Monday, November 5, 2007

Notes from the Field (IV)

“Storytelling Pants”

About the 4th or 5th time I perform before the same group of children - be it during a multiple visit residency, or because I’m fortunate enough that the school has had me back year after year – the same question arises. I’m not talking about the usual queries: “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “How do you talk so fast?”

No, this question makes me laugh, because it shows that, A) these kids have been watching me INTENTLY. B) They’ve been soaking in the most minute details of the performance. And C) They probably watch makeover shows like my guilty pleasure, “What Not To Wear” on TLC. Because no matter what age, economic, or racial group these children belong to, at some point they ALWAYS ask, “Julie, why do you always wear black pants?”

I giggle at this because they are ABSOLUTELY correct. I do wear exactly the same type of pants every time I perform. Newport News boot cut leggings. I order them two at a time, and when they wear out, they are relegated to work out and yoga wear for a few years, and then finally to the trash. Like the coat in the folktale “Just Enough to Make a Story”, I utilize these pants until they are “all worn out”!

It took me a while to find my storytelling “costume”. I tried skirts and dressed, but because I am known to roll on the ground at a moments notice, that didn’t pan out well. God knows, I love my jeans, but since I routinely lift my lift to my ear while telling how hard Anansi the Spider pulled on a rope in a folktale, the possibility of splitting inseams seemed to outweigh denim’s usual “all-purposeness”. And while I know many of my fellow African-American storytellers feel strongly about wearing kente cloth and Afro-centric clothing for their work, these garments didn’t mesh well with my “dancerly” tellings.

So, early on in my storytelling career, I looked in my closest and moaned,”I have nothing to wear!!” What would give me unrestricted movement, like the leotards and tights I wore in ballet class, yet be presentable enough for me to saunter into PS 548? What would not require tailoring, dry cleaning, or even folding? What could go with button down shirts or loose fitting tops? Boots for street wear, and dance sneakers for performance?

Newport News boot cut leggings. In black – the universal slimmer and neutral color. Very often – ON SALE!

As I’ve mentioned, the “storytelling pants” that have started to loose their color and elasticity get bumped down the clothing food chain to become sweat wear. Now, I am not one of those people who believe that one must look good while exercising. Catching me on the way to the gym is not a pretty sight. Any article of clothing that allows me to reach my endorphin high is fine with me. So, I have pairs of these black pants that, as my mother-in-law, famously said, “Don’t owe me anything.”

There are ones with bottoms so torn, you’d think I had a dog – a big one. There’s the pair I have to tie a shoe lace around the waist while wearing, to keep them from falling down. And then there’s my (and probably the guys in front of me at the gym when I’m doing squats) personal favorites – the three pairs that have safety pins holding together the crotch and thigh area.

All these poor misshapen pants live in my bottom dresser draw, along with my mangled tee shirts, sweatshirts, and equally pathetic dance wear. At least, USUALLY they do.

I “train” myself, as I like to say, to keep from loosing things. (Keys in the cup by the door, gloves in the bag in the closet) But, from time to time my generally sloppy nature over rides any such training, and things land up where they shouldn’t. And that is how one of my safety pin laden pants landed up in the storytelling pants section of my dresser, and eventually in my knapsack.

My performance wasn’t until the afternoon that day, so I was looking forward to one of my favorite schedules. Gym, ballet class, performance, home. I remember pulling on my “needs a shoelace to stay up pants” over my leotard and tights, and putting one of my favorite tops, and, what I THOUGHT were a pair of storytelling pants in my knapsack for later, before hitting the road for the day.

All was going so well. I got the machines I wanted at the gym, my pirouettes were “on” in class, but when it came time to get dressed for my performance, I hit a snag. A snag, a rip, and a big old hole. The very worst of the worst of my pants were curled up in my knapsack. Material pilling, hem chewed up, and at least five metal safety pins smiling up at me like a pair of brand new braces.

I was way too far from home to even think about getting back there for a good pair of pants. The “needs a shoe lace pants” were not only wet with sweat, but the bottoms were soaked by the rain (because, of course, it was POURING) And, Newport News is, unfortunately, a catalogue and a website, not a corner store.

Then I remembered – there was a Modell’s two blocks down. Checking my wallet, and tying on the moist pants. I headed out the door. They weren’t Newport News, but there might be something black, stretchy, and most importantly, without holes, that would work.

The rain was slamming down, turning the moist pants into heavy, wet, bunches of material that dragged mud across the entry way of Modell’s. The arrow pointing to women’s wear pointed downwards, so I ran down the steps, the bottoms of my pants looking and sounding like the flippers of a seal.

“Black pants, black pants”, was my mantra, as my eyes searched the racks (especially the ones that said,”SALE.”) But, apparently, every other woman my size must have been there that day, because I saw none. Oh, there were white stretchy pants (and okay, who is really confident enough to ear those?) and velour purple pants (Barney, anyone?) and MANY pairs of black capris – but nothing like my beloved Newport News.

I was beginning to consider buying a sewing kit, to at least get rid of the safety pin problem, when my eyes saw them. Black, stretchy, boot cut, my size, ON SALE!! I ran to the dressing room, and prayed they didn’t pucker, tug, or (god forbid) make me look fat. As they glided onto my body, I gave up a silent prayer of thanks to the clothing gods, and bought them.

Outside the sun had come out. Hiking up the rain and sweat sodden “shoe string pants”, I practically skipped up the block to a Barnes and Noble whose bathroom I frequent in that part of town, found an empty stall, and put on my new storytelling pants.

The show was a good one. Librarian happy, kids happy, parents happy. But more than anyone else, I was happy. I had found a new source for storytelling pants. One where I didn’t have to wait for delivery. One with many locations through New York City and New Jersey. One that offered up boot cut leggings for $14.99 on sale. Modell’s – home of Julie’s new storytelling pants.

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