Trying out for the part of the bald eagle in the community play was not how I had envisioned spending my Friday night. I was supposed to be spending my Friday night in Paris, with Véronique. She would have spoiled me with gifts and smothered me in kisses. But when Véronique was summoned to Boston to perform emergency surgery on Quinn Datt, originator of the proposition that people living in bondage would thirst for freedom, rather than hunger for it, I was left to find my own weekend plans.
"Wanted: Older distinguished gentleman with receding hairline to portray bald eagle in community play, 'Tabby Cat at the Town Hall.' Must be able to portray the dignity and savagery of the bald eagle, while remembering it is a bird who is monogamous, which we will also expect of you. Must be capable of characterizing a bird who nearly lost out to the turkey as the national bird. Previous experience preferred, but not required. Will consider anyone who was a regular viewer of TV's 'Manimal.'"
The ad grabbed my attention like an icy hand to the fat of the belly. I would show Véronique that my acting skill was as sharp as her scalpel. I would show my father that my internship at Tracy Aviary was not for naught. I would show my mother that the bird seed she had fed me as an infant had gone to my heart, not just my stomach.
But how to show the audience that I carried the burden of an endangered bird? Lift my chin higher and show that I am rare? Hold it level so as not to be noticed, and thus endangered? Lower it into my chest as would a man who had lost all his family? For strength, I called upon an old film, "Bluebird," starring Kent Flinny. Flinny had walked the fine line between pomposity and grace in this thriller about a bluebird who guides lost trains through dark mountain passes. In one memorable scene, Flinny turns to the camera cross-eyed and whispers, "I'm gonna' get you mountain pass — I'm comin' through."
Thanks to Flinny, the play was a success. I was a hit. I was more than a hit — I was a misunderstood genius. I had taken the liberty of wearing the wig bequeathed to me by my maternal grandmother. She had not one natural hair at her death, but the wig she wore was the skin of an elk transformed into a Helen of Troy wig, as full as a full moon, with sweeping sides reminiscent of a winter scene. The audience did not sense my sarcasm in wearing such a wig to portray the bald eagle, nor did my cries of "Vive les amoureux!" seem relevant to the plight of the eagle. Seconds into my soliloquy, I was carried offstage by two brutes who had no place being there. My departure led to loud cheers from the moblike crowd, who were thirsty for my blood.
Backstage, I removed my wig, gambling visor, and sweatbands. No longer the mighty eagle, I lacked the courage to clothe myself and face the cold New York night. I slept in the janitor's basin, hot water spilling over me and out into the foyer, soaking my sweatbands.