Saturday, October 19, 2013

i met Virl

In the interest of saving all of our eyes, i'm inflicting a larger sized font on y'all with this post.  Let me know how you feel about it, please.

Warning: i’m about to “come out” about something in this post that i’ve been far more closeted (“in the closet”) about than i am about being gay. 
Consider yourselves warned.  

i was born and raised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“Mormon”).  But that's not what i'm in the closet about.

Though i was born here in “the States”, my family moved to Japan right after my baby brother was born, so i was mighty mighty young when we left the United States and my earliest memories and the majority of my formative years took place in Japan.  We eventually returned to the U.S. settling in California, in a suburb just outside of Los Angeles.  And it was there that the remainder of my "growing up" took place.

Fortunately for me, upon relocating back to the United States, there were a couple of kids my age that i went to school with who lived very near me that i subsequently became friends with. One of these kids was Alicia. Alicia and i used to trade things.  Specifically, i remember trading her a Barbie doll for her Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker lip gloss. To this day, i feel like that was a damn good trade. i was never all that attached to the two Barbies i ever recall owning -one of them being one of Barbie’s friends (...Skipper? The hell if i remember).  i do recall having a Barbie camper at one point -which i thought was dang cool. 

One day while at Alicia’s, we got to talking about boys we thought were cute.  She and i were all of 9 years old when this conversation took place, mind you.  And all i know of “cute boys” at the time is... (i had absolutely no idea i was or would be gay or that something called “gay” even existed at the age of 9, you realize) i had a soundtrack LP from the very first Power Rangers-type show ever created called Go (Five) Rangers which was airing in Japan at the time we moved back to the States.  i thought the guy that played the green ranger was cute, so i showed her the picture of him in the gatefold soundtrack LP cover.  Thinking back on her reaction, i don’t think she was moved by my taste in boys.  Instead, she hastily went and fetched something to show me her example of a cute guy, promptly returning with an LP of her own to show me.  “This is who I think is cute! He’s Mormon.”

This was the album cover that Alicia showed me on that fateful day.

And that was “it”.

In hindsight, the fact that he was a Mormon, like me, was oddly the more significant part of the attraction to me as i don’t recall being bowled over by his looks, initially.  Mormons are urged to marry Mormon, and even though i was all of 9 years old, my young brain was well aware of this.  i’ve often heard fans say that they thought they would marry their teen idol; that wasn’t the case for me. i didn’t ever figure that i would be the one to marry the guy. Yet it was that this guy was Mormon that drew me in, initially.

Soon thereafter, the variety show premiered. The year was 1976. And i was hooked.

Oh my heck, sooo freakin' CUTE, they were!

i became the “f-word”; a (can’ (what a dreadful word)  And not just a bit of one. i became a big...’ol...fanny fan.  And not just for a minute or even a still somewhat respectable “spell”; it went on for years (of my precious lifespan).

i was a quiet fanny fan.  i didn’t really know anyone other than Alicia who thought that Donny Osmond was the bees knees.  In fact, i learned as i went, that it was not “cool” in the slightest to be an Osmond fan.  Nevertheless, i was never ashamed of it.  Everyone i knew knew and i didn’t care what they thought.  Read what my peers wrote in every one of my junior high and high school yearbooks and it’ll tell you that it was well known that i was a big ‘ol Osmond fan.

The Donny & Marie variety show enlightened me to the fact that the “cute guy” had a sister, eventually leading to the discovery that they were, in fact, just two of a rather large family comprised of five performing siblings ...and two siblings, Virl and Tom, the eldest in the family, who didn’t generally perform due to hearing impairments. In total, there are NINE Osmonds:  


(risidual fanny fan-ness right there *cringe*)

i never got to meet nor so much as ever see them back then despite the fact that the Donny & Marie Show taped in Hollywood, just 20 minutes away from where i lived, and had even been given their address by friends i went to church with who knew them.  My folks weren’t interested in making that happen for me and i was too young to do anything about it myself at the time.  It was torturous to be deprived of that, and i resented it for years thereafter.  In fact, i still do, somewhere underneath; the Osmonds will never again be who they were when i loved them most.

Life for me back then was pretty dark and in the years since i’ve come to recognize that the Osmonds -and the other teen idol-types i was enamored with back then- served as an escape from that.  They seemed happy and i wanted that. They were my drug. And in hindsight, i suppose that’s better than having done the real thing, or any number of other things i could have done to escape my reality at the time.

