Aloha-HA-HA (A Thanksgiving Story)

I’d never seen a single hula girl wearing shoes. I really hated shoes. Ergo, I decided, at the age of four, that the only place I could truly be myself was Hawaii. 

    Seven years later, the adventure was finally happening. I was going to Hawaii for a week and a half over Thanksgiving break. 

    I thought I’d already reached peak embarrassment for the whole holiday season (and my lifetime) when my mom proudly announced to my teacher, four of my schoolmates, and their mothers in the pickup line that, “Annamarie’s always wanted to go to Hawaii because you don’t have to wear clothes.”

    CLOTHES.

    I could just feel the heat of everyone imagining me naked. A heat was so bright Ithought I would spontaneously combust. But I didn’t. I just alternately pouted and yelled, “Shoes!” angrily at my mom all the rest of the day.

    But that was all behind me. I had one day left of school before the biggest, and only, extended trip of my life (so far). 

    The school was Green Meadows. As you may remember from The Case of the Fifth-Grade Sellout, Green Meadows was my tiny, progressive school with Jean, the creepy principal who doled out birthday spankings.    

    It wasn’t a typical school. It actually used to be an office park. It was all stucco and cement as far as the eye could see. A handicapped ramp was our jungle gym. A cement area was our yard. Someone calling it Green Meadows was either hilarious irony, or hilarious ignorance. I’m still not sure. But, occasionally, my teacher would do the humane thing and take us to one of the local parks with actual grass. 

    It was at such a grassy park where I was approached by a brunette woman with shellac-ed hair and thick, taupe foundation. She told me she worked for the local KSBY TV news.

    She looked like a newswoman. She wore a dark blue skirt suit to match the dark blue KSBY news van. 

    Although I was warned never to speak with strangers, I figured if this lady wanted to kidnap me, she wouldn’t steal a news van first. And she wasn’t offering any candy. All the kidnappers I’d seen in safety videos offered candy.

    She said her name was Deb. She said she wanted to interview me about the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday. 

    My brain screamed: YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYESSSSSSSSSSSSS!    

    My mouth said, “Sure. Okay.”

This was a big deal for the following reasons:    

  1. I’d been waiting to be “discovered” my whole life.
  2. I always knew my “big break” would be unconventional; a brilliant anecdote that I would share with humility and good-humor when I was interviewed for my celebrity biography.
  3. I didn’t have cable. KSBY was the only channel I got on my TV. The station was so close to my house, I picked up the signal with a rabbit ear antenna I bought at RadioShack. (Note to this generation: rabbit ears, antennas, RadioShack, and cable may be foreign words you’ve never heard of, so this essay is kind of like a history lesson. You’re welcome.)

    Deb also wanted to interview two of my classmates. She chose the two prettiest girls, Elizabeth and Brittany. I wasn’t bothered. I knew my charisma and talent outshone them both, despite Elizabeth’s perfect facial symmetry or Brittany’s straight, white teeth. 

    As Deb and the cameraman got ready, the girls and I nervously waited on the sidelines.

    “Okay,” Deb announced, now holding her fat, blue microphone attached to a long black cord. “Who wants to go first?”

    I did not want to go first. I wanted an hour to prep, to do vocal warm-ups, fix my hair, and let Elizabeth and/or Brittany be my news interview guinea pigs.

    Brittany practically hid behind Elizabeth.

    “You have to go first,” Elizabeth said to me, “You’re the actress. You know what you’re doing.”

    That made my ego became all warm and fuzzy. So much so, that I floated in front of the camera, the little green light flashed, and Deb’s blue microphone was in my face all before I realized: I was terrified.

    TERRIFIED.

    Having a gigantic camera record everything I did and said, and the nuances of my FACE was nothing like putting on skits in the Vet’s Hall on a Sunday afternoon or playing a St. Bernard in a school play. 

    My brain said: I’m on camera. I’m on camera! This will exist forever. Everyone will see the gap in my teeth, my unibrow, my un-brushed hair, and then judge me. And what are words? I need words. I can’t words…Help! Somebody! I don’t remember how to talk! 

    Everyone stared at me. The camera stared at me. I had an urge to suck on my hair; a terrible nervous habit I’d developed since starting at Green Meadows. 

    My brain boomed: Hairsucker!!!! You’ll never be good at television interviews or acting or anything!

    “So, what are your Thanksgiving Plans?” Deb asked.

