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Rememberance

The dates had been set for a trip for Lee and I to New York City. A drive up with the remainder of my daughter’s boxes, sixteen of them in varying sizes and weights, two portfolios, two pictures carefully wrapped in blankets, one tool set and a two by six by eight inch stone signed by fellow students from the inaugural class at The America Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC. The dates were changed from later in the month to earlier – her work schedule changed and, always overprotective, she worried about us traipsing around NYC by ourselves. On our end, work became heavy and, heading into summer, we were reticent to tell patients they could not have appointments.

It had been months since we’d seen her. Too long for me. But, in the end, though I missed her enough to bother her by phone nearly every day, it seemed a trip destined for difficulty. I felt we were pushing it somehow – the fast drive up and back, the shuffling of patients, the challenge in accommodations as she had, as yet, no couch or blow-up bed and I was not looking forward to arriving in NYC and immediately dropping a few hundred on a sleeper sofa.

Lee suggested Alek go along instead. We made the plans but, at the last minute, he felt it was a bad idea. Not just for him, but for anyone. In the end, it seemed he was right and we canceled. But I still needed a day or two away and Lee suggested Gainesville.

I had shied away from Gainesville. But, now settled into a home I like, visiting the place I considered my home for so long no longer seemed melancholy and bittersweet. I could go to my favorite gardens, walk the trails, climb the sinkhole, sit downtown, stay up late at my favorite coffeehouse, spend the afternoon at museums. And I can get from here to there well before a single MP3 disk runs out.

I asked Alek if he wanted to go – to get away with me and leave Lee the house to herself for a couple of days. Happily, surprisingly, he said yes.

This might have something to do with my having invited his girlfriend too.

Jessica is a sweet kid. A smart kid. We have made it a point to include her in the household whenever we can. She’ll watch TV with us, have dinner with us, go out with us. We want her to feel welcome and to know that she is. This is no chore – she’s fun to have around.

A week ago, Alek took her to South Florida to visit my father and brother, my in-laws. She learned quite a bit about the family and, yet, she stayed. So why not take her to Gainesville and show her some old haunts and tell her some odd stories. Let her see where Alek was born, where we lived, learn a bit about his parents.

Besides, Alek is quiet, Jessica talks. She and I will sing in the car while he sits. When we go out, he is worried about which one of us will embarrass him more. In short, it’s fun to have her along and it makes Alek happy. So why not?

The day was set. We leave Thursday. An easy trip. One night there. Gardens, sinkholes, museums, flea markets, thrift stores, retro clothing, coffeehouses. Maybe I’ll look up some people I know. Maybe not. I post a status message on Facebook. “Anything musical, festival, artful, eventful, funful or playful going on in Gainesville this Thursday of Friday?” I should have known not to, I did know not to, and I did it anyway.

Wednesday night I got this reply as a message on Facebook. It is from Tori, a friend of fourteen years. Tori thinks it is longer and I don’t tell her any different. The subject was “The Wild Young Zikr, Poetry Jam and Potluck”

I had gotten an invitation to this a month or so back but, since it was in Gainesville and I am in Palm Bay, three hours away, I said no. That and the fact it was a potluck which means there will be food and people which means eating food and talking to people. Actually, that was the only reason I said no.

The entire body of the email was two words. “Come by.”

People who know me, who spend time with me, come to understand that somehow, often somewhat uncomfortably, often somewhat frequently, they are in for new experiences. Tori, later, Victoria, later Murshida, always Tori to me, is like that as well. Having seen the comfort-stretching, learning and experiencing my friends tend to endure when around me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to say no. I had to say it quickly and before it was too late.

Why did I not use the word no? I walked right into it. I said “My dear Dear, It is a party. That means I will be struck with near paralyzing fear, cold with sweat, and wanting to crawl into any hole I can. Then I’ll cling to anyone I actually know and then worry about having done that. How’s THAT for a confession and knowing myself?” I added, “Besides, I won’t have been able to have cooked anything.”

There. That would be that. Done. Over. Crisis averted. After all, I promised no more forcing myself into social situations. I didn’t need them, didn’t like them, didn’t want them. And I can lie to myself as well as the next guy.

On the occasions I have needed a psychotherapist, and I assure you I have and do, I have not seen one. Why? Pack of idiots. Pulling out their tricks and counting on their common logic. I know their tricks and can out-logic them half asleep. Too smart for my own good, I am told, I have never found them to be effective. In psychotherapy, a good therapist has to get past your mind, past tricks and leave you with no place to go but in the direction of discovery, experience and growth, of finding or leaving. Tori is a psychotherapist. I should have known better. I should have just said no.

Her reply.

It’s not a party– it’s a ceremony– does the invite say party? That was a student’s oversight.

Come at 8:30 to eat and for Zikr– helping clean the dishes as your contribution to the meal will help manage your social anxiety between the eating and the invocation– bring a couple of dark chocolate bars to add to dessert– you can break them up and arrange them on a plate once you get here– another activity to manage social anxiety…did I tell you I was almost paralyzed by this for years… covered it up because I am an actor. It sucks. My heart to you! I love you.

And Zikr… Zikr is… Zikr is…

5,000 years of Dervish Divine Magic. 130,000 prophets in the room, Illumined Teachers in the room, music beyond what is being sung… such beauty.

During the height of the Moorish Empire when our ancestors lived in the Iberian Peninsula enjoying what is sometimes referred to as The Golden Age of the Jews, there were seven generations of Jewish Sufi Sheiks. And you, my dear, area Dervish to the core. So… if you don’t come I won’t be insulted for a moment, but what a thing to pass up… eh?!!! ♥ ♥ ♥

Damn. She did exactly what I would have done. The sidestep. She deflected my issues, piqued my curiosity, spoke to my longing and left me nowhere to go but discovery and experience and growth. She left me nowhere to go but her house on Thursday evening.

Hmm… social interaction and food. Nothing like dropping myself directly into the lion’s den.

But, if it is religious as well, it would probably be interesting to Alek, soooo…

Mind you, my newest poetry is not printed out so all I have is some older things. I mean, I have the new stuff on Internet access and on the computer, but not on paper. So if I read it might be something you have heard before.

Eight-thirty, eh? Dark chocolate, eh?

You know, if I’m on stage, I’m fine. If it is my job, I’m great. But I have even stopped going to contra dances for fear I won’t get asked, or, if I ask, I’ll be turned down. I never am but I know, next time… next time… so I don’t go. I just stopped forcing myself.

So what’s the dress code?

Why was I asking her that? Was I actually going? I asked the kids to see if they might say they’d not want to go. I prodded. I suggested.

“Sounds interesting,” they said. Damn.

Tori’s reply to my queries and misgiving?

