Octopus!

Madam K’s ballet studio, West Hollywood, California / November, 1981

A pink ripstop Capezio ballet bag exploded against the old oak sign-in table to Jackson’s right, knocked over the metal fan that sat on top. Several rolls of sport tape, a flimsy black ballet skirt, toe shoes and pink floor shoes, a couple of tampons, Capezio logo t-shirts, an illegal in Madam K’s class leopard print leotard, hair brush and maybe a thousand bobby pins scattered out. One of the rolls of tape wobbled away like an old tire. The exploding bag had stopped him in the middle of the doorway. His legs hurt. No, they screamed. Not even a week in and ballet class made his old high school football practices look like two-a-days for pussies. The exploding bag, his legs…Maybe today would be a good day to —

“It’s like totally not right, Kenny! It’s so, so like totally, com-pletely, MEGA FUCKING WRONG!

He looked to his left, the direction the bag had come from, and a dancer who’d introduced herself as Logan somebody in the round robin of intros his first night side-armed another roll of tape that he fielded left handed. The other pre-class usually warming up dancers were against the far wall, a huddle of pink tights, black leotards and hair buns. A couple of the older ones, the mom age never-give-up-ballet-class types formed an outer circle in an attempt to protect the younger ones from Logan who was screaming, flouncing herself around, crying and babbling fuck this and fuck you and fuck everybody. Especially fuck Kennedy Costigan the reincarnationist space case hired gun ballerina right in front of Logan taking the brunt of the abuse. Jackson figured this was down to Kennedy and Logan being the only real pros in the room, both of them back home in L.A. on rehab hiatus from some big deal dance company in New York.

“Ten fucking years, you know, and like it’s all ‘there’s the door, adios Logan, motor.'” She paced in a small circle, threw up her arms, got up in Kennedy’s face. “God dammit, it’s so-like, like, totally unfair to the MAX!”

“Logan, you’re letting your positive energy get away from you and wasting it on –”

“Shut up, Kenny. Bag it, ’kay? Just shut up! You, you like still get to dance now and it’s so not, not,”  she spun around as if no one could see her full-blown end-of-the-world-and-my-life-as-I-know-it-face in the mirrored wall. Saw it herself and turned back.

“Logan, I had surgery. I’m telling you that you need to use this emotion, this energy, to get past whatever is holding you back.” Kenny put her hands in front of her chest, swept them slowly out and down then up in a wide arc. “Breathe, Logan. This is how we grow.”

“Get real, Kenny. I am like full grown and like breathing or I’d be dead, duh, a’right? What’s holding me back is like this mega stupid tape. Look at it!” She stood flat footed and perfectly balanced on her right, held her left leg straight out, the ankle wrapped in a cast of tape. “And like the gag me with a chainsaw totally dweeb hosers ‘it takes time’ doctors, and, and like you and your ‘listen to your bod, Logan.’ As if! What’s it going to say, Kenny? Huh? Gee whiz, Logan, you’re so like such a totally lame poser dancer person now that you like barf me out when you even like try?” She looked past Kenny at the dancer huddle. “And like for real I’m so sure you’re all psyched. ‘Logan can’t dance, did you see her spazz her jeté? Now she’s a totally wiggin’ loser’…” After what felt like an eternity to Jackson she lowered the leg she’d been holding out, wrinkled her face in defiance, dropped into the wooden chair behind her and folded over, shoulders to knees. A ballet rag doll in the throes of death.

***

Madam Konstanova breezed through the door, ever present clipboard and cassette tape in one hand, battered ghetto blaster in the other, immediately registered the entire room. She devil eyed Logan’s debris field. “Miss Bevan-Burns, are you quite through? This is a dance class, not anger therapy. You will pick up your things and prepare yourself…Mr. Jackson, that is Miss –”

“Her mess, I know.” He stuffed the wad of clothes and tape in the pink bag. “Give me a minute?”

“Mr. Jackson, I do not think you –” Kenny put a hand on her arm.

“Jackson is an old soul.”

“Of course he is, Miss Costigan.” Madam K rolled her eyes, set her clipboard down. “Aren’t we all?” She righted the fan and faced the action with folded arms.

