Call Me Conchita
So my husband’s movie is finally getting made. (yay!)
My son gets to be an extra in the movie (yay!)
They invite me to be an extra too. (hell no!)
Cut to – I’m on a farm-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Calgary Canada, horses abound, in a costume trailer where a lovely woman hands me a thick, clunky petticoat because the awesome head costume lady HAND MADE me a damn dress.
Now just to set the scene a wee bit more – they want me, a very New-York-Jewish looking girl whose ancestors go back to Romania – to look like a Mexican woman in the 1880’s.
I know that this is a transformation that not even the magic of Hollywood can perform.
So I offer the costume woman a polite, “Thank you, but no – the costume is just for my son.” And that’s when my son – now himself wearing 1880’s lookin’ britches and suspenders- confronted me.
“Why don’t you want to do it, mama?”
“I don’t know, I just want to watch you, how about if I just watch you?” I am after all, a writer. I can be crazy-shy and like to stay in my cave and pound out words. The cave is my comfort zone.
My son looks at me skeptically. “I guess you can watch, but the scene is about mommies and kids and I really want you to be my mom. Why don’t you want to do it, mama?”
I lean down to his eye level, thinking that I will show him what it means to be honest, real but firm. To stick to your guns. Then surely he will understand.
“Honey, to be honest, mommy is a little bit afraid of being on camera, so I’d be much happier just watching you.” I stand up, knowing I owned my feelings and admitted my flaws. I feel like a good mom. But he stops me.
“Mom, aren’t you always telling me that I have to do what scares me sometimes – cause it makes me braver?”
Ouch. Right between the eyes. This 8 year old with his dirty britches and wide brown eyes is infuriatingly right.
So, on goes the petticoat. Now I already am not happy with my current weight. Had I known I was going to be on camera I surely would have taken Marie Osmond up on Nutri System and lost 20 pounds – right? And we all know what the camera does to you.
And to make it even more fun, the hand-made garment that went over the thick very unflattering petticoat was what I would call a “brightly colored sack”.
Now any curves I ever had are gone. I look in the mirror. I am officially a box-like object – a very red and stripy box-like object. But maybe I can blend in with the background?
Nope. They hand me a BRIGHT YELLOW scarf to compliment my red box look.
So what, I’m just an extra – no one is going to see me- I will hide behind all the other extras. And besides I’m having a really good hair day and my lipstick matches the garment box.
I try to console myself as I head into the hair and make-up trailer. Two gloriously happy men are blasting Dolly Parton as they welcome me into the hair chair.
Within minutes I realized that my good hair day is over.
“Doesn’t anyone wear their hair down?” I ask.
“Nope, up and with a clip.”
“Okay.” And then they shellack my hair with this black gunk and stick it to my head so I look like I am wearing a clunky helmet.
I already feel pretty bad about my hair when my son walks in the trailer and says,“Hey, mama. Why did they make you look like Mrs. Wong?”
I try to ignore the comment (though I do look sort of Japanese) and head over to the make-up chair. After all, it’s a make-up chair. Who doesn’t look better after make-up?
Off goes all the color on my face – and on goes THREE LAYERS of thick chocolatey base. With each layer I notice that the make-up is heavily setting into my wrinkles.
“This is making me look ten years older.” I say to the make-up guy who is singing along with Dolly.
“That’s fine honey, you will blend right in. In fact, I am going to call you Conchita from now on!”
The one thing I have left is my lipstick. No mascara, no blush but I have my lipstick. He tells me no one wore lipstick in the 1880’s so it must come off. He tries but its one of those lipsticks that are meant to stay on for like 48 hours so he gives up. I grab my son’s hand and head out of that trailer as fast as I can.
Then I go to the bathroom and laugh at myself for a good ten minutes. And I take my first – and most likely last – selfie.
Now we are transported to the set and I feel like I am going to puke. Crew members say things like, “Look at you, aren’t you excited?” and “Aren’t you just having so much fun?”
I nod, try to smile, try not to puke. I get to the scene – see the rest of the extras and go hide behind the women who actually are Mexican. I blend in.
But because my husband is the writer and they want to make me feel special, just before we shoot they pull me from the crowd and set me up front. At least I have my lipstick. At least I have my lipstick. It’s a mantra.
Within two minutes the on set make-up lady has found me. She is wiping my lips with a sandpaper like instrument doused in alcohol to get my lipstick off. “Don’t the other make up guys know that no one wears lipstick in the 1880’s?” She says, annoyed. And walks off – leaving me naked lipped.
No – she doesn’t quite leave yet – she turns back and asks me to smile. Then she applies this brown solution to my teeth all the while telling me that that no one had white teeth back then. Authenticity is paramount.
I sigh. Any vanity I might have ever had left hours ago – and there I am, in my red sack and thick petticoat, bright yellow scarf, no make up except for the kind that adds years to your face, brown teeth and hair that makes me look Japanese.
“I’m proud of you mom. And you really only look a little Japanese.”
I melt. I call back to a conversation I had with a client before I left – she had told me “Do the thing you think you cannot do.”
As the cameras roll I hold my breath and proudly act as best I think a Mexican woman in the 1880’s at a child’s birthday party would act. And though my new secret plan is to track down the editor and beg him to chop me out of the insignificant scene I am in – I know in my heart that my son will always know that I did the thing I thought I could not do – I became Conchita for a day.