- The school year of 1986-87 was what would be the lowest point of my teenage years. Not yet having come into the rewards of puberty. I was still sporting excess baby fat, eyeglasses that occupied over half my face, a haircut that epitomized my self esteem in the way it covered my eyes and a gentle demeanor that teachers described as sensitive The year of my seventh grade, after a moment of weakness from feeling guilty, I allowed myself to be talked into moving to Sacramento to live with my dad whose younger wife had just run out on him with his two kids.He had married his secretary's 18 year old kid sister in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony six years prior when he was 32. Now pushing 40, he was reevaluating everything after being accused of neglecting his relationship. This was his way of trying to make up for what was too late for his wife. I had visited him the previous Christmas and been completely taken aback that he actually paid attention to me. He had never taken an active interest in me before and I looked forward to getting to know him over time but moving in with him seemed hasty. I worried about what I was getting myself into as he loaded his pickup truck with my stuff the last day of my sixth grade school year. He had come all the way to my house in suburban Seattle so I knew I had to go through with it. I failed to speak up because I feared that I would offend either of my parents. By silencing my voice, I became a pawn of their guessing games and ended up suffering a watershed year of my development. The mean spirited kids from my new class at St. Mel's of Sacramento pounced on me the minute I walked into the classroom on the first day. After taking the only available seat in the last desk in the furthest row, I noticed that my legal name of Michael Angelo was written in magic marker on a sticker affixed to the desk. As was the custom every first day at a new school, I raised my hand to let the teacher know I preferred to be called by my middle name of Tommy. Being named Michael Angelo was a result of my father's insistence that he pay homage to his father's brother, a commercial artist who had worked on the Gerber baby campaign. My mother predicted the inevitable artist comparisons in my future and tried to convince him to let me be named by the one she preferred. Tom was the name of her brother and father. They compromised by legally naming me Michael but addressing me as Tommy. I only had to contend with the Michael Angelo thing on the first day of the school year if it was new. This was such a case. After I sad what I needed to say, a wave of twittering laughter could be detected among the sea of desks. I wondered what I could have possibly done to warrant such a reaction but I knew the answer in the pit of my stomach. They had detected the reason I preferred to hang out with girls instead of boys. I was never one of the guys and knew I wouldn't be chummy with these boys, all dressed identically in our uniform of grey cords, white shirt and red sweater. The only hint of individuality was in our choice of shoes. Still most of them had shiny burgundy-brown leather penny loafers on in various brands. I was wearing Topsiders. At least I wouldn't get teased for my wardrobe but the kids were standoffish, cliquey and cruel just the same.
- Dropping into the culture of established snobbery among the urchins of this parochial school in preppy Fair Oaks, all so called Christian values of "love thy neighbor" went out the window. Later in study hall, after running out of paper, I asked my seatmates for another piece. "I thought I had plenty", I explained. Suddenly, a group of boy bruisers buzzed around my ear mocking me in lisping tones, "Do you have pleeennnntyyyy Tommy? Do you have P-L-E-N-T-Y?, they whispered in hot breaths into my ear. As it was explained to me, the word "plenty" was another red flag that I was a fag. According to the 7th graders, my vocabulary was grounds for ridicule.
- Over the summer in the dog days of that horrendous Sacramento heat, I spent whatever free time my dad allowed me by hanging out between his two turquoise swimming pools in the brick encrusted back yard. A waterfall cascaded from a gazebo covered hot tub to shallow wading pool over a rock laden edge to the bigger, deeper pool. My favorite step-cousin Ellen had wrecked more than one bathing suit from trying to slide down a cement chute, no matter how well we both knew the probable outcome. She was the one who recruited me to join the cast of Grease for the Sacramento Children's Theater. The production was largely a product of the public schools. My private schooling had kept me apart from other similar activities. When I first heard about it, my closest confidante and only contact outside of school was Diana, the most exotic of the three nannies my Dad hired to mind me that year. A self described chanteuse, her roots hearkened from the sequins and stale liquor inherent in the lounges of Bobby McGees and other stripmall pickup joints. It may have been Vegas on the cheap, but it was the closest exposure to show business I would find in Sacramento's square mileage. Diana did wonders for my development as a future fag. I appreciated that she left her subscription to Playgirl discreetly covered in the brown paper wrap it was mailed in. Sometimes she would be reading it when she picked me up from school. Of course, I feigned disinterest. Diana was hired right around my 13th birthday and presented me with a gift of Shirley Maclaine's autobiography. Shirley was on the cover dressed up as Charity Hope Valentine complete with heart shaped tattoo that said Charlie, one of her exes in Sweet Charity.
