When I was 13, I wanted to write teen movie reviews for The Charlotte Observer. Another kid was already doing that in the Kid Flix section of Friday’s Entertainment and Things to Do section, but that didn’t bother me. I wanted his job.
I would sit at my mom’s kitchen table every Friday morning, flip through the paper, and tell her I could write better than this guy. She told me to call up the editor.
At first, the editor laughed at me, which only made me want to call her more. I called her twice a week for a month, leaving the same voicemail every time: “My name is Joanne Spataro and I want to write for your teen movie review column.” I saw “A Bug’s Life” and sent the editor a sample review. I emailed her every other day. I made an absolute pest (pun intended) of myself.
Finally, the editor realized I wasn’t going away. She hired me to review movies PG-13 and under for the Observer every other Friday. I made $25 per review, $50 a month. With all that free-flowing cash, I bought myself a red jacket and pant ensemble from New York and Company. There was no better way to blow my easy movie critic money.
But that all ended four years later. My editor told me I was no longer going to be a teen movie critic with the paper. I was too old. Yes, I had aged out. I was a has-been at age 17. A week later, I got an Observer goodie box with post-its, pens, and a stress ball. I considered it a severance package at the time.
I tried to move on as a normal teenage girl. I got a job as a cashier at Harris Teeter, but was so slow at counting change that management moved me to the artisan cheese counter. I wore a hairnet, a navy polo shirt, and khaki pants. The manager in dairy voted me Employee of the Month, which netted me a gift card to Starbucks.
Although I had a decent job and was going to college to get my paralegal studies degree, I longed to see my name in print again. I couldn’t fill the hole in my heart with all the crème fraîche in my cheese kiosk.
Years later, in 2010, I jumped into Just Do It!, a themed reading and performance series created by Vito Abate at Theatre Charlotte. I acted out a monologue as a character named Little Kitty. I first created her as a bit character in an unpublished novel I had written since age 14. I spun her off into a flash fiction story and then rewrote it as a monologue.
Little Kitty is part me, part Emily Dickenson, and all about exploring my greatest fears. She is reclusive and full of herself to the point of severe delusion. I worried people would think I was nuts, but I had to dig into my most feral emotions, or it wasn’t worth putting on the makeup I wore onstage. I had to put my teen movie critic life in the past.
There was some awkward laughter during the performance, which I loved. Little Kitty had to make people feel uneasy and confused. There was big applause at the end, lifting the eight-year fog on my brain. Chris Timmons, the owner of the theater, said he didn’t even recognize me onstage.
I eventually got see to my name in print again. This time, I appreciated it much more than my red-jacketed thirteen-year-old self ever did.
This is the original flash fiction version of Little Kitty Girl Celebrity.
Little Kitty, Girl Celebrity
Good morning! I didn’t see you there. Please, come in. I insist. No, really, sit down next to me. Would you like some of my chocolate raisin-laced popcorn? Fine, have it your way.
My name is Little Kitty and I was once a big star. I became a famous movie critic for The Stony Brook Gazette when I was thirteen. The column started as a teen he said/she said duo, but turned into my own show once Josh was fired, no doubt because my star shone too brightly to justify keeping him.
I gained rabid attention from young and old in quaint Stony Brook. I cut ribbons with giant scissors at store openings, sold acne crème in a local television spot, and even waved to fans from the Thanksgiving Day Parade float.
There was a catch: At my age, I could only review movies under the PG-13 rating that were “cheery and delightful to readers.” Gazette editor Olin Wright’s words, not mine. I endured comedies about talking dogs, cookie-cutter teen rom-coms, and even family-friendly action thrillers. It was so pat to me, even at that age. I had been obsessed with death and stardom since age six.
Unfortunately for Olin, I still loved the morbid and fabulous. My breakthrough came at sixteen when “A Star is Born” was rereleased at the independent theater. I told Olin that the film was unrated and “delightful” in many scenes. He caved, as I knew he would.
I took in Judy Garland’s struggle to stardom in that dark theater. I was fascinated with her husband’s alcohol addiction, commitment to a mental institution, and eventual trip to the ocean, wading further and further to his death. I was obsessed with Norman Maine. I love the scene at the mental institution. In this scene, Norman is nonchalant and tells his former movie studio co-workers that he’s being offered film projects.
This all went into my review, which incensed Olin. “Kitty, this is too graphic for our readers! Tone it down!” I intended to do that, but my next assigned movie was “Paws Up: Canine Detective.” I’d rather go blind than watch another dog use hip-hop slang. I took my chocolate-raisins-laced popcorn to the next theater room to see “Fame Whore.” I could not wait to share my morbid love for the film with my readers. I wrote that dying tragically is the best career move you can make if your star has fallen.
Olin was out of town when it hit newsstands, and the junior editor loved my refreshing review. What I didn’t know was that the Jennifer called Olin. Jennifer used me to get Josh back at the paper. I saw him getting his byline picture taken on route to Olin’s office. Olin was in a rage and fired me on the spot. Fired me, after four great years. I was unemployed and disgraced. I just wrapped my mink coat around myself, hoisted up and smashed Olin’s prized Ming vase on the floor, and screeched, “I’ll make a fabulous comeback, Olin. Just you wait!”
My comeback is in full throttle after all these years. I’m self-publishing The Kitty Times, which boasts a circulation of, oh, well that’s not important. The point is that my mother is a subscriber. Here’s one article:
Dear Interested Consumer (DIC),
What do you think of girls who used to be famous but now aren’t? Do you think they are ghoulish or frightening? I don’t think so, and you shouldn’t either. Girls who used to be famous, but now aren’t, are wonderful people with a fabulous past. I can tell you these special people are delightful people. They don’t like people too much, but please don’t stop reading this because I’ll just perish from loneliness. I want you to be with me, but I hate being with you at the same time. Never write to me, your handwriting is unreadable, but write to me often, for I’ll just cry if you don’t.
Send your letter to your favorite former child star care of. Kitty’s Agent: Mother.
This is merely the “tip of the iceberg.” Please read on for a strange, unsettling article on gardening with your feet, the style section on why stirrup pants encouraged loose morals in tweens, or how to spot bed bugs that exist in your feral imagination but are real to you. Finally, I have a voice for all of my fans to hear! I am making a cultural contribution to the community!
I even took out a full-page ad for my mom:
Mother, if I showed my face, I’d lose my mystique! In addition, I would lose my fans, who are clamoring for my return to The Stony Brook Gazette. But, I’ll never go back to the paper that made me a celebrity because they fired me. They said I was too controversial to be a kid’s columnist. People think I’m washed up, but I’m doing better than ever. Everyone loves Kitty! They truly do! I love and miss you, Mother, but I must stay in hiding. Besides, people will call Kitty strange or disturbed if they see how she looks and acts nowadays. Kitty doesn’t want that.
I’m glad you visited me for brunch. Truly, you are a delight. Now if you will excuse me, my mother is knocking on my bedroom door. I hope she made me pancakes with fresh strawberries. Or maybe it’s the nice men in white coats mother said want my autograph. You know them? Sure, I’d love to meet them! Let me get my good signing pen!
I don’t understand why they put me in this binding coat; how will I give them a legible autograph? I must have a word with their wardrobe department. White washes me out.