FRESH YARN presents:

Star Treatment
By Aaron Hartzler

My brother, Josh, is on page 22 of last week's STAR magazine. He is standing on a street corner in New York next to his fiancé, a rock star, in a candid paparazzi shot, under a hot pink smudge that reads "Couples News."

I know that everyone has been secretly wondering how all of this has been affecting me, so I've decided to take just a moment and address the rampant speculation that I'm certain has been zipping back and forth between the hand-held wireless devices of my friends and acquaintances.

I am happy to report that I'm holding up just fine. My youngest brother, Caleb, appeared in the pages of the October issue of Details this past fall, modeling a vest -- they're back, who knew? It was his first fashion editorial since being signed by Boss Models last spring. So, this is all old hat. I just want to thank everyone for your concern, and assure you that I am completely at ease with the idea of my brothers appearing in the national media.

Okay, fine.

I want to kick them both in the nuts.

Would someone please explain to me how this happened? Would someone please tell me how my two younger brothers have both managed to appear on the glossy, four-color pages of the entertainment press before I did? I want to cackle like a mad man, or just slowly slump to the floor in a corner, my hand at my mouth, failing to contain my great, wet, hiccupping sobs like Rachel Ward pining for Josh Morrow in My Stepson, My Lover on Lifetime. Instead, I eat Breyers light ice cream bars by the box full, trying to ignore the gnawing fear in the pit of my stomach that I have become a failure by default.

Since that moment as a little boy when I first witnessed Julie Andrews twirl across the Alps in a Christmas Eve network broadcast of The Sound of Music on my grandparents' television screen, I have wanted nothing more than to be a famous actor. I began picturing myself on magazine covers shortly thereafter, posing for imaginary photographers in the bathroom mirror while wearing my robes. My robes were actually big pieces of double-knit fabric that my mother had used for tablecloths until they became too stained for Sunday company and they found their way to the dress-up box. You see, when you're a fundamentalist minister's son, and there is no TV to watch in the family room, you are encouraged to read and play dress-up. And when you play dress-up, you dress up like Bible characters -- preferably "Great Men of the Bible." This was fine by me because as we all know, men in Bible times wore robes -- long, flowing robes -- especially Moses. Moses wore especially nice robes, I decided. According to the book of Genesis, when Moses was barely two years old he had been rescued from the Nile River by an Egyptian princess after his desperate mother, Jocabed, sent him floating away in a basket made of bulrushes rather than allow the Pharaoh's men to kill him along with all of the other male children born to the Hebrew slaves. The princess had fallen in love with baby Moses, and taken him to the palace to raise him as her own.

I liked playing this young, sexy, late teens/early twenties Prince Moses -- tan, well-groomed, dashing about in a chariot like he owned the place, caught somewhere between bulrushes and burning bush. Then, after I tired of killing the Egyptian taskmaster who beat the Hebrew slaves too hard, I'd pretend to be Julie Andrews in a guest appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. My robe would become an elegant evening gown, and Johnny and I would laugh and chat about my humble beginnings singing in bomb shelters during World War II. We'd reminisce about how Walt Disney had cast me as Mary Poppins for my ability to whistle, and then Johnny would ask me to the mic to sing "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, and I would -- to thunderous applause.

Shortly after watching Julie Andrews solve a problem like Maria on national television, I was given the opportunity to act on stage. When I was four years old, my father directed me in my very first play at the Calvary Bible College where he taught in Kansas City, Missouri. I played a little boy who was struck and killed by a Roman chariot while running across the street to meet Jesus. This all happened off-stage, of course. The budget for a one-act Biblical drama at the Bible College did not allow for an actual chariot, but I did have 17 lines and two costumes. Mom had sewn identical, pale green linen tunics with an emerald green trim at the neck, sleeves and hem. One of these had been distressed so that it appeared to have been on the body of a small boy who had met an untimely demise beneath pointy horse hooves and chariot wheels. I believe my mother took a cheese grater to it at one point, though I can't be sure. I do know that it had been ripped and smeared with dirt and plenty of red grease paint meant to look like blood.

After the last scene in which I appeared alive, my mom and one of the college girls in the play would take me downstairs to the ladies' room and bloody me up with the same red grease paint. They also used brown stage dirt and eyeliner, smudged to look like bruises, and the occasional hematoma. The make-up always took forever to get out in the shower, but I remember thinking that it was all worth it for the gasps that we got when the college guy who played the head servant walked out with me, limp in his arms. All in all, they did a pretty good job roughing me up. I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror after the transformation one night. Frankly, it was startling, and I made a mental note against death by chariot.

