It is regrettably easy being Orange.
Considered across the years, the unrelenting lack of wit displayed by my grammar-school colleagues still rankles. I am storyless. Without exposition. “Orange Peel”? “Michelle Purple?” These are not the stuff that psychic scars are made of. If only I had gone to a private boys’ school out of a Robertson Davies novel or the youth of Prince Charles, I could have, for one thing, worn short pants. For another, I could have been monikered definitively, resourcefully.
The prank calls were even more remedial. “Is Mr. Banana there?” made quick work of we Oranges on many a dishwasher-loading evening. Now, while leaning lamely at parties or lodged dumbly in tavern booths, I nurture revisionist dreams of kumquat rinds coiled about my ears, pith-stuffed lunch boxes and orange zest wafting from freshly opened textbooks. Oh, my faraway gaze while describing the merciless cloakroom raids! Slicked in sugary goo from jamming my hands into creamsicle-stuffed pockets, I am suddenly surrounded by gimlet-eyed pointers and jeerers, trilling a song of sticky little Orange girls they have composed just for me.
No, none of this. No character-building. No chest-hair-inducing. Just “Is Mr. Banana there?” No, my Wildean prankster, you’ve got the wrong fruit.
Where have you gone, Mark West, Brent Dwyn—even you, Anita Veel? Where were you in the first place?
When asked by well-meaning and often fetching strangers if I was teased as a child, I am forced to demur. “It could have been worse,” I say, not a little wistfully.
It’s not like I didn’t do my part: braces, bad hair, top marks. Easy to find, too—when I wasn’t babysitting the junior k’s I was covering Mrs. Mechbach’s breaks in the main office.
Nevertheless, the only story I have is more suited to a second date than a barstool breakdown. “Where does it come from?” you query, the crumb of a crusty roll clinging sweetly to your lower lip.
Not noble Irish or royal Dutch, but pseudo-Italian. It goes back to my great orphan grandfather. That is, my great-grandfather, the orphan—his greatness as an orphan notwithstanding. How could an orphan from turn-of-the-century Italy not be great, really?
Doubtless there was torment, certainly there were short pants.
Being chased through piazzas, knocked about the head with calabrese rounds and taunted with chants of “Mama left and papa’s dead/ ’Cause you stink and peed the bed” made him grow up diamond-hard and shining. It made him get on a boat for Canada. Hell, I bet he built the boat with his own tormented, lousy-with-character hands. The Immigration official was so distracted by the steely gentility in my great-grandfather’s eye that he misheard “Arangia” as “Orange,” and, with a stroke of his pen, set the course of my life’s signal disappointment. Instead of being an unlikely black Irish Gina, I am an under-ridiculed Orange.
I am convinced that had my peers spent less time indulging their tactile fascination with the hair of the only black kid in school and more time focussing their unabashed ignorance on me, I would:
a. tell better stories at dinner parties
b. not have a 24-hour witty-retort delay
c. tell better stories on second dates, such as the aforementioned
d. leave more structured and assertive phone messages
e. tell better stories in waiting rooms
f. take more pleasure in food
At a certain point my name showed blood-chilling signs of chronic hipness. Big hairy deal. Any two-bit Plum or Peachy h. knows that chronic hipness and 50 cents will buy you a pack of (insert flavour/colour here) Tic Tacs.
Exiled in Vancouver in 1993, I passed out resumes like so many dandruff flakes to record-store cognoscenti who received them (and I use the term loosely) with pale, frustrated, flimsy wrists. Perusing my CV as I slunk out of the store, they would inevitably call out as I reached the Sub Pop “Loser” T-Shirt trolley: “Michelle Orange?” I’d summon my most enigmatic smile before turning to collect my tragic due: “Rad name!”
Yes, my circled eyes replied. Isn’t it, though? Take me home. Scrub me. We’ll have rad Orange babies and grow organic tomatoes. Then I’d turn back to the door, past the Mudhoney flyers, to oblivion.
With no support group to haunt, web site to troll or speed-dating service to enable my fear of prolonged conversation with strangers, there was really no place to go but home. I retraced my steps across the country, having given up (again [damn you, Brad MacDougall!]) on building a new identity. Somewhere around Saskatoon I resolved that a childhood deprived of nominal persecution would not define me. Straining to discern a reflection in the lastest hand-dryer—this one courtesy the Moosejaw Terminal bathroom—my mantra wrote itself: “I am not my lack of character!” I heard a snort from inside the stall, but what is a snort to the epiphanic soul?
As any family therapist worth their prescription pad will tell you, the deprivations of the mind will manifest themselves in the body and vice-versa. This phenomenon has been termed “looking for trouble” by fathers of young, healthy girls everywhere.
It’s also known as "University"—that era of lashing out and closing in. I put my arms around every hipster I saw, but every fantastical story of Orange-fuelled tribulation, every smothered quizzical mouth reminded me how hollow was my victory. Inaugural tutorials are a blur of dread. As my name was called out with a tentative, strangled French twist, I sensed the faces in the room wrench slightly with intrigue. Thus began the semester-long wait for my classmates, and—should I dispute an essay mark—my professors, to succumb one by one. “Orange? Really?”
Weary, nearing graduation and the end of my tall-tale capacity, I settled on the policy of truth. Eventually, word of my bereft anecdote arsenal spread and I was left, like a hermit uninvited, to rage at the injustice—and the assumption—of it all.
Now, in my duckling world of applications, registrations, enumerations, recalcitrations and vitamin supplementations, the instructive “like the colour” or alternately “like the fruit”— depending on my mood—are the main interactions my name incites. Sometimes on the phone, sometimes at tall counters or in glowing petri-dish offices. But mostly on the phone.
Yes, great-grandpapa Giuseppe, it has come to this.