    “I’m…going to Hawaii,” a small, strange voice emerged from my mouth. I knew it was me. I could hear me, but the real ME was floating off in some stress-induced out-of-body experience. 

    “And what are you grateful for?” Deb asked.

STOP!

OKAY.

 PAUSE FOR A SECOND.

Here’s something you should know about me: I’m funny. I’ve always been funny. But I didn’t get funny by accident. Being funny is how I cope with stress and bad situations. 

    And in this particular stressful, bad situation, my basal instincts of survival kicked in. 

I could have been serious. Could have, should have, told Deb I was grateful for my family, my cats, my I, Claudius VHS collection, the ocean, my best friend, world peace, and Greek Mythology. But I didn’t. 

REWIND:

 “So, what are your Thanksgiving plans?”

 “I’m going to Hawaii.”

 “And what are you grateful for?”

  “…I’m grateful…I’m going to Hawaii!” I answered, jokingly, like I was on some terrible 1970’s variety hour wearing bell-bottoms and roller skates.

    Then I punctuated it with a glib little laugh. I knew instantly, by the FLINCH of the CENTURY in Deb’s body, my answer had made me seem out of touch, elitist, and ungrateful.     

    This was exactly the opposite of what her producer intended for a fluff-piece asking eleven-year-olds what Thanksgiving meant to the.

    I tried to back peddle. I did so unsuccessfully.

    “I mean…it’s about, family, and bringing family, and thankfulness, and…” I yanked on the strand of my hair that I really wanted to suck on so hard that my scalp hurt. 

    I kept ranting about gratitude until Deb smiled, nodded and said, “Okay, thank you!” Those were the words she used, but the subtext was, “Oh, dear lord, please stop talking little, strange child!”

    I stepped aside. I watched Elizabeth and Brittany. They were already prepped with Deb’s questions. They said lovely things about giving and thankfulness. 

    On the way back to school, Brittany and Elizabeth seemed so excited about the interview. I started to think maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe it was all fine? Maybe this was how all artists felt about their debuts?

    Deb had told us that the piece would air during the 6 O’clock news. I went home, had dinner, and turned on the TV. 

    Before a commercial break, an orange-y tanned man with a smoky voice said, “Thanksgiving gratitude from local children.” Elizabeth’s perfectly symmetrical face flashed on screen. “…after this,” he finished before going to commercial.

    I waited. I was even a little excited. Psychologically, I’m pretty sure I knew I was so bad that my mind rejected the very idea. By the time they returned from commercial, I denial-ed myself into thinking this was my big break. Like the stars of the silver screen, I would be discovered by Drew Barrymore to play her as a little girl in Ever After: 2. Then we’d be best friends and she’d be maid-of-honor at my wedding to Luke Perry, or Derek Jacobi, I hadn’t decided…but that irrelevant. 

    They played the interview. Elizabeth was brilliant, symmetrical, and I’m sure all the people who watched said, “Awwwww” as she clearly announced that the Thanksgiving holiday was about reminding the people closest to you that you love them.

    Brittany was even better. She revealed how she was going to spend Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen and how Thanksgiving was about charity to others.

    The orange man came back on screen. 

    Weather was coming up after this. 

    Commercial break. 

    It hit me slowly and then forever: They cut me. They cut my entire interview. I imagined my little gap-toothed face in tiny 8mm film on the cutting room floor after several editors and producers at the KSBY headquarters, probably in a sinister castle/studio in the sky, with lightning striking all around, had watched it and decided, “No way that weird little girl who sucks on her hair gets to be on our news program!” 

    I went to my room. And I never, ever spoke about it again to a single living person.

    I’d love to tell you that everything was fine. That I was so grateful for this character building experience that it enhanced the best trip of my life. And that the breezy, balmy beaches of Hawaii were made all the breezier and balmier, and SHOELESSER because of this trying experience. 

    I would love to say that, but I’d be lying.

Maybe the moral of the story is no matter how bad things seem when they cut you from your fame-making television debut…they can always get worse…like my trip to Hawaii. Which was the worst. Ever.

    So be grateful for what you have. Be grateful for your friends, and your family, and your brilliant, beautiful minds. 

    And be grateful that you didn’t have to spend your eleventh Thanksgiving on Earth at a silent retreat center eating undercooked brown rice with a bunch of hippies and a weird guy named Mitch who was trying to date your mom. 

    Because I did. But that’s a story for next time.

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