Jackson knelt, thighs wailing, in front of the dead ballerina doll’s color of a slightly overbaked biscuit ballet bun.

“Hey.”

“Hey what?” The bun didn’t move. Knees slightly apart, feet together, one flexible ankle folded over on the floor, the other flat footed, a sweaty, dirty cast of athletic tape around the back half. He reached for the bulk of taped ankle, she pulled it away under the chair.

“NO!” She raised her head, not her body, tears smearing her cheeks. “Leave it a-lone! You can’t like fix it. You’re like, like a street guy, not even a dancer. My foot’s screwed and I’m like totally screwed and like nobody can fix it. Leave me a-lone.” He pulled her foot back out.

“Tape’s gotta go, Logan.” He looked over his shoulder. “Scissors?”

Madam K opened a drawer in the sign-in desk, rummaged, brought him a pair of long, thin, knife like barber’s scissors.

“NO!”  Logan twisted her entire upper body almost a hundred and eighty degrees to her hips, “Oh shit! Don’t! I can’t watch…The doctor…NOHHHH!”. She dropped her head and arms over the back of the chair.

“So Logan,” he moved into a cross legged position on the floor. “What’d your mom call you when she was mad?”

“Huh?” She raised her head off her folded arms, tried to find him in the mirror. “Like, seriously?”

“Seriously.” He wedged her taped foot in the bend of his knee.

“Oh.” She lost the glum for a second. “Um, Godammit Logan?”

“No,” he slipped the blade of the scissors behind her ankle bone, “your whole pissed off mom name.”

“Godammit Logan Nicole?”

“That’s it?”

“She like always never said all of them, Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns.” Logan snuffle snort laughed. “She’d like have totally forgotten what she was mad about if she yelled all of them.” She quit fighting his leg with her foot. “I like thought my first name was Godammit, you know, until, well, I went off to mega bitchy skinny old men and witches ballet teacher Nazis school, and they like totally forgot all our names and yelled godammit at all of us for-ever.”

“Yeah? What’d they yell about?”

Everything. Eat this, don’t eat that, drink more water, stretch more, get over your hips, where’s your extension and like we neh-ver got to bounce from dance class. Neh-ver. Dance. Get yelled at, dance, dance, dance.”

“Madam K’s not that bad, is she?”

“That was at Sob, not here.”

“Sob?”

“Oh, like duh. School of American Ballet? When I was 12 I like got a scholarship. Named after a car.”

“The Camaro fund for future ballerinas?”

“Are you like totally dance blank? Ford.” She paused, index finger to top lip. “I think.”

He could see her watching the red SUSHIRAMA sign from across the street flash in the mirror, hoped it would hypnotize her while he made small eighth-inch progress snips in the tape.

“Are you like into sushi, Jackson?”

“No. I –”

“It’s like raw fish, right?”

“Yeah. I tried it once, wasn’t sold. Like oysters. Both were lost on me.”

Oy-sters?” She sob laughed again. “Oy, oy! Like why not Oy-oy-sters. Grody?”

“Maximum grode factor. A guy I was in a band with, he took me to a seafood place when I was 16 where everyone at this long bar was shooting oysters.”

Shooting them? The little rock things in the cold place at the back of Safeway? Like with guns? That’s like, like so wrong.” She saw herself in the mirror. “Like me.”

“Nothing’s wrong with you but some bad advice. And the shooting wasn’t with guns. Where we were the oysters came on a big plate, already open, and the people covered them in hot sauce and slurped them down. They called it shooting.” He felt her leg relax more, kept snipping.

“Like in one bite? Guh-ronk?” She gulped for effect, trying invisible oysters. “How big are they?”

“Well,” he was getting close to having the tape off. “The only way I can describe them is like the way this guy who took me did. I asked him, you know, what were Oy-oy-sters like and he said ‘Jailbait, no way we gonna eat that shit. People can’t put enough hot sauce on them damn things to make ‘em right.”

“No?”

“No. He said only really sick puppies would eat something that looked like it fell out of a cow’s nose.”

She snapped back around, eyes wide. He wished he had it back. Her eyes got wider and she grabbed the tops of his shoulders.

