All The World's A Stage
Growing up in a northeast coal mining town in 1962, there was very little for a thirteen year old to do. This often meant creating your own entertainment. There weren't very many social activities as there are today. We just hung out at the candy store with a gang of about twenty teenagers. Occasionally, in the summers, we'd get a keg and head on down to the river for a Saturday evening of partying. Being a little young for that, I sought different types of entertainment.
The Bob Kelly Make-Up kit arrived in the mail. I knew that every actor had to have a make-up kit. Up until then I had none. But now I did. Now I was a real actor.
The first time I used the kit I consulted a piece of minstrel music that was in the house. It was an Al Jolson book with directions on how to do perform Minstrel and how to apply make-up for blackface. So, I got out the clown white and used black shoe polish. With white gloves I performed "Mammy" in our living room corner with my friend. Tina held a lamp and inverted the shade to form a spotlight. By the time the end of the number came around we would just be laughing ourselves silly.
Tina, today a cosmetologist, was a superb character actress and was probably even more mischievous than I. Because she was a teenage girl, she knew a thing or two about make-up and decided to teach me character make up. In short, she was going to transform me into an old man.
First, she put spirit gum all over my face and then dabbed a layer of tissues over that, pulling away the excess, creating a wrinkle effect. Next came the pancake and the lines where old people have age lines. After the face was done she did my hands. In bright light you could tell it was make-up, but under just the right dim lighting, I was ninety!
I went to my dad's bedroom and took out his old suit and the crowning touch was the Father Time wig lying around the house from a past Halloween. Of course, the ultimate test was to walk the streets to see if I looked convincing. Who better than testing it on my friends from the candy store? I got a cane and walked slowly up the street around the corner. As I passed the gang of friends, they began to taunt me..."Yo' ol' man, you lost?" In character, I held my nose and blew it in the curb.
The following spring I spoke to Tina on the phone one day, "You still have that make-up kit? Bring it over."
She was on the porch reading the newspaper with a pencil in her hand.
"Whatcha reading?", I asked.
"The obituaries? What on earth for? Someone die?"
"No, I just keep up with them."
Tina and I went in the living room and she began to apply make-up, and it was the spirit gum routine all over again. This time, she was becoming "Old Woman." She kept looking in the mirror and saying , "My deepest sympathies." She kept saying it over and over until she had the right inflection and sadness in her voice. She then went and got an old black dress, old black shoes and a matching babushka to cover her gray hair. She looked really old, but she kept saying, "My deepest sympathies."
"Tina, what the hell are you up to?"
She threw the paper at me and I saw the circled obituary. Someone very old had died, perhaps in his nineties.
"He went so quick, don'tcha think?"
"So. What's that got to do with you?"
"I'm goin' to the wake tonight."
"Tina, you can't!"
"Wanna bet. Get me an onion piece for my handkerchief. I think tears are appropriate, don't you."
To this day, I can envision her walking up the stairs of the funeral home in her almost crippled walk, taking the arm of the funeral director and patting his hand in thanks for assisting her. I never went inside, but I was across the street and could see in the window.
There she was in line and I could see her dabbing her eyes as someone took her hand. I watched in awe with my mouth half open as she spoke to someone and I mouthed the words in unison.
"My deepest sympathy!"
This was my theater, for all the world's a stage. It was a few years before we gave up these shenanigans and joined a local theater group. Until then, though, our stage was the streets of Brookside.