Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's at Nanny's

It was a long way down and I was not afraid of falling.

I’ll tell you the truth. I contemplated jumping.

Warm sticky air blew my dark mane around in a swirl. I stood, barefoot, on the concrete, sporting black shorts, a red rhine-stoned t-shirt, and a devilish grin. I leaned far over the balcony railing, staring straight down a dozen stories. I gave it a good, long thought.

I glanced over at my sister. Her feathered dirty blond hair whipped around in the wind. Her sparkling blue eyes speckled with golden dots said what they always said. “Ga head, do it, I dare you.” She was my muse, and I, her monkey.

“Stacy, do it, do it!”

“Don’t you dare!” Nanny hollered through the sliding glass door. Our great-grandmother marched across the living room towards us in her white open-toed sandals, exposing her sheer stockings and two month old chipped pink pedicure. Her baby blue polyester pants hugged her thighs as she swished in our direction. Dozens of elephant figurines watched from their perch on the mantel. (They faced the front door for “good luck,” according to Nanny, a superstition savant).

“Do it, do it!” my sister encouraged.

I released a couple of colored paper streamers from my clenched fist and watched as they floated down, down, dowwwwwwwn. We squealed, “Whooooooooooa!”

Nanny’s Aqua-netted blond hair would have stood on end if it could have moved a millimeter.

“Stacy, that’s against the law!” she shrieked.

“No, it’s not,” my sister whispered to me, concealing her grin.

“You girls get in here right now!” Nanny tapped her long acrylic crimson nails on the glass.

Alissa handed me a noisemaker to see what I would do next. I wound up and released it off the balcony as if I was throwing out the first pitch at the Phillies’ home-opener.

“That’s it, I’m calling the police!” Nanny shouted from the other side of the door. She was too afraid to come out on the balcony. Always was.

“The police? Nanny, it’s New Year’s Eve!” my sister attempted. “They’re only streamers!” Streamers that Nanny had bought for us, assuming we’d have a tame celebration inside her modest one bedroom apartment, with Al Jolson singing, “You Made Me Love You,” softly on the record player.

“I don’t care. I’m calling the police! And you know what they’re going to do?"

Nanny’s made up face flashed scarlet and contorted into that of an angry clown. She shook a crooked finger at us through the smudged glass and hollered, “They’re going to come arrest you!”

I was six years old and my sister was nine.

“They don’t arrest kids,” my sister reassured me, with her signature eye roll.

Nanny stomped into the kitchen and lifted the yellow phone receiver, smudged like a spin-art painting, with coral lipstick and beige foundation. She pretended to dial, watching us, watching her.

She couldn’t fool us. She slammed the phone down, abruptly.

“Come back in here right now, we’ll play “Miss America,”” Nanny begged.

“Miss America” was a game we played every time we visited Nanny and Pop-pop, in their high-rise Hallandale, Florida, apartment. "Miss America" consisted of us dressing up in Nanny’s blond bob wigs, gawdy costume jewelry, and false eyelashes. We caked on her outdated smelly lipstick and clunked around in size 8 platforms from the ‘60s. Nanny loved to pick up a hairbrush (her microphone) and introduce us, even if it was only to the elephants and Pop-pop, who acted as the judges.

“And now I would like to introduce to you contestant number 4. This blond bombshell hails from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and enjoys tennis and rollerskating. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome, Alissa . . .”

“We don’t want to play “Miss America!” I yelled back, shaking my head at her through the glass. My long hair swirled up in the night air wildly.

Nanny would not give up. “I know, we’ll watch Marcus Welby.” Alissa imitated barfing off the balcony as Nanny paced back and forth on the linoleum kitchen floor.

My sister glanced down at the two fistfuls of silver and black streamers that she clutched in her hands. “It’s New Year’s Eve, Nanny! This is what people do!”

“Girls, I’ll make you some ice cream!” Nanny was desperate. “I have delicious vanilla ice cream in the ice box. I’ll make you a bowl.” Ice cream was Nanny’s best dish by a mile.

“Okay, Nanny, we’re coming in!”


I let both fists of streamers go, much to my sister’s delight.

“Girls!” Nanny yelled in a panic. Alissa launched her streamers into the humid air.


I felt a rush through my toes on the concrete. It sizzled up my legs to my outstretched arms, right off the balcony, and through the humid wind, over the palm trees toward the ocean in the distance and across the universe.





Thursday, December 16, 2010

Princess For a Night

I had always wanted to see Prince live in concert.
I had been a fan ever since my mom, exercising questionable judgment, took me to see Purple Rain, the soft-porn film, at the theater, in 1985 at the ripe old age of 10.

I loved Prince then, when he was a just a troubled son, a misunderstood musical genius and a loner, who charmed women into dropping their clothes with a simple devilish grin. I loved his poofy sprayed hair, his dark eyeliner, how he rocked out on guitar with every ounce of his soul.

And I loved Prince even through his "awkward stage" when he wanted to be known simply as a symbol.

Twenty years on, it seemed impossible that I had never seen Prince play live. I could not wait to get my hands on some Prince tickets. And, I didn't just want to attend the concert. I wanted to sit on the floor, preferably somewhere in the first 10 rows.

And, truthfully, I wanted to be called on stage to dance with Prince. I expected to be.

Was this a far-fetched fantasy? I honestly did not think so.

Did I know for sure that Prince would even call members of the audience up to dance with him? I was just hoping. I had seen Bobby Brown and countless other singers do it, so I thought it was a possibility.

I phoned my friend, Emily, to tell her that I had secured 15th row tickets for us to see Prince at the Wachovia Center in Philly, and I added: "You know we're gonna get called on stage to dance with him."

"Oh, we're TOTALLY getting on stage," she replied, genuinely believing in my dream too.