“Ohmahgawd. Oy oys. They’re like…hugh-go SNOTS? Like when you’re not totally sick anymore, but kinda, and you cough and like this com-pletely gross mess jumps into your mouth from the back? And it’s like get rid of it now, don’t like swallow it or it’s technicolor yawn time?”

“Yeah.” The tape hinged back off her ankle. “Like exactly, totally like that.”

“Ohmahgawd, Jackson. Octopus!”

“Octopus? Wha –”

“I know. Yuk-oh, right? Betcha can’t eat it.”

“Yeah?”

“For real. Some old tuxedo and flowers man? He like took us all to dinner and told us it was like some delicacy, right, and I like chewed a bite like a biggo gum wad till I thought I was about to turn into a cheerleader or something. And like it was still there. So I, um, well, like kinda coughed it into my hand and dropped it under the table…And Squid! Like how can anyone like eat something called…” Her whole face relaxed, her lips pulled in to a small pucker. She looked down. “My foot. It’s…free. You like…what?”

“Who taped this?”

“Uh…A doctor? Or a guy like a doctor, only isn’t but works there? And like wears doctor clothes and waaaaaay too much cologne and like con-stantly smiles like a Halloween pumpkin thing? I go every other day or, well, it like gets totally sweated out and,” She wrinkled her face again. “But they say I can’t like dance without it, so…” The tears started to come back.

“Can’t like dance with it, either. C’mon, Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns, lighten up. You’ll be right in no time.” He picked up the roll of tape he’d caught, tore a strip. “Tie your shoe.”

She wrapped the pointe shoe ribbon around her ankle, tied it off. Wiggled her foot, winced.

“Ohmahgawd. Over my pointe shoe?”

“Yeah. Watch this, you’ll need it.” Jackson had no idea how anyone could bend that far over from seated but she did, and watched, engrossed, while he wrapped the piece of tape under her heel, around her Achilles, across her ankle, pulled it tight before he smacked it open-handed.

“Ow!” Her eyes came up from his hands to his face. “Is that like, re-quired?”

“Sets the tape.”

“‘Kay.” She dropped her head, watched as he tore another strip and came at her heel, Achilles and ankle from the other side, tightened and smacked it. He stood, took her hand, pulled her out of the chair. She hit pointe, wobbled a little, found it.

“Oh…mah…GAWD. What? How? This is so…” she pirouetted, stopped dead still, raised her right leg, dropped it on his shoulder. Her arms wide she added a hand flourish that sent her fingertips skyward before bending forward, all huge eyes in his face. “How?”

“Long story. Short version is I knew someone with Frankenstein tape on both ankles. A sports doc said she’d never get any strength back with her feet locked up in tape. Tell your not-a-doctor you want some stretchy kinesiology tape and you can tape like you are now before the shoe goes on. You good?”

“Bo-nus yeah!” She spun away, three, four, five tight turns, caught her usual place on the the first barre and curtsied, her face as red as a cherry. “Sorrr-eee, everybody.”

Madam K clapped twice, icicles hung from “Ladies…and Mr. Jackson.” The huddle against the wall broke, classical piano music seeped out of the battered jam box, the volume undulating in a slow tremolo with the movement of the oscillating fan. Jackson found his place at the far end of the third barre and thought about Logan and snot and octopus chewing cheerleaders. It helped him make it through another class. For the first time without any involuntary groans accompanied by fuck me.

***

Madam K, clipboard clutched to her chest, stopped him by blocking the door after his post class duties as the male balancing stump for dancers needing to work with a prop.

“Mr. Jackson, you may have helped her for the evening, but I do not believe she heard a word you said, nor do I believe Miss Burns will be able to tape herself.”

“You watch.” He worked himself into his sweatshirt. “As bad as she wants to dance? She’ll get the tape.”

“You have a great deal of confidence in someone, who, were she unable to dance as she does, would surely have been killed by now.”

“What I’m sayin’. Nobody who dances like Logan could be as big a bimbo as she puts up. She just needs to talk to somebody besides dancers once in a while.”

“Perhaps.” Madam K tapped her chin with the class cassette tape. “In the event she has difficulty?”

“Send her to USC sports med and the kinesiology people will make her better than she was. Sending her’s not a bad idea whether she can tape herself or not.”

