When I Was That Yankee Doodle Boy

During those rare occasions in my young life when I was home alone, I would secretly live out my alter ego as a celebrated artista. Performing for my introvert friendly audience. Silent spectators that resided in my childhood imagination.

Performances began as soon as my family pulled out of our driveway in our Plymouth Volare station wagon. Arrivederci alla mia famiglia. Ciao.

Preparations began with lifting up the top panel on our stereo console. When electronics were furniture and furniture was crafted from actual wood. Carefully placing the selected album on the turntable without scratching it. Choosing a smooth speed of 33 ⅓ RPM.

There were two regularly requested phantom audience choices; one was a dance number, and the other a conducting gig. The later requiring a fictious orchestra, in addition to my fictious audience. My imagination never-ending as a child.  

Would it be Barry Manilow Live* or Rossini’s William Tell Overture? If my unseen dancing with no stars choice was Manilow, I would dance to the “Jump Shout Boogie Medley”. Doing my best to make that “dump jump”. Moving back and forth shaking my “yes, yes, yes”, while my arms and legs shook on my pretend stage.

If the choice was a maestro’s life, I would nod to my imaginary audience and then turn to acknowledge my fictitious orchestra. A scout and a good Midwesterner are always polite.  Friendly in my greetings to Casper and his colleagues as I somberly raised both arms; an unshaven pencil gripped in my right hand.

As soon as I heard the albums opening scratches, my arms would fall with the speed of Galilean objects. Balls dropped from the top of Pisa’s famous tower. My arms bouncing upwards after their rapid descent like the dizzying speed of Whac-A-Mole.

In frenzied excitement, my upper limbs moved down and up and sideways. My head bobbing like a mounted figurine on a car’s dashboard. Urgent energy in motion; the Lone Ranger to the rescue.

The volume at its highest decibel as my eyes remained vigilant. A sentry staring through our living room sheers. On the lookout for my families homecoming.

The distance from the car to our front door was sixty seconds squared when using the sidewalk; less when trespassing across the lawn. Leaving little time to lower the volume, discontinue my contortionist contortions, and instantaneously dismissing my apparition of audience and orchestra. Minutes of melodic make-believe moved to memories. 

There was one night only when I publicly came out, sharing my secret love as a performer. It was in 1976 and I was in the fourth grade. The nation celebrating America’s bicentennial birthday.

Like so many school musical productions that year, we would entertain our parents and guests chronicling the history of America through music and melodies. Our evening of historical harmonies culminating with young and old standing shoulder to shoulder in the school’s gymnasium. A communal big tent of the working class and the middle class. Filling the air around and above as we sang “God Bless America”. A substantial and sincere celebratory of e pluribus unum.

Our fourth-grade songs coinciding with the early 1900’s. Singing now forgotten melodies like “Clementine” and “In My Merry Oldsmobile”. The most memorable song from our unmemorable repertoire would surprise my parents. My skinny self-stepping out from behind my classmates as I did my best impersonation of James Cagney, hoofing to ”I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” in a sold-out neighborhood performance.

Don donning an ecru Styrofoam hat with a horizontal tricolor ribbon of red, white and blue.  Wearing a white shirt with sleeve garters and a southern bow tie. The type of tie worn by Colonel Sanders and prominently displayed on every bucket of fried chicken my Dad cooked. My parents completely unaware of my hidden talent; me being generous to my 4th grade self with using the word talent.

Like my secret solo performances, I didn’t share with my parents any preview of my upcoming public debut. Their faces displaying astonishment and disbelief, as they watched their shy 10-year-old son, dance on the gymnasium floor. Faces full of parental pride.

I was no longer that shy reclusive little boy hiding behind the sofa when unfamiliar faces would visit. As introverted as I am, I was becoming a self-assured young man who would achieve ample accomplishments as I grew older. This a secret I was proud to share with them and the world.

On this spring night in the 1970s, as our newly planted subdivision celebrated the myth of America, I was that Yankee Doodle boy. I was also becoming my own man. A man who would later realize the failings of all myths including the Dream of America.

*Yes, I’m a trashy fan.