpie).

Our Frank at the time was Dawn's friend Rae. Rae did a damn fine job as Frank, even though her costume consisted of little more than a black teddy and fishnets. None of us held that against her; a perfectly accurate Frank costume can be quite spendy. But in Valerie's eyes, to give anything less than your entire being to the part was an affront to the Rocky Horror gods. And she would call me several times a week, complaining how (to her) Rae was hogging the part; Frank, she argued, was Tim Curry's gift to the audience (this is actually how she used to talk), and anyone who tried to claim it exclusively as their own (which Rae had never done) was being selfish.

That view changed, of course, when Valerie took the part. Suddenly it was as if she was chosen from on high to play Frank, and she would brook no suggestion that anyone else could even fill in for a night. God help anyone else who dared come in costume--they were obviously schemers, come to steal her part, and couldn't I, as cast leader, make them stop?

I should have told her that wasn't how it worked. I should have pointed out her hypocrisy. I should have put my foot down, lived up to my position as de facto cast leader, and told her that it's just a silly camp musical, people are supposed to come in costume, and to knock it off and just enjoy herself.

It was my trial by fire, and I whizzed it right down my leg. Thanks to my inability to grow a pair, we were stuck for most of the rest of my run with a borderline sociopath as Frank.

That wasn't my only blunder. I could be petulant and childish, especially if people were interrupting while I was trying to get through the preshow. There was one night when, prima donna that I was, I walked off stage when one girl just would not shut up while I was trying to get through my vitally important, life-affirming "Viking buying underwear" joke.

Then there was the time I thought Patty was hitting on me.

Patty was an affectionate woman. And as Janet, playing my fiance, there were more than a few times when, as Janet kissed Brad at the end of "Dammit Janet," she would go ahead and plant one on me.

I had a friend I'll refer to as RK, who had gone off to college in my pre-Rocky Horror days, and who I only saw when he was home for the summer. He came to a few shows, and when talking to me afterwards, insisted that "that Janet chick is all over you, dude!" Of course, RK was drunk, was known as an instigator, and a bit of an asswipe. And Patty was also known to flirt with other cast members, most notably Rocky during "Toucha-Toucha-Touch me." Never mind all that, the seed of doubt had been planted in my head.

The following weekend, I suddenly became hyperaware of her every move. Every playful kiss, every "accidental" brush of her breasts against my hand, that just fed my irrational belief that she was warm for my form. A smitten kitten. Trying to get with my good stuff.

My bad mood that night became noticeable. During the show, Valerie came and asked me why I was looking so pissed off. So what did I do? I shot my mouth off. "If Patty touches my ass one more time...," I blurted.

I should have known Valerie would blab. It was probably revenge for me letting other people come in costume.

As I was getting dressed for the floor show, Patty came up to me, almost in tears, and told me that if I had a problem with her I should take it up with her.

So I kind of checked out for a while. I left as soon as I had finished my verse in the floor show, and didn't come back until the following Saturday. I came in after the movie started, sat in the back, didn't shout any lines or get up to do the time warp, and snuck out before the lights came up.

I sat in my car, about to drive off, when I suddenly had one of those moments of clarity. Yes, I had fucked up, and when I had been called on it I panicked and ran away. Now was I going to admit defeat and give up all my friends, or suck it up and try to make amends?

I got out of the car and caught up with Patty as she was leaving the theater. I apologized and told her the whole stupid story about RK's drunken blithering, and how my imagination had gotten the better of me. Then I apologized some more, just for good measure.

And you know what? She wasn't mad. Yeah, she felt hurt that I had talked about her behind her back, but she was also kind of flattered, and found RK's behavior rather funny.

Ultimately none of the drama mattered. We were all friends, and in difficult situations we got each others backs. Even the crazy ones.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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