“My usual attitude toward musicians, particularly the young, modern set, is one of tolerant contempt. With you I may have to adjust my position. You do realize that you will never be a dancer?”

“You’re the second person to tell me that since Monday. And you know what?”

“Yes, I do. But please, don’t say it.” She stood aside to let him out. “Miss Burns’ episode was quite enough profanity for one evening.”

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Groupies – I Just Love Your Wife Version

“Thank you so much for coming! I just love your wife. Did she tell you what happened last week?”

Let’s see. Someone came back from China, and the girl from Boston Ballet was soooo beautiful and soooo nice, and the place was packed with girls back from their summer intensives and professionals from all over the world home to see family at the end of summer, and…Yes. I always go back to ballet class with Nana Ballet when she comes home. None of those feel like the right answer. “Duh, no…” doesn’t work in public when asked by a woman who was a New York City Ballet Ford Foundation scholar at 12 and loves your wife.

“I’m not sure. I heard a lot about the ballet studio last week.”

“Let me tell you, she is such an inspiration. She didn’t mention it, did she? Well, there was a large group of very talented young dancers, and some of the younger ones who adore her all filled the big studio on Saturday. And one of them overheard your wife say she needed to check on your grand daughter in the studio next door. You wouldn’t believe it. They were all talking. ‘NO! Like Oh my God. We don’t have to stop taking ballet just because we have a job, or get married or go to med school or get old? We can like still dance when we’re grandmothers? Oh. My. God’. One minute she was another adult taking her regular class crowded in the studio with them, telling them all how lovely they were, and whoops, there’s a grandmother in their ballet class? I think that’s wonderful, don’t you? All those talented young women realizing that dance can be forever. We just love her.”

Nana Ballet strapped the granddaughter into her eighteen-point space capsule car seat, climbed in the front seat, closed the car door and adjusted the air conditiong vents. Off of me and into the back seat like there’s not air blowing back there already. I turn one back my way and get the look.

“I hear Nana Ballet is an inspiration.”

“Seriously? Please. Those girls stand in center, no barre, stick their legs straight up in the air and say things like ‘I can’t believe how stiff I get when I don’t take class’. Ms. K has dancers at ABT, Miami, Seattle, Houston. Denmark. Everywhere. When I saw them all in there on Saturday morning I should have turned around and come home. I shouldn’t have been in a leo in the same building with girls that young and talented.”

No? Shouldn’t let strangers that come up to your knees and hug you get hugged back, either? Not likely…

All you need to do is show up, be real, and kind and able to appreciate your own limitations and the beauty of other people’s gifts, and the magic that needs to happen will take care of itself.

The Recruiter

Chix-Stix walk up, Beach side of the 1, Central Malibu, CA / May, 1981

Jackson closed his eyes, white knuckled the armrest of Logan’s Firebird when Logan pulled her stunt-driving school parking-brake-from-sixty-burn-rubber-hard-left across the Pacific Coast Highway into the beach side gravel parking lot of Chix Stix walk up.

“Fun, huh?” She elbowed him. “Like, I am like so totally stoked,” she checked her tire marks, “I can’t do that, you know, like in the city.” She looked past him at the mostly empty beach in central Malibu. “Why does this look like so familiar? Is this like what Kenny means, you know, with her Daisie Who?”

He skipped correcting her. “Down there to the right is where Jim Rockford’s trailer was. Where we are is the Taco place.”

“Ohmahgawd! You’re like totally storming me…but…it’s like,” she bummed for a second, “a chicken place, not tacos. You know, right, that Rockford is why –”

“You told your dad to take the new Camaro back and get you an older Firebird.”

“Oh. I like told you, huh? I am so-o…” She pushed on her top lip with her index finger like she was looking for a pout, found something else, smiled. She was out, bouncing up to the Chix-Stix window. The guy who was generally shitty to everyone tried it on her, she tilted her head, he lightened up, wiped his hand on a dirty towel and pointed to the furthest blue and white and rust metal picnic table. She strolled, taking it all in, eyed the bench and sat, eyes closed, hands on either side palms down, communing with the essence of James Garner’s butt.

Jackson ordered, carried the tray, sat across from her and popped the question.

