My love for reading started early. I read everything I could get my grubby little hands on: my own books, the Reader’s Digest Home Repair Book that frequently lived on our coffee table, classified ads. The classified ads were especially intriguing. Items for sale, homes for rent, job offers. I would spend hours splayed on the living room carpet of our row home, pouring over the “help wanted” section of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Like many 8 year old girls, I wanted to be a dancer when I grew up, despite my inherent lack of grace or discipline. But it was the era of “A Chorus Line”, which was still running on Broadway & many local theaters. The advertisements were shown almost constantly on TV, and I played the album endlessly, singing along loudly in my tone deaf way, much to the dismay of nearly everyone around me, especially my oldest sister who was visiting from college.
“I HOPE I GET IT! I HOPE I GET IT! HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES HE NEED? HOW MANY BOYS? HOW MANY GIRLS? I REALLY NEED THIS JOB”
“Barbara Lee, you’re 8. You don’t need a job”, she snarled into the pillow on the top bunk in the room we were temporarily sharing while she was home, probably hung over.
I was undaunted by her irritation & danced out of the room, down the stairs & into the living room where I again, sprawled out with the Help Wanted section of the classifieds. Where I saw The Ad.
EXOTIC DANCERS WANTED. No experience necessary. Will train. Make $2000/week. XXX. Call 215-555-1234.
I COULD GET A JOB! And this was PERFECT for me. I didn’t need experience, but I had some experience, thanks to my weekly “jazz” class. So I already had a leg up, so to speak. And exotic? Aside from the Original Cast Recording of “A Chorus Line”, the other album that played often was Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits, which contained “Copacabana”, so I imagined myself in sparkly attire with feathers in my hair & a “dress cut down to there”. And obviously this was a nice place to work, because they ended their advertisement with XXX, which meant “kisses”. I imagined of all the things I could get from the supermarket foyer toy machines on $2000/week. Exciting prospects. I was beside myself.
My mother made her way through the living room carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement and noticed my unrestrained glee with the newspaper.
“I’m going to get a job, Mommy!”
She paused on the first stair that headed to the second floor & turned to me, “Really? What do you have there?”
I rushed over to her & showed her the ad, pointing out that I already HAD experience, so I was basically a shoo-in for this available position. She blinked rapidly, removed her foot from the step, put the laundry basket down & led me to the scratchy sofa across the room.
“Barbara Lee, this isn’t the type of dancing that you do. This is naked dancing. For men. These aren’t nice places. Ladies take their clothes off for money.”
I was CRUSHED, twisting the newspaper in my hands, sputtering about “exotic” & “feathers” & “kisses”. She shook her head at me, telling me I didn’t understand, which also was a blow, as I was aware that my reading comprehension was well above normal. My dreams of raiding the supermarket foyer quarter machines circled the drain.
She sighed & took the laundry upstairs. I followed her, & upon seeing that my sister had dragged herself from bed, put on A Chorus Line again, to my then-favorite song “Dance 10, Looks 3”. While I sang loudly & unfettered to this ditty about having the skills but not the looks (without the help of plastic surgery) to make it on the Great White Way, I could hear my sister snickering from the shower.
“Tits & asssssssssss”, I danced around my room, posing in the mirror all the while, “bought myself a fancy pair. Tightened up the derriere. Did the nose with it. And all that goes with it! Tits & assssssss, had the bingo-bongos done. Suddenly I’m getting national tours.”
While my dreams of being an Exotic Dancer with feathers, spangles & kisses might have been dashed, I still held out hope for Musical Theater. My mother sighed loudly from down the hall, shut the door to the room & put away her laundry in peace.