My mom’s family of origin was and remains predominantly in Utah, where they settled upon coming to America on a ship from the Netherlands in the 1950s, and there were also reasons being Mormon that journeying to Utah get incorporated into one’s life at times, so much to my Osmond-obsessed elation, from time-to-time i got to be in the vicinity of the empire that was Osmond in the latter part of their heyday.  i was in heaven, though longingly painfully, if i so much as caught a glimpse of anything Osmond when i did get to go to Utah.  The Osmond Studios was, in fact, enroute to one destination point we went to most when we were there.  

Finally finally one day, i miraculously got my dad to stop at the studios just so i could find out if maybe just maybe they offered something in the way of a tour of the studios to the public, so when i found out that they did, it became crucial in my young mind to take that tour.  It makes me incredibly sad to think that just getting to experience something like that was for me so virtually impossible back then.  But i have a Broom Hilda cartoon frame that i clipped out of the newspaper years ago while growing up that i still have to this day: a frame of Broom Hilda sitting next to Santa in his sleigh and Santa saying to her, “When you believe in something that strongly, it has to happen.”  Something about that spoke to me even way back then.  And boy, has that proven to come to pass for me in some incredible ways in the years since.  But at the time, all i had were impossibly elusive pipe dreams that really felt like they would never happen; a Cinderella existence with never a “prince” (translation: “savior”) in sight, except through a TV screen.  It was awful and i don’t recommend it.

Somehow, i eventually pulled it off, getting to take that tour.  And i went prepared.  Over the years, i had assembled rather large scrapbooks of the many articles i’d collected about the Osmonds.  Just as most everything i wanted was denied me growing up, i also only very rarely had the good fortune of acquiring a teen magazine, which cost .75 cents at the time.  i will forever remember the very first teen magazine that Mom bought me; it will always hold a special place in my heart.  So any and every thing i ever came in to about the Osmonds was precious to me and therefore wound up lovingly stored in the scrapbooks i’d assembled through the years.  There were maybe three of these scrapbooks in my collection when this particular incident was going down, each about four inches thick, and i hauled one of them with me in case i’d actually get to take the elusive tour. Why i felt it necessary to bring such a thing only makes sense in hindsight.

This was the very first teen magazine that Mom bought me, which we bought at the long-since defunct grocery store, Fazio’s.  

i’m not sure that “enjoyed” would be the proper descriptor for my experience taking that tour.  i was such a mixture of beyond excited and nervous throughout it that i shook like a leaf, internally.  i am such a different person now than i was at the age of 15, which is how old i was at the time, that though i empathize with her, i hardly relate to her anymore; to think that simply touring the building caused me to feel like that at the time.  But go figure; it did.

This is the video they showed at the Osmond studios that kicked off the tour. Loved it then, and love it still.

In a section adjacent to the lobby at the studio was one glass case displaying items they evidently had for sale; Osmond posters, t-shirts, OsMints (don’t ask).  Being as familiar as i was to the Osmond mail order enterprise, what little they seemed to have to offer in the glass case at the studio seemed surprisingly little and disappointing to me and so before my 15 year old self had time enough to grow too nervous, i found myself almost subconsciously bolting over to the front desk where i confidently asked, “Is there someplace i can go to buy Osmond stuff?”. Indeed, there was, and she promptly got on the phone making a call (something to the effect of, “I’m sending her up”) and drew a map for me to get there.  

“There” proved to be just down the small dirt road adjacent to the studio to what’s probably best described as a storage building that those in-the-know referred to as the “OzArt building”.  That Dad actually took me there, despite how ridiculously close it was, was yet another miracle.

As i got out of the car, i hauled out with me the scrapbook i had brought and approached the door to the building with Mom trailing behind me. What on earth possessed me to lug that behemoth of a thing with me will forever elude me, suffice it to say that it’s evident in hindsight that i was meant to.  As i neared the door to the building, it grew evident that it was ajar. And the closer i got to the somewhat open door, the more that i could see that someone was sitting at a desk just inside.  And the closer i continued to get, the more that i could see that the person seated at the desk was ...Virl ...Osmond.

Ho-ly heck, an Osmond the flesh!

Remember, i had yet to meet any of them.  Or even so much as lay eyes on any of them in person up to that point.  In that moment, i truly was in no way any less excited than i would have been had it been Donny sitting before me.

