When I was in the seventh grade, two of my friends and I decided to sign up for the junior high talent show. It was held in our school’s cafetorium, and we were going to be stars.
After some brainstorming, we decided our best bet was to perform Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” as singing chin people. You know, the googly-eyed chin heads that have upside down mouths and performed alongside Stick Stickly on Nickelodeon in the 90s. Chin people. Of course. We would tie bandanas around the tops of our heads (the bottoms of the chin people’s heads), lay upside down on a table, and perform behind a purple bathtub cardboard cut-out. Our plan was flawless.
We had a minor setback after searching high and low for a recording of “Splish Splash.” This was in the days before iTunes and YouTube, and all our local entertainment centers were fresh out of the latest CD copies of Bobby Darin’s greatest hits. It was okay, though, we told ourselves. We would would simply sing it loud and proud and a capella. Fine.
The big day drew closer, and we collected all our keys to success: bandanas, googly eyes, and, of course, the centerpiece of our performance: the purple bathtub. It was a magnificent feat of seventh grade artistic engineering. Purpler than an iris in May thanks to a can of metallic purple spray paint, it stood three feet tall on two-dimensional claw feet that had been meticulously cut out with a box-cutter. We had gone all out.
On the day of the performance, we gathered backstage and waited our turn. We were sandwiched between an 8th grader singing “Kryptonite” and two 7th graders performing a juggling routine. As the 8th grader watched the world float to the dark side of the moon, the drama teacher came up to us. She had some bad news: the tech crew couldn’t get the microphone stands to lower down to the level we would need them for our chin people to sing into, so they weren’t going to put them out at all. We were going to have to go without vocal amplification.
At this point, my two fellow splish-splashers were in full-fledged panic mode. “I don’t think we should do this, Molly. This is going to be terrible. We are going to be terrible.” One of them had started to cry a little bit.
I realized right then what the best thing to do was: I needed to give everyone a pep talk.
“Y’all. We are going to be fine. We have worked so hard to get to this point, and we are going to do great. We are going to go out there and sing our song, and people are going to love it.”
That did the trick. The Kryptonite crooner finished his song and exited stage right. We shuffled into the stage left corridor, watching as the production crew set up our two folding tables on the stage.
“You have to close the curtain!” I whisper-shouted to the stage manager on the opposite side of the stage. I made exaggerated hand jerks to the front of the stage where the curtain stood gapingly, apathetically open.
“Just go!” The stage manager shouted, no whisper this time, back to me.
Someone must have pushed us from behind, because the next thing I knew, we were on stage, staring out at the entire junior high population staring back at us from the cafeteria side of the cafetorium. The stage lights created hazy halos around the otherwise darkened faces of our peers in the audience.
We climbed onto our tables and realized that the purple bathtub wasn’t in front of us. They had positioned the tables too close to the edge of the stage, and there was no room for it. We laid down on the tables, leaned our heads backwards, and pulled our bandanas over our faces. I counted us off: “One, two, three!”
And off we went. We splished and splashed, knowing everything was not all right, but committing ourselves to the performance. We rolled and strolled, the audience yelled, “What?” and “We can’t hear you!”, and we moved and grooved. Our synchroneity ebbed and flowed, and a few times we got lost in the song. But finally we finished.
I don’t remember if the audience applauded or not. I don’t remember if we took a bow. I don’t even remember climbing off the tables and walking off the stage. I blocked it out of my memory.
I do remember, though, that from that point on, my friends never trusted my little pep talks.