The Great Kenny Rogers Debacle of 1995 in Dramedy

  • Jan. 31, 2024, 9:13 a.m.
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  • Public

Back in 2020, I woke up to the news that Kenny Rogers had passed. This news prompted me to look back in my OD archives for this ridiculously trying-hard-to-offend piece I wrote about a true event in my own life involving Kenny Rogers several years earlier. When I was 13, I was selected to sing with my sister & 7 other children in his Christmas show in Syracuse. While the delivery is exaggerated, the events & humiliation are all real. R.I.P to Kenny Rogers, you sure knew when to fold ’em…

“Grandma, tell us a story,” they’ll say.
“What kind of a story?” I’ll creak out. And if my grandkids are as fucked up as I think any descendant of mine will have to be-I know what they’ll say.
“Tell us a scary story! The one about that douchebag of a prof you sent porn to when you were a raging alcoholic in college who hadn’t had nearly enough therapy yet!” They’ll shout excitedly and in adoration, as I find all imaginary people to be some of my biggest fans. However, adoration aside, I’m no trick pony and I bridle at their attempt to control what story I should tell.
“I told you that LAAAAST night,” I will say as I watch my granddaughter light up her cigarette and deplete the length of it with one drag. I look at her with disappointment and she reads me loud and clear. She offers the next opportunity for inhalation to her Barbie doll, just like I taught her when I gave her the lesson on etiquette after she pistol whipped the mailman.
“Tell us the time you tried to kick the oxygen habit,” she’ll say in her rich baritone voice that has all her male prepubescent male counterparts jealous.
“No, no. That’s not scary, dear. That’s both inappropriately funny and perverse. In that order,” I correct her, gently. I’m sick of the guessing games-and, even though I know it won’t be their fault, I know my grandchildren will be stupid.

Finally I offer, “How about the great Kenny Rogers Debacle of 1995?”
“Granny!,” my grandson–I can’t remember his name–says.
“Such debauchery!” my other grandson says stupidly with good vocabulary. (I can’t remember his name either, but I call him Roger and he doesn’t protest or correct.)

I accessorize them to my crime, “Just don’t tell your mother I told you!” I barter their silence by offering to rent them a rated R movie. Sex, violence and adult themes is worth the omission of one of my sins. If I give them one with sex, violence, drugs, and full frontal nudity, it earns me the omission of one of my sins plus a bottle of whiskey. We shake on it. I make them all sit down on my leopard print and purple velvet couch that I bought at Tommy Lee’s garage sale. With them silenced and still and the promise of sealed lips, then and only then will I proceed with the KENNY ROGERS DEBACLE OF 1995. It won’t be easy. In fact, I shudder to remember-but I’ll share with you, just as I share with my imaginary grandchildren oh- so-not-yet ago:

When I was a chubby, slightly asthmatic young girl-I was a stereotype walking. I had mastered the look of the sexually frustrated housewife archetype. When I was 13 years old, I wore blue blazers with shoulder pads giving the illusions of a hunchback. I wore shirts that actually are technically called something like, “Oh my god, what old church lady did you drag into an alley and beat so you could steal that from her?” You know the type of shirt–silk with a strand of fake pearls attached and pearl buttons to match. Or maybe you don’t–the National Safety Council outlawed them after they caused the tragic death of Barbara Bush. (As I heard, someone shot her for wearing one to a very important fundraiser!) I wore pants that hugged my ankles like a horny midget might. And I capped it all of with penny loafers. Oh yes. This is my literary shout-out to those beautiful shoes for the rich menopausal women who wear shirts with big buttons that have nautical imprints of yuppy whimsy stamped on them, to verify they’re part of the yacht club. This may sound nerdy to you–but I was just so ahead of my time. By about 30 years or so. I was so fucking chic that the catwalks of Paris had me on their phone trees, as the person to call upon when in need of inspiration.

So anyway, I met a kid who’s ass made beeping sounds in the hall when backing up. (Once they dealt with the outlawing of the fake silk housefrau shirts, the National Safety Council made him their next target & forced him to install that alarm for safety reasons.) He ate his boogers and picked his pimples like a true champ. I mean, he was close to being cooler than me. What if he pulled rank? I could not afford to lose my Queen Bee status of Camden Middle. So to cement my title, I did what any good Queen Bee knows to do–I pulled my pants up a little higher, with great resolve and my brand of ultra-confidence, and I auditioned to sing with Kenny Rogers for his Christmas show.

[Hang on I have to pee like a mother-you-know-whatter. (That’s the silent but deadly version of fuck…you think you’re safe but it’ll pop up later when you least expect it!)]

