Last weekend, the kids' dad and I took them to see the community theater's production of The Wizard of Oz. It was a lot of fun, due to the -- in its own way, bold -- artistic choice to simply recreate the film, down to the line readings and the Wicked Witch of the West's green face.
Within ten minutes, the audience had relaxed into the understanding that the director knew, the cast knew, and indeed, everyone in the world knew, that the 1939 George Kukor version could not be improved upon, only celebrated. This made it feel like a communal rite -- a Christmas pageant, say -- where the pleasure lies not in novelty, but in seeing a girl who works at a local car dealership put on a gingham dress, clutch a live terrier, and for a few hours, embody the quasi-divine figure that is Judy Garland's Dorothy.
Where is my Dorothy pin? I thought afterward. Isn't it still around here somewhere?
At age fourteen, my academic career began a precipitous slide. It was my first year of high school, my parents had separated with all the usual drama, and I was midway through a record-breaking stint of wearing braces (six years), probably because no one remembered I was in them. Still, there was a grace period in which I still had the aura of an "A" student in my small-town school. Thus, in ninth grade, despite earning a D in Algebra, I was a member in good standing of the Math/Science Team.
As in junior high, the team met in the mornings before school to practice speed-answering math and science questions with light-up buzzers, like game show contestants. On weekends, we traveled to other schools to battle competing teams. I was never a Math/Science Team star, but I held my own. Or at least, this had been the case in junior high. By ninth grade, I had no answers to anything and mostly just kept quiet.
In spring, we headed to the regional championships in El Paso. We took a bus there, stayed in a hotel, and went to an enormous mall. My prized possession at the time was a Guess! denim jacket (size XL, though I weighed 80 pounds), and I was delighted to find, at a mall kiosk, an assortment of ironic pins.
One of these was hot pink with Dorothy Gale on it. It said, in a girl's neat cursive:
Auntie Em, Hate you, hate Kansas. Took the dog . . . Dorothy
Did I have $2? I did! (My mom had given it to me, along with my Guess! jacket.) In the most subversive act of my young life, I bought that pin and pinned it on my goddamned pocket.
Where it remained, for years. No one said anything about it, ever. Still, it made me feel like I was allied with thousands of people, all over the world, who dreamed of a better life "somewhere over the rainbow." And in fact, I was.
I like to think my daughter's ninth grade year will be different. If her grades drop, her dad and I will be at that school in five minutes.
Still, no matter what we do, at around age fourteen, she's going to find that pin.
"Hey, can I have that?"
"I've had it for thirty-six years."
"But can I?"