Category Archives: Humble Bragging

Dance Dance Evolution

One of my favorite things to tell people about myself is that I used to be a dancer. I throw out the phrase, “competitive hip hop dancer” with downright duplicitous intention and imply that my one or two years coming in dead last at dance competitions somehow qualify me to be on the receiving end of those raised eyebrows of “I had no idea you were so cool.” I like to provide a real life juxtaposition of my current state of physical fitness (see: none) and the implication that I maybe had abs once. Which, for the record, I did not. I did, however, manage to memorize choreography and make a face that looked like I was always trying to inhale my top lip into my nostrils. Also I was pretty good at body rolls. Something I assumed would always be a sexy thing to do in da club.

If this doesn't scream "fake hip hop" your eyes have probably fallen out.

If this doesn’t scream “fake hip hop” your eyes have probably fallen out.

As a young teen, I logged hours in the basement of my parents’ house. Watching, rewinding (kindly) and absorbing Darrin’s Dance Grooves on VHS with a disturbing intensity. I knew the choreography to NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye”, Britney’s “Crazy” and Jordan Knight’s “Give It To You”. Sometimes I still try to do the crouched, circular bounce-walk from Jordan Knight’s video, but then I get stuck down there and need to be hoisted. One should never be hoisted. Not content with only sharing my gift of bastardized hip hop at sporadic school dances, I pined for the day I turned 16 and would be allowed to hit up “Teen Night” at The Orbit Room. When that day came, I went as often as someone would drive me into the presumed seediness of deep 28th Street urbania. I body-rolled to my heart’s desire and created a slimy layer of sweat between my skin and whichever polyester shirt I had most recently purchased from Charlotte Russe. I was flush with tips from waiting tables at Steak n’ Shake. I was “boop-booping” Grand Rapids boys on my brick of a Nextel and returning to Hudsonville on Monday with tales of “going clubbing”. I was living my best life.

My 18th birthday ushered in dance floors that also contained non-teenage boys. And, I could drive myself there. I salsa danced (and surprisingly did not get pregnant by osmosis) Saturday nights away at Azucar, always wearing the leather stilettos I had bought earlier that year on Spring Break in Italy, even though they made me want to saw my own feet off, and giggled coyly when guys lined up to grind with the gringa. Because at 18, it wasn’t about the dance anymore. It was about the sexual validation. I literally was not even having sex yet, but I knew I was supposed to want people to do it to me. And the way to get them to want to do it to you is to body roll in their general vicinity, right? To remind them that you have a body. It also works to recreate the entire plot of “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” whether or not others know what is happening. When I couldn’t convince anyone else to risk life, limb and rashes by going to Azucar, I’d go to the decidedly more Caucasian, Bucking Beaver. At “The Beav” (we never called it that), I was free to practice my craft, uninterrupted by denim bulges and inexperienced groping. Mostly because I had brown hair and a big ol’ booty, and my thinner, blonder friends were the commodity in that place. It’s fine. I’m fine. Not bitter. Just fine.

This girl is all of us.

This girl is all of us.

Turning 21 coincided with an inexplicable “country phase” I was having. I spent a lot of time pretending Kenny Chesney was sexually appealing and doing my best impression of Gretchen Wilson, even though I was in no way a redneck woman. I abandoned awkward, arrhythmic grinding for spontaneous choreographed stomping in the form of “Country Night at Margarita Grill”. Every Thursday night was spent convincing myself that I liked the idea of farm-boys who really knew how to shake it. I think I might have accidentally created Luke Bryan with my mind. The Grill closed (due to underage drinking and probably unrelated knife fights) and with it, my insatiable need for dance.

I’ve since abandoned dancing as a means to look cool and seduce onlookers. Partly because I can no longer physically dance for longer than the chorus to “Come On Eileen”, but also because I have no idea how people dance now. I’m caught in the purgatory of one’s 30s. Too old to grind (well, old enough to realize that it’s gross and offputting) and keep up with what the kids are doing, but too young to be content with a good bop-n-shuffle. What I’ve settled on, it seems, is taking lyrics to a literal level with pseudo-interpretive dance and turning any dance floor situation into an impromptu lip sync battle. And I gotta tell you. It. Is. Fun. I’m in a very “who cares” place in life and that translates to dance floors across this city. I’m cutting a rug at Stella’s on Fridays and Saturdays, twirling shamelessly to Whitney Houston. I’m joining the geriatrics on the west side at River City Saloon and using their lackadaisical step-n-sway to my advantage, throwing a spin or some other mildly acrobatic move in the mix to clinch my status as “best terrible dancer here”. I have also perfected the minimal-effort-required “chair dance”. Looks intense. Takes no actual stamina. And I’m loving it.