I’m back. Now where was I again? Ah yes, I auditioned for the Kenny Rogers’ Kid Choir. At 13. My 6 yr old sister, Jen, and I were selected to sing in the choir–along with a Cleopatra, a Melshanique, a Shaquan, and a few other children whose names escape the clutches of my memory. Vodka has shaken the details out of my brain and erased them like a goddamned etch-a-sketch, unfortunately. So, it’s dress rehearsal and the Godfather of Well-groomed Beard, the Sultan of Fried Chicken and the Gambler Man that does like NO ONE else can are all there, inhabiting one portly, Santa-like body. They’re putting body mics on each of us & we’re feeling all Mariah Carey. All the parents are watching their children singing & dancing & happy for that sperm-meets-egg thing that happened that allowed this moment to exist. Things are good. Life is good. But even Paradise has chiggers. The chiggers? Stage crew working a rehearsal that is behind schedule & where tech is not working correctly.

One of the crew comes up and tells me in a voice that is rougher than necessary, “Take your glasses off, kid.” I resist. I mean, without my glasses, my adoring fans will be a blur. “But, sir, I can’t see,” I reply. “Well you gotta take ’em off because you’re picking up the glare from the lights on your lenses.” I try to impress upon this person that I CAN’T SEE. We have some small choreography & I am terrified that I am going to fall off the stage during the show without my glasses on. He continues to pretend to not understand me. I do the only thing I can. I start crying in a way that is louder than necessary. Wait, WHY is my crying so loud? Ah yes, because at that very moment my body mic is being tested over the monitors. The theater is suddenly & terribly filled with the sounds of my tears & snuffling mixed with my futile attempts to explain my blindness to this stage hand, “B-bu-but I, I–I c-ca-n’t ssseeeeeeeee!” The other kids are much younger & thus don’t yet have the life experience to know the correct thing to do in the face of such real danger is to cry. They start giggling at my emotional broadcast over the speakers. I swear one of the trumpet players in the band is also laughing. I still have my glasses on at this point, so if I turned around I would have known for sure—but I’m facing forward, frozen. This view allows me to see my parents scrunched down in their seats. I’m pretty sure they’re looking for the exit signs we’ve been instructed to use in case of emergency and wondering if this situation applies. I am getting ready to throw myself off the stage and hoping desperately that the pit is far enough down to kill me when I feel strong hands grip my shoulders. “She doesn’t have to take her glasses off, if she doesn’t want to. I say so.” I still have my glasses on but I am ready to take them off if I see a monster when I turn around…or that snickering asshole of a trumpeter. There are benefits to being blind when you take your glasses off, I guess. I rotate slowly like a big, bespectacled chicken on a rotisserie. I’m turning slowly enough that, I have time to say a silent prayer in my head, “Please don’t let it be Kenny Rogers, please don’t let it be Kenny Rogers witnessing this moment of pure humiliation.” Slowly, slowly, I rotate-only to see the man himself, Kenny Rogers. OH, COME ON.

(On a side note…that famous beard was tight and right and impossibly white.)

At Kenny Roger’s directive the stage crew member nervously replies, “Sorry, Mr. Rogers,” and scuttles away back into the wings, back into hiding. Sensing my acute mortification, Kenny Rogers gives me a big hug & tells me not to worry about it, that the man was just impatient because we’re just behind schedule. Needless to say, I was able to wear my glasses for the concert. I still have pictures of it.

At this point I get the pictures out to show to my skeptical grandchildren who still don’t believe this story happened. They absorb what is laid in front of them.
“What is that beacon of light in the middle of the kids’ choir?” one of them asks.
“You assmonkey!” I swear heatedly. “That’s me in my glasses!”
I hear my youngest granddaughter doing passive aggressive well. She’s muttering something under her breath. I don’t know what she says exactly but it sounds something like, “The stage hands were right.” I ignore the little smart ass thinking, “Just wait’ll her imaginary parents hear about this belligerence!” Meanwhile, my youngest grandson, the one with all those cute face tattoos, is sitting in a very ponderous, pensive way. Finally he says, “So Grams, did that secure your position? Ya know, were you still Queen Bee?”
“Oh, why-yesyesyes,” I reply. “As a matter of fact, when I wore my Kenny Rogers Tour sweatshirt to school after the concert–this 8th grader wouldn’t let me into orchestra till he told me that I shouldn’t think I was hot shit for singing with Kenny Rogers. He also told me that I was still an asshole and a loser. Ya know, some people are just too jealous.” It’s true….

Mr. Mofo January 31, 2024

This...this is muthah luvin art!

I thought Goddess Bettie was more of a rum kinda gal though?!?

BettiePageSweatsCheapVodka Mr. Mofo ⋅ January 31, 2024

Maybe her body converts rum to vodka.... Didja ever think of that?

Mr. Mofo BettiePageSweatsCheapVodka ⋅ January 31, 2024

Well played spirit of Bettie

simple mind January 31, 2024

Oh, that is just a fantastic story. Your grandkids will love it.

BettiePageSweatsCheapVodka simple mind ⋅ January 31, 2024

Thank you, thank you. curtsies, with my glasses on
All joking and exaggeration aside, he was truly lovely.

simple mind BettiePageSweatsCheapVodka ⋅ January 31, 2024

And wise! If you learn only one thing in life, it should be the wisdom of Kenny. "You gotta know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run."

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