“Oh, awesome! Me? You want me? I would so like totally love to play softball with the TV ladies and Kenny and you and, um, like the queen of naked in a magazine girl. Which is, um, totally not right, really. I don’t think. I mean I couldn’t, even, ever…Okay.” Logan composed herself, used both hands to move her coconut chicken bites and broccoli basket half an inch.

“Like after you’re not a virgin anymore? But just because like, you know, you’ve shown it to somebody and that’s over, right, like whew, really, and maybe somebody else, too, but to totally show everybody? I mean I don’t wear much when I dance. And you can tell like how much of everything there is, boobs and butts. But you know you can’t like see them and, um, that, in leos and tights. I guess they all look alike, so what’s the big deal with me and mine, right? Unless they’re all different, boobs and butts and, um, those. But it’s like mine, okay? And, um, not everybody’s.” She moved the basket back the half inch, took a bite of broccoli.

“But it’s okay. I totally want to meet her and everything, because I’m not like prejudiced or anything as long as she’s not a for real mega whore. Is she? No, um, because you wouldn’t, I don’t think. Would you? No? Okay.” She dunked more broccoli in avocado ranch dressing, turned it around in her finger tips before taking a bite. “A softball team is like a corps de ballet thing, right? With all the same costumes and everything?”

“Jesus, Logan. She’s not a whore, she’s a psychologist now, and you’ll love her. You never played softball before?”

“Yes, I think. But if I haven’t? I can run and jump and they have costumes, so I can totally pretend I know how and be besties with it, ‘cause that’s what I do. Is it the one like baseball? With the boring hard bench thing? ‘Cause that’s like…Well, ewww. Fishing! Not as gross, but for real they both have like the same fun IQ as pavement. Have you ever been fishing?” She reached across the table and took his Coke. Her eyes waited politely for his answer while she drained his cup through the straw.

“My grampa was pretty into it, and we went when I —”

“I did. Once. To be nice, you know?” She set the cup back in front of him. “But what a total gross-out waste of time. This old forgot-to-shave man? He smelled really bad. Like old beer cans you pick up and throw away but sniff first? And like the dead-fish-on-ice place in the back of Safeway by the murdered cows? My dad, we went in a boat to fish with the beer can smelly man. It was like a dad and daughter thing that was totally lame. For me. Dad drank beer so I guess, um, he had fun ‘cause I had to stop talking to him after a while. And eww-my-gawd, Jax, the smelly man? He stabbed a baby fish with a big hook! Right in front of me! I was like get out baby fish murderer! Then I thought, and my dad got mad about this, that like we could go home and I didn’t have to fish anymore after that, right, ‘cause the man was putting a baby fish on my hook so dad could take a picture and be done. And because it was hot and the boat and the man were so-o stinker. And like the whole daughter fishing thing was a huge no-go for me. But dad and the man had beers left. So…”

He looked at her over his cup he’d popped the lid off of looking for anything left inside. “So?”

“So did you know that’s how they catch fish? For real! They totally murder a little baby fish and throw the whole hook thing with the murdered baby fish on it in the water! So some bigger fish will eat the murdered baby fish and get caught! ‘Hi, I’m a baby fish, just living in this bucket of water and old smelly beer and fish guy in rubber pants stabbed me and threw me out here to get eaten! That is so-o com-pletely horrible. So, um, I am like totally off fishing. For-ever. I still like shrimp ‘cause that’s like all about nets and stuff. But not lobster. Because I got in big trouble one time when I was little. This fat man my parents hired to cook lobsters for a dance reception? I told him to like go throw himself into big pot of hot water and see how he liked it. And that he was so-o lucky nobody had a humongous pot for fat lobster cooker men and he was safe until I grew up and got to be rich and had one made for him. But um, that was before I knew dancers don’t like get rich unless they marry one of those old tuxedo men with flowers. So anyway, they murder all kinds of stuff before we eat it! That’s why Kenny is like sort of a vegetarian person. She eats that noodle-y stuff and potatoes and soup. And way too many beans. And bacon. She likes that a lot. Bacon isn’t like a vegetable, it’s like pigs, I think, but she says it has a divine flavor she is totally down with, and —”

“Logan? Softball. Focus. No bench. We talk to people, they take pictures with the TV girls, which is why I need you to help when Randi and Lori —”

“That’s why! You know, why I want to be a softball girl. Because of all the TV ladies. They are so-o awesome. Can I like talk to them and everything, you know, and be like ‘Hey, TV ladies, I’m Logan Bevan-Burns and like I see you every morning inside my TV and you totally have the most amazing hair eh-ver!’ Because they like do. And like awesomeness teeth, too. Can I ask them if they like totally bummed on their braces like me?”