As i proceeded to approach and knock on the door, Virl turned toward the door greeting and inviting Mom & i in.  i have the big, cumbersome scrapbook in my arms and it doesn’t take Virl long to notice and ask me about it, so i hand it to him so he can see what it is.  He was quiet as he sat back down at the desk with the scrapbook and began to leaf through the pages then said, “Did you do this?”.  He called out to someone else who came in to the room we were in and Virl motioned him over to see my scrapbook. And as Mom and i stood there observing this, it occurs to me that the man that has just joined us is none other than “Uncle" Tom; Osmond matriarch, Olive’s brother.  The Osmonds were such a family package that we hardcore fans knew even the names and faces of some extended Osmond family members.

i felt like i had died and gone to heaven. Even had you offered me a brand new Porsche, it would have paled compared to this very first Osmond moment in the sun to me.  i was simply floored to be experiencing what i was at that time.

Eventually, Uncle Tom said to Mom and i, “You wanted to buy some things?”, to which i responded enthusiastically in the affirmative.  He then led us into a warehouse of sorts filled with tall racks containing all of the Osmond merchandise my little 15 year old heart could possibly have ever wished for.  Uncle Tom pulled from the racks everything to show and offer us from long-since out-of-print LPs to rare magazines to things as interesting as a metal keychain version of a ticket to Donny’s infamous Broadway show that closed after opening night, “Little Johnny Jones” (which by the way, no, i didn't buy).  i was pretty sure at this point that i really was in heaven.  Little did i know that this experience was about to get even better.  Just how i made my selections, i’ll never know, but eventually i did at which point Uncle Tom led us back in to the front office portion of the building where Virl was still sitting at the desk looking through the scrapbook i had brought.

As we approached, Virl turned toward us motioning us toward him.  i wish to high heaven i could remember exactly what he said to me, but here it is to the best of my recollection.  He said, in reference to the scrapbook that he continued to look through, “This is really special.  My mother would really like to see this.  Do you think i could borrow it for a while so that she can see it?”  Woven into this conversation, Virl pointed out to me that he saw journalism strengths in me for having looked through my scrapbook and that if i hadn’t looked into it already, he definitely thought i should.  i’m surprised i didn’t pass out cold at that point.  Why never, ever in my wildest dreams could i have gotten such a compliment ...and directly from a member of my family of heroes?  

This was quite a request, that i loan him that scrapbook.  Little did he know that those scrapbooks were my most prized possessions at the time, and the one that i had brought with me that he was asking me to loan him was my very favorite of them.  But it was them wanting to borrow it, so though it was hard for me to relinquish in a way, i was more honored than i was fearful that i might never see it again, and so i agreed to loan it to him.

At this, he rifled through some of his file drawers in the room and returned with a small stack that he handed me.  His sister, Marie, had recently married (for the first time) and Virl did the photography for her wedding.  The stack that he handed me proved to be photographs- black and white 8x10 posed shots of Marie and Steve in front of the (Mormon) temple and a couple of 5x7s of Marie and Steve’s recent appearance on Good Morning America that he had shot.  And he was giving them to me. And yes, i still have them.

"Uncle" Tom, michele @ 15, and Virl on the very day this story went down 
in 1982 in Orem, Utah
(Osmond capital of the world)

As i relive this memory in writing it out, i’m finding myself getting emotional here, at this point of the story.  As i mentioned earlier, life was dark for me back then and this single episode in my life to that point, however brief, was the one brightest, most positive experience i really had had up to and even beyond then.  i’d be very surprised if Virl has so much as a vague recollection of this interaction with an awkward 15 year old girl that went down some 31 years ago.  

But... it speaks volumes for who Virl Osmond is; who he was then and, i imagine, still is.

Maybe because of how i grew up (or maybe not), i am to this day hyper-sensitive to our ability as human beings to “see” one another.  “See” is the word i use.  Probably the closest thing to what i mean with the word “see” is “care”.  i am extremely painfully aware of how very little people evidently care about one another.  And it colors how i see and experience life and view the world tremendously.   

Virl also gave me this that day.  Maybe he saw me even better than i realized. i treasure it still today.