Dancing Man is me. He get it. He just wants to bop.

Dancing Man is me. He get it. He just wants to bop.

So let’s go, Grand Rapids. Let’s get weird and dance like only old people are watching.



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I Finally Met Nick Carter and I Botched the Whole Thing

I have been waiting for over a year to write the follow-up to Aaron Carter Hates My Guts. But I’ve been waiting my whole life to speak to a Backstreet Boy. Nick Carter announced a solo tour and it was coming to Grand Rapids. Nick. The guy. The Backstreet Boy. I had big plans. Plans that involved a title like, “Nick Carter LOVES My Guts!” but could also end up being, “I Peed My Pants In Front of Nick Carter”. I’m an OG boyband fan. One who spent the entirety of her teen years sleeping underneath countless Backstreet Boys posters. One who legitimately thought (at 14 years old), that if we only had a chance to meet, she’d be romantically involved with Nick Carter at some point.

Sort of awkward. Not nearly as nerve wracking.

Sort of awkward. Not nearly as nerve wracking.

The big day kind of snuck up on me. I wanted to lose 20 pounds and prepare a happy medium between losing my actual mind and keeping my cool/calm comedian plot to collect “awkward meet & greet photos”. But instead, I went on with my life and my #fatgirlthings with reckless abandon until Nick-Day came and the only plan I had was to show him the photo of me with Aaron Carter and just sort of ask him to do better. So, in lieu of crafting a genius bit that would show Nick how hilarious I am (so that he’d want to be my best friend and hang out with me always), I decided to fill my insides with alcohol. Because alcohol lowers my inhibitions and makes my aversion to touching less of a thing. Hugging is of major concern to me. I don’t have a germ phobia but I do have a big ol’ case of intimacy issues. Hugging = smushing your entire body up against someone else’s. Which seems intimate. So when I know I’ll be in a situation (like a Meet & Greet) where a hug is expected, I overthink it and get real weird with it in an accidental body language kind of way. Coming at me for a hug is probably a lot like trying to embrace a life size doll (sex doll…I mean a sex doll). The limbs bend, but the heart’s not in it.

If you’ve never paid your way into a celebrity’s embrace, here’s the way a Nick Carter VIP pass works:

You get an email the day before the event with very specific instructions. That email self-destructs upon opening. It doesn’t. But it does all seem very secretive and official. We were told to arrive and meet outside the box office promptly at 3pm. So we did. The email stated that we’d be met by the VIP coordinator and that the box office would have “little to no information about the VIP process”, so we had better wait for that VIP coordinator to lead us to our very exclusive Meet & Greet-slash-photo op with the Backstreet Boy himself. Otherwise we may be lost in the bowels of a mid-size music venue forever. Surviving by chewing on paper wrist-bands and lapping at puddles of spilled Sex on the Beach.

Just sitting, waiting, wishing.

Just sitting, waiting, wishing.

I was beginning to feel doomed to an eternity of wrist-band chewing after about 2 hours of waiting in line outside The Intersection, running across the street to the Tin Can to put more small quantities of alcohol inside my body, and mixing with the common-folk. The ones who didn’t have VIP passes. Once we finally made our way inside, we were herded to the front of the venue where most of the girls rushed to the front of the stage. In my somewhat buzzed mind, they were being dumb. Because. If we were supposed to have a picture with Nick, we’d have to line up anyway. Before the show. So. Like. What are you doing? So, me and my radiating superiority complex milled around the outskirts of the crowd and took sassy Instagram pictures about “gelled-hair men doing a sound check”. Until Nick came out and did his sound check. Right there in front of us. And then I’m the asshole. I had no idea a sound check was part of the deal. I couldn’t rush the stage after I had JUST posted that snarkily-captioned photo, so I did what anyone in my position would do. I slowly edged forward like a sarcasm-covered starfish and posted another Instagram photo of his outfit choice. Which in my defense was really bad. There are pie charts to back me up. Part of his outfit was promotion for a film he recently directed and starred in. Which I suppose is just good business.

