SINGING In the Rain

In the 6th Grade, life abruptly changed for me. Until then, school was nothing more than a perplexing exercise in alternating boredom and punishment. Most of my days were comprised of two main activities: 1) trying mightily not to offer unsolicited observations in class, and 2) suffering various forms of discipline for failing Number 1.

The usual penalty for contributing an uninvited remark during a lecture was consignment to a corner of the classroom. Forced to stand mere inches from the wall, I was free to examine defects in the plasterboard and to read the occasional scrawled remarks of previous detainees. Apart from the discovery of a termite infestation or the opportunity to view a procession of ants migrating from one tiny hole to another, there was very little to occupy my attention. Consequently, my endless hours in the corner provoked stimulating flights of imagination. In this manner, I could transport myself from the narrow confines of my physical punishment to a fantasy world of infinite dimension and possibility.

A devoted fan of Captain Zoom, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and other space and time travelers, I would communicate with my extraterrestrial allies by invisible transmitter. Anticipating my imminent rescue, I waited patiently in my corner. Unfortunately, conversation with my alien companions would, at odd intervals, become unintentionally audible. For some reason, this seemed to infuriate my teachers. Evidently, the objective of such discipline was to restrain my penchant for spontaneous speech. The idea that my punitive sentence would actually promote new interruptions of academic silence was intolerable and would usually lead to an unscheduled appointment with the principal.

In due course, I became a familiar presence in the principal's office; so much so that I was assigned regular duties there. As I found satisfying this opportunity to apply my talents to some useful purpose, I would commence loud dialogue with my overdue spacefaring colleagues almost immediately upon assuming my punishment position in the corner of the classroom. This tactic hastened my escape from the corner and my availability for administrative tasks in the front office. By the 6th Grade, it was clear to me that the real aim of schooling was to nurture the development of such skills as survival, evasion, resistance and manipulation. At this, I excelled.

One girl, however, changed everything. Accustomed as I was to the company of children, I was not at all prepared for the appearance of Madelyn Martinelli. A 6th Grader according to her class placement, Madelyn was a full-fledged woman in every anatomical sense. She was a Ferrari in a parking lot otherwise filled with bicycles. I was instantly enthralled and found myself uncharacteristically speechless. Madelyn's precocious figure had a similarly profound and immediate effect on every student in the class. Indeed, even Mr. Rush, our teacher, seemed to fall under her influence. Considering Madelyn's physical maturity, it did not seem at all surprising. Without uttering a word, Madelyn took possession of a unique status as distinct and remote from her fellow pupils as the faculty and staff of the school.

But, even this shock to my routine eventually attenuated and I gradually recovered my ungovernable powers of speech. Now, however, I was confronted by a genuine dilemma. If I continued my usual practice, which resulted in my deportation to the principal's office, I would be compelled to relinquish my enviable position in orbit about that celestial body which was Madelyn. My only alternative was to remain unnaturally mute. Emperor Ming, himself, could not have devised a more diabolical choice. It did not take long for me to learn a critical lesson in life: biology almost always trumps thoughtful deliberation. In fact, so powerful is biology, that it is capable of bending intellect to its instinctive purpose. Thus, I found myself bound to silence in order to maintain proximity to the object of my absolute fascination.

Attentive to the slightest change in expression, I studied Madelyn's face everyday for the smallest sign of acknowledgment; anything that might suggest that she was even remotely aware of my existence. My own obsession was mirrored on the face of every other boy in class and, for reasons of their own, most of the girls'. And so it remained for days and then weeks; a tableau in adolescent fixation. And it might very well have continued indefinitely but for the timely intervention of Christmas and the Annual Winter Talent Show. Every year the three 6th Grade classes would collaborate to produce an afternoon's entertainment. Typically, this staged production would showcase the dubious talents of a dozen or so members of the graduating class. Invariably, parents would attend the performance if only to rationalize the further investment of money in their offspring's music and dance lessons. Considering that my only obvious talent was the ability to extricate myself from class and that I had retired that skill in the interest of biological determinism, I resolved to take my place among the soon-to-be snickering members of the audience.

Fate, or the contrivance of a higher power, perhaps issuing from the vicinity of the principal's office, decreed otherwise. It seemed that a talent show could not be properly inflicted on an audience without the participation of an MC, or Master of Ceremonies. My wide reputation for unwelcome utterances was cited as justification for my selection as MC. The fact that, for once, I would have preferred to remain quiet was irrelevant to some and deliciously ironic to others. My announcing responsibilities, themselves, were fairly straightforward. I was to greet visitors to the school in descending order of importance, introduce the performers, encourage polite applause when it was probably not deserved and, finally, thank the audience for not throwing fruit and vegetables at the "talent." It was also my obligation to retrieve the tabulated votes and to declare the winner of the talent show.