Dress code is comfortable. Alek is welcome of course. Lots of young people. Not a place for performing actually. But what comes through comes through… you’ll see. Someone will be holding your hand most of the time and guiding you through… I promise that! lol. ♥ VA ♥

I wrote back. “Guiding me through? I’ll have Alek’s main squeeze with me to. Guiding me through?”

Notice the sidestep here. “Awesome… ,” she answers. “The Path of Love Loves Lovers… yep yep yep ♥”

“Damn, it looks like you are giving me something to write about. CRAP!”

“Yes!”

I have not written much in the last two months. It’s not that I have nothing to write about. I am working on a revision of a book coming back into print, on a novel, on a series of vignettes, on promotional material for the office. I have things I could write about. Maybe too many. A friend joked the other day that my problem was I had so much to write about that I don’t know where to start. I said “I need assignments. Write about this event. Write that story. Even better, maybe someone will give me an adventure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a something interesting I could go to, less than a day away, that I could write about.” Make sure you really want something before you ask for it.

So Thursday morning we set off.

It is a three hour ride and we arrive in town with plenty of time. I take the kids on a tour, showing Jessica the house we lived in that we bought because of the live oak tree (age three), where the Lubavicher rabbi, one Shabbos eve, got Alek drunk on vodka and he spit up all over the rabbi in return (age four), where I died in my orange VW bus after a head-on collision with a blue truck, laying across Alek keeping him safe (also age four for him), his elementary school, Littlewood (ages five to nine), the old cooperative school we started out in the woods (ages who knows), Civic Media Center, where I got my start reading poetry at a clothing optional event (age who knows again), the bookstore we owned (age seven to nine) which now sells cigarettes and beer, and the house he was born in (not age four).

We pass the houses of people we know and decide to not stop in. Many we have made attempts to keep up with and most of the friendships fell apart from disuse as the distance and time grew. Some I email and some I call and from none do I get replies. That evening, I clean out my phonebook.

We explore downtown a bit and stop in at Flashbacks, a retro consignment shop. We buy a dress for Jessica and some cool whacked-out multi-coloured skater shoes for me (women’s size ten) and a great, magnificent find – a plaidish wool fedora. Neither appear to have been worn at all. Ever. Divesting myself of fewer than twenty-five dollars and feeling well on the upper-side of the bargain, we set off for lunch.

El Indio. It is not hard to find it and we have a great lunch of Mexican food under the trees on Gainesville’s main street, which is not Main Street, but 13th Street, US Highway 441. From there we walk a block to Mother Earth and buy three bars of dark chocolate. Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate.

There is a whole lot of tired going on. We head back to the West Side, near Archer Road, and look for a hotel. Classes let out for the summer a week ago and rooms are plentiful and inexpensive. We settle in, me in one room and Alek and Jessica in another. We will rest and, in an hour and a half, at quarter ‘til seven, leave for Tori’s.

Out Hawthorn Road, in the Southeast region of the town, down towards the lakes, in a hidden area of small to medium, iconoclastic adobe, A-frame, tin-roof, shack, balcony, geodesic houses, each more improbably different than the next, we wind around dirt roads until we find Tori’s home as described, notice the many people sitting, standing on the wide front porch. I had hoped we’d arrive before most of the people and I feel my heart rise in my throat.

It is difficult to find a place to park and we squeeze past the cars on the narrow lane, turn around at the end, at the bank of Calf Pond, and squeeze past them again to park by the top of the street, unblocked and unblockable by any car obeying even the rudiments of the spirits of logic and the traffic laws. I have planned my escape.

The kids exit the passenger side. I left not quite enough room for me to get out and I step into the vines and loam, smoothing my way against the side, compressing myself over the hood. Down the road, up the short path, two steps up to the porch.

“Adam!” She rushes toward me, slams into me, hugs me. It takes me a moment to process the voice, now buried in my shoulder. Kat. Katey. “Katey!”

In her mid-twenties, tall and thin, other than a sporadic picture on-line, I have not seen her for nearly ten years. Long among my daughter’s best friends, even when distant. For years we saw her nearly every day.

I introduce the kids. Alek, of course, she knows though he has changed much since his age was in the single digits.

She takes my hand and brings me, around the people, inside. A small house. An adorable house. Different coloured walls, arches, stucco, sashes and prayer flags over doorways, devotional items on the walls, a fireplace to the left on the front outside wall as soon as one enters, and a table at the far end covered with food. A floor. The floor looks like people. Pillows and people. A sea of people between the front door and the table. A sea of people wearing shorts, t-shirts, sarongs, tank tops, less, more. I step around, over, through.

Really, it is not that crowded, but I don’t look down. There are many people but I don’t look down as that is where they are, sitting. Katey tells me her mother is busy talking with someone and points to a door through which I assume Tori is. And she must go as well. “Wait a moment.” I reach into my backpack and hand her three large bars of the 85% cacao chocolate. “For the desert table.”

We stand. It must be a few minutes or maybe a few seconds. I look at Alek and say softly, “I’m going to go outside where I’ll be less conspicuous.” I am not thinking about the fact that I am dressed in a button-down, albeit flowered, forest green shirt and dungarees which is as comfortable as I get when I don’t know the people. No, I am thinking about my mere presence and palpable, I am sure to everyone, discomfort.

And from some part of the room I hear, “be less conspicuous?” And so confirmed becomes my belief, my self-fulfilling prophecy, that people notice me, laugh at me, talk about me. I walk out the door again. Across the porch, down the steps, to the road and walk to the left, the right, one end, the other.

Out comes Tori. Tall, bright, nearly buzzed white hair, dressed in white, flowing inside and out, she hugs me. And I do so adore her. Always have. And miss her. Always do. She senses the discomfort even as I melt. She tells me how good it is to see me. She takes my hand, leads me around, introduces me to people, tells them she knows me much longer than she does. I don’t argue. “Want to take a walk to the pond? We have a dock that goes out into it.”

We walk down the road, onto the narrow, single file, wooden dock. In the water baby gators swim by.

“I swim in there,” Tori tells me and a few other people who have followed us, met on the way, or were already there. “I just listen to my instincts.”

It’s time to go back to the house. Time to eat. Back up the lane, inside. Tori walks to the table, gathers people around, points to the dishes and tells us what is what, what’s in it, who brought it. Time for a blessing and we all gather in a large circle squashed by the walls. Someone is missing. Tori’s mom. I’ll get her, says someone and leaves the room. A few moments later, her mom, thin and white, sitting in a chair, is slid into the room, chair legs across the tile floor.

The last time I saw her mom she spoke. The last time I saw her mom, she walked. Last time I saw her mom… I want to go over and say hello. She smiles. People talk to her. I can’t. My lack. It has not been long since my mother died and it feels like that. Far too much like that. Far too soon. And immediately I feel badly for my inability to communicate with her, my desire to distance, the feeling, if I walk over, I will begin to cry and see my mother, again, cold, dry, dead. My last image of her and I can’t do that now.

