Excerpts from Le Cabaret de Camille
This is Camilla’s cabaret. I’m Camilla. Le Cabaret de Camille. It sounds more expensive in French.
I’m alone. Right, I’m alone. I’ll defocus my eyeballs to feel alone.
Because when I’m alone, then I’m the star, and the supporting cast, and the crew, and the band, and the chorus, and the critic. There’s always a critic. Checking my little act.
You’re in grade school, you start to make up your act. You don’t want to fake it, but you want to dress up the truth, make it fun. If you smile a lot, is that a more vivid you? Stick out your tongue, cross your eyes, pull in your stomach: You are highly entertaining without your stomach.
So she works out her act, and then she looks for an audience. But the tickets are so expensive, it costs so much to get close to her. So she becomes her own audience. She applauds, she laughs, she cries, and she can’t even afford to see herself.
But these characters are creeping out of your hair, you wonder where they came from. Something you ate, or they slipped through a crack in your dreams where the alarm clock hit, or those monsters peering down in your crib and branding themselves in your eyes.
Some days the show’s a hit. Some days you just lay there. But sometimes it all comes together. Everything: skin tone, hair luster, pectoral firmness. And you move into that high rent district on the Sunny Side of the Street. . .
Le Cabaret de Camille!
I would like to apply for a loan.
I would like to establish credit.
I don’t have any credit.
See, I have credit cards, but I don’t have any debts, and I think what I need are some good solid debts.
Right, there’s my application.
I’m employed, I’m a good employee, I am late sometimes, I’m chronically late, and I get tired in the afternoon, but I get a good buzz from coffee, but I’m not on drugs, I barely take aspirin, and I do like hot pastrami but I don’t overindulge.
And I am . . .WASP.
Course you don’t discriminate, I know, but I am, uh, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. . .
My family wasn’t Protestant, really, we just complained a lot.
But I really need this loan.
I need to establish credit.
I need desperately to get into debt.
Sure I feel grateful to people, and I feel very very guilty sometimes, but that’s not really debt.
I need DEBT.
This is Camilla.
Ladies and gentlemen: Camilla.
Mesdames et messieurs . . .je vous presente . . .Camille!
It’s all in the introduction.
Words trip the heart’s tumblers and open the vaulted chasm—
One hopes.
Mr. and Mrs. Leonard, you have a one hundred fifteen and a half pound bouncing baby girl.
Be serious.
I gotta work this out.
The introduction.
She goes behind the screen, enters, striding down center. Holds a rose, gestures with it. Overwhelming sincerity:
Here we are.
We have gathered together for a very real experience with a very special person.
We all know that life is a process: Who we are. And how we feel. About ourselves.
Camilla Leonard is a person, like us.
A woman. A searcher. A very real human being.
She comes from Massachusetts, that should tell us something.
She brings her barrelful of sensitivities, feelings, insights about our needs and absurdities and very real human beauty.
I know of no other fellow woman who so combines the joy of living, the energy of talent, and the very real heartache of life itself.
She is like a priestess of laughter, and I know this evening will brand itself into your heart as indelible, moving, and very, very. . .
She becomes CAMILLA, chucks rose, rushes to table. Examines face in mirror.
No. Imagine a short, sniveling creature, cringing through life.
No. Don’t define. Don’t preconceive.
Take what you get.
She disappears behind screen, enters as a busy elderly lady, jut-jawed, nearsighted, loud, fumbling cards.
I’m not the regular person. I just got a phone call. The regular person died.
Checks cards.
I would like to introduce our program for tonight, when I find it.
Eggs, Crisco, bran flakes. . .No.
They just called me, and I don’t know about you, but when the phone rings I get gas.
Another card.
Tonight we’re going to change the pace, and have an evening of Fun and Entertainment.
As you may know there’s been a slipping off in our success of getting anybody to come to these things, and it’s nice to look out there tonight and see all that blur. . .
Wipes glasses.
So we thought we’d go out on a limb and have Fun and Entertainment.
Last month we had child abuse, and there were six people for child abuse.
I guess they were the ones that needed it.
But (reading) I would urge each and every one of us to undertake the strongest endeavor to go out.
Checks back of card.
