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Written by Frannie Sheridan. Frannie is a first-time Jewrotica writer. Learn more about Frannie in her introduction below.
It is a great shock at the age of 5 or 6 to find that in a world of Gary Coopers, you are the Indian.” – James Baldwin
Such is the life of Frannie Sheridan, daughter of a Holocaust survivor who, through uncontrolled paranoia is determined to spend his life, and if he has any say about it, his family’s lives, hiding their heritage behind the cloak of Catholicism. This unexpectedly humorous tale told from Frannie’s perspective as she journeys from stand-up comic to stripper to award-winning storyteller, is based on the true story of the Sigal family, Holocaust survivors who arrived in North America only to be confronted with further discrimination. Under the delusion that he is protecting his family, Bernie Sigal decides to pass his family off as Catholic and never tell anyone the truth. The story is told from a second generation perspective, providing a fresh take on a pride-in-identity story which crosses boundaries of age, race and culture. Those who have been touched by the fingers of war, discrimination or adversity will be impacted by this tale of resilience and celebration.
I am that daughter. I Tried To Be Normal But It Was Taken! is the non-narrative fiction version of my family story.
As in my play The Waltonsteins(IRT/Blizzard) broadcast on CBC/NPR and winner of The Gabriel award, and my show Confessions of A Jewish Shiksa…Dancing On Hitler’s Grave! (awarded mayoral proclamations), the knish hits the fan when I begin to reveal the truth of my identity against my family’s wishes.
Arthur Hiller (Love Story) was attached to direct a screenplay I wrote based on my family story, and spent many years attempting to get it made through the Hollywood machine. A couple of years ago, macular degeneration robbed him of his ability to direct.
Here is an excerpt from Frannie Sheridan’s narrative non-fiction book, “I Tried To Be Normal But It Was Taken!”
‘Never Tell Anyone’
Kissing the photograph of my sad-eyed parents I tacked on the wall in my room above Candy’s Private Cave causes the oversized crucifix pendant dangling from my necklace to swing and poke the hollow of my throat. I almost gag and remind myself to envision a protective bark of energy. I grab my cow head, CDs and fake fur blanket and lope downstairs in the super high stripper sandals I have almost learned to walk in. Feeling something collapse under the sole of my shoe, I hold onto the banister, turning my foot to check. “Uch!” I peel the cockroach pate off my shoe with the edge of a CD case, making me yearn for the upscale theater where I’d performed my dramatic play a week ago.
I strut to the bar, holding my head high in the smoky air. A few of the rough-n-tough regulars are already around the stage waiting to be sexed up by my dance; they run their eyes over me like starving third-world inhabitants examining their weekly ration of rice. The bald, beefy bartender looks up at me from where he is crouched at the fridge doing his beer bottle count. He grunts, “You the first dancer?”
“Indeed, love,” I croon in my phony British accent. “My name’s Smartiepanties. What’s yours?”
His bulging eyes protrude. Bathed in the green light of the refrigerator, he looks like a psychotic frog. “Really? Fuck off!”
“Fucking A!” I reply without flinching.
“Smartiepanties,” he repeats with a tiny smirk, pointing to the sound system. “You’re responsible for your own music. Full show’s eighteen minutes; half show’s ten; anything less, fifty dollar fine; missed show’s a hundred. More than two missed, you’re out. If you’re late, you’re out. No physical contact, no drinks while you’re dancing. Be ready to go on five minutes before your show. Any paint shows, water shows, soap shows are your responsibility to clean up. No g-string tipping, tips on the stage only. Get your shit together, your show starts in two minutes or you’re late.”
Spreading my mouth into a talk-show-host grin, I exhale “Got it, lovee!” I pull on my cow head. “Could I have a glass of ice, love ducky?” I ask while moving towards the CD player. I gear up my music selection and ‘What If God Was One Of Us’ by Joan Osborne, begins to play. The bartender shoves a glass of ice at me. “Bust a cherry, sweetheart!”
“Thank you, muffin.” The vein in my neck begins to pulsate. “You know what you’re doing this for, you know what you’re doing this for…” is my inner mantra, as I head for the stage. I throw myself into a wild boogie to camouflage my splintering nerves. I notice the stage is lined with potted poinsettia plants adorned with silver tinsel. Oy, it’s Christmas Eve, I muse, climbing the stairs on all fours remembering how the pet cat we had when we were children had walked through the house trailing silver tinsel from its rear end.
Overhearing an intoxicated man in a wheelchair gurgle, “Whad the fug is this shit music?” I place my glass of ice on the floor, and face my first critic.
“Well, Fa la la la ,Tootsie!” I say, grateful to have a physically-challenged man in the audience, so that I can chalk my act up to community service. I shimmy for him for a few seconds, Mother Theresa to the rescue.
“She’s British!” yelps a stringy-haired, fifty-something man leaning against the stage. “Say something else!”
The bartender announces my entrance. “Our first dancer of the day is all the way from England, he-e-ere’s Smartiepanties!” The men whistle and clap. I pick up one of the plants and tease the boys by holding it in front of my schmengypoopen.
“Do you like my bush, fellas?” I inquire, winking at my adoring patient.
“Tha-a-a’s the only kinn’a bush you’ll see in these parts anymore, eh baby!” he drools.
A drunk fireman gurgles “Peelers don’ wear animal heads and hooves, in this country. This ‘aint whaddayacall that Bridd’ish TV show…this ‘aint Monty Python, baby!” His buddies laugh along with him.
I begin to boogie around the stage flaunting my behind, which is one of my finest assets.
