“Rock Me Amadeus,” by Alexander Perez

May 22nd, 2019 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I went to my first school dance dressed as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was spring of 1985 and Amadeus had just won Best Picture. I was a seventh grader at Howard L. Goff Middle School (who Goff is still remains a mystery to everyone). It was my first formal dance and I chivalrously asked my cousin Sandra to attend with me as my date. I had no intentions of making the moves on her, let alone any girl. If I had made the moves on my cousin, it wouldn’t have mattered, East Greenbush, New York was very rural, especially in the early 1980s. And if there was any doubt that I was gay at this point, if there had been any question at all, then all anyone had to do was look at me dressed ludicrously as Herr Mozart.

My parents generously offered to rent the costume so that I could once and for all sabotage any chances I might have of not getting bullied for the rest of my junior high school years. They meant well. I don’t think they understood what it meant to have a gay child. Both of my two older brothers were jocks and successful Little League ballers. My brothers had no problems with the ladies (the middle brother actually got a girl pregnant when he was sixteen, way to go Joe). My parents were good people but clueless. They supported every activity I took up no matter how gay it was, including tap dancing and violin lessons. I was very lucky and privileged although I came from a working-class family. My activities clearly indicated my sexual preference, but I didn’t identify as gay, and my parents didn’t influence me one way or the other. I was on my own. In 1985 it would have been rare for someone my age to declare their sexual preference. I was only twelve years old. What did I know? (Meanwhile, just four hours away in New York City a plague was decimating my gay forefathers, but I was really too young to be aware of its magnitude. As a teenager, I did become a member of ACT UP and now I am married to a HIV+ man. Funny how life goes.)

It was a cool spring Saturday evening in East Greenbush. Most people were home playing Trivial Pursuit, or watching a movie with their new VCR, or even just first watching cable TV because it took a long time to get out to the rural areas of upstate New York. I was home, and my mom was about to reveal my costume that was going to knock everyone dead when I showed up at the dance. After all, Mozart was cool, right? He was the James Dean definition of hot, a renegade, an individualist. He slayed and swaggered. At least that’s how the movie and the Shaffer play portrayed him, never mind the philandering, the arrested development, or the gambling. I don’t know what ever possessed me to show up to a dance, when it was not Halloween, dressed up in any costume, let alone Mozart. Yes, I was a geek. There was that. But there was also the desire to stand out from the crowd, to be noticed, to be non-conformist. Maybe it was my debut, maybe I wanted everyone to say, yes, here’s the queer, and I’m here to stay. Well, I didn’t quite get that reaction and I was definitely going to stand out from the crowd.

My mom says, Come here, and pulls out a ruffled hot pink satin jacket with matching pink satin pants. It was Liberace’s Revolutionary War uniform. I had never seen anything so pink and so ruffled in my double-breasted life. How do you like it? My mother asked. I couldn’t let her down and see how mortified I was. There was no way I was going to survive this and I knew it. I had pictured maybe a black affair, more like something the later Beethoven would wear, staid and gloomy. But for my mother this screamed Rock Me Amadeus! My mother was right, it did fit with the color and energy of the movie. In one scene, Mozart sports a pink wig. But I was going to be the laughingstock of the school. Movie or no movie. It’s cool Mom, I said. And I took a big gulp.

I tried the costume on and it fit well. All I was missing was the white wig. We hadn’t thought of that, thank god. So instead my mom sprayed Aqua Net all over my thick black hair and poured as much baby powder as she possibly could on my fro. It was awful. Not only did I look and smell like I had survived an explosion at a Johnson’s Powder factory, every time I moved a cloud of powder emanated from my head. I was a sweet-smelling Pig Pen. I don’t think Mozart ever had to survive this type of humiliation unless it was when his father was carting him around Europe making him perform like a pet monkey.

We picked Sandra up at 6:30. I never told my poor date of my plan to dress up. When she saw me, she instantly disowned me. Her parents, my aunt and uncle, tried to act amused by the whole thing, but I think they were concerned that my imminent ostracization from my junior high class was going to ruin their daughter’s chance for a future happy, fulfilling life, kind of like what it did for me. They let her go anyway, despite my cousin claiming a sudden onset of the flu, and we were off!

When I arrived, pink and ruffled, and stepped out of my father’s pickup truck where we were all squeezed together in the cab, three speechless witnesses to an ensuing tragi-comedy, I tried to muster as much bravado as I could. I got a lot of stares. I don’t think anyone knew what to think. It was a ballsy move and it certainly set me up for a lot of future social anxiety. A lot of people asked me who the heck I was supposed to be. No one got the reference. The only person in my grade of about one hundred students who knew or said anything nice was the one black kid named Musa. Musa said, Nice, Mozart and smiled. I think he was just happy that he didn’t stand out for once. But I will always be grateful to Musa.

As I picture myself at the dance, standing alone, in the darkest corner I could find, with no one to talk to, I think about my cluelessness.  I was already different than everyone else in the school by the fact that I was gay. What was I trying to prove? Was I trying to announce my gayness or conceal it under a more eccentric exterior? I thought about Mozart’s genius and how he was portrayed in the movie. I too wanted to laugh nervously, hysterically, because I was so far beyond the norm. I didn’t think I would be able to relate to any other human being again. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a writer, because alone in my room, I could reveal my shy secrets without fear of ridicule, I could be different, a geek, a nerd, but no one would see that scared, weak little boy, because my words would come shining out of the dark corner like sequins in a spotlight, or like the brash notes of a new symphony.


Alexander Perez has work forthcoming in Furtive Dalliance, Soft Cartel, and Anti-Heroin Review. He lives in Albany, New York.






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