Dewey update: eighty donations to hospitals, detention centers, schools and library programs. It’s a rough time for fundraising, you guys. I know that I did this all quickly and on the sly, and you have all been fantastic at spreading the word, including some heavy twitter-hitters, but normally Dewey gets a few more books than this by now. Thank you so much for all the help. I’m going to wait until this afternoon before I put up another wishlist, because I think the C.A.U.S.E. program has received less than ten books.
Here’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell since Monday, when I listed the children’s hospitals. I mentioned that I’d had two mortifying experiences in children’s hospitals, the second-worst being the other week when I went to Monroe, Louisiana, on a red-eye in a leg brace to visit fourteen-year old Madeleine, who was suffering from a kidney infection. If you haven’t read Sarah’s account of it (Fancy new digs, Lady Bunting!), just know that it ended with four grown-ups and a teenager trapped in a hospital room as the specialist gave a ten-minute speech on how to clean and care for your vagina, with advice both helpful:
“Make sure you never wipe back to front.”
“You’re gonna wanna stay away from douches and deodorized tampons.”
“It’s important to drink lots of water.”
“Eating yogurt is good way to avoid a yeast infection.”
“Cotton-crotch panties and sundresses are what a girl should wear during the summer.”
“A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it in your vagina.”
“Not all bottled water is the same. I prefer Dasani.”
“If you don’t like to eat yogurt, just get a little bit of buttermilk — you don’t need that much — and just dab a bit of that down there with your finger.”
As the Vagina Monolgues went on, the grown-ups in the room got more and more uncomfortable. I almost broke in half from having to hold in the laughter. When he suddenly asked Madeleine if she liked horses, as those could make your “crotch funky,” I swear to you guys I was either going to have to jump out the window or uncontrollably yell, “YOU KEEP SAYING VAGINA AND I KEEP HEARING IT.”
Madeleine was lucky enough to be holding her cell phone, so she was texting away the entire time, mentally in her happy place like a healthy human being going through this situation. But the grown-ups, we were supposed to be making the “listening” faces, the wise nods, rubbing our chins in a way that says, “Yes, don’t get funky crotch.” But we couldn’t do that. Instead we were all staring at anything — ANYTHING — that might keep us from making eye-contact. At one point poor Vince, the only man in the room other than the doctor, was just punching himself in the leg, like his foot had fallen asleep, but I think, not unlike someone with a secret cutting problem, he just wanted to have a physical representation of the anguish he was feeling.
But this story is only the second-worst story.
Fourteen years ago this week I was doing a children’s show with my dear friend Jeff. It was about kids going through chemotherapy. And in this play, I was the doctor and Jeff was the nurse. Very quickly, the story is that this one kid with a huge imagination is going through chemo, and he thinks that the doctors and nurses giving him medicine aren’t doctors and nurses, but they’re aliens, or mad scientists. So every other scene Jeff and I are in these costumes, playing aliens or mad scientists, as we do evil experiments on the kid with cancer (also played by a college-age student).
It had a few costume changes for Jeff and me, and during that time when we were backstage frantically changing back into doctor and nurse costumes, a girl would walk center stage, play her acoustic guitar, and sing a song about fears and tears and … health scears — I don’t know. I don’t remember because number one: I was backstage frantically changing. But more importantly, number two: my jerk friends who saw the show opening day immediately changed the song to, “Someone’s gonna get cancer tonight, uh-huh! Someone’s gonna get cancer tonight, uh-HUH!” and that damn song has popped into my head off and on about every month or so for the past fourteen years. So THANKS, Chuy and Chito.
So, anyway. We only did the show a few places, almost exclusively for grown-ups. I think that’s true. We’d workshopped it at the college, went to a children’s theatre conference with it, did it a few times for teachers and student playwrights, and we were always supposed to do it for real kids, but it didn’t happen.
The show closed, we put up our fake medical equipment, and we went on with our lives. Jeff had a birthday, and I believe we got super shit-faced because he turned twenty-one. I don’t know. I’m old now and these stories have taken on a fuzzy, hazy, “I used to be young,” kind of glow. The point is: hungover. And then we get a call, “You guys need to be at the children’s hospital in an hour because we’re doing the show! It’s happening! The kids are going to see the show! Isn’t that fantastic?!”
