The Talking Klieg-Light

I was sitting in the reception room of Monroe James' casting office with Mother when little Miss Perfection walked in the door.

She stood about three feet tall and she had blonde ringlets. She had dimples. She had a rosebud mouth, blue eyes so bright they looked backlit, and a nose so small and perfectly formed that it looked painted on. Suddenly, a wave of anxiety swept over me so intense that at that millisecond I felt absolutely certain I knew what it was like to have been a passenger on the Titanic the moment somebody counted the lifeboats.

I gulped. My belly flopped. Little Miss Perfection calmly surveyed the room, lifted a blue cotton-sleeved arm and, with a forefinger the size of half a Crayola crayon, pointed to an empty chair.

"You can sit there, Ma," she said in a surprisingly mature-sounding voice to the short, rather nondescript-looking woman whose right hand she held.

I was doubly dismayed. Not only was this child perfect-looking, but she was obviously possessed of good moral character. The average acting brat probably would have grabbed the chair for her or himself, but not our Millie Macon, as her name turned out to be. Instead, Millie selflessly stood as "Ma" parked her ample derriere in the one available seat.

Millie stood for a moment shifting back and forth on her sturdy little legs while I pretended to be engrossed in the March 19-- issue of the National Geographic. I remember how fascinating gourd-carrying Africans had appeared to me in the moments before Miss Perfection, uh, Millie, walked in the door. All that was changed as I soon found myself the object of her precociously intense gaze. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was like being stared at by a klieg light.

Then the klieg light spoke.

"Are you really reading that magazine," it (she) said, "or are you just pretending to?"

"Millie!" the mother mechanically chastened. "What an impolite thing to say!"

Well, the remark may have been deemed impolite in polite circles, but it was certainly perceptive. Acknowledging the futility of my pretense, I let the magazine drop.

[From the opening of "The Brat"]