“Barney” by Chloe Caldwell

I wanted to be on Barney. I wanted to be famous. I thought if I got on Barney then I would be famous. Jesus. That’s weird. That I wanted that. I just wanted to be one of those kids. They were happy. I was happy too. They could sing. So could I. I think I was too old to be watching Barney. I was like seven or eight. Wikipedia says it’s a show for kids 1-8 years old, so I guess I made the cut. Who comes up with those cuts anyway? Wikipedia says that Barney “conveys learning through songs and small dance routines with a friendly, optimistic attitude.” Barney is a total optimist. S’why I liked him.


I wanted to be Little Orphan Annie. I belted along to the record in the living room and I knew every word to “It’s A Hard Knock Life.” I wanted red hair. I wanted freckles. I also wanted glasses and braces. I got a kick out of yelling: “No one cares for you—a smidge—when you’re in an orphanage!”


I wanted to be a tap dancer. My dad told me a story when I was five or something about a ninety-something year old man whose house he was doing carpentry on. One day he couldn’t find the man and when he found him he was in his yard tap-dancing on a piece of plywood. I was moved by the story and thought it sounded really fun so my dad cut me a 4×4 square piece of plywood and I wore shoes that weren’t real tap shoes and tapped. I put on shows for my babysitters. I remember singing, “You’re a good ship, Lollipop” to a boy babysitter and he laughed his ass off. I charged my babysitters fifty cents to watch me. Funny, I was more into making money then, than I am now. One day I was spinning in tights on the wooden square and I did a face plant. Luckily though—I’d been born with a small cyst on my nose and when I fell, it popped. I still had to have an operation though. They gave me anesthesia and the last thing I remember is the doctor asking me what kinds of ice cream I liked and I said strawberry.


Around that same time I wanted my name to be Anna. I changed it the year I was five. I jumped off couches trying to fly like Peter Pan and announcing: “I’m Anna.” It didn’t stick.


I wanted to be in “A Chorus Line.” My family had the tape and the record. I knew every word from “Singular Sensation” to “Tits And Ass.” My favorite was the song, “At The Ballet.” A girl sings about her dysfunctional parents and how she was only happy at ballet class. My favorite part:

“I did have a fantastic fantasy life. I used to dance around the living room with my arms up like this. My fantasy was that my dad was an Indian chief and he’d look at me and say: ‘Maggie, do you want to dance?’ ‘And I’d say daddy…. I would loooooove to dance.’”

It’s interesting that I loved that part because I didn’t have a fantasy life; I had a great childhood. I pretty much did dance around the living room 24/7 and the living room was full of love.

On video tape, I’m always spinning and curtsying and singing the same lyrics over and over until eventually my mother begins to say: “’Okay Clo. Okay Clo—take a bow, Clo.”


I wanted to take ballet. I wanted to dance on pointe. I was really into this series of books about a group of girlfriends, by Emily Costello: Becky at The Barre. Jillian on Her Toes. Katie’s Last Class. I read them and re-read them. I liked Katie the best, the fuck-up. The girl who stopped going to class. I could relate. I quit ballet.


I wanted to be a singer. I took voice lessons above a Chinese food Restaurant after school. The woman played piano poorly and had long blond hair and a horse-like mouth. I loved her. The first song we did was “Second Hand Rose” and the second was “My Boyfriend’s Back.”


I wanted to be Maria. My family had the “West Side Story” record. I replayed the part where Tony gets shot while Maria sings: “There’s a place for us…a time and place for us” and then she breaks into hysterics and yells “No!” Some of the gang walk near but Maria yells “Don’t…you…. touch him!”

I bawled.  I practiced it over and over until I had her Spanish tongue down and my sobs exactly aligned with hers.  I wanted a passionate relationship like that. I wanted to scream and sob over someone’s dead body.


Back when I called myself Anna, I’d also wanted to be Maria. I pranced around the house in leggings and bracelets and barrettes and sang, “I feel pretty, I feel pretty, aren’t I pretty and witty and gay?”  Until the “Take A Bow” was enforced.


When I was home alone at night I turned the lights low and sang my heart out. I performed facing the big window framed like a tic-tac-toe board because it made it look like there was three of me. That way I could pretend I was on Broadway, and the girls to my left and right were not me and we were doing an in sync choreographed dance.


I was cast as Lucy in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” when I was in fifth grade. I had a lot of solos. It was sort of my big break.


I wanted sing opera. I studied and performed Italian Arias. Then my batshit vocal teacher told me my larynx was kind of fucked up and that I should go to a doctor. My mom took me and to this day says she is amazed at how calm I was when they sent the mirror on the wire down my nose and to my throat. She thought I was going to scream or something but I didn’t. Nothing ended up being wrong with my larynx but I got to miss some mornings of school to go to some speech therapist.


I wanted to be Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird I auditioned for the part at the Capital Repertory theatre in Albany. I read a monologue. I knew on the drive there that if I got the part my social life would be gone. I knew that it was a decision I should make: acting or friends. I didn’t get the part.


I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to be Gwen Stefani. I rocked dark lipstick on pale skin and I think I even wore a bindhi. I got my belly button pierced and sprayed Sun-In in my hair. At the school talent show I sang, “I Want You To Want Me” by Cheap Trick. My best friend played bass. We had one more gig in the summer and we played “Just A Girl” by No Doubt. I stole some of No Doubts old melodies and wrote my own words to them and claimed them as my own. I recorded the No Doubt Behind The Music on VHS and watched it after school and cried when Gwen talked about her break up with Tony, the bass player.


I wanted to be a hip-hop dancer and I wanted to be tan. I went tanning everyday after school. It was only five bucks a pop back then in 2002. My parents were separated at this point and I didn’t have a license yet. My dad drove me to my hip-hop class on Tuesday nights and we listened to Fly92 on the way.


I was in a few more plays after that but then I started smoking marijuana.

More nonfiction at Used Furniture.



  1. I appreciate the short staccato sentences and stylistic unity as the narrator traipses through a list of roles I’m sure many young females of a certain generation desired if they participated in stage-related activities. Strong voice.

  2. Your “big break” make me laugh out loud!

  3. Made

  4. Alison Armstrong Webber says:

    “I remember singing, “You’re a good ship, Lollipop” to a boy babysitter and he laughed his ass off. I charged my babysitters fifty cents to watch me.”

    I laughed too!


  1. […] I wrote a piece called “Barney” for Used Furniture Review revealing the sliver of my life during childhood into adolescence when I wanted to be famous in musical theater. Here are some of the vignettes from it, along with the soundtrack. […]

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