It is my lack. But I choose to be kind to myself. As kind as I can be while still dishing self-reproach.

The blessing begins. Tori leads it, blessing the food, our gathering, that we have come together to share this meal, this love, this precious time together and our reaching out to one another in union, in expansiveness, in joy. That we all move toward the one and the one moves within us all, each a ripple or wave in a single expansive sea.

And we eat. I wait, as always, not wanting to be seen eating, that someone might say, “he’s fat but he’s eating?” knowing, as I do, I am the only one who begrudges me food. But I wait, regardless, until the line is down, ’til seconds have been had, ’til cleanup has commenced, ’til most are busy talking, or laughing, or walking in the warm night.

I grab a plate and find the food is gone. This was my hope, of course. My son tried to get me to eat. I told him I would. But if the food is gone, what’s to be done?

There is half a slice of bread left, made by Tori, spelt and seeds and dense and delicious. There is a handful of cucumbers and a few fork-fulls of salad. I eat. Beside me is a conversation about massage therapy and sore legs. One woman has shin pain and wants to know how to stretch to alleviate it. It is a chance to help and I apologize, ask if I might make a suggestion, and, with leave, do. She is a massage therapist, not a student as I thought, and I think they might believe me to be egoistic. But it is information she did not have and seems happy for it. And I back out off the conversation before I have worn thin my welcome.

I bring my plate into the kitchen and, among three other people, wash my dish. Then other dishes on the counter, then gather other things to wash, happy to have a chore – doing something that allows me to face away from others and with no expectation of socializing. When there are no more dishes to wash, I walk outside. The kids are sitting on a set of steps.

Jessica is feeling uncomfortable. Her stomach hurts. She feels somewhat nauseous. Part of me wants her to want to leave and I will, of course, concede. part of me wants her to come in. We’ve come this far, why not go all the way? Tori comes over, crouches, speaks with her, assures her no one will ask her to do anything she feels unable to. She agrees to come in and give it a try. I am heartened. I am undone. My mind, my will, divided, opposed to itself, gets what it does and does not want.

Then, we are called back into the living-room and asked to take seats upon the floor. There are pillows. I refuse one, knowing, within ten minutes, my legs will be asleep. People push in, Tori askes we get closer. “Smush. Smush.” My son to my right, Jessica beside him. To my left, a young lady who’s name I do not know. I do not know anyone’s name save my son, Jessica, Kat and Tori. She wears a green dress and sits on a pillow. Everyone has a pillow and she leans forward and grabs one of the few remaining, piled in the middle of the room, and insists I take it. She has a Spanish accent, South American. Argentina, I am nearly sure. I refuse the pillow. I refuse the kindness.

“Smush Smush.” We do, I am pressed against Alek and he sits tightly. I try not to impose on his space. Ms. Argentina is pressed against me and I try to move to give her room, but there is no where to go. She sits cross legged and lets her legs fall to the sides, her right leg resting on my lap. I thank her for the excellent suggestion of the pillow, taking it from behind her and popping it under me. Newly elevated as I am, her leg still drapes over mine, resting on my thigh. I have no choice but to melt and breath.

Tori lays a sheepskin down in front of the fireplace and sits. “This (drawing a large circle in the air) is Islam. This (drawing a large circle slightly intersecting the other) is Sufism. This little space where they come together is Islamic Sufism but the rest of this circle is Sufism too. A long time ago, Mohamed welcomed the mystics, persecuted elsewhere, into his protection. Everyone was welcomed. Muslims, Jews, all the mystics. And they sat on sheepskins, or ‘sufs.’ So they were called Sufis.”

Zikr. It means to remember, to praise, to celebrate, to devote. It is movement and a spiritual state. It is to occupy ones body and mind, simultaneously, with the act of devotion so there is no space, no thing within that is not involved in devotion, not filled with celebration, not engaged in remembering, not suffused with love. The entire being becomes a celebration of all that is within and without and, soon, cannot tell one from the other. All things are divine and nothing is not the ground of creation. Zikr. Dhikr. Daven. Sway, rock, recite, repeat, praise, sing, move, move move.

She speaks about recognizing each other. Sufi’s, those on the path, mystics, though not all alike, recognize each other, as she recognizes us tonight.

There is further, but brief, explanation. Some chants will be in Aramaic, some in other languages, but all will be translated and all are here to bring us toward the one, toward unity, to ecstasy, out of our bodies and out of our minds to expansion past our skin-encapsulated egos, and into the ocean of being. We will be soaked, drenched in the one. We shall be drowned, encompassed without, filled within, by the love of all that is.

“Allah hu. Hu Allah.” A name of the one and the universal sound, a breath. We chant. I was taught a similar chant by Rabbi Isenberg, now the Chairman of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida. We would breath, chanting fast, bowing our heads. ” Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil / Adonai Eloheinu / Adonai echad.” Three bows each time, one for each part. Fast, faster, breathless. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour. Shaya would gather the Jews of a mystical bent and the Muslims of a mystical bent and have evenings he called “Jufi Dancing” to prayers and songs and chants. The Dances of Universal Peace. On Sundays, often, we’d play soccer, the Jews against the Muslims, no one keeping score. A name for oneness is a name for oneness.

Yet, I have trouble as the chant takes hold around the circle. First I sing not at all, then quietly, barely moving my lips. Then, as time passes, the chant starts singing itself and I feel no choice.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But we don’t need to understand the words. Sometimes the words are lost. Sometimes we can’t pronounce them. The rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

A rabbi taught me , if I don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound. Some chants come and go. Some, though, have power in their tunes, power in their sounds. They last. “Allah Hu.”

So I sing. And Tori begins to twirl. She spins and spins and spins in the little space there is within the circle. She bends down and grabs someone’s hands and they spin together. She lets go and that person grabs someone’s hand and they spin. We chant, we breath, they spin. With each choosing of a new partner, I wish simultaneously to be chosen and overlooked. We sing we sing we sing, they whirl, they whirl, they whirl. Faster and faster and then, as though by cue, we slow and breath and slow and slow and stop.

We had all pulled our legs in, to make more room, to not get our feet spun upon, and Ms. Argentina and I are now rather nestled into each other. And it is time for the next chant.

We count off into ones and two. Hold hands. Ones turn to the left first, then right. Twos to the opposite. Say “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Turn. “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Again. Again. Look in the eyes. Repeat. Again and again Ms. Argentina and I look into each others’ eyes, tell each other “I don’t exist.” Alek and Jessica are doing the same. Alternately, I turn to Alek, tell him “You exist.” Back to Ms. Argentina. “I don’t exist.” People are snickering, some laughing, some looking down, some follow through, more and more, look around, smile, radiate, expand, glow.