Once an African-American male comic was hosting the evening at a comedy club where I was performing stand-up. After my set, he came on stage and said to the audience, “How’d that white woman ‘Frannie’ get such a fine black ass! She musta stole it! Somewhere there’s a black woman walking around with a wimpy lil’ white woman’s ass going…” Then he impersonated her. “Who took my ass?! I got some lousy nonexistent saggin’ white woman ass! Come back here with my ass you white bitch!”
I place the plant back down on the stage, stroking its petals.
“C’mon baby, please? Where exactly you from over there in England?” my stringy-haired captive pleads.
“I’m from Venus!”
My audience laughs. The bar is filling up with regulars. Mostly loggers, convicts and hookers, plus a cop pretending to be working, pink-faced from the cold rain. Employing a slapstick move, I fake walking into the pole and tumble backwards, causing a few guffaws. A patron snarls “Lucille Ball go home!”
Animal-like, I crawl up the pole, then swing onto it, hugging it inside my legs. I propel my body around a few times, and then stop with the strength of my inner thighs. I let go of the pole to allow for a back arch, and then opening my hands wide, pop off the cow hooves as my cover-up drops to the ground to delighted yelps. Folding down into a handstand while holding on to the pole with my knees, I whirl around and around as I descend to the ground, unhooking my bra as I go.
The men pound their fists on the stage, saluting the appearance of my breasts. The thousands of jazz classes I’ve taken over the years are finally coming in handy. Cocky that these moves I learned from another stripper just one week earlier are working, I decide to attempt another new trick. Back-rolling to where I’ve positioned the glass of ice, I select a cube from it. ‘Crucify’ by Tori Amos begins to play. I don’t hear any comments, because the culturally challenged component of the crowd has stopped paying attention to the music.
I unfurl myself like the skin of an apple being run through a peeler, and dance into an upright position while I press the melting cube onto my warm breasts. My audience catcalls in deafening union when my moistened flesh steams under the lights, making me giggle unexpectedly.
I shake it over to the pole and squeeze my uneven breasts together around it to occupy their attention, grateful for this illusion device. All the oxygen has now been replaced by cigarette smoke and the men stare like flies stuck between two window panes.
“Nice udder, baby, but I bet what’s behind it is even nicer!” croons one of the boys, slamming a ten dollar bill on stage.
“I concur!” snorts another adding his ten dollar contribution to my unveiling.
“He concurs!” say his friends. “We concur!” They egg each other on, attempting to entice me with additional paper money tips pushed onto the stage. I am caught off-guard by a sudden odd sensation. I feel safe standing naked in front of a room full of strangers.
Plunking down into the Russian splits causes my udder to pop off and the now packed crowd cheers. Many gather around the stage continuing to hoot and applaud wildly. For an instant I am confused and think that I have been performing my play, The Waltonsteins, about having been brought up Catholic.
A few days before I left for Seattle, feeling that I needed a little spiritual uplift, I phoned my priest friend Father Ted. He had loved my play and I was becoming friends with this sweet man.
“Frannie, so good to hear from you,” said Just-Call-Me-Ted. “How are things going?”
“Okay, Ted,” I lied. “It’s great to hear your voice.”
The next day I got on the bus my gut rippling with a mixture of dread, excitement, and coffee. Up until my recent audition, which was the first time I’d set foot in a strip bar, I would never have socialized with people who frequented them.
I have thirteen hours to kill riding inside the dark, musty metal womb. I indulge in a fantasy about a movie version of my one-woman show. My mother’s face magically metamorphosis’s in the crowd. Hopefully Juliette Binoche will play her role in the movie. Suddenly Daddy emerges next to her, his eyes swollen with tears. Juliette Binoche, as Momma, looks at him with profound affection and
when he meets her gaze, he turns into Richard Dreyfus.
The bus jolts to a halt at an all-night gas station and the driver turns on the interrogation-style lights, announcing a five-minute break. I only have eighty-nine cents. Wiping triumphant tears from my award-winning eyes with the knitted multi-colored afghan Momma had made, I nestle in trying to doze, and attempt to ignore my rumbling stomach. Let the bus passenger peasants purchase their junk-food dinners, I muse, for I have an invitation to Juliette Binoche’s table at Spago’s in my head.
The next day, in my room at Candy’s Cave, my tinny talking alarm clock knocks me out of dreamland. One hour to show-time. Down-hearted, I force myself to surface glue-like from my short sleep and lurch toward the metal monster. The momentum causes my shiny sleeping bag to careen to the edge of the bed where it teeters for a second. Another millimeter and I would have plopped onto the sad carpet, buzzing with bugs. It’s a wonder that I didn’t wake up before as there is definitely some kind of insect fiesta going on in the broadloom.
In the pursuit of reassurance, I fish the reviews of my play out of my purse on the night table. My director, Lynna, who had taken me under her maternal wings when my funds had ran out, letting me live in her house, encouraged me to keep the reviews with me during this tricky sojourn. She had bolstered my confidence to work as a stripper. I read the review of my play. “…a dark and humorous, poignant, courageous, one-woman tour de force…” The words jazz me, counteracting the slap of damp, frigid air. This is who I really am. A good girl, an artist, I tell myself over and over while I snuggle into my well used, wool grotto. “I am never going to lose my innocence.” I sit up, careful not to let my feet touch the ground, and slip them into my boots which I had pre-positioned within leg-reach of the bed. Then I head out to the balcony to escape the bug-a-thon, as the suspicious carpet squishes.