“Mom! Mom! Mom!” I pushed open the big oak door and ran down the hall shouting and stomping my feet and making as much noise as I possibly could. “I passed the audition! I passed the audition! I cant believe it! I passed the audition!”
“I’m in here, honey,” she called out.
“They said ’Yes!’” I found her in the laundry room. “This is the best news ever. I get to play at the assembly!”
“You do?” She was folding diapers. “What assembly is this?”
“The big one. The biggest one of all. The End-of-Year-and-Hello-Summer-Celebration. The best assembly of the whole year!” I jumped up and down.
“Wow, that is exciting news,” she folded another diaper, “and you get to play? What are you going to play?”
“My guitar,” I bubbled, “and I’m gonna sing, too … and play my guitar. I have to pick the perfect song. And I’m gonna need a new outfit – real jeans this time – Levi’s – and one of those cool Bleeding Madras shirts.”
“What’s wrong with the jeans you have?”
“Ah Mom, they’re old. I need a new pair for the assembly.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your good jeans. They’re almost brand new.”
“But they’re not cool, Mom. They’re just not cool. Everybody wears Levi’s. Can’t I ple-ea-ease have Levi’s? And they have to be 501s.”
“You don’t need to try to be ’cool.’ I think you’re plenty ’cool’ all by yourself. You certainly don’t ’… need …’ Levi’s.”
“No Mom, I do. I’m not cool at all. All the other kids have real Levi’s 501s with buttons in the front. You always buy my jeans at JC Penny; it’s re-ea-ally embarrassing. C’mon Mom. I’ll never be able to show my face again if I can’t get a pair of Levi’s 501s – just one pair – oh, and a Bleeding Madras shirt.”
“What on earth is a Bleeding Madras shirt?” She stopped folding for a second.
“It’s the best shirt ever. It’s all sorts of colors, kind of like plaid, but not really. Actually not-at-all like plaid. It has short sleeves or they could be long sleeves I guess but it has different colored lines and stripes going up and down and across and squares and its got a fairy-hook in the back. And it’s just the coolest shirt ever. It would look so good at the assembly. C’mon Mom! This is my very first time ever – ever – to play and sing in public. This is really important.”
“You sing at Church all the time.”
“Church doesn’t count. C’mon Mom. This is really important.”
“It’s ‘… really …’ important, is it?” She was wearing down. “When is this big, important concert?”
“It’s not a concert Mom, it’s an assembly and it’s for the whole school. It’s next week. We gotta go shopping. We gotta go shopping tomorrow.”
“So you ’… have to have …’ What? Not just Levi’s, but Levi’s 501s and a Bleeding Madras shirt, do you?”
“Yes!” I could feel her giving in. “And with a fairy-hook in the back. The shirt has to have a fairy-hook.”
“What’s a ’fairy-hook?’”
“Ah, You know, Mom,” I had no idea how to explain it. “It’s that tag-thing on the back of the shirt, near the top, right in the middle of the back. It’s just a thin strip, like a hook. Made of the same stuff as the shirt. Sometimes people try to tear the fairy-hook off your shirt when you’re not looking. But we have to make sure its got a fairy-hook. It’s not cool if it doesn’t have a fairy-hook.”
“What? Why do they tear it off?”
“They just do. It’s like a game the kids play, sometimes. Kind of like a joke. It’s cool to have a fairy-hook and it’s even cooler to get someone else’s fairy hook off their shirt. I don’t know.”
“Why is it called a ’fairy-hook?’”
“I don’t know, Mom. That’s just what it’s called.” It’s hard to explain these things to somebody who doesn’t get it.
“Do you use the hook to hang the shirt with?” She was getting way off-track.
“No Mom, don’t be silly, it’s just for looks.”
“Looks and hooks and Levi’s and … what is it …? Bleeding Madras …? Well, we’ll have to see …”
I knew she was giving in.
But I hadn’t quite won. Not yet. So I went for it. “It’s gonna be so great, Mom,” I pretended we had a deal. “Now, I just gotta pick the perfect song.”
I had to be careful. I needed her to feel like she was part of the decision, so she wouldn’t change her mind about the shirt and the Levi’s.
“You should sing Moon River,” she suggested, “you sing that so well.”
“Ah Mom, no. Moon River is fuddy-duddy,” I protested, “I need something mod – or fab – or gear – something cool like The Beatles or The Dave Clark 5.”
“What about Hello Dolly?” She started singing: “Hello Dolly, well Hello, Dolly, it’s so nice to …”
“No Mom,” I stopped her, “this is serious. I need to pick the coolest song, ever.”
“Hello Dolly’s not ’… the coolest song, ever?’” She pretended shock and horror.
Now she was teasing me. That was a good sign. It was beginning to appear that maybe I was – just possibly – going to get everything I wanted.
“Prob’ly a Beatles song,” I risked it, knowing she was not a fan.
