Friday, January 8, 2010

Reality Part II: How I've Corrupted My Daughter, or Why Seth Rudetsky is a God Among Men

I know that I encourage Mary Katherine, the one born under a veil of tulle and sequins, to believe in the truth of her own world. Usually it works, but sometimes she bumps up against those with harder edges and clearer pictures, usually in the form of her soon-to-be-a-captain-of-industry older sister. One example occurred this Christmas, when I gave Mary Katherine a true believer’s gift. I created a three-ring binder with quotes from all her favorite movies and books, including reproductions of the covers. I also included an invitation, menu and seating chart for The Dinner Party, which is an affair she and I have been planning for a couple years now.

The party is intended to be a gathering of everyone, living and dead, fictional and true, whom Mary likes. She decided long ago that the affair will be held at the Plaza Hotel, and that the guest of honor will be Grandmere, the Dowager Princess of Genovia, from the Princess Diary books. (NOT the movie! This is the real deal, the eyebrow-penciling-in, sidecar-drinking, cigarette-smoking meanie, not Julie Andrews). Mary and I discuss seating charts and guest lists whenever we’ve got a few idle moments to spare. An example of a recent debate was whether or not we should put Daniel Pinkwater, her favorite author, at the same table as Grandmere and Winston Churchill. “I’ll bet he smokes,” Mary Katherine said confidently. “And even if he usually doesn’t, he’ll probably have a cigar with Mr. Churchill just to be sociable.” (Mary Katherine, by the way, is seated at every table. Since the laws of logic were being severely mangled for the idea of the party in the first place, I decided to snap them cleanly and let her sit at ten tables simultaneously.)

Mary Katherine loved her present, and before Christmas break was over, had begun to assiduously make changes and additions to the first draft seating chart. One evening, she asked her older sister if she wanted to sit next to Sue Sylvester from Glee, or if she’d prefer the company of Mob hit-man Chili Palmer. This is the sister who was not Snow White even though wearing a Snow White costume; does she have to spell E-M-M-A out for you or what? (See January 6 post for humiliating details: So it’s not surprising that, upon hearing this seating chart question, Emma first looked at Mary Katherine for a long, silent moment. Then her eyes slid over to me as she perfectly executed a weary and resigned head shake. If I interpreted the cranial movement correctly, it signaled, “I blame you for messing up this kid so completely, and I am going to have to get some kickass scores on my SATs, because I’m the only one in this godforsaken bunch who has any hope of significant lifetime earning potential.”

Thanks, honey, I love you, too.

I don’t think I ruined Mary Katherine. I just encouraged her a little, that’s all. The two of us acknowledge that not everyone is a believer, and we try to keep our little world to ourselves most of the time. Then sometimes we come across a fellow traveler, and it feels blissful.

Seth Rudetsky is our current best friend. (Yes, he’s invited to the party. He’s seated between Kurt Hummel (Glee) and Infinite Darlene (the drag queen from Boy Meets Boy) at the Gay Town table. Seth can be found at, and also on You Tube via his many “deconstructions” of show tunes. Seth believes. He really, really believes. Sometimes, this makes it uncomfortable to watch him. I feel like a cat peering into a bathtub, repelled and attracted at the same time. Seth is in as deep as I am, and that’s maybe just a little too deep. Watch him lip sync along with Angela Lansbury on “It’s Today,” a song that he declares has “the most delicious joy coming out and covering my body; I’m literally covered with joy sweat.” Seth positions himself inches from his Web cam, and, as the music plays, he is rolling his eyes, snapping his fingers, leaning in and leering until it seems as if he will reach out and throttle you if you don’t appreciate this stuff along with him.

Of course, we appreciate, so he never throttles.

To believe can be a little bit scary, as exemplified by Seth. It can also be a sad proposition. A few years ago, in flusher times that allowed for actually leaving my house and attending theatrical performances, I went with a couple friends to see The Drowsy Chaperone in New York. One friend is a believer, one is not. (A sidebar: We once were at the intermission of the Gay Men’s Chorus of New York when the non-believer, upon hearing some reference to “Liza’s mother Judy Garland,” mused, “Gee, I never knew that was her mother.” The believer shrieked, “How could you not know that? How could you not know that?” until several well-groomed heads swiveled around on their muscular necks, hoping for a cat fight. But I digress.)

The premise of The Drowsy Chaperone is a view inside the mind of the ultimate believer, Man in Chair, who guides the audience through a performance of his favorite musical. His lonely existence is enlivened for 90 minutes by the cheesy cast and their dumb songs. At the finale, as the principals fly away with an aviatrix (don’t ask), and he is left alone on the dark stage.

Everyone loved it! What a fun show! Teeth were bared, hurrahs went up. And center right in row R, I was curled into the fetal position, sobbing. It was the single saddest thing I’d ever seen in a theatre, and that includes long and regrettable evenings of O’Neill. Forget dark family secrets and addictions. This was about something that really mattered. That show was all he had. Now it was over. He was a believer and he was all alone.

No one saw that. They saw Sutton Foster and lots of chorus girls. Plus, they'd paid $125 a seat, so they were going to smile, dammit. They filed past Row R with those smiles plastered on their dumb mugs, moving a little faster to get past the Crazy Crying Lady. My believing friend patted my hand. She understood, but she clearly was holding onto her dignity. My non-believing friend, the one who once had to threaten to take the car and leave me without a ride home when I had a nervous collapse during Now Voyager at an art house cinema twenty-five years ago, just sighed and waited. She had no idea what the problem was, but she figured it would pass.

Why did I cry? Believers always cry. We cry when what we want seems so close but remains forever out of reach. And also, that’s right, we cry when we’re happy, when we’re “literally covered with joy sweat,” to quote Seth. For me, make-believe provides them both -- the yearning and the fleeting-but-wonderful moments of joy, accompanied by lots of Joy Sweat.

So I keep on believing, and encouraging Mary Katherine to believe, and who knows, maybe someday, we’ll toast each other with perfect Manhattans at Novello’s Nightclub, right before the Haynes Sisters come on for their one-song act.

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