By Tony Ortiz | June 21st, 2014
Setting: 4th Grade Public School class room in Queens, New York circa 1994
“Today is a very important day”, said Mr. K. “As you all know we voted last Thursday to make this years class Play, Cinderella and today we find out who our Cinderella and Prince Charming will be!”
A nervous murmur sprinkled with excitement made its way around the classroom amongst the kids as Mr. K continued; “Let me explain the selection process to you. Anyone can volunteer for these two roles. I will put a passage from the play, up on the chalkboard. One by one all the volunteers will come up to the front of the class and read the passage to us, the same way you would on stage. The rest of us will be making mental notes on how well you do, so that we can all vote to select the best person for the role, later. After all the volunteers have had a chance to showcase their acting chops, I’m going to ask them to step outside into the hallway, while the rest of us quietly vote. The person with the most votes will win the staring role. And when you become big movie stars in Hollywood, don’t forget who discovered you, ha-ha-ha” he laughed with that deep-breath-pausing laugh of his.
I sat nervously at my hard wooden desk in the middle-right side of the room, looking around at all of the shy, awkward soon to be volunteer faces, and all of the seemingly more confident ‘there’s no way in hell I’m going up there’ faces.
“Speak amongst yourselves and decide if you will be auditioning for the rest of us today, while I write the passages for both Cinderella and our Prince on the chalk board. Remember that all of us will play a part in the play on or off stage”.
Should I audition for the staring role? I thought to myself. It is the first step to being discovered and on my way to Hollywood. Then I can be in a movie…or maybe even the Power Rangers! Or should I be the stage-hand guy that opens and closes the curtains on the stage with those long, thick ropes that look like the ones we climb in gym class? That could be fun too I guess.
“Hey Anthony” the most angelic voice in the whole wide world whispered. “Are you going to audition to be the Prince?”
“I will if you audition for Cinderella”, I told Stephanie as I patted myself on the back, in my mind, for such a smooth comeback.
“Yea right”, she says. “I’m to much of a scardey-cat for that. I wouldn’t be able to speak in front of the whole 4th, 5th and 6th grade!”
Oh man, I hadn’t even thought of that. I’m worried about speaking in front of the class…imagine the actual Play in six weeks?
“Take 2 more minutes to make your decisions kids”, said Mr. K. “Who is the board monitor for this week by the way?”
“I am, Mr. K” said Sue-Ellen.
“Please make sure you clap the erasers outside the window at the end of the day. They’re filthy”.
“Yes Mr. K”, as she rolled her eyes.
Why she signed up to be board monitor, beats me. She hates it and is always complaining about the dusty chalk making her cough. I like being board monitor and trying to make big clouds of chalk when I clap the erasers together. Two weeks ago I clapped them so fast that even Leo was impressed and didn’t try to take my cookies at lunch that day.
“Ok my lovely Cinderella’s, ladies first. Stand up at your desks if you’d like to audition”. All of us eagerly scanned the room waiting for the brave souls to stand up. One by one they got up. Both of the twins, Vickyana and Iliana even did. Then Tiffany, Angela, Pamela and Renee got up too. Six girls in all.
“Ok Cinderella’s, stand up in the back of the room, and I’ll call you up one by one to the front. Read the paragraph for us and then return to your seats. Angela, we’ll start with you”.
She walked up to the front of the classroom, nervously giggling. Everyone likes Angela, she’s sweet and she’s Stephs best friend, so that means she’ll be like my sister-in-law or something one day.
Angela, twirled her braided hair around as she read the paragraph on the board, and giggled. The class would laugh with her every time. She finished, we all clapped and smiled and with a huge look of relief on her face, she went back to her desk and started talking with Steph right in front of me.
“You’re so cool Angie”, Stephanie told her. “I wish I could do that”.
“Thanks”, responded Angela as she turned around to me and said: “Ant, you should go up there. You’ll do great”.
I nervously nodded my head and smiled, completely tuning out Tiffany’s read.
“Thank you Tiffany”, said Mr. K. “You can go back to your seat now. It’s your turn Pamela”.