- Diana recognized my affinity for the genre of dramatic arts and nurtured its blossoming. By the time I went to bed the night I met her, I was armed with a list of golden age films to "must see". This was why she was the best suited to share in my enthusiasm at joining the cast of Grease. Upon picking me up from the crowded warehouse after my first rehearsal, she said, "a star is born" on our way to the car.
- Weekend rehearsals were coveted as much as they were loathed on my schedule. I painstakingly planned my outfits to alternate every other weekend, lest my limited collection of oversized Generra be recognized. Generra, the uber-trendy 1980s label was a result of having a stylish and contemporary mother. In the past, kids that I wouldn't speak to in school were suddenly nice to me after meeting her. When she volunteered in the classroom, things became a little easier for me because the kids who wanted her to like them had to be nice to me by default. But she was no where near the situation I was currently in.
- When my dad began to shuttle me back and forth from rehearsals, I was horrified. I was hell bent on keeping a low profile among my new theater crowd. I knew no names and no one knew me. I didn't want to ruin my chances of social acceptance by being seen exiting from my father's white pickup truck. It wasn't bad enough that the truck was emblazoned with our last name. "Angelo Electric", the family company, was the bane of my childhood on many levels.
When I wasn't being shuttled to and fro in forced participation of rehearsing crowd scenes, I sat in silent observation of the company's teenage boys. Cast to make up the student body of Rydell High, the older boys stood out like rebels of their own cause. I listened with fascination to their stories of sexual hijnks and scores. Either cast as T-Birds or look-a-likes they were all playing bad boys.
As the show's debut neared on the calendar, rehearsals became more familiar. Soon, I had begun to recognize regulars and put names to faces and musical numbers. These cast mates were the friends of my fantasies. It could almost be said that I was one of the group if no one had asked them. For instance, if I didn't speak outright to anyone, I could linger in the background and vicinity of my favorite wanna-be friends. Like the cutest find of my focus, a boy named Mitch. I imagined him to be about three years my senior. Always the center of attention amid scurrying sidekicks, I had heard him boast about being cast as "the gay guy" in another show. While regaling the new nanny, Olive with my stories of Grease. I quickly adopted the tale as my own by recounting the experience like it had happened to me instead of Mitch. Olive had been a bobby-soxer in her day but was now a born again Christian of a certain age. After Diana skipped town over my Christmas holiday back to Seattle, my dad had hired Olive to take her place. She claimed to have once worked for Ernesto and Julio Gallo, the wine kingpins. Olive clearly clued in to the source of my theatrical sensibilities and did everything she could to scare the fear of eternal damnation into my act. "If he wanted to cast you as gay, he must have seen something..." she warned. Taking Mitch's reality as my own thrilled me to no end and my heart soared to new heights.
Backstage on opening night, I snapped photos of the most attractive members of the cast. My cousin Ellen was a beauty school dropout chorine but trying to take her picture proved fruitless as she held up a fishnet hairnet to block her face.I finished out the role by snapping the leads like purloining paparazzi. I had watched the guy cast as Danny Zuko belt out Travolta's tunes like the son of Sinatra. The number Hopelessly Devoted to You was to serve as soundtrack and mantra to my most tangible of crushes. The Latin-like lover of my first Broadway show looked like Rudolpho Valentino and amassed as much fanfare. I surreptitiously tried to snap his photo only to learn upon developing the role that he was 100% aware of it. Smiling at me from the other side of the high gloss paper, his face revealed a friendly easy gong welcome sign. [I translated it as evidence of his devotion. Then I tucked the photo into my album for posterity. Coming upon the long forgotten photos after two decades of neglect, I decided to dispose of all the forgotten faces except for the dreambeau Danny. My most favorite T-Bird and first boy crush has been captured for eternity. Danny, the first guy I looked up to on stage.. Danny...the older brother figure I never had... Danny had smiled at me and I had a picture to prove it... Dear Danny-- my love... I've always been hopelessly devoted to you. This is for you