At the start of my Senior year, I thought having a mall job was cool, even though it was washing dishes at the food court. On my lunch break, I’d browse the record store and meander through Hickory Farms to get cheese samples. I’d drop by the fabric store to see my friend Tricia. She was slender girl with thick brown hair that fell to her shoulders in bouncy curls. She had an olive complexion and green eyes that sparkled when she smiled. Even though I was secretly attracted to guys, I liked Tricia a lot.
“Hey Trish, how’s everything at the Fabric Barn?” I said.
“Busy! Girls are getting their formals ready for the Homecoming dance at BYU. That reminds me.” She paused and priced a remnant of lavender gingham. “Are you taking me to see the Carpenters?”
Tricia nodded. “Tickets go on sale Saturday morning.”
“Yes, I’m taking you!”I jumped and down. “Shoot, I have to get back to work. See you tomorrow at school.” My hand grazed the bolts of tulle, and taffeta as I dashed out of the store.
That night, I stormed in the house. “Mom! Mom, guess what?”
“You didn’t wreck the car, did you?”
“Of course not.”
“The Carpenters are coming, and I’m taking Tricia as my date. I’m going to camp overnight if I have to, and I’m going to need the car!”
“Lower your voice. Daddy’s asleep,” she scolded in a whisper. “Have you been smoking something?”
“Who’s this Tricia?”
“Tricia Thomas. You remember, her parents teach at BYU.”
“Oh yeah, but aren’t they Democrats?”
“What if they are?”
Mom clutched her chest, and let out a heavy sigh—as if she’d learned that Tricia was a stripper, or a Catholic. “Billy, haven’t we taught you anything?”
“Mom, she’s nice. She even told me that she likes guys that are artsy.”
“I’m just teasing,” she said. “What’s this about camping?”
“I want to be the first in line, so I can get front-row seats.”
“Can’t you just go early in the morning?”
“Not if people are lining up the night before.”
Mom shook her head. “It seems so silly—spending good money on a concert. You can listen to records at home.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am serious,” she said. “You know they’re going to play the same old songs.”
“Mom, they’re called hits, besides, it’s Karen!”
I did camp out all night—with a parking lot full BYU students who got there first. They had tents, blankets, and sleeping bags. I brought a pillow to sit on, a bag of Jolly Ranchers, and a Coke I’d smuggled in a root beer bottle. At that time, caffeinated beverages were strictly forbidden at Brigham Young University. I sat on my pillow at the end of the line. Scattered laughter, ghost stories, and Mormon hymns, echoed through the parking lot until 10:00 pm when the Campus Cops told everyone to shut up.
Hours of silent boredom. Green apple, grape or cherry. What if I drew a portrait of Karen Carpenter, and gave it to her after the show? Maybe it would be a way to get backstage. Whoever is in charge might be impressed with my labour of love, or feel sorry for me—I didn’t care. The thought of meeting Karen Carpenter made me too giddy to rest my eyes. The hours passed and the students slept soundly. I gradually scooted myself closer to the front of the line. At the first hint of dawn, the asphalt became speckled with dots of rain. The sleepers woke as the rain turned into a downpour. Many were prepared with umbrellas. Some crowded into tents, and others gave up; giving me the opportunity to move even closer up the line. My pillow had become a burdensome sponge. I was soaked, shivering, and needed to pee. I popped my last Jolly Rancher and reminded myself that Karen was worth it. When the ticket office finally opened, I handed the cashier a wet twenty, and scored two third-row seats.
A week before the concert, I purchased some Canson paper and fresh chalk pastels from the BYU bookstore. Then I sequestered myself to my bedroom until the portrait was finished. I pushed aside all my homework and even missed an episode of The Waltons.
“Look Mom, what do you think?”
“It’s the smart one from Charley’s Angels—Kate Something-or-other,” she said, looking over her reading glasses.
“It’s supposed to be Karen Carpenter!”
“Why don’t you draw someone else for a change? Marie Osmond is pretty, and she’s right here in Provo.”
I realized that my imperfect portrait would have to do since I didn’t have time to make another one.
Tricia and I took our seats early. I stored the rolled up portrait under my seat.
Tricia was studying her ticket stub. “Who is Steve Martin?”
“Who?” I said.
“The guy that’s opening the show?”
“I’ve never heard of him,” I said.
Steve Martin, a goofy man with salt and pepper hair, took the stage and made us laugh non-stop for forty minutes. The audience gave him a standing ovation. We had no idea that two weeks later, he’d host Saturday Night Live, and become a huge star.
Richard Carpenter was the next to appear on the stage. He thanked everyone for enduring the rain, and then he took his place at the keyboards and started to play. Then suddenly, as if a cosmic portal had opened, Karen appeared like a heavenly apparition. Dressed in all white, she sparkled in the spotlight. The audience cheered.
“It’s her!” I said. “She looks amazing!”
“She’s thinner than me!” Tricia said.
Wearing a rhinestone-studded culotte suit, and white leather boots, Karen Carpenter moved confidently about the stage, singing her latest single, “A Kind of Hush.” Her stage presence was polished and elegant. The Carpenters performed their greatest hits flawlessly. Richard played the Warsaw Concerto. Karen performed an impressive drum solo, and had five costume changes, but it was over too soon.
We stayed in our seats after the lights came on.
“Tricia, see that guy on stage with the dark glasses and bushy sideburns?”
“I’ll bet he’s in charge.”
I grabbed the portrait and approached the stage.
“Um, excuse me,” I said to the man on the stage.
“Yes.” He looked down at me suspiciously. “What’s up.”
“Are you part of the crew?”
“I’m the road manger,” he said.
I unrolled the portrait. “I was wondering if you could give this to Karen, or maybe let me give it to her.”
He rolled his eyes, looked at the portrait, and back at me.
“This way,” he said grumpily. “But only you!”
I motioned for Tricia to join me. Karen and Richard were already greeting VIPs and radio contest winners. Richard turned to us and noticed my rolled up paper. I didn’t rehearse what I might say to to Richard Carpenter. It never occurred to me to draw him, let alone speak to him. My mouth hung open.
“Great show,” Tricia said, breaking the awkwardness. “That Warsaw Concerto was wonderful!”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” said Richard.
Karen finally turned to us. Her silky brown hair fell loose and straight on her shoulders, as if all the curl and hairspray had been brushed out. A lock of hair fell in her face and she combed it back with her fingers.
“Hi, what’s your name?” she said, reaching for Tricia’s hand.
“Nice to meet you, Trish. And you?” She reached for my hand and shook it firmly. I could feel her jewelry, loose on her slender fingers, almost sliding off as our hands parted.
“I’m Bill,” I said. “I made this for you.” I handed her the portrait and watched her unroll it.
“Wow Bill, this is really good.” She said my name. “You’re quite talented.”
“Thank you for being so amazing,” I said. “You’re so beautiful. I love your music. I loved your show.”
“Thanks! We have a lot of fun. Can I keep this?” She rolled up the portrait tightly and held it up like a diploma.
“Yes, it’s for you,” I said.
“My Mom will love it. She can put it in her collection portraitures.” She raised her brows dramatically and fluttered her lashes like a diva. Then she looked right at me with her big brown eyes and said, ‘Thank you, Bill. Thanks for being a fan.” I wanted to stay in that moment forever.
We said goodbye and backed away as Karen Carpenter was swallowed by the crowd.
The following week I made this sketch when I should have been studying for my Math test.
Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.