For whatever reason, Virl Osmond “saw” the 15 year old version of me that day; moreso than maybe anyone else ever had, and with rather laser-like precision.  i didn’t “get” that back then; i only knew that what i experienced with him in that very short period of time felt tremendous ...tremendously validating.  And maybe it’s more important to experience that at the age of 15 or so than at any other time in ones life, although it’s vitally important at any and every point throughout ones life.  All i know now, in hindsight, is that this one interaction with someone i considered tremendously special at the time proved to alter my life in a positive way.

With this newfound insight that someone else had given me about myself, i returned to my everyday existence and promptly pursued a course in journalism the following year in high school.  Ms. Davey ended up being not only my journalism instructor but my English instructor the very period preceding; in other words, i had English with Ms. Davey immediately followed by my journalism class, also instructed by Ms. Davey.  She once humorously apologized to me for this, which i found endearing considering that she proved to be my absolute favorite instructor of the entirety of my student years. Upon receiving my grade on my most significant journalism project of the year, she wrote that she would be recruiting me to join the high school newspaper staff the following semester.  And journalism went on to become my major in college.

Virl was right.  Without knowing me, he saw that talent in me, even at 15; one i wasn't even aware i had. And he took the time to tell me so.

That talent grew into a skill that has carried on throughout my life into other projects and ventures including a ‘zine that i published for over five years that earned a worldwide subscription base, photography --which parlayed into everything from shooting for major photo agencies, later launching my own photo agency, to doing stills photography for motion pictures, right up to my position as editor at All Japan News, the job i held up until i signed on to work for Starbucks in order to devote more time to the music. 

Virl Osmond impacted my life tremendously in one rather brief interaction 31 years ago, and he has yet to know it.

When it comes to being the “f”-word (fan), it’s more-or-less tradition to have a “favorite”.   Odd, to me, but being that i’m gay and openly so, i’ve been asked at times why Marie isn’t my favorite Osmond (yeesh).  Donny was the initial draw - and admittedly remained the primary draw (think Rosie O'Donnell's "thing" for Tom Cruise, maybe)- through most of my Osmond fan “career”, and though i’ve always considered myself an “Osmond fan” in the general all-inclusive context, the Donny and Marie pairing was admittedly my Osmond bliss.  i blame their variety show for that.  

It would prove to be two more years before i would finally meet the “it” Osmond.  And though i was ecstatic to have met him at the time (although you’d never have known it from the outside), the experience in hindsight pales profoundly by comparison -and hence, i won’t provide the rather boring details of that event.

Hopefully this will suffice:

That Broom Hilda cartoon played out well through those years of active fan-dom. i’ve since met and spent time with each and every Osmond on countless occasions and have had both good and bad experiences with each of them along the way.  But i’ve only seen and interacted with Virl twice, and briefly at that, in the 31 years since our initial meeting.  And it’s been good ...every time.

The last-most-recent time i saw Virl was at the Osmonds' 50th Anniversary which was filmed for and aired on PBS in 2007; one of few events i "had" to attend, moreso anymore to get to see and spend time with the good, lifelong friends i made as a result of having been the hardcore Osmond fan i was for all those years.  In fact, the friendships that formed for me as a result of being an Osmond fan are the thing that i treasure most from having taken that journey. Because of my interest in the Osmonds, i have friends across the country and around the world to this day. They have made my life better for being in it and i can't help but marvel at times how God brings certain people together while on this life journey.  He must have a sense of humor, God.  'Cause, really, by way of the Osmonds...?  That's a riot!

My core group of Os-homies and i with Virl at the Osmonds' 50th

i asked Virl for his email address when i last saw him short of sharing with him my intention to contact him to relay this story to him and to thank him adequately, as it hardly seemed the time nor the place to do so at the time.  That was six years ago.  Goes to show you how life can get away from you (pay attention, peeps).  This intention comes to fruition, finally, right here and now.

Maybe it’s plenty evident by now that i’m pretty damn over the “f”-word stage anymore.  Maybe it was just a phase.  Maybe my priorities changed.  Maybe a lot of things.  i don’t much see them anymore, as i don’t make a point to even when any of them make their way out to my neck of the woods.  i doubt they miss me.  i doubt they miss any of the “f”-words that used to come around that don’t anymore.  

But i will always love the Osmonds.  

And if you were to ask me today who my favorite Osmond is, i’d have to say it’s ...Virl.

[Happy birthday, Virl
and from the bottom of my heart, 
thank you.]

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