Pam is cute, and has really nice blond hair, and last year in 3rd grade, she was Ariel from the Little Mermaid in Ms. Soto’s Class. She was awesome, and knows what she’s doing. But my heart belongs to Stephanie and always will. Right then it dawned on me. The plan of all plans. If I got the part, Steph would have to love me back. Who doesn’t love a Prince? That’s my motivation; I have to win her over somehow. Even if I don’t get it, she’ll think I’m just as cool as Angela, and that’s one step closer to making her my girlfriend.
The roaring clap in the room snapped me out of my plotting mind.
“Great job Pamela,” said Mr. K. “Very impressive. Please take your seat now”.
After the remaining girls went up, Mr. K asked them all to step out into the hallway as he whispered to us:
“Ok my little Siskel and Eberts, by a show of hands, how many of you want Angela to be our Cinderella?” He counted the votes, and tallied them up next to where he had written all the volunteers names.
We all knew that Pamela was going to win, but my loyalty vote, together with Stephs, went to Angie.
“Ralphy, please let the girls know that they can come in now”, said Mr. K.
Ralphy’s seat was right by the door, so he reached over and opened the door. “Mr. K said to come back in”, he told the girls, and they did. As they walked in Mr. K says:
Everyone give a round of applause to our Cinderella, Pamela. As she smiled with an excited look on her face. Good for her, I thought. She definitely deserved it.
“Ok, everyone back to their seats. Quiet down. Now, time for our leading man. Which of you brave young men will be auditioning for the role?
My heart is racing like a marching band snare drum solo. Leo gets up, Ralphy, Mike, Joey, Curtis, Charlie even got up and then Steven did too. Steph turns around to me and gives me a pouty sad face and I darted up like a whac-a-mole in a town fair.
“Ok guys, to the back of the room you go. Curtis, we’ll start with you.”
Curtis went up and could’ve given an Oscar worthy performance for all I know. Drowning waves of nervousness overwhelmed my consciousness. What was I thinking? Last year I had a one-liner in the class Play, as Peddler #2 in a Pinocchio parody and nearly shit myself. Now I’m auditioning for a staring role in my sophomore performance? Talk about being over zealous. She better love me after doing this, I swear. And not some ‘love me today, knew me tomorrow’ kind of love. I mean love-love. Love me like Topanga loves Corey or how Kelly loved Zack before Jeff came along, kind of love.
“Ok, who wants to go next?” Mr. K asked as Leo nudged me forward in the line.
“A brave volunteer” says Mr. K. “Come on up Anthony”. I look back at Leo with a look that must have been a fusion of disdain mixed with the look of a deer caught in the headlights. “Stupid jerk”, I murmured as I walked away from him and toward the green chalkboard. He smirked at me with that maniacal, devilish smile of his that only accentuated his horn like eyebrows. I look at Steph as I walk by her desk and she points at something she wrote on her desk. It was a heart that she drew with our initials in it! A+S it said. And it wasn’t written in pencil, it was in pen! She’d have to spit on it to wipe it off. After that, I had the confidence to take a role away from Macaulay Culkin.
“Read the paragraph off of the board and project your voice toward the audience as if you were on stage. Ready? Action!” said Mr.K.
I cleared my throat and gave it a whirl:
How foolish of me to think that I can throw a grand Ball for all of the fairest eligible ladies of the town to attend, and expect to find my true love in just one night. What was I thinking? I’ve been somber and alone for far to long causing me to result to these drastic measures.
[Enter Cinderella as the Ball Room doors open up wide]
Wait! There is my Princess. True Love has finally answered my prayers. She is as beautiful as an April morning. ‘Come, let us dance’.
[The Prince takes Cinderella by the hand and proceeds to a solo slow dance]
There’s my debut of some pretty impressive acting chops if I do say so myself. The class clapped and everything. They may have clapped for everyone else, but I was too nervous to remember. I even caught Leo turn to Joey and say something to the effect of; ‘that was good’. I walked back to my seat with my head held high and with extra pep in my step. Angie turned to me and said; “you’re so gonna win”, Steph nodded in agreement as she blushed. I smiled back at them in an ‘I know I’m awesome way’ and said, “nahhh. We’ll see what happens”.