“Yeah, fine. But what we really need is you and Kenny to talk to the people in the bleachers, and bring that ballerina thing because little girls like that and —”

“I can dance in my softball costume? That is so off the…What do I say to them?”

“You tell the Perfectly You is Perfect story better than anyone. I can get you some cards with a good picture of you dancing and Perfectly You is Perfect on the other side. You could autograph them or write ‘keep up the hard work’ or something.”

“Borrrrrrrr-ing. More no fun IQ. What is wrong with you? When we’re little we want it like totally big, not some sweaty girl with a ‘go get’em, princess’ routine. That’s like what dads do. It’s all smelly beer cans and murdered fish and that is like duller than my rubber pirate princess knife. When my ankle was hurt and I was rehabbing and didn’t know what I wanted to do if I couldn’t dance? I worked at Disneyland. In a candy shop for, um…well, like not very long. I wanted to wear a princess costume so-o much, because, like especially Sleeping Beauty when I was there? She was such a snot! Like a ‘Now children, bee-have’ hair-sprayed TV mom and in the bathroom she called them a bunch of handsy little shits. And, well, I think they were, you know, doing that sneaky boy thing. Anyway, this really old man, they called him the princess wrangler? I made him so mad until he like cussed and everything. So I cussed back and said ‘I’m a ballerina, don’t tell me I can’t wear a princess costume because I talk too much! Like we can never, ever talk when we dance and it’s all about the costume, dancing and not talking, you know? So give me the fucking costume and I’ll shut up and show you how princess goes.’” She took a break, squirted some more ranch dressing out for the broccoli. “So. I don’t think I’ll ever be an official princess. Except in a ballet. Are they different? You know, official Disneyland and ballet princesses?”

“Princesses are princesses, I think. Ballet makes them a little more special.”

She frowned. “Only a little?”

“A lot. Softball?” All he could do was wait. “Yes” or “no” from Logan never came without a story. Several stories.

“I have a secret.”

“I’m good.” He gurgled the last of his Coke from the ice.

“So after Disneyland? I have a secret that is way more secret than even it was me who did the big SBD at Blanco’s last time we went and not the dishwasher man who came out of the bathroom that you said dropped a green bomb. I…Oh no! I told you!”

“Jesus, Logan. What secret can be more secret than you cut a weapon grade hungry ballerina fart at Blanco’s and let me blame it on an innocent dishwasher?”

“Sorr-eeee. Okay. I know Kenny paints faces ‘cause she is so like a totally talented painter and dancer person. My secret is I want to be a balloon man sculptor. In my almost official but can’t be because it would be illegal Snow White costume. I want to be an amazing, awesome, totally the best balloon man ever. Only a balloon man girl. Who tells little girls mega super big princess stories and makes them weener dogs and crowns. And flying saucers. And dragons. With balloons.”

“You want to wear a costume and make balloon things instead of play softball? I can live with —”

“No!” She reached over and knocked on his head. “Are you in there, duncemundo? I can like totally run and do that bat thing and everything in my softball costume and then change when you’re tired of me. I can’t be like boring splinter butt bench girl just talking. Mega bor-ing duh. But the balloons would make it so…” She drifted, held up a chicken strip like she was thinking about tying a knot in it. “I, um. I can’t, really. Yet. But, um…” Her secret balloon tying anxiety caused her to almost swallow the chicken bite whole. She separated the rest of her chicken bites and broccoli into neat piles on either side of the fresh squirt of Ranch, picked up one of each, dunked them and stuffed them in her mouth. He could see her thinking.

“But, um?”