It was while contemplating this unfortunate turn of events that a miracle occurred. In addition to the usual cast of incompetent jugglers, tone deaf singers, uncoordinated baton twirlers and clumsy magicians, one Madelyn Martinelli was scheduled to offer her rendition of 'Singing In The Rain' in tap. I could not have been more awestruck had Charlton Heston appeared in front of me with two stone tablets in hand. There was no mathematical formula long enough to calculate the miniscule odds of anyone but Madelyn Martinelli winning the talent show. And it was to be my singular honor to present the absurdly inadequate Blue Ribbon to her in front of the entire school.

As news of my extraordinary good fortune circulated through the halls, my personal stock rose with the speed of a Saturn Rocket. My ascent through the many layers of elementary school social structure was no less gravity defying than one of my imaginary associate's flying saucers. Now the significance of my newfound celebrity could not truly be appreciated without an understanding of grade school reality. One of the great paradoxes of basic education in democratic America is the fact that a grade school class is anything but classless. In every K-12 school in the United States, strict social distinctions were and are observed and enforced. At the very bottom of 6th Grade society were the poindexters. These were the intelligent, but socially inept forerunners to the modern day nerds. Existing just barely north of the poindexters were the philosophical children of the Beatnik Generation. These detached and often poetic souls were destined to go to college and become hippies and blooming flower children. Within our student flow chart of authority and prestige, these classes neither sought, nor exercised any significant power or influence. Floating near the top of the food chain were the Athletes and the Soshes. These two classes functioned almost as one. From their ranks would emerge football heroes, head cheerleaders, class presidents and graduation kings and queens. They constituted the ruling force within student life. They were, in a word, popular. And at the very pinnacle of our student social order stood Madelyn Martinelli, in a class by herself.

With stunning suddenness, I had been propelled upward from the very bottom rung of the social ladder to a position very near the top. And the basis for my unprecedented rise from obscurity to conspicuous recognition was my propinquity to Madelyn Martinelli. Considering that I had yet to utter so much as one word to this Avatar of Female Perfection, I was not at all confident that my newly acquired rank would survive beyond the day of my unparalleled opportunity. Still, I was resolved to make the most of it. During recess, I would stroll about the playground from the tetherball courts to the dodge ball arena, interrupting hopscotch matches and games of tag; inspecting all elements of the student body in the manner of a duke or earl surveying his serfs and properties. At lunch, I was attended by scores of students from every rank and class, eager to share their drinks and desserts with me. Like lieutenants, representatives from all levels of the social strata would provide reports on the doings of their respective communities. Teachers, too, seemed to sense my promotion to nobility. No more were my personal preferences for restroom breaks brushed aside in favor of regulated periods where herds of pupils with full bladders would mob the boys' lavatory. Gone were the days when my idle remarks provoked grimaces and subsequent trips to the principal's office. I had achieved the ultimate goal of all students everywhere. I WAS POPULAR!.

All in all, it was a magnificent experience and one that I was increasingly unwilling to surrender. Little by little, I found myself seduced by the intangible sway of adulation and privilege. It was heady stuff. But I was keenly aware of just how insubstantial was the foundation of my social standing. Everything, in fact, was contingent upon the goodwill of one person. And, as yet, not one word had passed between us. During the long days leading up to the great event, Madelyn's much scrutinized face betrayed not one flicker of recognition, though my status as a BMOC (Big Man On Campus) was balanced precariously on our supposed association. So when I discovered that we were to participate in a dress rehearsal on the day before the talent show, I vowed to break through the barrier separating me from the source of all my recent good fortune. I decided to introduce myself to Madelyn Martinelli.

It is likely that I would have dreamt of this meeting all through the night prior to the rehearsal had I been able to sleep at all. But my anxiety was such that I spent that night fitfully twisting and turning in bed imagining all manner of horrible outcomes. At the top of the list was laughter. This is what I feared the most. The idea that she would have such disdain for my ambition of forming an acquaintanceship that she might laugh in my face, terrified me. Thus, when I arrived at school on the day of the dress rehearsal, I was physically and mentally exhausted. Were it not for the paralyzing fear coursing through my body, I might very well have collapsed in an unconscious heap. Throughout the interminable morning, I ruminated on the approaching moment of dread. By lunchtime, I was so stricken with apprehension, that I remained indoors. I seriously considered throwing myself on the mercy of the school nurse. With one quick call to my mother, I could be sent home sick and my misery would be over. With little effort at all, I could stretch my "illness" out for an additional day and avoid the talent show altogether. As my appointment with destiny drew near, I found myself longing for those simple, relaxed days when I would talk out of turn, stand in the corner, consult with my outer space companions and visit my friend, the principal. How had I gotten myself into this fix?

