Mrs. Church Lady burst into the youth program at Rhema Christian Fellowship in Olean, NY, one Sunday morning and announced that there was to be a Christmas play in the next few weeks. Here were your scripts. Lou, here’s yours. Rehearsal is next Sunday. See you then.
I glanced at the script, a take on Jesus’s birth with lots of animals.
Mrs. Church Lady – a woman in her 40s with a kid in our class that day – had decided that my loud mouth and obnoxious attitude toward church could use some tempering as one of the nativity’s Three Kings (She hadn’t been impressed by my role as Joseph in the previous year’s Christmas production, must be). Except, in an apparent effort to modernize the story of Jesus’s birth to the early 90s, the Three Kings had been replaced with three camels. Three Rapping Camels, as in mammals with hip-hop tendencies. There was a rap song about being camels and baby Jesus, dancing. Horrible, horrible stuff.
I speculated on the level of humiliation that would come my way if I blindly accepted my Rapping Camel role. Someone at Olean Middle School would find out, and then I was done for.
“Question,” my 12-year-old self asked of my Sunday school teacher. “What if I don’t want to be in the play?”
All he did was laugh.
My mother was more assertive – you have no choice in the matter; you’re 12-years-old and you’re in the playAndYouDon’tTellMeWhatYouAreOrAren’tDoing… and so on.
I remember just two seconds of that performance. Bright lights. A packed church crowd. Rapping and dancing to a hip-hop track about as cool as a church lady could imagine it (i.e. the song was terrible).
And my atrocious, lame-ass attempt at a camel costume.
Before the big night, my dad and I had gone to Hills Department Store to buy a brownish-orange crew neck and sweatpants. We found the appropriate camel-colored sweatshirt, but the matching pants were nowhere to be found. Forget it, we said, let’s go to the arcade so we can play Afterburner. Besides, we said, we probably have the same color sweatpants back home.
Of course, we didn’t, and I hit the stage in a crew neck sweatshirt, a baseball cap crafted into a camel head, and, most damning, black jeans. My two fellow Rapping Camels, clad in matching sweats, were pissed. It didn’t help that one of them was Emily, a Red Team classmate at Olean Middle.
So, in the ensuing days, when Emily and I got into it one day in homeroom, she let the camel out of the bag.
Her eyes narrowed, face reddened.
“Well, at least I’m not a Rapping Camel in black pants!”
Merry Christmas, everyone.