That’s all it says.
Another card.
So here is our special guest, and let’s bring her on with a big hand and show her we’re looking forward to this exciting evening of Fun and Entertainment but first let us pray.
She appears as MABEL, a woman in her fifties, in a black stocking cap, heavy gray coat. Laden with packages, she comes forward, stops, looks about. At last speaks front, as if to postal clerk. Rapid, implacable tempo.
Oh there you are.
Young man I waited for you.
How long you take on your lunch hour?
You know I waited, I even let somebody cut in front to that old baldheaded guy, cause I waited for you.
You shouldn’t do that, you eat too much food you’ll start growing extra parts, that happened to my sister, she grew extra parts.
Puts down packages, sorts through stack of envelopes.
Ok I got lots of things to mail here and I want to make sure they get there.
Cause I waited, cause last time I went over there, to that old baldheaded guy, he said I had to use a different kind of tape, for the regulations.
I woulda hit him with a rock if I had a rock.
I think his pants are too tight.
That’s what’s wrong with the government, and the lines, why don’t they cut out the lines at the post office? Why don’t they cut out the post office? That’s what Reagan wants to do, if they’d let him. My letters’d get there a whole lot faster without all the post office.
Nothing personal.
Rearranges packages.
Ok now you see that one. I want you to put that to one side. Over there.
Now let’s see what I got.
Ok, this is a package, I wanta mail it so it gets there.
My sister in Seattle, it’s like a crockpot but it’s made out of aluminum so it’s not worth a shit, so I’m sending it to her.
She can’t cook, see.
Ok, now these is to relatives, I gotta lot of relatives, I keep in touch.
Only I don’t want to send these first class, cause I didn’t write anything important in there, I want to send these about fourth or fifth class, cause my relatives they’re all sonsabitches, they see first class on there and they’ll get the big head.
Now this one, this one goes first class.
This is my aunt.
I think I have an aunt, I saw her in Ladies Home Journal, she’s some big shot, it said “Mabel McClafferty,” and that’s another Mabel McClafferty.
I’m one Mabel McClafferty and she’s another Mabel McClafferty, so she must be an aunt. So I wrote her a letter to let her know I exist, and I give her a piece of my mind, cause I want to make sure that she knows that a person like me exists.
It’s a balloon! She’s floating away—
My God! Let go! No don’t let go! Call the Air Force!
She’s floating up to the Super Looper!
To ticket booth.
Excuse me, I have to go through here, because my daughter—
I don’t have a daughter, but she’s stuck up there and she’s going to die and she’s not even alive.
No I don’t want to go on the ride. Where does it go?
With hand, traces what she hears: curves, bends, loops.
There’s gotta be a shorter way.
Reverses chairs. Strapped into seat. Extreme turns, dives, ascents. Covers eyes, starts to scream. Freeze. Silence. Changed tone.
Is that the end of the ride?
Spots child.
Oh there you are. I was so worried. I was worried sick.
I. . .I am sick.
I need a bathroom.
Helpless, she is led by child.
Honey, see if you see a bathroom.
Take care of your mommy.
No, don’t pull on me.
Wait. I see it.
The exit. The Burger King. The light at the end of the sewer.
Starts to run in place.
Oh honey, come on, it’s gonna be so nice to get back to the—
Stops abruptly.
No, not the freaks.
They don’t have freakshows now.
I know.
I’m alone. I’m on exhibit.
I’ll do my own damned introduction then.
I’m one of a kind.
I scatter all over the place.
I’m a planned pregnancy.
And I’m still being born, I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities.
I could bill myself as the Labor Pain.
Or the Human Question Mark:
The question keeps changing, but the squiggle stays the same.
I am the original one-woman freakshow.
I’m part of the carnival.
Camilla’s Carnival.
I’ll play the games and go on the rides and chase my little fantasies through cotton candy and—
It’s raining.
Mist, carnival lights, it’s beautiful under water.
The people, they’re not alone, they’re all rubbing elbows, funny hats, red shoes, big noses, and they glitter, glitter. . .
It’s raining love, the music, there’s a band playing in our hearts, our hearts are in tune, the marching band is waltzing, one two three, one two three, waltzing into the—