Inevitably, the earth, indifferent to my turmoil, continued its rotation and the appointed time of the dress rehearsal arrived. I remember mustering all my courage, stepping on stage, walking up to the microphone......and, thereafter, I have no clear recollection of what happened next. Apparently, it was not good. A poindexter pal told me afterwards that I had mumbled something incomprehensible into the microphone, made a few choking noises followed by an uncomfortably long silence and, then, had ended my sad performance by walking off stage whispering to some unseen companion. There was a dispute among the other witnesses to this public humiliation as to whether I had subsequently vomited or not. I do recall with vivid clarity sitting on the floor in the cloakroom fighting back tears of frustration and embarrassment while the dress rehearsal continued in the multi-purpose room/auditorium. As the singing and dancing, juggling and magical acts persisted, I remained alone, closeted in my shame.

Sometime later I noticed that the sounds of music and voices had subsided. The rehearsal, I assumed, was over. But I continued to sit in the dark. I had deliberately not turned on the light, preferring to allow the gloom from the pounding rainstorm outside to seep into the room. The weather, I thought, was appropriately sympathetic to my dark and defeated mood. Shortly thereafter, when I heard footfalls approaching the cloakroom, I retreated into the janitor's closet. For several minutes I listened to students jabbering away as they collected their coats, umbrellas and rain slickers. When it grew silent, I emerged from my concealment. But I was not alone. There, mere steps away, stood Madelyn Martinelli.

Unconscious of my presence, Madelyn was casting about apparently searching for the light switch. My eyes, having previously adjusted to the lack of illumination, revealed her clearly. So as not to startle her, I coughed. She turned and looked directly at me. Without preface, she declared that someone had, evidently, walked off with her raincoat, umbrella and galoshes. It seemed odd that this girl who represented a universal ideal of female perfection should suffer from so ordinary a problem. Nonetheless, it was the kind of problem that I could solve. As we conducted a thorough search for the missing rain gear, Madelyn explained that she had only her tap shoes with which to walk home and that she was afraid that the rain would destroy them. Having scheduled the rehearsal for the last period of the day, I knew that the chances of catching the culprit who had made off with Madelyn's rain clothing were vanishingly small. The solution was obvious. I would loan her my own rain boots, coat and umbrella. It did not occur to me for an instant that I was sacrificing anything important. The prospect that Madelyn Martinelli would not be able to perform was, of course, unthinkable. Besides, I had heard through the walls of the cloakroom that my own participation in the talent show had been scrubbed after my dismal showing.

I was touched by her initial reluctance to borrow my gear. But, after reminding Madelyn of her talent show obligations, she accepted the apparel. Donning the boots and jacket, I noted that the clothing had never looked so good on me. Before embarking on her trip home, Madelyn offered to send her mother back to retrieve me. Now while the possibility of insinuating myself even further into her life held more than a little excitement, I thought it better to quit while I was ahead. I assured her that my own mother would be by shortly to collect me. This was a lie. But it was a lie in the service of a greater good. I had a lot of thinking to do and a long walk home in the rain seemed like an excellent opportunity to undertake those deliberations. As I waved to Madelyn and watched her trudge off toward her home, I was proud of myself. And it was not the kind of false pride that I had so recently been indulging. Flattery, while momentarily fun, was empty. It was a hard lesson, but one I resolved never to forget.

These deep thoughts notwithstanding, I arrived home soaking wet. After seeing the sodden condition of my school shoes, my mother seemed somewhat less content with the price of my lesson in character. Her perspective was different, of course. She had paid for the shoes. Emptying them of the excess water, we popped the shoes into the oven. Overnight, the warmth of the heating appliance did its job. The shoes were completely dry. They were also, however, unwearably stiff. The mistreated leather had the texture of thick cardboard and an appearance that was equally unacceptable. The only recourse was to pull out my Saturday Catechism shoes. Having moved to Daly City from San Francisco the year before, my mother had not yet succeeded in enrolling me in the local Catholic school. Consequently, my weekend mornings began with a nun asking questions like, "Who is God?" and me reciting memorized answers like, "God is the Supreme Being Who Made All Things."

One thing that I do not believe God had a hand in making was Corfam shoes. Constructed of a synthetic material, Corfam shoes boasted one undeniable quality, they maintained a permanent shine. Other than that, they were ugly. Unfortunately, they were considered de rigueur by the nuns. To public school kids, the sight of Corfam shoes was a source of enormous amusement. Few pieces of attire attracted as much ridicule as Corfam shoes and while they were instrumental in performing one particularly ungodly function, they were fashion suicide at Jefferson Elementary School where I was attending. Still, I had no alternative. It was Corfam shoes or socks alone. Having already endured the prior day's mortification, the prospect of absorbing some generic insults over my footwear held no terror for me.

