Stage Fright

Why is everyone twitching like they are getting electrocuted mommy? “It’s called a krya dear” as she too proceeded to tremor.

My father worked while I was growing up with two brothers. Tony and Jerry. Their last name was very Italian, and by looking at their business of construction, portable toilets, making gravel, and pouring foundations, one might draw the conclusion that they were related in some way to The Sopranos. A few things come to mind when I think of Tony and Jerry; they really loved my father, tried to help him succeed after he went bankrupt, and helped him restore his pride before he died in 1985. 

Tony was the younger of the two brothers. He and his wife had taken in 5 or 6 foster children from a foster care foundation named Downyside that was run by a group of Fryer monks in Springfield Massachusetts. I vaguely remember going over Tony’s house for picnics and playing with children of many ages and ethnicities, who came from distant lands I knew nothing about.

One evening our whole family went to Downyside for some sort of what appeared to be a church potluck. I was getting used to odd gatherings of strangely dressed people. My mother has been following the same Guru since 1973. I was subjected to a number of devotional chanting occasions, boring lectures on her gurus’ teachings, bland vegetarian meals, extra long days of worship and religious study, with people I like to refer to as “Love Gazers”. You can find them in crunchy natural food stores, yoga classes, communes and cults. People who stare just a l-i-t-t-l-e t-o-o l-o-n-g.

An endless round of yoga was followed by what felt like an eon of meditation/contemplation/and spacing out in sheer excruciating boredom on an image of an ugly American guy in his skivies. I would stare intently trying to figure out what all the hype was about? Why were all these people moaning? (This is what I later felt about my first sexual experiences) Why is everyone twitching like they are getting electrocuted mommy? “It’s called a krya dear” as she too proceeded to tremor. Y

Yes, krya is a real word that means a shock of “spiritual energy” that charges through the body as one’s chakras open up. I was told that if I contemplated the fat guy in his underwear long enough, if I just opened myself up to him I would feel my own krya’s. To look and sound as whacked out as all of these weirdo's around me? No fucking thanks thought the five year old.

On Sundays after a two hour Episcopalian mass, that was headed by a priest who later joined my Mothers’ guru loving community, (you can’t make this shit up) these are the sorts of things my Mom and I would do over at her friends house with her poor daughter. Mind you this is a very middle class, knitting circle, frozen vegetable-pot roast on Sundays-sort of town in Western Massachusetts. It was the late seventies. Let’s just say my mother was no longer invited to the neighborhood knitting groups after the hens found out about her “spiritual experimentation's”.

We owned a house, a church donated car, and a pick up truck filled with my fathers work tools. We nearly lost that house on a regular basis. We were always aware of the heat being on, not being able to pay the oil delivery guy on time. The cops visited regularly because of my siblings partying and truancy. My point being we were poor, loud and becoming increasingly lost, my Dad an Episcopalian Republican, my Mom a guru-worshipping fanatic. This kind of poverty, and parental duality was, needless to say, on a crash course, and has affected my siblings and I in ways that are as different as we are. I can’t speak for them, but in my own life it’s been hard to allow myself to fully go for it, yet I have. It’s going to fall a part at any minute, but it doesn’t. Will the cupboard be empty next week? Maybe, but it hasn’t been for years. Do I have faith in anything? Am I safe to have faith? Am I safe?

The truth is I have never starved, and have always had a warm place to sleep, even if it was a mattress on the floor. Poverty consciousness is a tough thing to overcome. It can be very subtle, but it cuts deep. To this day I will never know what my father was thinking, getting a new brother and all, with the state of poverty our family was in on ALL levels. We were bankrupt financially, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Maybe he was trying to impress Tony and Jerry. Trying to save a family that couldn’t be saved from “devastation, separation, condemnation, resignation, temptation, isolation, desolation, isolation” to quote Bono.

So there we are in a barn full of monks and misfits shopping for a new brother to add to our bedraggled gaggle of a family, when one of the holy robed men came up to me and asked if I wanted to go up to the stage with him and welcome the crowd. My mom agreed, I reluctantly nodded in Fryer Tucks’ direction, and when it came time, I took the strange mans hand, and we walked together down the aisle.

I was peering down at his feet as we were walking still wondering if he had his undies on, when I was struck by the fear of all fear as we approached the stage. It was the kind of fear you feel when you walk past a group of loud big kids on the first day of school, and one of them points right at you laughing uproariously with the others. “Is it the dress?” you think, “Is it my new pat and leather shoes?” “What the fuck are THEY laughing at?” you think, but dare not speak. I ran back to the arms of my mother and proceeded to bury my head in her shoulder for the rest of the evening.

A strange teenage boy came up to my family after my terrifying experience of exposure. His name was Kenny. He was wearing a red down jacket. He was odd looking. He had a strange nose. I later found out that it was a fake plastic surgery nose due to some violence he had encountered in one of his twelve foster homes. Kenny came to live with us a few days later.

We were family number thirteen, and like it’s reputation for being unlucky, I believe our family was worse than that for him, but like most true stories you don’t find that out in time enough to change the circumstance before there is more damage than can be repaired. In real life it can drag on, and on. We ignored, we built resentments, learned how to keep deep, dark secrets, and we children learned how to drink in a relatively alcohol free home. (no small feat)

But in real life, with real pain there are also real joys. There were Saturday afternoons of pro wrestling on TV, where I pretended to be Jimmy Fly Snooka. Yes, I would body slam Kenny from the top of the couch. No, no one told us that might be unsafe. There was learning how to disco dance to Donna Summers, there was learning the Barbara Streisand parts while the new brother was Barry Gibb on "I Am a Woman in Love". There was a shared joy of getting wound up so tightly that you pee your pants from being tickled too much. There was playing freeze dance and pretending to be Leroy and Coco from Fame. There was the first record player he bought me along with my first album that wasn’t one of my siblings Journey, Van Halen, or Rush records. It was a complilation album named Hot Trax. Kenny ordered it for me off the TV after he saw how exited I got every time The Police “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” came on. He bought both from the money he saved working at Denny’s.

Stage fright has only in the past few years become manageable, though it kicks in hard every once in a while. Those same feelings I had when I was five still kick up dust. As irony would have it I have become a professional PERFORMING singer/songwriter/musician. Holy nightmare Batman! The armor of stage fright grew of course, over time, fueled by these kinds of moments, like the time I crashed myself into the living room coffee table full throttle while dancing my heart out for my parents to my favorite Neil Diamond song, “Sweet Caroline”.

Some moments seer you with a growing self-consciousness that is so instant, tragic, and momentous, they get tucked away behind your heart to be carried with you everywhere you go, until you realize that the seed has become the vine that choke holds your joy, thieves you of your clarity, and ends up being the tyrant ruler of all your most important decisions. (Maybe THAT’S what happened to my Dad) But then there is doing what you fear most and living through it, and doing it again, and again, and again until somehow, while you are not looking, it becomes a part of you, it becomes safe, and with any luck invites others who may be hiding inside their own layers of steel and metal the permission to walk through their darkness.


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