We rise and learn a song. Umbay alahay alahay alaho / Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Rise an octave.) Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Drop and octave.) Umbay alahay alaho. We sing. We sing. The circle breaks and the beginning of the line moves, sways, walks, dances. We become a snake, moving, swaying walking, around the house, into the kitchen, out the back door, into the yard, singing, walking, spiraling, singing, singing, faster, slower, louder, softer, tight, loose, drawn, compressed, expanded, pulling, pushing, singing singing singing. Passing eyes, looking, gazing, singing, the line doubles on itself, we face each other, it spirals again, we face away, it folds, circles, folds. We coil, coil, sound in our ears, singing all around and after an unknown time, we are all spiraled into a singing coil, tight, tight against each other, side by side, front and back, singing, pressing, pressing. Warmth and sound and naught else.

There is nothing to do but sing and melt. I cannot tell where I end and the next person begins. How long have I been holding Ms. Argentina’s hand? Alek’s hand? I am pressed between them, against the person in front of me, the person behind me. Briefly, ever so, I take inventory. What is there? Sound. But so much is missing. Anxiety. Worry. Boundaries. Me.

We quiet. Sing in a whisper. Slowly uncoil. Sit on the warm Earth. Come back inside. Sit again.

We are quiet. It is time for a story. Tori starts it. We each add a bit then pass it on. I am two thirds of the way around and it falls in and out of continuity, the story of a lonely woman of the distant past. A woman who lives in the desert and wishes to see the ocean. My turn comes and I do my best to return the story to the realm from which it came, to address the original question, get the woman to the ocean and away from caves and talking cats and speeding cars and back to her home and time and desert and to help her find her ocean.

The person before Tori has his turn. “I don’t have to finish it, do I?”

“No,” she says, “I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”

He takes his turn. So does Tori. But the story is undone.

“Adam,” She asks. “Would you finish the story?”

I guess I’m not anyone. I am surprised. It is a compliment, I know. And I take it gladly, finishing the story with the breath of the divine lifting the woman and her carpet to the clouds, to the sea. Everyone blows. Everyone blows. Our breath together is the divine breath. Our wish together is the divine wish. And together her wish is fulfilled. Together, may all our wishes be fulfilled.

Tori looks across the room, smiles, puts her hands together in front of her heart, shakes her head yes, says “I love that man.”

And, yes, I believe it’s true. And, right now, so do I.

 

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Appledance

I can’t remember having waited in a line this long. And certainly not holding this much. Not in DC waiting to get into the Capitol. Not in New York City waiting to get to the top of the Empire State Building. Not at the DMV. Maybe at Disney World, but I was twelve and that was Thanksgiving weekend. I haven’t been back since.

I am holding five bags containing a total of three pecks of apples while balancing a spaghetti squash and three jars of elderberry preserves. Lee is holding her purse. That seems fair.

Homestead Farms is crowded. With hayrides out to pick your own pumpkins from the fields, stands for freshly made caramel apples, squashes of various kinds still happily on the vines, and trees full of apples – Rome, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Stayman, and who knows what else. Now the apples are picked-clean but the pumpkins are still out there and the lines are crazylong with kids sticky, wheelbarrows full and parents camera-laden. Summer is full of berries, but fall is all pumpkins and apples.

I walk to a window. The sign above it says it’s for hayrides. I poke my head in front of the lengthy mass.

“How do I pick apples?

“All picked-out.”

“Just walk in?”

The gal behind the window, underneath the goat overpass, looks to be sixteen, maybe, and happy to be where she is. She repeats herself a bit more slowly as I might be hard of hearing or, perhaps, a moron, “The apples are all picked-out.”

“What if I pout and make sad eyes?” I draw a line with my left index finger from the outside corner of my left eye, down my cheek.

“Then you will be sad and still have no apples.”

“Good point, but can I go look anyway? I bet there will be at least one apple out there for me. Things are just like that.”

She smiles. “You might be right. Just for you.” And she points the way. No need to wait.

We walk between the barns and weighing stations to the orchards, find it empty of people, walk the rows, smell the fermenting applefall under the trees. Among the Fujis, at one of the trees, I reach my hand in, drawn deep inside. There is an apple for me. Just one. Huge. Monstrous. Forgotten. I pick it. It is red, perfect, without blemish.

As we walk between the rows of trees, the air is cool, the fall hues have set into the leaves coloring the trees and the ground, and I have a fresh apple in my hand, sweet and all mine.

I take a bite. It is hard to do. The apple is so large I can’t open my mouth wide enough, my teeth can’t get a purchase on it. It’s like biting a flat surface and proof my mouth is smaller than people tell me. As I eat the apple, small bit by small bit, feeling, chewing, my chin, my cheeks, my nose become apple-sticky from continued attempts to bite the sweet red crisp fruit. I am pulled in by gravity as much as taste and texture. I dance as I walk with my face buried within the globe. It is all I can taste. All I can smell. All I can see. I am consumed.

Lee, instead of dancing with me, is just watching and smiling. She doesn’t have an apple so she can’t have an appledance.

Though she certainly did dance with me the night before.

We’re in a partyroom, behind the skyboxes, at FedEx Field in DC. The event is the becoming a bar mitzvah of Matthew Gloger, son of my Sweetie’s cousin, Fran Gloger and her husband Mark. A beautifully well-done affair, comfortable and low-key, set in Matthew’s favorite place. First there was the tour of the stadium and the locker-rooms. I had never been in a stadium before, had never even sat to watch even a moment of a football game, let alone explored a stadium, played in its skyboxes, infiltrated its innards, walked its field. This is where the Redskins play, whoever they are. And this is where the entire population of the city in which I live could sit to watch them do so. After a walk on the field, there is dining and the dancing.

The dancefloor is twenty by thirty or so. Set up in the middle of the long hall, wall to wall, it separates the room in two. Against one wall are a DJ and a large white translucent screen with colored lights behind it. On the floor are two hired dancers – a tall black fellow and a short white gal – to make sure everyone is comfortable and to lead the partiers in line-dances and Thriller dances and whatever dances were popular then or now. Adults seem to congregate on one side of the dancefloor and kids on the other.

Much of the music is selected for a thirteen-year-old and his crowd. Music Matthew and his friends like. That makes sense. After all, it is his day. But through the night there often are slow dances or music of an age or type that calls the parents, who then flood to the dancefloor. Adults flood in from the dinner tables and skyboxes, kids flood out to the kid’s buffet and party-rooms, kids flood in, parents flood out, waves and waves until that rare moment when the music is right and waves flow in from both directions, flood to the floor and dance.

Lee and I dance to as much as we can and each slow song that is played. I dance with Lee, her cousins dance with us, her aunts dance with us, her mother dances with us. As long as I have known Lee’s mother, this is the first time I have seen her dance. Not that dancing with her is strange, though it is, but there is more to it. There seems, in that dancing, an acceptance of my presence I have not felt in the past.