“Okay. I found a man. Not like he was lost or anything, he was in the yellow pages. I went to meet him out in the Valley and everything? But he’s like a little weird and, well, mega weird squared, really. He does birthday parties for little kids and he’s like the ultra-est balloon man in the galaxy. His hands are all way ewww wrinkly and his mustache is like white but orange in the middle. And he totally smokes so much he like smokes when he’s not smoking! He said we could work something out for lessons? And I said that was like for real not happening in any universe and so then he said it’s two-hundred dollars for three nights. And I had to bring murdered cows hamburgers for his dinner. Every night! ‘Cause he said first I have to learn how to blow them, right, and then how to make them go bent when I do, and then how to make them look like something. That’s three nights? Yes! So, um, I thought you could go with me. We can take my car with the ‘thank you Jackson and Peach’ way stellar sounding tailpipe things you helped me put in.”

“You’ve thanked me like a hundred times for that when you did all the work. There were probably forty guys standing around Peach’s Garage waiting to see what a prima ballerina from Brentwood with jacked airshocks on a Firebird would do with a blow torch and pair of Cherry Bomb glasspaks. Peach couldn’t buy advertising like that. Let me get this straight, Logan.” He put everything of his on the tray and pushed it to the side. “I need to go with you to learn how to tie balloons into things like weener dogs and dragons because the balloon man is a creepy letch. And that’s two hundred bucks. After that you’re maybe going to bring an almost official Snow White costume to the games? Halfway through you’re going to stuff your pockets with balloons and make weird balloon things for everybody and tell princess stories? Probably based on ballets? Is that my picture of Logan and softball?”

“Yes! You way have it, amigo! Only like duh, Jackson. Ballets are totally based on princess stories, not the other way. And I have an apron from a wood store. You know, like the wood they build houses with? They have doors, too. At the wood store. You know, if you ever need one.” She caught his look. “A door, silly, not an apron. Anyway, the apron has biggo pockets for the balloons if Snow White is out ‘cause of the corps de ballet softball costumes. And that’s like totally okay, if it is. ‘Cause I can’t be like the only soloist, mega look-at-me ego bitch in a princess costume. That would be so-o totally wrong and I’m not, you know, like that. Unless, like when I am the soloist in the princess costume and then it’s okay if I’m a bitch ‘cause that’s for real like, um, you know, my job.” She reached over, set her pasteboard chicken and brocolli basket on his tray, took his last napkin and his wet wipe. “So now you have to kiss me out of my dress again quick before Saturday because I heard it’s like way big time against all your rules to cruise Big-O City with the softball team girls.”

“Logan, I can’t afford balloon lessons and another new coffee table. So —”

“Puh-leeze. You don’t have a coffee table, Jackson. That was at the French lady’s. You only have those like totally the best big pillows eh-ver.”

Skin Deep

The Nutcracker – Dress Rehearsal 2016

“You looked great up there.”

“For someone more than twice as old as the principals from New York City Ballet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did. We’ve been married ten years longer than they’ve been alive.”

“So, it’s good that you looked great up there on the same stage with them.”

“Mmm. I’m not so sure how great I looked.”

“I have pictures.”

“You weren’t supposed to take pictures.”

“No flash. How long have I been doing this?”

“We just had that discussion.” She flipped the visor down, opened the mirror. “Anyway, my costume is a blue velvet corset I’m cinched into. And I have my extra nylon hair.” She put the ringlets in a large zip lock, stuffed them in the dance bag then dumped fifteen bobby pins that would stay in the cup holder on her side of the console until the next trip to the free vacuums at the car wash. Or we bought drive-thru coffee in her car. Or she ran out of bobby pins.

“You still looked great.”

“The secret is old lady ballerina make up.” She peeled off one eyelash that would have made Dolly Parton envious, blinked in the mirror.

“I didn’t know they made that.”

“Oh, they make it, alright.” The other eyelash came off, got stuck to a small piece of white cardboard with the first one, wrapped in wax paper, dropped in a make up bag. She blinked again. Her own lipstick had come out and she did that thing women do with lipstick and a car vanity mirror.

“What’s in it that makes it so special?”

“Spackling.”  She rubbed her lips together, checked the mirror, smiled. “And formaldehyde.”