"Let's dress like Apollonia," I suggested. "Do you have any leather one pieces you could bust out?"

"Hm, let me think about it," Em laughed. "Or we could always wear raspberry berets?" she offered.

For weeks our conversations carried on like this. What could we wear/do/say to secure a spot on stage with Prince?

I bragged to my sister, too, about my impending big night with Prince. "Yeah, right," she snorted over the phone. "You'll see," I promised. "I'm getting called up there."

"Well, I'll be in the 5th row, so I won't miss you," she joked.

As the big night approached, I called Emily one last time.

"I'm just wearing jeans," she said, sighing, somewhat defeated.

"Jeans?! What about the leather, the beret? We need to stand out so Prince can spot us!"

"I don't know, I'm wearing jeans," she said. "Why, what are you wearing?"

"Black pants and a shimmery white tank top. I did some online reconnaissance and I saw some pix of Prince from a show in New York last night. He's dressed all in white. So, of course, I want to match him," I said half kidding.

I skipped through my high-rise building's lobby and waved to my favorite doorman: "Hi, Rafiq!"

"Hey princess, lookin' niceeee," he smiled.

"I'm heading to the Prince concert."

"Aw, girl, have fun!"

"Thanks! I'm going to dance on stage with Prince."

"Go get'em, girl," Rafiq replied, shaking his head, giggling.

Prince was electrifying on stage. His tiny stature gave way to an enormous presence, that of a musical genius and a born performer. He owned the stage, which was set up in the round - a complete circle with long walkways extending out of the circle in 6 different directions. The band played in the middle of the circle and Prince danced, jammed, and gyrated about.

Much to my dismay, the Purple One invited two African-American women up on stage to dance with him for the second song of the show.

"NO WAY!" Em yelled from our 15th seats, which may have well been the last row in the arena.

"This is BULLSHIT!" I joked. "I want my money back."

"Well, I guess we'll just have to sit back and just enjoy the show," Em conceded.

Several songs later, I stood up. "I'll be right back, I'm going to the bathroom," I told Em.

On my way back down to our seats on the floor, a heavy set man dressed in all black approached me.

"Are you a dancer?" he whispered/yelled into my ear over the booming bass.

"EX.......CUSE ME?" I responded, fearful he was seeking a stripper.

He saw the panic in my face. "I'm the guy who picks girls to dance on stage with Prince," he continued. My mind screamed, "OHMYGOD! NO WAY! NO WAY! NO WAY! I saw flashing images of me in a music video with Prince.

"Can you dance like a sistah?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I told him. I didn't know what that meant. Didn't care. I could dance. I would dance.

"Great, because you're going up on stage after this song," he said. He slipped a plastic bracelet around my wrist.

I looked around for the hidden camera and the team of producers spoofing me. I saw 15,000 screaming fans.

"Wait. WHAT?!!! I have to go get my friend! She has to come with me!" I yelled back at the guy.

"Ok, but hurry up, meet me up at the side of the stage after this song."

I skipped ran back to Emily and screamed:

I think Em lost consciousness for a second and then we bolted up to the side of the stage, jumping hurdles of chairs, shoes, and cups of beer along the way.

"This is my friend," I informed the man, catching my breath.

He scanned her up and down. "Sorry, Prince doesn't let anyone in jeans on stage," he told us.

"I'll TAKE THEM OFF!" Em begged.

"No, you can't take your pants off," the man chuckled, as if he had heard it all before.

"I'll trade pants with you?!" she offered. His pants would have fit 10 Emilys. "No, you can't wear my pants either," he explained calmly. "You need to go back to your seat."

Em was crushed, but she looked at me and did what a great friend would do: "You HAVE to go up. This is a once in a lifetime thing."

"But," I started.

"Just get up there and have fun!" she nudged.

And that was it.

Now, I'm walking up 6 wooden steps with 6 other women who look just like me or a shade or two darker, ready to dance with Prince. Our only instructions:

"Smile, dance, and DON'T TOUCH PRINCE."

I'm thinking those 3 commands over and over again, plus: "Don't trip, don't fall off the stage, and don't look like a deer in headlights."

The stage is sweltering hot from the white flashing bulbs and the energy of the crowd. And, there, right next to me, is PRINCE. Inches away, rocking out on guitar. I am clearly a head above him, despite his high heeled boots. I smile at him, he smiles back and I become part of the show.

He's belting out his hit song, "Kiss," and I decide to work the catwalk down towards the audience on the side of the arena where Em is sitting. I spot her jumping 10 feet in the air (15 rows back) as if she's hopping on a pogo stick. She has a huge smile stretched across her face and she's dancing while jumping.

And then, right there, 5 rows from me and Prince, I see a familiar face. It looks like my sister, only deathly, ghostly white. She spots me on stage and she takes a second to hoist her jaw off the floor. I am pulling out every dance move in my repertoire and pointing at her, mouthing the words, "I TOLD YOU! I TOLD YOU!" She snaps a photo of me and Prince but without a flash, it's too dark to ever see.

3 songs, approximately 15 minutes later, my mission is complete.

I return to Emily and we just start yelling at the top of our lungs. "OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!"

"We have to leave!" Em shouts to me.


"I mean, WHAT is going to top THAT? Let's go call everyone we know!"

We do just that.

My parents don't recognize my voice become I'm so high from my encounter with the Purple One. I have to convince them that it's me. "That a girl!" says my mom. "You said you were going to do it."

I don't know if it was the fact that Prince enjoys women with dark features, like me, or the fact that I was dressed to match his entourage, like a lunatic, or if I was just giving off a certain energy that night, like "damn it, I'm here to dance with Prince," but my night as a "princess" made me a believer in believing that anything and everything is possible.

The universe, much like my beloved Prince, is mysterious.