Before one dance, as the music starts, I step aside to wave her through the crowd and onto the dancefloor ahead of me, a normal display of deference and manners.

She keeps her place in line. “No, you go ahead. You’ve been part of this family long enough.”

Is this acceptance? It seems so. It has been only a week since Lee’s father came to the same realization – that I am permanent. Our eighteen year old son, Alek, and twenty-four year old daughter, Sef, isn’t proof enough. Twenty-five years married to his daughter isn’t proof enough. What is? An electric bass and Elie Wiesel.

It is a week earlier and Lee’s mother and father are visiting. Her father, Lou, is taking a look at some of the minor changes we’ve made in the house over the past few months. He looks into my office. A computer desk, a laptop, couch, meditation cushion, bass, dulcimer, uke and amps.

“Is that Alek’s bass?”

“Nope. Mine.”

“Yours?”

Then, seeing the walls of books, he asks me something about “Night” by Elie Wiesel. He had just heard of it and is intrigued. He wants to know if I have read it. I have, and I hand him one of my copies.

“You have this?” One would think the answer was obvious, me just having handed it to him.

“Sure. And a letter from him on the wall. We had written to each other a few years ago.” I walked him over to it and he spent a moment reading. “Sef saw him in Washington but I have the letters. I think we’re each a little envious of the other.”

“Elie Wiesel sent you a letter?”

Again, one would think the answer was obvious. As he reads, as the evening progresses, it becomes equally obvious that, after nearly thirty years of knowing me, of dinners, holidays and occasions, he has just now, just today, at the age of eighty-two, decided he has a son-in law and not an interloper. Lee shakes her head. “He could have had that son-in-law the entire time.” True. True.

And so, as part of the family, I enter the dancefloor ahead of my mother-in-law.

There is Bob on the dancing with his daughter, Emma. Bob Phillips is married to Cheryl Levin, one of Lee’s cousins. Both are artists. She works in stone and finishes and interiors soft and hard, in mosaic and mural. He is a blacksmith who creates fences and gates that give one the impression one has shrunken to the size of an ant and is looking up at blades of grass with an occasional dragonfly having decided to alight and rest lightly. You expect it all to wave slowly in the next breeze. He manages this with wrought iron. Butterflies you would expect to float on the air but are the size of VW Beetles and made or iron. Doors, chandeliers and nearly anything else you’d want, Bob can render in organic perfection so one cannot tell where nature ends and art begins.

Years ago, on a visit to his studio in the Fishtown neighbourhood of Philly, when his thirteen-year-old Emma was five, he made and presented to me, three feet long, five inches wide, a question mark. He could not have known, during my earlier college years, the faculty and staff of Miami Dade Community College, where I was teaching, had presented me with a construction paper question mark and “The Order of the Grand Enigma” during an awards function my final year on faculty. And here was a second question mark to go along with it. Bob has been one of my favorite people since.

How many times have I met her cousins, her aunts and uncles, so much more friendly than mine, so much more accepting, so much more family, but I never was able to accept myself as part of that family, no matter how much they accepted me. Not until this trip. Not until last night.

We’re in the bar at the Marriott, sitting with Lee’s cousins. Her cousin Fran is not there, of course, since she is making last minute preparations for the festivities the next day, but Harriet, Cheryl, Robin and Jack are, along with their spouses, Rick, Bob, David and Lori. Everyone wants to hear how everyone is doing. This includes, to my shock, me. How am I’m doing? I mentioned the book coming out next year and the trial of finding an illustrator for “Bud the Spud.” I mentioned the book currently being worked on, the reprints and reissues, and the success of the practice, how much I enjoy managing it and how happy I am as a massage therapist and how it brought about my delightful extremely-early retirement from teaching.

Robin says she had no doubts and recalls a foot massage I gave her nearly twenty years ago as still the best one she has had yet. Harriet, in a simultaneous conversation I was not fully listening to, mentions a photograph I took of her daughter, Tedra, now finishing college. The picture, taken of her as a baby, is still their favorite, the one that captured Tedra. The one that shows best who she was and the essence that still is. I had been liked and respected and thought of fondly and I had not known. Or not allowed myself to realize it. I filtered it out.

And so I am grateful to learn this, to see them all here, to dance with them, to be part of this family. And I am glad to see Bob, on the dancefloor, with his Emma. He is dressed more comfortably than I, though I have removed my coat and tie, as have nearly all the men. We have removed enough garments to end up in the state of dress Bob started in, except he has on much more comfortable shoes. I make a note that I must give my shoes away before the next occasion. Emma is in a dress she made herself. All fruit – the top a print of raspberries, the middle strawberries, the short skirt blackberries. The shoes, Converse, are black and white. It was a formal function, after all.

The next dance is one for all the ages and I grab Sef’s hand.

“I’ve never seen Mom dance.” I can’t believe that, somehow.

“You’ve seen me dance.”

“Contra and English Country Dance. But I’ve never seen you dance without specific steps. You’re really bad at it.”

Lee butts in. “Everybody is. Just dance and don’t worry about it.”

A few years ago she would. Maybe a few years from now she will. But right now, at twenty-four, she won’t. She can’t. What she can do is still be embarrassed by her parents. It is an unsettled age when one may be more comfortable with oneself but one still cannot quite grasp aging, that one becomes more and more like one’s parents. Sef can certainly dance but dancing with me reminds her there are things she cannot do, things she isn’t as good at as she’d like. Perhaps.

And so she dances not quite with us, not quite apart from us. She dances with Lee’s sister, Fran, who dances no differently than Lee but is neither her mother nor father.

The song ends.

I walk over to Bob. “You guys are so cute. Dance with her while you can. She won’t be dancing with you long.”

“That’s what I figured. Maybe another year or two, God willing. Then, who knows?

We talk about our daughters, passing time, fazes and fads. People join and leave the conversation, Lee’s aunts, her cousins, Sef, Lee. Another song comes and we dance. Dinner comes. Dinner ends. We dance.

The next day we are at Fran’s house for brunch. A large comfortable home in Potomac. The gathered are mostly family. We nosh on eggs, lox, bagels, fruit. We talk. Sit in the back yard in the cool October air. Sit inside at the kitchen table.

Sef had left early that morning, taking a cab before seven to the Metro, the Metro to DC and an Amtrak to New York City. Then another train an hour and a half north to Beacon. She calls to say she arrived. It is a few minutes after one.

“Your mother isn’t budging.”

“Leave her alone. She never gets to see her cousins. She’s happy.”

“Oh, trust me. I wouldn’t say a thing. We’ll leave whenever she decides to or when she discovers the time.”

“Good.”