Leo tried pushing Joey up next like he did to me, so that he would go last, but Mr. K actually noticed this time.
“Leo, since you’re so kind to let people go before you, how about we return the favor and let you go first? Come up”, he said sternly. Then Leo walked by and kicked my chair on his way up to the front of the room. Hard enough to make me lose my balance while sitting and not expecting that jolt, but soft enough to act like it was an accident. What an evil douche.
Leo reads his lines with a lack luster ‘I’m to cool for school’ attitude. Looking at the floor the whole time, sucking his teeth, messing up and repeating his lines. Then went to his desk saying “that was stupid. I didn’t feel like doing it good”. Joey went up after and gave a similarly forgetful performance and off we went to stand outside in the hall as the class voted.
We’re all slightly on edge anticipating the results of the votes being cast. Leo turns to address us all and surprisingly says; “guys, no matter what, none of us can get mad. We’re all friends and it don’t matter who won”. We all nodded our heads and agreed. “Yea” said mike, “we all gave it our best shots”.
This was great, as I stood there thinking to myself. I know I did great. Like that feeling you have when you Ace an exam before you actually receive the results. I think Mike did really well, and he’s Pamela’s boyfriend so he might get a lot of votes just based on that. He’s cool too, so I’m ok with that. But I know for a fact that I smoked Leo and Joey. Curtis I was too nervous to pay attention to, and the other guys did so-so. Me and Mike have to be top choices. So Leo, the class bully being ok with all that, was perfect. The door opens up with Mr. K at the other end of it. “Come in my little Prince’s”. All of our names and votes were on the chalkboard, and I had to do a double-take as the class clapped to welcome us back in:
It was a landslide! Woah, I really did win. “Give it up for our Prince Charming everybody”, said Mr. K as he had us take our seats again. That’s so cool. Scary. But good-scary. We all took our seats as Mr. K gave an overview of how many practices we we’re going to have in the classroom and on which days we would get the auditorium to actually practice on the big stage.
“See I told you so” Angie said.
Steph followed that with; “I knew you would do it for me”. I winked at her and scanned my eyes around the room. Steven gave me a nod and a smile, Mike gave me the thumbs up, Pamela smiled and looked eager to begin going over our lines. I then make it around to Joey and Leo. Joey’s disinterested as usual, sloppily folding up a piece of loose-leaf into a paper airplane. Leo is looking at me like a rabid pit-bull who’s having his meal taken away from it. Nostrils flaring, horned eye-brows pointing upwards like two little pyramids. Snarling, and pounding his right fist into the palm of his left hand like a Major League Baseball Catcher whose anticipating the final pitch of a no-hitter. I turn around, straight in my desk, acting as if I hadn’t seen what I had just seen. Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, I found solace in sitting as still as if I was avoiding to be seen by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, while in plain sight.
Partly surprised at the hypocrisy of this kid and the other part of me feeling as if I was completely in the know all along. While sitting there and perfecting my statue pose, I spent the next two Subjects in class before lunch, talking myself into the possibility that he was joking around and I had just turned around a half second before he started smiling and did the ‘I’m just messin’ with ya” - gesture. Then I see the first one fly by the side of my head in a forward trajectory past me and between the two girls, headed toward the windows and over the table of plants that we planted in Styrofoam cups last Wednesday. Pam and Steph both turn around and face me at the exact same time that I’m thinking ‘what the fuck was that’ and begin turning my head back. “Wham!” – spitball number two hits me and sticks…it sticks to my cheek, right by my mouth. Everyone that witnessed this, including the girls, burst out into a laugh as I squirmed in a shocked and disgusted frantic way to slap it off of my face. “Yuck! That almost went in my mouth, stupid” I told Leo. I don’t even know if anyone heard that over all the laughter.
“Hey, hey settle down back there. This isn’t recess. Who wants detention? Who wants detention?!?”, and when Mr. K actually raises his voice like that, we all listen. Even Leos bully ass. Right before lunch, about 8 minutes before to be exact, I strategically raise my hand and ask:
“Can I go to the bathroom? My stomach really hurts”.
“Can you hold it?” he responded.
