Saturday, January 20, 2007

I always suspected...

Excerpt from Escaping From the Backyard Gang: My Private Hell as One of Barney's "Friends"

We slept in a large dormitory, in white-enameled iron bedsteads. The girls against the east wall and the boys against the west. After lights out Matron would sit in a chair by the door, her knitting needles click-click-clicking away, to make sure we didn't try to whisper or get up.

There was hardly any need. You learned soon enough not to get too close to anyone, because chances are they'd be gone within the week. I made the mistake of becoming fond of a boy named Andy, only to see him dragged away after forgetting to smile during dress rehearsal.

Besides, we were always exhausted by lights-out. We were awoken at 4:00, expected at Morning Chants by 4:15, then Calisthenics, a breakfast of Ovaltine and gruel at 5:30, dance and singing practice in the dojo until 11:00, a thirty minute break for lunch, generally some sort of stew, then rehearsal or filming for however long it took. None of the children recieved dinner until the Director was pleased with the performance or wrapped the take. One night I remember singing and dancing to "Skip to My Lou" for eleven hours straight and finally being allowed our bread-and-butter and fish sticks at nearly midnight. Most of us were too exhausted to sway properly the next morning and were beaten in the dojo.

They'd beat us for practically any reason: standing still, not smiling, dropping our eyebrows, not skipping high enough. Of course, it was also imperative to never muss one's costume, allow one's socks to droop or let a single hair go astray. When we werent needed on the set, we wore gray smocks and slippers and kept our hair under shower caps lined with mayonnaise, to maintain its shine.

Whenever Barney entered the room with his head on, we were expected to exult gleefully, whether or not cameras were rolling. However, if he entered the room without his head on, we were forbidden to even acknowledge his presence.

Years later I asked my Mother why she had abandoned me to these evil people. She gave me that indulgent smile she always offered when I tried to suggest that perhaps this had not been the best way to pass my childhood, and said, "Well honey, you were on television. You were gonna be a star!"

I don't know of a single one of us who has become a "star." I once heard that a younger girl named Samantha had landed a Public Service Announcement about airbag safety, but even that never elevated beyond rumor.

All I know now is that if I hear fife music, I go catatonic. And I can never stop swaying and smiling: in the checkout line at the grocery store, throughout endless strings of unsuccessful job interviews, during eye exams (an excellent way to get an otherwise mild-mannered opthalmalogist to yell at you). If I ever lay eyes on that purple bastard again, I swear I'll strangle him with his own tail.

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