“Oh honey, not The Beatles. They’re just a fad. They can make any noise ’yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and you kids are all so crazy about them that any goofy nonsense they put on a record goes straight to number one.”
“That’s because The Beatles are the best.” I started it, so now I had to go with it. “They are great song-writers.”
“Ha,” she scoffed, “they’re not song-writers. They’re just popular, that’s all.”
“No Mom, that’s not all. They’re song-writers. And they’re great. They write great songs.” My logic was impeccable.
I knew I could win this argument, because I knew something she didn’t.
“In fact, you know what?” I reeled her in. “John and Paul wrote a song and just to prove how good it was, they didn’t even put their name – The Beatles – on it. They gave it to Paul’s girlfriend’s brother to record, so nobody would know it was them. And guess what, Mom? Guess?”
“What?” I had her.
“It went straight to Number One.”
“Oh it did not.” She was skeptical.
“Yes it did! It’s called World Without Love. It’s on the radio all the time.”
“They didn’t write that song.” She didn’t believe it. “That’s Peter and somebody.”
“Yes, yes! They did. It’s Peter and Gordon. And Peter is Paul’s girlfriend’s brother. I have the record. It says ’Lennon/McCartney’ right on it. I can go get it right now to … WAIT! That’s it! That’s the song. That’s what I’ll sing. Oh Mom, you’re the best. I love you sooooo much. Thank-you. That’s the song I’m going to sing at the assembly.”
She bought it.
Of course, I had to learn the chords, which proved to be much harder than I imagined, but it was such a cool song – (as well as the secret Lennon/McCartney composition that proved beyond any doubt that they were the greatest) – that I just kept at it, and at it, and at it, until I got it. And I did. I practiced it and memorized it and rehearsed it and learned it inside and out until I could play it in my sleep.
I was ready.
They called my name.
I walked out into the lights on that massive empty stage – just me and my guitar – in my Bleeding Madras Shirt and my button-fly Levi’s 501s.
“Please, lock me away …”
And there she was.
Linda Williams. The prettiest girl in school. Linda Williams turned and looked at me. Right at me. She watched me the whole time. I could barely breathe. I could barely think. I could barely feel my fingers. I didn’t even know if I got the words or the chords right.
When it was over, she walked right up to me.
Linda Williams. The actual Linda Williams. The prettiest girl in the school. (I had drawn her name for Christmas presents in second-grade and I bought her a tiny glass carousel with three glass horses and I tied it up with a pink ribbon in a white box and I don’t think she ever knew it was me). But magic. This was magic. This was it. My moment. Here she was. Linda Williams. She had noticed me. She was coming toward me. Not past me. Or anywhere else. To me. Right up to me. I watched her float towards me.
“You didn’t wash your shirt,” she shook the prettiest head in the school.
“Your shirt – you’re supposed to wash it,” she smiled.
Linda Williams. Smiled. At me.
“It’s brand new.” I was nervous.
“Obviously it’s brand new,” she was being nice to me, “that’s why you’re supposed to wash it, so the colors will run together.”
“Run together? I don’t …” I felt like I was blowing it.
“It’s guaranteed to bleed,” she explained.
“Guaranteed to bleed,” she repeated, “look, it says so right here on the tag.”
She reached up. Linda Williams reached up. She put her arms almost around my neck. She leaned in toward me. Her hair smelled like Heaven. Her perfect skin came within an inch of my face. I held my breath.
“Yes. See?” She quickly gave my collar a jerk and yanked it toward my left ear. “It’s right here on the tag. It says: ’Guaranteed to Bleed.’ You’re supposed to wash it in warm water so the colors all run together. That’s what makes it look so groovy.”
“Oh, … groovy, … thanks,” I stammered. (I needed to pull it together. I had tried so hard to be cool. I felt all my cool slipping away.)
But it wasn’t too late. I had managed to get the attention of the one-and-only Linda Williams.
“Just stick with me,” Linda carefully patted my collar back in place. Then, with her magical hands, she gently smoothed out the shoulders of my soon-to-be-Bleeding Madras shirt and made me a promise, “just stick with me. I’ll look out for you.”
I gathered my courage and managed a smile of my own. “That’s everything I ever wanted.” I actually said it.
“You’ll never get everything you want,” she laughed, then turned, “but stick with me; you’ll be alright.”
“Is that a promise?” I didn’t want her to walk away. I would have said anything to keep her there.
“If you’re lucky, it is.” She tilted her pretty head.
I desperately wanted to prolong our moment of magic. “So, what do I need? I mean, what do I need for the shirt, I mean, … you know?”
“You already have everything you need,” she assured me, “just wash it, you’ll be fine. It’s guaranteed.”
I wondered if anyone so lovely could ever keep her promises.
“Guaranteed?” I asked.
“’Guaranteed to Bleed,’” she clarified as she walked away with my fairy-hook hidden in her hand.