Whoever said the truth is stranger than fiction must not have been subject to the imagination of a child. As misconceptions go, a kid’s brain is full of treasures, better than anything most of us come across in our real lives. Right, kids say the darndest things. I’m not the first to say so. They really do. I try to save the cutesy anecdotes for grandparents and the like. I’m terrified of being one of those mothers who rambles on about the adorable things my kids do in a crowd of people who really don’t care but smile politely. Most of them are probably only funny if you’re present for them anyway, like last week when the 9 year old instructed the 3 year old not to pick her nose because “that’s dead brain cells in there, and you shouldn’t pick them all out.” “Don’t tell her that!” I exclaimed from the driver’s seat. “Why not? It’s the truth,” she replied in all earnestness. I had to pull over. I was quite literally laughing too hard to drive. Her sweet blue eyes watched me suspiciously from the passenger’s side. “Well then, what is it?” My GOD! All these years she thought those were her brains leaking out every time she blew her nose!? I can’t believe she didn’t ask for a portable IV of penicillin and a hazmat suit for Christmas.
Every once in a while, though, a real gem shines through and sparks my own imagination like a ray of sunshine through a kaleidoscope. Gross exaggerations are spawned in my twisted adult mind from the single misconceived notion of a fourth grader. I don’t know where they come up with this stuff, but I’m telling you, man...it is GOLD. I’m guessing Herman Melville’s kid had a fish tank.
And so I find myself inspired by my daughter’s excitement about her first junior high school talent show. She’s already preparing for it, though it’s two years out. The big time. The real deal. Just one rung short of American Idol on the ladder of big-time-brink-of-fame-performance-shows. If you win, you win HUGE. You win.... $500, presented by someone really famous. Like who? Like Angelina Jolie. This is no shit. Angelina Jolie is the Tooth Fairy of junior high school talent shows. She keeps hundred dollar bills rolled together in bundles of 5, and passes them out to the kids who win. Oh, and she judges, of course. She’s not just some lame showcase model who poses with you and a giant check for your small town newspaper. She’s Simon Cowell and Vanna White all rolled in one beautiful, perfectly coiffed package. Except she’s not drunk. Probably.
And so the following story was born, not out of my own imagination (I haven’t got an original thought in my head), but out of the misconception of a fourth grader. I really don’t write fiction, but I can’t help being swept away by this current of enthusiasm. What will happen when Angelina Jolie shows up to judge the talent show? Here’s how I envision it...
A beautiful spring day, students and staff filing into the big auditorium, excited for an afternoon spent outside of the classroom, for the impending end of the school year, but mostly excited by the whirl of helicopter blades they hear outside the school. “She’s here!” “That must be her!” “Murmur, murmur, whisper, rustle, shudder, shudder, rustle...” In sweeps Angelina Jolie, wearing the black gown she wore to this year’s Academy Awards, flanked by a dozen or more personal assistants, body guards, stylists, secretaries and a personal trainer who is whispering to her to remember this is Kegel hour. She stops inside the double doors of the auditorium, juts her right leg through the thigh-high slit in her dress, hands on her hips, gives an immaculate smile, then continues down the aisle, past star-struck, silent mid-western tweens and their parents, to take her place in front of the stage. From her clutch purse she extracts a small vial of liquid (that must be lunch) and a pocket sized notebook, but damn, she’s forgotten a pen. She snaps. An assistant hands her his, and the talent show begins. One after the other, nervous 11 through 13 year olds take the stage. There are magic acts, comedians, dancers, pianists, a tuba player, a weird kid who trained his ferret to pull a lizard in a little wagon, and my Macie, singing like an angel, probably a Beatles’ song, while she juggles flaming knives on a unicycle, wearing a suit she crocheted herself from the thread of cruelty-free silkworms and a hat that funded 60 bowls of food for the Humane Society. She brings down the house, of course, and is clearly the front runner of the contestants. After the last performance, Angelina Jolie takes the stage. Again, she dramatically juts her right leg through the slit in her dress while all the 8th grade boys shift nervously in their seats and pull their backpacks into their laps. The gym teacher has a noticeable vein bulging on his forehead as he furiously tries to redirect his blood flow. Angelina Jolie, smiling, announces the winner: the tuba player. Seriously? The screechy tuba player? Okay, win some, lose some, I think. It’s good for kids to experience disappointment. And it’s really good for tuba players to be handed 5 bills by Angelina Jolie in front of the whole, entire school.
Later, in the lobby I console my daughter. She is visibly disappointed, but not crying. She's not easily broken, that one. As Angelina swishes past on her way back to the waiting helicopter, she notices the sad face of the girl with the curly blond hair, the one who sang so beautifully. “Sorry, kid. Not every pony grows up to be a Pegasus,” she remarks cooly, then continues toward the door. “Hey!” I shout after her. She stops, turns, juts her leg through the slit in her skirt, hands on her hips, saccharine smile on her lips. Is this the female equivalent of put up your dukes? I think yes. “You have lipstick on your teeth,” I say. This is the female equivalent of a right upper cut. Her smile fades. I see her tongue trace over her her teeth behind her pursed lips. “...and is your left breast bigger than the right? Is that why you always wear those asymmetrical dresses? That’s a good trick.” Left hook. Her eye begins to twitch. Time for my round house kick to finish her off. I reach into my dumpy purse, feel the crinkle of cellophane between my fingers, and produce a small baggie of Goldfish crackers. Angelina Jolie’s perfectly toned and tan shoulders slump in defeat. Her lips part as if to say something, but the only sound that escapes her is a wheeze. I hand her the fishies, amid protests from my youngest child. “How much for the kid?” She sprays a fine dust of orange crumbs as she gestures toward the baby with her mouth full. “Oh, sorry, she’s not actually for sale,” I tell her. She shrugs and resumes her path to the helicopter which will carry her to Davenport or Colorado Springs or wherever her judging talents are needed. She’s not really mean. She was just hungry.