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, a hairbrush 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, the interruption gave him time to notice that 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 turn around and —
“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 flouncing herself around, crying and babble screaming fuck this and fuck you and fuck everything. 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 perfectly balanced on her right foot, held her left leg straight out, contemptuously flicked her hand at 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? Golly 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 Logan’s stuff he’d collected 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 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?”
“She like always never said all of them, Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns.” Logan snuffle 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.”
“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. 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.”
“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 pajamas 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 up 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 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 meeeee.
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.”