Read an Excerpt
Colors Insulting to Nature
Part I: Are You There,
God? It's Me, Liza
July 23, 1981, Novato,CA
The faces of the judges revealed, although they were
trying to hide it, deep distaste for the fact that the thirteen-year-
old girl in front of them had plucked eyebrows and
false eyelashes. Something about her well-worn miniature stiletto heels
and her backless black evening dressside slit up to the fishnet hip,
with rhinestone spaghetti strapswas unsavory to them. The girl
looked way too comfortable. Equally unsettling was her performance.
". . . and now, I'd like to perform a little something by someone
who has been a huge influence on my work. This lady has the most incredible
pipes in the business. I'm speaking, of course, of Ms. Barbra
Streisand. Vincent?" she asked, addressing the horrified pianist, who
was busying himself with the mosaic of colorful buttons on his Yamaha
DX-7 that promised such sounds as "oboe" and "tympani."
"Could you give me 'Clear Day' in F, sugar? You're too good to me."
The child took the microphone and Cher-ishly flipped back a long
strand of zigzag crimped hair with fuchsia fingernails as the pianist
rolled into the opening bars. Her vibrato, though untrained (learned,
most likely, by imitating ecstatic car commercials) was as tight, small,
and regular as the teeth on pinking shears.
"On a Cleee-yah Daaaaaaaaaaayy
T'Wheel Asssssh-TOUNDYewww . . . thank you," she spoke, as
if the judges had just broken into spontaneous applause.
The mother, visible mouthing the lyrics from the wings in an exaggerated
fashion, was clearly responsible for this travesty, this premature
piano-bar veteran of a youngster.
"Yew can sheeeee Fah-REVAH,
The moderately talented girl was emoting with her hands, seemingly
tweezing the adult male heart out of its sexual prison with her kitten
claws, all too professionally. The judges squirmed in their seats, intensely
disliking the thought of their own daughters or nieces belting out a song
in this seamy, overwrought fashionparroting the stage acts of overripe
chanteuses, moist with the rot of numerous alcoholic disappointments in
both Love and Life. The mother would probably be devastated if her child
didn't land the gig . . . she might, in fact, lock herself in an all-peach-colored
bedroom and wash down handfuls of muscle relaxants with cheap
Polish vodka from a plastic handlejug; her unfortunate daughter would
be left for days without milk and forced to eat lipstick. It was this thought
that brought large grimaces of feigned appreciation to the faces of the
judges as the girl collapsed into the bow as if she'd just wrung every
drop of hot life out of herself and was now utterly spent. She blew a few
kisses toward the judges and urged them to "give themselves a hand."
The mother, whose diaphanous, mango-colored pantsuit was
trumped in visual loudness only by the Louis IVstyle stack of conical curls on her strawberry-blonde wig, came forward and shook the
"Say goodbye to the nice judges, Liza," she mewed.
"Goodbye to the nice judges, Liza," the girl cracked, with a wink.
"Go outside and amuse yourself while Mommy talks grown-up-talk."
Liza pouted theatrically, then waved bye-bye to the group of
middle-aged men as she wobbled on her heels out of the conference
room. Seconds later Liza was visible through the one-way windows on
the lawn of the industrial park, trying to swing on one of the large,
nautically themed boat chains that roped off the parking lot. As she
yanked one of the nagging rhinestone straps back up onto her porcelain
doll-shoulder, the judges were petrified with worry that the miniature
disco Lolita would be spotted from the freeway by a predator on a
quest for this particular banquet of perversion, who would swoop
down the on-ramp and yank the spangled child into a dirty van. The
girl seemed blithely unaware of such dangers and, as evidenced by the
trembling of her lower lip, was apparently singing again at top volume
as she jerked back and forth on the heavy chain.
Peppy Normal took a spread-eagled stand in front of the judge's foldout
table with her hands on her hips. Her mouth unfolded into a
glossed, yellow alligator-smile.
"She nailed it, didn't she. You know she nailed it."
"We have a lot of kids to see before we decide anything, Mrs. Normal."
"Boys, for Chrissake, it's a TV commercial, not a goddamn Nobel
Prize. Just cut to the chase and tell me: did she nail it, or what?"
The colorless klatch of balding men looked at each other helplessly
and squirmed in their orange plastic seats. The bravest among them
"The spokes-child that the OtterWorld Fun Park is looking for . . .
how can I say this . . . we were maybe thinking of a kid who is a little
"You wanted Shirley Temple schtick? I thought you were looking
Liza had given up trying to swing on the sunbaked chain and was now
pressing her nose and forehead against the tinted window. Peering in,
she could make out her mother violently gesticulating at the cringing
group of men. Two of the judges glanced miserably out the window
at her; her Nude Beige pancake makeup had made a small figure-
8-shaped smear on the smoked glass. Liza saw her mother grab her
oversize, gold-buckled handbag and storm out of the room. Knowing
her cue, Liza smiled and waved goodbye through the window again and
tottered through the grass toward the car...
Colors Insulting to Nature
A Novel. Copyright © by Cintra Wilson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.