I reported to class with a kind of 'nothing-left-to-lose' resignation. Surprisingly, I encountered very little harassment. It seems that the general anticipation of seeing Madelyn Martinelli perform her tap routine in a mini skirt was so preoccupying that there was little surplus energy with which to attack me. I made a mental note to again thank The Maker of All Things for having created Madelyn Martinelli. Mr. Rush officially notified me that due to circumstances beyond anyone's control (but mine), I had been replaced as MC of the talent show. While I would have been devastated by this news only two days before, it frankly came as a welcome relief on this morning.

Thus, the day began. English gave way to Math which, in turn, evolved into History and, in time, the lunch hour arrived. While Madelyn's imminent performance still deflected any concentrated attention on my recent disgrace, it was patently obvious to even the random seagull flying overhead that my personal stock had plummeted. There were no proffered snacks, no briefings, no flattery and no special deference. In short, things were back to normal.

Shortly after lunch, the eagerly anticipated announcement came over the speaker system in all of the classrooms. We were to proceed to the multi-purpose room to attend the Annual Winter Talent Show. Upon arriving, we found that hundreds of chairs had been arranged in neat rows awaiting our arrival. Naturally, as the graduating 6th Grade Class, we took seats in the very front, at the foot of the portable stage. The fact that this same stage had been the scene of my fall from grace just the day before was almost unimportant. We needed only to endure an hour or so of incompetent acts and Madelyn Martinelli would take that stage.

After waiting what seemed an unusually long time, the audience began to register its dissatisfaction over the continuing delay. Still, nothing happened. The piano was there. The reel-to-reel tape recorder was in place. That cursed microphone was standing at attention in the middle of the stage. Everything seemed poised to commence and yet ... nothing. Then, from the back of the large room, a commotion began. As the noise of the impatient crowd rose in volume, I looked back over my shoulder to see my friend, the principal striding down the center aisle toward the apron of the stage. I caught his eye and with a mounting sense of drama, I realized that he was making his way directly toward me. A second or two later, he was leaning over and whispering in my ear that my replacement MC had, himself, succumbed to nerves and that the duty of introducing the performers was once again mine.

With a calm sense of purpose that I shall never be able to fully explain, I promptly mounted the stage, approached the microphone and greeted the audience, welcoming them to our Annual Winter Talent Show. With a practiced skill that materialized from God-knows-where, I introduced each act in turn, thanking them at the conclusion of their respective performances. This went on smoothly for more than an hour. Finally, it was time for Madelyn Martinelli to deliver her tap tribute to that Gene Kelly classic, "Singing In The Rain." From a side door just adjacent to the back of the stage, she emerged. With an effortless leap, Madelyn took the stage. I removed the microphone. The piano began the opening notes of the song and I resumed my seat in the first row directly in front of Madelyn Martinelli.

Oddly enough, I remember very little about her actual performance. But, at the conclusion of her routine, the audience erupted in a deafening and sustained applause the like of which I doubt has ever been matched in that multi-purpose room. In retrospect, I would guess that had she merely stood and looked into the crowd for the duration of the song, her performance would have been a rousing success. As it was, there was no question as to the winner of the talent show. But, then, there had never really been any doubt.

Once again, I climbed onto the stage, bringing the microphone with me. Not that it was necessary, but the judges went through the motions of voting and the written result was handed to me. I called upon all of the performers to join me on the stage and to take a bow. Then, after delaying only long enough to heighten anticipation, I announced the expected result. Madelyn Martinelli was the winner of Jefferson Elementary's Annual Winter Talent Show. As I handed Madelyn the inadequate Blue Ribbon, she looked me right in the eye, reached out, pulled me in close and planted a full-face kiss on my lips, right there on stage in front of the entire school. There are certain words that apply precisely to the action described. "Swoon" is one such word. Had Madelyn not been there to lean on, I have no doubt but that I would have fainted dead away.

I know, because it was confirmed later, that Madelyn took the microphone and proceeded to describe in detail the circumstances of the borrowed rain gear the day before. What she whispered to me as we walked off stage together, I shall keep to myself. It is our secret. I can say that had I known, on the day of the dress rehearsal, how this talent show was going to play out, I would have danced my way home singing in the rain.

(This one is for you, Madelyn)

WraithSword WraithSword
56-60, M
6 Responses Mar 12, 2009

this is a lovely story-very well written!

What a wonderful story! Makes me wonder if my first kiss is remembered (except by me). Your style of writing is so eloquent and a sheer joy to read!

WOW.<br />
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Amazing first kiss and I love the way you write!

That is such a special memory (obviously... the way you remember it and the intensity of this is fantastic!). This is excellently written. Makes me want to share the story of my first kiss :)

It was a gentler time. And you ARE an angel.<br />
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Aw, that's sweet! ^___^<br />
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I wish my first kiss was that special...