The Nutcracker

Go see The Nutcracker, wherever you are, whoever is doing it. It’s good for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than a couple of times and it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Throw Some Flowers

“I got a new costume this year! It’s blue and lavender, not that old green thing that just made me disappear. And there’s a girl, she’s one of my teacher’s old students, she’s a mom with me this year, she was a principle at Houston ballet until guess what? She broke her sesamoid, too, like me. Then she went to college while it healed and she works at some corporation now and has a four-year old and doesn’t have time for ballet or anything…” I see the look that is doing child age and career math equals time line to return to ballet class. “But after this and Ms. Kathy, she’ll be back. It’s like a habit you can’t quit or something, almost. You can quit for a while, but then it just runs over you again. And she was a principle, a real professional, so she can’t stop. And this guy? He was there last year, he said he was so glad to be back because this is the best time of the whole year. And he’s right. Last year I said I probably shouldn’t do it anymore, but now I’m glad I am. I don’t know why I got picked again.”

Please. Maybe because put you on stage in a costume, some $20 curls and too much red lipstick and you light up like a freaking Christmas tree. And that’s the real story of The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker party scene is where, in regional productions anyway, lucky retired and adult ballet dancers get to put on costumes and make all of the rest of the year’s classes worthwhile. The hired dance-slingers from ABT or NYCB come to dance the dreams of a little girl named Clara alongside the best of the young dancers the area has to offer, some of their retired peers, maybe even an ex-childhood teacher. And a pretty grandmother who gets to wear a blue and lavender costume, not the old green one.

The remarkable thing about The Nutcracker is that it does with music and dance what we, as a global society, often cannot. It transcends religion and geography and tells a story full of cross cultural fantasy and spectacle and fear and joy and when it’s over everyone throws or delivers flowers to the stage where it happened. How cool is that?

Here’s the deal. The Nutcracker is supposed to be about Clara, a little girl who dreams her dreams of faraway magical lands that she shares with a brave, handsome prince. But what makes the music come to life, what makes the principle dancers from the best ballet companies in the world look so spectacular, what makes people cheer year after year is that the stage where it happens is packed with ageless little girls’ dreams, not just Clara’s. Dreams so big and real they fill up a theater with their hope and that inexplicable magic of belief in something bigger than reality.

So if it’s your neighbor’s kid or your kid or grand kid or your wife, or even if no one you know is in The Nutcracker playing in your part of the world this year, go see it. Talk to a stranger in the lobby, toast the season. Take some flowers with you and give them to a dancer who might be famous, might have been famous, might have been hurt, might even be a grandmother. This season, no matter what you believe, make yourself part of something bigger and better and more magical than what the nightly news would lead you to believe is our world.

Quesadilla

“All I want to be when I grow up is a ballerina.”

“I think everybody knows that, mom.”

“Most ballerinas retire by the time they’re forty. I don’t think anyone is going to hire me at sixty-one, huh?”

“Probably not.”

“I just love it so-o much. Is that stupid or what? Me and the other old – lady ballerinas. I can’t believe I’m going to a night class. I used to feel really guilty when you were a baby and I’d go. I won’t be home till after nine.”

“Lots of people are out after nine, mom. You’ll be fine.”

“I know, but I got up at five and I’m exhausted. I ate half a sandwich and a little bag of Cheetos at one. I guess I’m not too bloated.”

“Mom, it starts at seven. You’ll be fine. You haven’t gone to night ballet for a while, right, except for rehearsals? What’s dad say? He doesn’t care, does he?

“He says he’ll split a quesadilla with me and leave it in the microwave. And you know your dad, he said he knows if he bitched and told me to go fix dinner and run the vacuum cleaner I’d poison him. I told him I wasn’t passive-aggressive, I’d just stab him or something and be done with it because I don’t have the patience for manipulative stuff. He said the strangest thing, though.”

“Dad says lots of strange, spacey things.”

“Really, right? He said the reason he’d never told me ‘no’ about school or books or ballet wasn’t the knife or anything but because the two things in the universe that cast the longest shadows were love and art. And if I was lucky like him to know both I should stand  by the window and let the evening sun kiss me before it went down and throw my ballerina shadow into forever.”

“Sounds like it’s still okay if you go to ballet class at night.”

“I guess. But you know, I’d go anyway. Splitting a quesadilla with me is nice of him, though. Don’t you think?”