Speaks for itself, really.

Speaks for itself, really.

After Nick checked his sound and sang a few 90s grunge hits, he hopped down and instructed us all to get in line for our photos. This was the moment. The one for which I had meant to prepare. The plan I did eventually come up with, however, was genius. I stealthily made my way to the back of the line, making friends and ushering people ahead of me while trying not to appear as if I had a scheme in mind. The scheme, of course, was to be last and therefore not rushed through the process. To have time to explain my purpose. My idea. To frame it in a way that made me sound funny and cool and make him want to participate with me and my funny/cool ideas. Except. As we got closer I got more and more nervous. Was I drunk? I didn’t feel drunk. But I had to be a little drunk. The girl in front of my group was certainly drunk. Drunk and talking about calling into work with a family emergency so she could skip being a teacher for the day and cuddle up to Nick, then rush home to pump-and-dump all that alcohol she ingested into her breasts before she gave it to her infant child. Seems like we’ve all been there.

At least I'm self-aware.

At least I’m self-aware.

I was about five people away from my literal teenage dream when it happened. I heard the photographer and the VIP Coordinator tell a wheelchair-bound girl to wait at the end of the line so that Nick could take another minute or two with her. I was crushed. Here I was, put in the awful position of having to continue being a human person and not a boyband-crazed monster. I had to just suck it up and give over my coveted last place in line. You better believe it was begrudgingly. On the inside. I had to keep up human person appearances on the outside (although my face is overly expressive so I’m sure I did a terrible job of masking my disappointment). But I was flustered. I was thrown off my game. I watched the ladies in front of me get their hugs, their “Hi sweethearts” and their smiling photos. I knew in theory that I was next and that I would have to think of a way to condense all of my words into about ten seconds. But I wasn’t ready. It was too fast!

I walked up, wide-eyed and wheels-a-turnin’ in my brain. I probably looked insane. I’m sure the photographer paused a moment and considered whether or not I should have kept that special place at the back of the line. For the safety of the others. Nick must have picked up on my crazy-vibe because he didn’t call me sweetheart. He nervously hugged me and asked me where I was from. I replied with, “Here.” Implying that I maybe lived at The Intersection, subsisting on those paper wristbands and puddles of sticky-sweet mixers. He sort of smiled and gently nudged me into photo position while I panicked and thrust my hand forward, presenting the photo of me with Aaron Carter from a year ago. I said something like, “This is what your brother did. Let’s do another!” Which of course makes no sense. He squinted at it, and me, and again nudged me gently toward a photo-appropriate position. So I said, “Let’s do a weird one. Maybe I don’t know you’re here?” And then this happened:

Just. I don't know.

Just. I don’t know.

I promise you, “Maybe I don’t know you’re here?” is what I said, exactly. 100%. It does not make sense. I give Nick a lot of credit for managing to pose at all, but up until 10 minutes ago when the photo was posted on his website, I didn’t know what he was doing behind me at all. I had some scenarios in mind, but none were this sort of bewildered, fuck-it-all-here-we-are extravaganza of a human exclamation. I love it. I hate it. I have no idea who I am anymore. Except. This is exactly who I am. I’m the girl who meets her teenage dream man and gets super weird with it, literally retracting into herself and muttering nonsense. This is how I spent my one and only interaction with a Backstreet Boy. And then I just left. I didn’t thank him or pat him awkwardly on the upper arm. I just sort of ran-walked away and into the cruel light of day.

And then I got really drunk. Like, really. I was disappointed and disillusioned and I just went for it. I spent the concert texting myself notes for this blog (none of which I have used), dancing badly and staring at Nick’s hot dad bod. He got a little chunky and I was loving it. He did approximately 6 Backstreet Boys songs, to which I swayed nostalgically and sang loudly and off key. At one point I wandered up to the merch table to harass Riley, the opening act. She was a good sport, but probably a little bit nervous about a drunk old lady asking her to take awkward photos. She did indeed let me take awkward photos. She was wearing a “cool girl” flannel and looked like how I think I’ll look in my head when I wear high-waisted pants. But I look like me and she looked amazing. I believe I dance-battled two other girls when “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” came on. When I tell the story, I nailed it. I danced while an impressed bouncer looked on in amazement and then walked away amidst congratulatory high fives. But it probably looked more like when your grandma cuts loose at the end of the wedding reception. You know she’s having fun and you just don’t have the heart to tell her that her dress is tucked into her sagging pantyhose, you’re just glad to see her finally moving around a bit.