“Nooo”, I said. “I really can’t”.
“Ok, but if we’re not here when you return, meet us in the cafeteria, it’s almost lunchtime” he said.
I nodded in agreement, having not the energy or will to utter an unnecessary word. I felt weak in the knees as I walked out of the room.
I waited til lunch was more than half over and I walked to the cafeteria. Mr. K asked me where I’d been and that I can still go grab lunch. But I told him my stomach was hurting too much and I wasn’t hungry. I sat there with my head half way down, on the opposite side of the table from Leo, and closer to Mr. K. Maybe he had forgotten that he wanted to kill me, I thought to myself. Then Mr. K walked away to go speak with Ms. Maloney, a fifth grade teacher. From the corner of my right eye, I see Leo get up and start towards me.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“I’m sick” I responded, “I think I have the flu”. (Could it be that he was joking all along and I’ve just been overreacting? Did he genuinely care about my well-being?) I turn my head towards him, cause I was avoiding eye contact at first, and noticed him looking in the direction of Mr. K, who was still distracted with his conversation and with Ms. Maloney flirting with him.
“I’m still going to fuck you up", he said as he pushed my head down and bounced my forehead off of the cold white surface of the fold-a-way lunch table. I shoved his arm away in a pathetic attempt to ‘fight-back’ as he walked away and laughed.
Mr. K walked back to escort us outside for the 15 minutes of after lunch recess they give us so that we burn off some of the sugar we’ve ingested at lunch and tire ourselves out enough to be tolerable for the next three hours of class.
“Hey Ant, you want to play kick ball with us outside?” Adam asked me.
“Nah, I don’t want to go outside,” I responded.
“Come on, you love kick-ball, and you’re one of the best at it. Don’t worry about Leo, he’s not playing. I think he’s playing ‘Asses-up’ on the handball court with Joey and the 5th graders or something”, rebutted Adam.
Was everyone already aware of my impending doom?
“No, you guys go ahead. I’m going to stay in” I told Adam. He shrugged his shoulders and left with the burgundy kick-ball under his right arm and a half squeezed apple juice box in his left.
Some of the nerd kids always stayed inside at recess, to play checkers and battleship, and some to start their homework! Ugh, is this what is going to happen to me? Is this my future?
The next 3 torturous hours sitting in class were a blur. The bell was about to ring for dismissal in like 5 minutes, and I was out of excuses, plans or ideas. I looked at Leo with one last piece of hope that he would admit to have just been messing with me all afternoon…and he gave me the finger. Yea that finger.
“Lets start lining up now, in size order guys and gals”, said Mr. K “so that we can walk out double file as soon as the first bell rings”.
(Great, he’s speeding up the inevitable, I thought to myself).
The multi-tonal bell rings.
“Ok lets go kids, walk out to the front of staircase B and wait for me to shut off all the lights”, said Mr. K.
I stood there, with a look on my face that must’ve been oozing worry. Then it dawned on me. My older brother was picking me up, as he always did after he got out from High School. I was saved! He can put an end to this, or at least scare Leo away. He’s in the 9th grade. He’s usually outside by the time I walk out to the street too. There was a class in front of us so we were lined up in the staircase, waiting for the second bell, followed by the announcement by Mr. Laparo (the Dean) of opening up the doors.
Leo was above me in the staircase and leaned over Mikes shoulder and says: “I’m gonna fuck you up”.
“No you’re not, my brother is outside”, I responded confidently.
“I’ll fuck his fat ass up too” Leo responded.
“No you can’t stupid asshole. Shut up. He’s bigger than you” I responded defiantly.
“Shhhh! keep it down and face forward” said Mr. K
Could he really beat me and my brother both up? I thought to myself as the worry began to sink in again.
Stephanie was right across from me in the girls line and turned to me, and asked: “are you really going to fight Leo”?