Once I was all beaten up, I would stand in the wings with the guy who carried me on. I always felt what mom called butterflies in my stomach right before we made our entrance. The first couple of times that the guy had carried me on in rehearsal, I had been so excited about being in the play that I swung my arms, and kicked my legs. I couldn't help it. Dad stopped and explained that if I was dead, I had to be completely limp. Later that night at home, we went over my lines, and he demonstrated how limp I had to be. We spent quite some time playing dead that night on the couch, and on the living room floor. Dad practiced picking me up and walking around with me. He had a lot of really great tips on how to look as authentically dead as possible. I got to the point where I could be very still and not use too many face muscles to hold my eyes closed. But I liked this acting thing so much that it was really hard not to smile.

All I knew for sure was that when I did a really good job pretending to be dead it made the audience very, very sad, and my Dad very, very happy. Dad assured me that the reason the ladies in the audience gasped when the guy carried me on was because I was very convincing as a little dead boy. In fact, when my Dad's mom came to see the play, she came running up after curtain call, clutched me wildly to her bosoms, and told my father in a raised voice that what he had done to me was absolutely terrible.

But my father just beamed at me. He explained that people who didn't go to church might come see a play, and that we were using quality Biblical drama to reach lost souls for Christ. And I was good at it. He showered me with praise about my natural vocal inflections and excellent facial expressions, and from that moment on, I was determined to be a star. Within six months, after watching yet another one of my impromptu performances in the living room, I remember my mother dryly remarking to my father. "Well Hubert, I hope you're happy. All the world's a stage now, and he's the only actor."

It's the fact that my brother Josh couldn't care less about being in a magazine that makes me crazy. I have been dedicated to a craft since I was four years old. I have a mountain of student loan debt backing up not one, but two degrees in acting. I have a Master's degree in Make Believe. But my brother Josh is in STAR magazine? He's got a Master's degree in counseling for the love of God. From a Bible college.

At least Caleb is gorgeous. He eats nothing but egg whites and runs four miles a day. Fine. Put the boy in Details. My Dad is 6'2", and of the five kids in our family, of which I am the oldest, everyone but Josh is tall and statuesque. Josh even makes jokes about how he's the milkman's son. He got mom's genes, and while the women in her family are tiny beauties, the men are all just over five feet tall, and, well, husky. But there he is. Page 22. Josh in full-color, standing there looking disgruntled that he can't hail a cab. He's got a weird little beard and a receding hairline, and he's short, and squat. He's wearing a giant, puffy coat that makes it appear that his sternum has swallowed his neck, and he's scowling. Picking Josh over me for a picture in STAR magazine is like designing the cover of a travel brochure for Middle Earth, and choosing Gimli over Legolas.

Of course, there wasn't a choice. I know this. The photo editor didn't have the option of putting my headshot in the magazine, because I'm not the one engaged to a rock star. No one is choosing Josh over me. And really, this has nothing to do with Josh. I'm amazed at how in love the two of them are. At Thanksgiving, I caught one of those quiet glances between them at the dinner table. No words were exchanged, but I watched her gaze linger on Josh as he turned to pass the gravy boat to my Dad, and I was so happy that someone loved my brother so much -- as much as he deserves to be loved.

And that's really the issue. I'm the gay son, and 28 years after the chariot wreck, I'm still looking for that approval I felt from my Dad for those fleeting weeks in my fourth year, when playing dead for him onstage brought me the purest love I can remember feeling from him. For years, I worked so hard at doing something because I thought I really loved it, only to have my brother show up on page 22 last week, and make me realize that it's the recognition I'm really looking for. That somehow, if I'm good enough to be featured in the pages of a glossy magazine, that my dad will see me -- really see me as worthy, and be unable to argue with the power of pop culture opinion.

Of course, my father doesn't read glossy magazines. So, I sat and stared at the picture of Josh, stunned at this realization about the truth behind my acting career, and feeling a little like a man without a country. For a moment, I wondered if I could ever act again. But then, I realized I was being dramatic, and reached for another ice cream bar. I can't quit acting. I'm not qualified to do anything else.

Unless, of course, anybody knows a rock star who needs a date.


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