I only remember racing down I-35 in tears, wondering how life could be so unfair that I would have to perform under these conditions. (Please remember: drama major = major drama) I mean, I felt terrible and I was tired and hadn’t even eaten since I got drunk. No, I wasn’t able to put it into perspective. I was still upset when I saw where we were to perform this thing. It was a conference room, and “backstage” was a kitchen that you entered through a doorless doorway behind what we were calling the “stage.” I remember you couldn’t hear the stage when you were in the kitchen because of an ice machine, so you just had to hope that the actor in the other room would get a little louder on your cue.
Which we did.
For some reason they didn’t have any age-appropriate children who were undergoing chemotherapy to watch this show. So instead of eight to twelve-year olds, we had four and five-year olds. And sixteen-year olds. Kids who either didn’t really understand or totally didn’t care. There’s about ten of them, and the rest of the room is filled with staff, parents, volunteers and humans who are all thinking, “I know things are hard right now, but at least I’m not that girl in a too-big doctor’s costume who smells like Zima barf.”
And then we started the show. Okay, so I mentioned that there’d be like, doctor scene then alien scene then back to doctor scene where we convince the kid who’s sick that there’s no such thing as aliens and that he’s okay and we’re here to help him and this medicine is actually good.
Jeff is tall. He’s a tall fellow, and his alien outfit made him even taller. It had a huge, towering hat. Anyway, we did the alien scene, and as we were running out of the room, his hat hit the doorway and made this fantastic THONK! and it’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened. Luckily we get to run straight to the kitchen and laugh while changing into our medical outfits while the audience is getting treated to another round of “Someone’s gonna get cancer tonight, uh-huh!”
Pulling our giggles in, Jeff and I grab our medical equipment, straighten our doctor robes and rush onto the stage shouting words like “stat” and “cc’s” and being very Clooney and Margulies about it all. But just as I rush the gurney over to where we’re supposed to stand for the important giving-him-an-injection scene, I look down to notice — My alien costume is stuck on the gurney wheel and now onstage.
And I just thought… “That’s it. We’re screwed. It doesn’t matter what we say or do now, all these kids know: we’re really aliens. The cancer kid is right and chemo is given to you by aliens intent on destroying the planet.”
So I placed my head carefully out of the view of the audience by saying, “I’ll just give you an injection…” and then hid behind the actor playing the chemo kid and tried to stop silently laughing. This means all I did was lean over and place my head right between this guy’s shoulders. I don’t know how I thought that would make me hidden, but I still remember how much it hurt to not make sound. Jeff is looking at me, wondering what is wrong with me, but then sees the costume, sees me laughing, and is all, “Yes, I need to also give an injection to you now, child!” and then joins me, two heads trying to hide behind one guy in footie pajamas, three feet away from an audience filled with confused faces. In my memory, Jeff isn’t as good at silent laughing. But we were both excellent at being assholes.
Jeff and I, who live thousands of miles away from each other, found out recently that we were both telling that story on the same day, just a couple of weeks ago. “Pam!” he said to me. “What I love about that story is that you were so… you weren’t thinking about it like normal people. You said, ‘Jeff! All those kids! Now they know we’re aliens! What can we do? Should we ad-lib during the next scene to explain it away? How can we get them to not worry about whether or not we’re aliens?!” And I said to you, “Pam, I think maybe they aren’t worried about whether or not we are aliens giving kids cancer because they’re worried about having actual cancer. Now put that beehive wig on and get back out there so we can go home and nap.”
I don’t remember anything after that, but I do hope those kids got at least one thing out of that performance. That every single one of them thought to themselves, “When I get out of here, I’m never going to become an actor.”
If we at least accomplished that, then it was all worth it.
So I hope one of these stories moves you to donate some books to the children’s hospital, or the C.A.U.S.E. program. Because if we don’t give these kids books to read, they may one day be stuck in a room with me somewhere, watching me shudder and squeak trying not to laugh, as they hold their IV poles and wonder, “What is wrong with that girl?”
You know, I’ve gotten a lot of weird requests at pamie.com over the years. There was the guy who wanted to suck my toes, the kid who found a baby bird and didn’t know how what else to feed it other than “grapes,” and that Japanese girl who assumed I would know Johnny Depp’s blood type.
But this morning I got the request:
“Can you please take some pictures of your fist?”
Does this happen to your mornings?