Of course, Sef doesn’t have to drive from Maryland to Central Florida.

But looking at Lee, she is happy. She glows. The entire time here she glows and from this happiness I will not move her.

Our plan was to get to Fran’s about eleven and stay for two or three hours. To leave by one or two, drive until seven or eight. That would put us in South Carolina and leave us an easy day’s driving tomorrow. It is now after three. The crowd has thinned. It is now after four. People have left for airports, for drives to Philly and New Jersey. It is now after five. Only a few of the cousins are left and we all sit in the kitchen. Lee talks about how much she likes the area, how much she misses the North, how we plan to become bi-locational, someday, somehow.

Some understand. Some don’t. But it’s cold. But it’s crowded. Who would not like Florida?

Fran mentions the time over iced tea and apple slices. Suggests that, as much as she loves having us, we have a long drive. Or we could at least leave early enough to go do something on the way we can’t do at home. Why not pick apples?

Pick apples? Well, yes! Lee loves the idea. So do I. Fran looks up the address for us. She goes there with her kids to pick berries, apples, pumpkins, squash. It is close by. I look at the time, say nothing.

We say our good-byes. This takes about half an hour while Fran reminds Lee that daylight will end sooner than she thinks.

As we drive, the parks are full of people playing. The sidewalks are full of people walking. Late on a Sunday evening and people are out being social, being active, being a community.

Turn by turn, we arrive at Pooleville, follow the signs and pull into Homestead Farms. It might take a while to find a parking space. But that’s ok. There are apples in my future.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2009 in Culture, Family, Religion, Social, Travel

 

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Gone SWIMming

I recently attended a winter camp in South Florida, way way out in the west of Palm Beach County, past the city, past the towns, past the paved roads and into the Everglades. A weeklong retreat sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, it is called SWIM – Southern Winter Institute in Miami. Of course, this wasn’t in Miami but why let a fact get in the way of totally great acronym.

At the check-in table, I was greeted by a pirate who insisted he take my picture. In full plundering regalia of a tricorner hat, shirt open to the waist, short balloon pants and a lower limb that would have been perfect as one of four legs of a pine dining table, he appeared complete. With the exception of a missing parrot, he was the archetypal buccaneer. I will be honest here, my first reaction was “Holy Crap, that’s a real peg leg,” as I could not figure how he would fake something so realistic.

He wanted to take my photograph and gave me a half sheet of paper to put my name on. I did what he asked because, after all, he was a pirate, and was missing a leg and, more importantly, his parrot, so he was probably surly as well. I wanted to ask him if he was a Pastafarian.

I printed as carefully as possible (which means it was barely legible as he read, in a faint southern accent) “Yo Yo Ma. Because there is always room for Cello.” He looked up at me, slowly. My real name, he insisted, with what seemed a bit of quiet, fatigued humor. I gave in and, after lending my visage to the camera, went to set up camp. I’d be here for a week.

There were workshops and dances and games, evening community meetings, night-time coffeehouses and two in the morning kickball games and cookouts and it is not now my intent to report all that transpired within that week at this Pagan Holiday meets Geek Central. As I packed for my trip, it was my intent and I took my computer with me to do so but the plan fell to pieces because, frankly, I was enjoying myself far too much to step out of life and write about what I could instead be doing. I took notes and, now that things are boring again, I will relive the highlights only and you may, if you like, do so with me.

In truth, much the same thing happened day after day, games, dances, music, meals, so why write about them again and again. There was that peculiar joy of not being able to tell what day it was, not needing to keep track of the date and so, at completion, in memory, I am left with a soft-focused, diffuse feeling of enjoyment and delight over the entire week and need not attribute it to any particular time, episode, day or series of events. Joy ran into joy into joy.

I was there with my Lee, son (Alek), my dear friend Valerie and many people I had not seen in a year or more and others from as far away as the distant edge of the farthest island off the coast of British Columbia. From Wales and France and across the United States. All among the frogs and gators and our one drydocked pirate.

* * * * * * * *

Pop Psychology or My Life as a Made for TV Movie

It was nine-thirty in the morning and I was in the mood for some self-improvement. Lee had, after breakfast, gone off for a bit of a walk with her new buddy from the far side of a large island off the west coast of Northern Canada. But, in order for my self improvement to be fully appreciated, I needed my dear wife to be there and experience it, improving right along with me. So I walked off to look for her.

It was quarter to ten, hunting here and there, before finally finding Lee, She didn’t look ready to go to a workshop, lying, as she was, naked, on her stomach, in the sun, making a careful survey, with Jennifer’s assistance, of precisely how differently massage therapists from B.C practice as opposed to their Florida counterparts. She appeared to be deep into her study.

“Lee, do you want to go to a workshop with me?”

I know she heard me because, knowing she was concentrating, I knelt next to her, speaking loudly and slowly.

“Go away.” I know this is what she said, though it sounded very much like a mix of mumbling and cursing, but after twenty-five years, one learns. However, just in case, I asked, “Are you sure?”

Her next response was much more clear but I heal quickly. Off to the workshop. But, knowing how much more fun such things are with a buddy, I set off find Valerie first. Finding Valerie lying about naked isn’t terribly uncommon, but hopefully, not all of my friends were prone in the sun.

We spent a while, Valerie and I, looking for this class. It was called “Poncho’s Never-ending Workshop” and we had no clear idea what it was about. That was why we wanted to take it.

It was supposed to take place at the fire circle on the island. The island was maybe one hundred feet across and in the middle of a small lake surrounded by alligators and turtles, wiregrass and victoria lilies. One walked to the island by means of a three hundred and seven foot wooden walking bridge. (I paced it. I thought you should know.) It was empty.

We found others walking, seemingly searching, on our way back. Another workshop hopeful suggested the name be changed to “Poncho’s Never-beginning Workshop.” We walked and searched, hand shielding eyes against the ten in the morning sun.

We checked everywhere and finally found it, after long search, starting late on, of course, the island. We took a seat in the innermost row of three circles of long benches.

Once there, we were asked to tell everyone our name, loudly, clearly and then, applaud. We would all clap just because we were who we were. I, among the thirty-two people there (I counted them. I thought you should know.) spoke more than my name when my time came.

“Please don’t clap for me.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t do anything. I was born and I haven’t died. Neither one of these things is an achievement.”

People grumbled about attitude, how I should feel deserving, how I should do as the facilitator said.

“If I have done anything, it is that I am doing something different right now than the rest of you.”

Applause. I can’t win.

The facilitator, Poncho, told us we were going to learn to discover our fears and design our lives by what we discover. We were going to start by being honest. Poncho went on to tell us how nervous he was, how he hated speaking in front of groups. Even small groups like this. He was sweating and worried he wouldn’t do well even though he had done this many times and told us we should all strive, today, in this class, to be as honest as we knew to be. Applause.