This was the best one of the bunch. Sorry, Riley.

This was the best one of the bunch. Sorry, Riley.

I went to a few bars after the show, making at least 3 different bartenders hold on to my prized, autographed Nick Carter poster. I told anyone who would listen that I met Nick Carter and I botched it. I botched it good.


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The End of the Tour: Cue Background (Part Two)

Before you read, check out Part One or the TL;DR (summarized) recap HERE!


As I trudged sullenly out of wardrobe and made my way back to the holding room, I had a horrible realization. Not only was my ample rear end wrapping around a thick denim seam in a way that made me extremely aware of my downstairs, but there was no way I was going to be able to sit down in the tiny desk again. Not with the “mom jeans” acting like a splint for my entire bottom half. I had a choice to make. Either I could painfully and slowly lower myself down onto the shiny chair or I could stand alone in the corner, displaying my 90s cameltoe to the room full of post-adolescents. I chose both. Intermittently.

Adding insult to jeans-related injury was my sister’s triumphant return from wardrobe. She was dressed in Mary Janes, tights, a navy corduroy jumper and a delightful cardigan. Her hair was pulled into a side ponytail and her bangs had been slightly curled into her eyeballs. She looked like the adorable-yet-unattainable rich girl who flirts with the professor to get an A. She doesn’t need to. She just wants to know she can. My sister is only three years younger than I am, but for some reason her character was an eager freshman and mine was an aesthetically challenged adjunct professor who didn’t wear makeup and kept her knit stocking hat on, indoors. Or maybe my character was just the hipsteriest hipster of all time. Ahead of the sweaty-head game. Notice how I’m using the word “character” to explain what we were. Rather than just hopeful celeb-stalkers trying to play it cool in the vicinity of Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg. Because that’s what we were, essentially. Just crossing our fingers and hoping to be steered into a spot near Jason’s infectious laugh. The one that sounds exactly like Marshall Eriksen. Who I’m convinced is actually the same person as real life Jason Segel.

If it seems like I’m writing about a bunch of filler and not getting to the juicy bits that were sandwiched in between the director’s shouted calls, it’s because I am. Because we spent 90% of our time on set sitting in the holding room, waiting for instruction and sizing each other up. Cliques formed. Pig heads were impaled on spikes. It was a whole thing. I was beginning to think we’d never get anywhere near a camera or a delightfully tall celebrity when at long last, an assistant to an assistant poked her head in and told us to line up and get ready for our first big scene. Excited murmuring filled the stale air and we marched out into the cold to meet the beginning of our inevitable fame. As we filed into the open air, we were grouped together in sets of “normal college campus clusters”. My sister, the well-dressed ingenue, was lumped in with a group of smokers and directed to stand leisurely outside the building, puffing on the cigarettes anyone and everyone happened to have on their person. I was paired, rather than grouped, with a lovely girl who had had an even harder time in wardrobe than I did. She was chubby, and I mentally dubbed her “other chubby girl”. I, of course, was the first one. Since fabulous fatties flock together, our direction was to cross the street, chatting away and walk toward the building my sister was guarding with a nicotine cloud. While we concentrated super hard on crossing the street, a car containing Jason and Jesse drove past, parked, and the two of them began walking behind us. Maybe there was dialogue, maybe there wasn’t. Everything happened behind our backs, and happened about fourteen times before everyone hit their mark and got it right. This scene, like the others we were lucky enough to be involved in, was just a transition scene. Just the guys, arriving at and walking into the college. Very important for realism. Not a great sign of our chances of actually ending up in the movie.