I quickly gave a knee-jerk reaction response; “hell no”, with an ‘of course not’ look on my face. I actually thought for some reason, that she would respect me taking the admirable ‘high-road’ and not succumbing to Leo’s bullying taunts and tactics. The love of my life and future mother of my children (as I hoped it to be one day) leaned back over to me and with an angelic whisper said: “you’re a pussy”, and turned away from me in disgust. At that moment I felt as if the whole world came crashing down around me. Everything became dark. I felt as if my heart had leaped up into my throat and was making its way out of my body through my mouth, because it didn’t even want to me affiliated with me any longer. At that moment, Leo kicking my ass didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore. Maybe he’d knock me unconscious and I’d get amnesia and forget any of this ever happened.
“Ok kids, see you tomorrow” Mr. K said after Mr. Laparo’s OK to dismiss us. He pushed open the brown painted metal doors “get home safe”.
I walk out and scan the sea of parents, babysitters and older siblings waiting there to make their pick-ups. Searching for my brother that’s nowhere to be seen. Where the fuck is he?!? Seriously, today out of all days he’s not here on time?
I get yanked by the top loop of my plastic blue and red Power Rangers backpack and dropped to the floor like a Leaf in the Fall. It was Leo! I quickly looked around and not many people noticed. The ones that did thought that we were horsing around and didn’t make much of it. Mike and Adam and even Joey came up behind Leo and held him back, as I stood up and Leo charged forward with the strength of a raging bull. They could barely hold him back!
“Run, go!” Adam said.
“Just get out of here”, said Mike.
“Let me go, I’m going to kill him!” Leo exclaimed.
I turned around and ran away toward the rear of the school, where the back yard was. Frantically dodging people in my way and simultaneously looking for my brother. I get to the back yard and look back to see the guys holding him back and waving me off at the same time. Yelling but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I dart across the yard to the other side of the school. I’ve never run so fast. I re-entered the school on the other side. I was safe, for now. But now I had no way of getting in touch with my brother so it was like I was trapped inside.
After the longest ten minutes of my life, I walked over to the other side of the school, from the inside, looking over my shoulder with every step. I cracked open the brown medal door, and stuck my head out. There was barely a handful of people left. Just a couple parent friends catching up before going their separate ways. In the distance I see my brother making his way up to my school. I step out and look around one more time to make sure the ghost was clear, and I run towards him with tears in my eyes, but relieved.
“What the hell is wrong with you”? he asked.
“Leo wants to beat me up” I shamefully responded.
“What? Why? Where is he?” He asked.
“I don’t know, lets go home” I said insistently.
“No”, he responded sternly, “lets go find him”. “I think I saw his brother Alvin in school today. He probably came to pick him up. I’ll go talk to him”.
Like a dog with his tail between his legs, I walked half a step behind my brother.
“There they go over there, standing by the crossing guard”, my brother said as he spotted them half a block away. We approached them and I felt as if we were about to negotiate some type of gang-war truce over turf or something.
“Yo what’s up?” my brother said to Leo’s brother. “Something happened with these two and he tells me Leo wants to fight him, and I want to squash that and make sure we’re cool here”.
Alvin turns to Leo and says; “that true? Why you wanna fight this kid?”
Leo, half looking up and half looking at the floor while he lightly kicked at a few pebbles on the ground, says: “he took my part in the play”.
“nah-uh” I responded quickly. “I won the part fair and square”.
Alvin smirked and told Leo; “c’mon man, you can’t be bullying kids acting like a tuff guy. You do that shit when you get to Junior High, not now. Don’t be doing stuff like that”. How screwed up is this family? Put off your bullying til you’re older? Like it’s some sort of rite of passage. What kind of advice is that? (Mental note to self…don’t go to the same Junior High as this lunatic).
“So are we good here?” my brother asked them, with a no-nonsense tone in his voice.
“Yea, we’re good” Alvin responded and gave my brother a pound. “Shake his hand and say sorry” he instructed Leo as he pointed to me. And he did, he slapped me five and said see you tomorrow, and they walked away. It was finally over. My brother had successfully negotiated my freedom.
“You’re the best!” I told him. “Thank you!” As I happily walked beside him on our way home.
“When we get home, you have to clean my white sneakers with the soap and toothbrush” he told me.
“Ok, no problem”, I said willingly. Small price to pay for saving my life, I thought.
“And clean my room for the next month too. If you don’t, I’ll tell Leo to beat you up”.