Part I: Are You There, God? Its Me, Liza
July 23, 1981, Novato,CA
The faces of the judges revealed, although they were trying to hide it, deep distaste for the fact that the thirteen-year- old girl in front of them had plucked eyebrows and false eyelashes. Something about her well-worn miniature stiletto heels and her backless black evening dressside slit up to the fishnet hip, with rhinestone spaghetti strapswas unsavory to them. The girl looked way too comfortable. Equally unsettling was her performance.
. . . and now, Id like to perform a little something by someone who has been a huge influence on my work. This lady has the most incredible pipes in the business. Im speaking, of course, of Ms. Barbra Streisand. Vincent? she asked, addressing the horrified pianist, who was busying himself with the mosaic of colorful buttons on his Yamaha DX-7 that promised such sounds as oboe and tympani.
Could you give me Clear Day in F, sugar? Youre too good to me. The child took the microphone and Cher-ishly flipped back a long strand of zigzag crimped hair with fuchsia fingernails as the pianist rolled into the opening bars. Her vibrato, though untrained (learned, most likely, by imitating ecstatic car commercials) was as tight, small, and regular as the teeth on pinking shears.
On a Cleee-yah Daaaaaaaaaaayy TWheel Asssssh-TOUNDYewww . . . thank you, she spoke, as if the judges had just broken into spontaneous applause.
The mother, visible mouthing the lyrics from the wings in an exaggerated fashion, was clearly responsible for this travesty, this premature piano-bar veteran of a youngster.
Yew can sheeeee Fah-REVAH, ond EVAH.
The moderately talented girl was emoting with her hands, seemingly tweezing the adult male heart out of its sexual prison with her kitten claws, all too professionally. The judges squirmed in their seats, intensely disliking the thought of their own daughters or nieces belting out a song in this seamy, overwrought fashionparroting the stage acts of overripe chanteuses, moist with the rot of numerous alcoholic disappointments in both Love and Life. The mother would probably be devastated if her child didnt land the gig . . . she might, in fact, lock herself in an all-peach-colored bedroom and wash down handfuls of muscle relaxants with cheap Polish vodka from a plastic handlejug; her unfortunate daughter would be left for days without milk and forced to eat lipstick. It was this thought that brought large grimaces of feigned appreciation to the faces of the judges as the girl collapsed into the bow as if shed just wrung every drop of hot life out of herself and was now utterly spent. She blew a few kisses toward the judges and urged them to give themselves a hand.
The mother, whose diaphanous, mango-colored pantsuit was trumped in visual loudness only by the Louis IVstyle stack of conical curls on her strawberry-blonde wig, came forward and shook the girl playfully.
Say goodbye to the nice judges, Liza, she mewed.
Goodbye to the nice judges, Liza, the girl cracked, with a wink.
Go outside and amuse yourself while Mommy talks grown-up-talk.
Liza pouted theatrically, then waved bye-bye to the group of middle-aged men as she wobbled on her heels out of the conference room. Seconds later Liza was visible through the one-way windows on the lawn of the industrial park, trying to swing on one of the large, nautically themed boat chains that roped off the parking lot. As she yanked one of the nagging rhinestone straps back up onto her porcelain doll-shoulder, the judges were petrified with worry that the miniature disco Lolita would be spotted from the freeway by a predator on a quest for this particular banquet of perversion, who would swoop down the on-ramp and yank the spangled child into a dirty van. The girl seemed blithely unaware of such dangers and, as evidenced by the trembling of her lower lip, was apparently singing again at top volume as she jerked back and forth on the heavy chain.
Peppy Normal took a spread-eagled stand in front of the judges foldout table with her hands on her hips. Her mouth unfolded into a glossed, yellow alligator-smile.
She nailed it, didnt she. You know she nailed it.
We have a lot of kids to see before we decide anything, Mrs. Normal.
Boys, for Chrissake, its a TV commercial, not a goddamn Nobel Prize. Just cut to the chase and tell me: did she nail it, or what?The colorless klatch of balding men looked at each other helplessly and squirmed in their orange plastic seats. The bravest among them spoke candidly.
The spokes-child that the OtterWorld Fun Park is looking for . . . how can I say this . . . we were maybe thinking of a kid who is a little less sophisticated.
You wanted Shirley Temple schtick? I thought you were looking for talent.
Liza had given up trying to swing on the sunbaked chain and was now pressing her nose and forehead against the tinted window. Peering in, she could make out her mother violently gesticulating at the cringing group of men. Two of the judges glanced miserably out the window at her; her Nude Beige pancake makeup had made a small figure- 8-shaped smear on the smoked glass. Liza saw her mother grab her oversize, gold-buckled handbag and storm out of the room. Knowing her cue, Liza smiled and waved goodbye through the window again and tottered through the grass toward the car...(Continues...)