I raised my hand, was acknowledged by Poncho, and looked at the mass of pop-psychonaughts. “I just want to point out that when Poncho was honest, you applauded. When I was honest, you grumbled and, and, I just want to point that out.”

I’m use to being stared at.

We were given a choice of “A Scary Movie of My Life” and “A Million Dollar Movie.” Each was a form with blanks to be filled in; a self-discovery Mad-Lib a full page long and we had, in pairs, five minutes each to complete these with one person reading the words and writing-in the dictated blank-fillers as the other person responded to the prompts. Once filled in, they would read like a 1950’s B movie trailer. I chose the scary one.

After it was handed to me, I nearly immediately changed my mind. Don’t I spend enough time thinking about all the myriad worst-case scenarios of my life? Not this time. Let me at that Million Dollar Movie!

We started work, Valerie and I, and were immediately shushed. This is because we were immediately laughing like a pair of weasel escapees from Toontown. Mad-Libs are supposed to be funny, right? We just couldn’t help it. Five minutes passed and we had barely begun. Time to switch. Five more minutes passed and we were supposed to be done with both and start reading them, one by one, to the thunderous power-clapping of the group. We listened to one or two and then, quietly rose and left, back over the bridge, our million dollar movies in hand.

Anyone know an agent?

* * * * * * * *

Sadam at the Head Bangers Ball

A week had passed since having my mugshot taken by a pirate and in that week I learned to dance. I don’t mean I became good at it. Certainly that is not the case at all.

I was asked to take a salsa class. I must have misheard but cannot now recall what I must have thought I was asked. It must have sounded quite a bit like salsa class but, surely, if I had heard correctly, I’d never have said yes.

Salsa is a violent sport. The way it was taught, the guy is in charge and he decides everything while the woman’s job is to make him look good. Salsa is the dance of misogyny.

Our teacher would pull and flip his partner, stating if he wants her head here, pointing to one side of him, he just shoves it there and it is her job to follow it through, though, in this case, it resulted in a very confused and rather “you must be kidding” stare from the quite taller than he, willowy lesbian he had chosen as his demonstration partner. I suspected, after having her head shoved sideways under his arm to change her position from in front of him to behind, she would need a chiropractor.

My partner was Valerie. She is a professional dancer. I didn’t know where my feet were at any given moment and happily let her lead.

The speed was ferocious but Val danced with me at half pace so I could attempt to keep up. She didn’t know how to Salsa and was learning as I was. Our teacher would come over to show us a step and she would immediately understand, nod, execute. I would wonder what he had just done and, if I recall, at the height of my frustration, began to pogo to a Tito Fuentes number.

Two classes of this and I begged out. Two more to go. No, please. No.

But there was contra dancing and I can contra, after a fashion. Turnabout seemed awfully fair and I asked Valerie to be my partner. She wanted to know if contra dancing is done to gunfire and ordnanced insurgency. Yes, I told her. Yes.

A gentleman wandered the hall from front to back. We had all been asked to form groups of four, two ladies and two gents, and put those groups in a line. This fellow, Sid, joined a group, left a group, joined the next, left it, in order from farthest to closest, appearing to be doing the contra equivalent of the moonwalk until he came to us and we were but three. What good fortune had befallen us?

A short introduction was given after a brief stroke on the fiddle. Here are the moves, we were told. Here is what they look like, we were shown. We copied what we saw. I didn’t do too badly. Poor Val. I had never seen her confused on a dance floor. But Sid did his best to help.

As the live music played a tune appropriate for the buckboards, Sid started to yell. He ordered her where to go, how to move and, to all appearances, he did not quite have the apparent command of the dance to carry such authority. Then, and this was not a dance move, he grabbed her arm and relocated her in a way hat was abrupt, at best and designed to move her to a designated spot. I thought, hey, it’s the Salsa again.

That was it. In the middle of a practice dance, through the music, Valerie stopped cold, looked at Sid, stared though Sid, and he became smaller and smaller as she told him just what would happen to him if he touched her again in a way that had nothing to do with dancing, that she was a professional learning a new set of steps and for goodnesssakes, she couldn’t believe he actually wore a pen-filled pocket protector to a dance!

The music continued but the dancing did not until Val had finished diminishing and emasculating her ever-shrinking partner. Then the music ended, started again and we were dancing, dancing, dancing, in and out and around and weaving with swings, promenades, dos-à-dos, allemandes and for two hours Sid behaved like a gentlemen, mechanical pencils clicking in time to the music.

The next day it was the talk of the camp. Someone had put Sid in his place. It was about time. It was about time. She was congratulated, thanked and, graciously, Val was the model of civility to Sid regardless the entire rest off the camp. But that they would hit the dance-floor together again was doubtful.

The next night was New Years Eve. “You are going to dance with me,” Valerie told me. What could I do but go to my wife. “Your’re going to dance with me.” I saw her face. “Right?”

“We’ll see,” she told me. I know what this means. If she is comfortable. If the people there are friendly. If she doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Lee hasn’t danced with me in years and I know it has nothing to do with me. We had not found a place she felt comfortable. But she had been comfortable there and I had high hopes.

But just in case, I did my best to find a way out. I told Valerie I’d happily dance if they play the music I like. I had seen the play list on the computer during a surreptitious glance and the mp3s were one after another hip-hop, rap, oldies, disco. I was safe. Away went the fear I’d have to dance. Away went the panic of the thought of being on the dancefloor, having to actually do something coordinated with this body as people watched. Away went my certainty I would look a total fool. I could ask for my favorite numbers and they’d never come up. I could make DJ requests ‘till the cows came dancing home and the cows would be dancing without me. So would Val.

“I’ll dance if they have ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper.’ And, ‘What I like about You.’ I’d dance to that. I’ll go request them.”

The dance was due to start within the hour. I walked up to the DJ. I made my requests and he said he’d see what he could do. I went a step further and asked if he’d play The Eagles’ “Get over It.” I offered to supply it as it was sitting on a flashdrive in my pocket. I knew it wouldn’t fit, would never be played and but would certainly demonstrate my sincere effort. I tried.

Why did I have a flashdrive in my pocket? The gods work in strange ways. “Sure I’ll take that.” I handed him the drive and he popped it in. He asked if he could look through the music and I, of course, told him it was fine. There is quite a bit of music but also books and documentaries and such and I’m sure there is nothing you’d be interested in but. “Fraggle Rock! Man, I can’t believe it. Can I take that?”

“Excuse me?”

“I want to play the theme from Fraggle Rock. And here is your Eagles song. Oh, and look at this. Some bluegrass. Hey, thanks. I was looking to mix up the music some.”

“Sure. Yes.”

Thanks.