More holding room time lead to our second scene of the day. We were grouped and paired again, seemingly arbitrarily, but offensive nonetheless. Some lucky youngsters were chosen to be in an actual scene inside a classroom. They would be playing Jason’s doting students, hanging on his every word in their advanced writing class. I was not chosen. I was an actual student of literature and writing, so clearly I didn’t fit the description. I hope the bitterness comes through in that last sentence. Please take note of it, just in case. Other Chubby Girl was chosen to be inside the classroom, so the director’s assistants had to pair me with someone else of similar physical ineptitude. They paired me with the old lady. You remember her from the first sentence of this adventure, right? She was in her late sixties, at least, and had a crazy look in her eye that would normally be reserved for state fair psychics and caricatures of gypsies.  She didn’t seem to think our pairing was strange, though. She nodded at me knowingly, jostling her wiry, gray hair and getting pumped up to walk hurriedly past a door frame nine or ten times. Which is what we did. I’m fairly sure the two of us never even passed the shining light of the camera, though. So at least the world won’t know parts of a film crew thought I fit in better with an actual witch than college students. Except you. You’ll know.

The final scene of the day was an exciting mix of hurried hallway walking and pantomiming on benches or slouched against a wall. This scene was a bit more complicated and truly tested my acting skills. Rather than just walk aimlessly until someone yelled “CUT!”, I had two marks. One to start on and one to end on. And it had to be exact. Talk about pressure. After we wrapped on the walking filler, yet another of only transition scenes, we started the more complicated task of sitting and pantomiming conversation as Jason and Jesse meandered past us, engrossed in their actual, scripted dialogue. Still up to their cruel tricks, the ones in charge sat me down next to a sixteen-year-old girl. The bench on which we were perched was deep enough for about half of my butt, but definitely not the whole thing. Meaning I had to rely on the musculature of my thighs to keep me in an upright and seemingly sitting position. Another pantomime skill I picked up. The teen and I earnestly discussed our characters before background was cued. I would be her tutor and she a struggling math student. We had subtle hand gestures picked out and a muted conversation based loosely on her asking if I could lend my notes for an upcoming test. We knew we’d be on camera in this one, so we wanted to bring our A-material. We were ready. Once cued, though, the teen lost all motor function and cognitive ability. She began wildly gesturing and mouthing what seemed like only exaggerated vowels. She looked like Sofia Vergara having a seizure. Every time. I was fuming. I tried to talk her down and restore some semblance of human behavior but it was too late. We looked stupid.


Like another knife in my already wounded back, I glanced down the hall and noticed my sister had been situated right in front of the two stars. Between each take I witnessed her chatting casually with Jason and Jesse. Conversations I would later learn were about what she did for a living, the fact that I was her sister, and that her and I are the same years apart as Jesse and his sister, of former Pepsi Girl fame. They smiled and waved at me as I tried to tamp down the steam of jealousy and the urge to shove the teen right off the edge of the bench. As a result of my sister’s thrown bone, Jason Segel said “Hello, how are you?” to me as he walked back to his mark between takes. And I almost squeaked out an answer as I contended with the yards of denim that had been firmly lodged inside my body’s many creases.

The day wrapped, and after twelve long hours we returned our wardrobe (though I’m sure fibers from those mom jeans will be with me forever) and sleepily made our way back to our cars and the real world of Grand Rapids. The only spark left in us kept alive by the possibility of seeing our wedgied mom-butts blown up on the silver screen. A possibility that ceased to exist once I finally saw the film.

Our entire 12 hours on set was reduced to approximately 1 minute in the film. There was only about one minute of footage from the school AT ALL, let alone with us trudging around in the background. Remember Jo-bro? He made it in. His smiling face shines brightly (and in focus) from inside the classroom. 16-year-old Sophia Vergara made it as well, but didn’t get enough screen time to share her wild gesturing. My sister was nowhere to be seen at all, but my knee, elbow and at least a fraction of my chin was available for a split second. At least I think that was me. It could have been a disillusioned member of the faculty.


The End of the Tour: Cue Background (Part One)

I spent a day trapped in a small room with thirty-nine other twenty-somethings (and one really old lady), scarce food and water and a general tone of disillusionment. I was an unpaid extra for a major motion picture.

Finding out via text on Tuesday evening that I needed to report for duty at 7:00 am the following day gave me no time to prepare either mentally or wardrobe-ally. What could barely be called instructions were simply: “7am call time, GVSU Mackinac Hall, dress 90s.” Luckily I had previously started stalking the production in very nerdy fashion. I had ordered the book on which the movie is based and was pretty well versed in the plot. I frantically googled “1996 street fashion” and basically copied the wardrobe from Empire Records as best I could from my own closet, pulling anything I thought might work for both myself and my sister.

We arrived on set promptly at 7:00 the next morning, called the number we were provided and spoke to a very confused Casting Assistant named Mike (but who would later be re-named “Snuggleupagus” by my sister). He didn’t seem to understand why we were calling him or why we were there at 7:00 rather than 8:00. Hadn’t we gotten the memo that the call time was pushed? We hadn’t. In fact, since we didn’t go through casting and had instead been invited by a very tight-lipped friend of a friend who assisted on the production, we weren’t on any lists that would result in memo-like emails. We were clueless. And not in an appropriately 90s sort of way. The cherubic youngsters whose power lived in the walkie-talkies strapped to their barely post-adolescent hips basically told us to go away for an hour because there was nowhere to “put us” at the moment. So we did. But you better believe I left a trail of snark in my wake.

At just before call time, we made our way back to the sassy, walkie-talkie-toting girl and were told to sign in with Snuggleupagus. We signed our photo-releases, gave him our pertinents, and dodged a bewildered look in response to my age before being told to go wait in the “holding room” which was also labeled, “Craft Services”. There were helpful signs throughout the building, letting us know which way the sets for different scenes were so we knew exactly where we weren’t allowed. In fact, we were really only allowed to exist inside the “holding room”, which was a small classroom that I may have once inhabited to barely pass an Algebra class. Just like the first day of Algebra class, everyone turned to stare at us as we made our way to two of the only open desks, far in the front right corner. Once I hurdled over crossed legs and strewn bags and found my way to my seat, I was able to take inventory. Everyone was younger than me. That was evident but no different from most of my social experiences so I didn’t think much of it. The attempts at “90s fashion” that I could see made me giggle, knowing that most of these people were still pooping themselves in 1996 when the movie is set. They were confusing 80s with 90s in a very big way, and those who weren’t confused about decades all seemed to think that grunge-flannel was the only thing people wore. I was 12 years old in 1996 and I knew differently. I was very smug in my outfit choice, and that of my sister.

The next hour or so felt very much like the first day of class. Nobody talked. Everyone looked terrified and found solace in the blinking screens of their phones. I don’t like awkward silence so to combat the deafening din of nervousness I struck up a conversation with the adorable Jo-Bro candidate behind me. I’m not sure I ever learned his name, though he did tell me quite a few times. But I did find out that he was one of about five paid extras in our midst. He had headshots. It was a big deal. Apart from automatically being in every scene and being paid a whopping $7.40 an hour, there was no difference between Jo-Bro and us. Except that he was taking his day a lot more seriously. After an eternity of sitting around silently sizing up the room, someone finally came in with a bit of direction. We were told that we’d be “released” to wardrobe in groups of five, and to sit tight until we were arbitrarily pointed to at some point in the next millennium.

Walking into wardrobe was the first of many sobering experiences of the day. Set up in yet another classroom, racks of ugly stripes, corduroy and stiff denim gave off a very “Goodwill” odor and really had me hoping my outfit would pass inspection. It didn’t. One of four tiny women scanned me quickly, called me “lady” and said I’d be a member of the faculty. This might not sound so bad. I am 29 years old, after all. But they didn’t know that. They were laughing and assigning archetypal college personalities to the kids who went before and alongside me. There were “druggies”, “cool girls wearing their boyfriends’ leather”, “smart/good girls”…and me, the faculty member. Barely recovered from that blow, I was asked (in a shout from across the room) what size I wore. Oh dear. Without much choice and with only a shred of dignity left anyway, I returned just as loudly, “I’m a 16, but I haven’t eaten yet today so a 14 is also on the table.” I shouldn’t have said that. Should not have offered the option of a 14 because that’s what I got. A size 14 pair of “mom jeans” in the lightest blue denim you’ve ever laid eyes on. The fabric was so stiff and structured that I had to literally jump and tuck myself into them before praying to every iteration of a god and sucking my stomach inside out to zip up. It worked. I was in. Topping it off with some rubber booties and a crushed velvet sweater underneath a giant purple windbreaker and knit cap, I was given the “100%” from wardrobe and ushered into hair and makeup only to be shuffled out again with no additions.