Ten in the evening came and the music started in the hall that was crowded but not compressed. I had spent the week with these people and I was not as nervous as I had anticipated. Dancers filled the floor moving to a tune I did not recognize and had no desire to dance to. Loud with bass for no reason other than bass. Bass supporting nothing above it; a foundation with no building. I so very much dislike, boom boom music but, this time, I loved it. It meant I’d be safe. There is no way my requests would be played.

Suddenly, The Romantics pumped from the speakers. “What I like about you…” and I was pulled from my seat, lead by my arm, out to the floor and was wondering where my feet were as, certainly, they must be behind me somewhere, back at my seat, astounded to find themselves behind the action, at the wrong end of the chain of command. I was on the dancefloor with Valerie.

And having no idea what to do, I just started jumping up and down.

And looking to my left, Val was doing the same.

And looking to my right, my dear wife, dancing beside me. I nearly faltered in my disbelief. My wife, dancing. Dancing with me. I was flabbergasted. I was amazed. I was delighted and smiling larger than I can remember in an awfully long time. And, to my further joy, so was she.

Then the song ended and the next began but why sit down? Song after song and then, “Get over It” by The Eagles and what was there to do but headbang?

Apparently it was the right choice and we were all headbanging. My son’s friends came over to join us. All of his friends. Not my son, of course. Not Alek. I’m sure he’d rather have had his toenails pulled off.

Later than evening, Alek, quietly, when his friends weren’t looking (so he believed) walked over during a slow song and danced with Lee. One minute. Maybe two and there was that wonderful, rare, expansive smile again on Lee’s beautiful face as Alek spoke though his own smile, “There, are you happy now?” And she was. Quite.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” another request, made sure I had no excuse to sit. More headbanging. Then, suddenly, we were all in a line dancing the in the most appropriate way for anthem of nihilism – the hora. It seemed quite the right thing to do; to hora to Blue Oyster Cult. It still does.

I sat down when Michael Jackson was playing. I needed the break and it was now a little past eleven. People were dancing to “Thriller” and, it seemed, all doing the same dance as if choreographed. I was told latter, by Valerie, of course, this was the dance from the video. I had an idea.

“If I could get them to play ‘Godzilla’ by Blue Oyster Cult we could dance the same thing nearly. We could stomp Tokyo with our claws in the air.”

“Do you want me to request it?”

“No, please. No. I’m afraid he’ll have it ready to go.”

Headbanging again. “The Twilight Zone.” Lee, Valerie and I, and then a yelp and Lee was holding a thumb front of my eye.

“You hurt me.” But she was, incongruously, laughing.

I felt terrible and apologized. She laughed at her unlikely injury, told me she would show it to everyone though no-one would accept her story because who would believe I was dancing. And already it was swollen, turned black and blue. And she laughed even more.

A Salsa. I went to sit thinking Lee and I would take a breather. I turned to find myself, amazed, alone and, on the dance-floor, Lee, my Lee, in the midst of a meringue and I didn’t know, after twenty-five years together, I didn’t know she could salsa. How wonderful it is that I can learn new things about a woman I have spent so long with. What a joy.

Sid had approached Valerie. She was surprised and it showed, albeit briefly, as he asked her, as politely as anyone could ask, for her to dance. And, to her credit, she gave him his second chance and said yes. Off they went, dancing as the next song started and I rejoined my wife in the crowd.

It was nearing midnight. Another fast song and we bounced some more; up and down to a shred so fast I could barely keep up and on the wall a newspaper front page had been clipped and on it a half-page spread picture of Saddam Hussein hanging from a rope, lolling tongue and limp.

I froze. Instantly. I had not seen a newspaper in a week. I did not know this was to occur. Perhaps the person who posted it thought it right. Perhaps he or she thought it a service that we should be kept abreast of events. Perhaps he or she thought it appropriate for a double celebration; New Years and a hanging.

The music had stopped. A hand tapped me on the shoulder and gave me champagne. Lee. And that same hand clasped my free hand, led me away as the countdown started at ten.

* * * * * * * *

Broadway Name that Tune

I was the last morning and the last workshop before we were due to fill our packs, sweep the cabins and head back to everyday life in this first day of the new year and an unlikely workshop it was under any circumstances but especially for a retreat designed to revive the spirit and renew the soul. Broadway Name that Tune. Of course, I had to go. If I hadn’t, I’m sure Valerie would have wondered who had replaced her friend with a pod.

It was held in the spacious dining hall and three other workshops were there at the same time. One was by a life coach, another was a tarot workshop and a third was on Hinduism. We had one half of the dining hall which had all the tables, save ours, removed and the other half was being shared by the three other workshops. Down the center was drawn an accordion wall that did little to insulate for sound. You would be surprised how loud a tarot card can be.

It was facilitated by two supposed Broadway Musical experts and expert they certainly were. Kay and Tom created four sets of ten questions each. They would sing a line or two and we were to know the musical. If it was in a movie, we might be asked who sang it originally. I expected to bomb. If we knew the song, we’d all sing it. This made Broadway Name that Tune the slowest trivia game I had ever played.

I guessed with the most ridiculous responses. Yet, in the end my scrawling of “Oklahoma” and “Flower Drum Song” won me the first round. Even my guesses of “The Secret Policeman’s Ball,” “Ren and Stimpy” and “The Itchy and Scratchy Show” didn’t keep my dismal score from being significantly less dismal than the other six people. I had a better score than Val. That was a no-no.

The second round she and I were tied but overall I was still ahead by a few points. By the end of the third round she had learned to write smaller so I couldn’t read the answers on her paper.

Inexplicably, she was now winning.

By the end of the fourth round she was ahead by four points and was handed the prize. A perfect award for her: a compendium of Broadway tunes with music, words and history of the shows. She had won and it was time to stop competing and sing. Selection after selection from the book was sung with exclamations of I didn’t know this came from a musical from some one or two surprised participants prior to every other song.

Including “When You Walk Through a Storm.” Some showtunes show up in the strangest places. I knew this song was sung by the Lettermen and Gerry and the Pacemakers but I didn’t know it was from a show. When “Beautiful Dreamer” was sung, I pointed out it was featured in “Space 1999” when the aliens were putting Earthpeople to sleep in rather permanent ways. Many tunes, in fact, were used in science fiction movies and television. So when the question of what show “When You Walk Through a Storm” came from my answer was immediate.

“Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy BBC Mini-series. Eddie the Shipboard Computer sings it as two missiles from Magrathea are headed toward the ship. ‘We would like to assure you that the guided missiles currently converging with your ship are part of a special service we extend to all of our most enthusiastic clients, and the fully armed nuclear warheads are of course merely a courtesy detail. We look forward to your custom in future lives … thank you.’ And Eddie starts to sing and continues to until Arthur hits the Infinite improbability drive and one turns into a large sperm whale and the other a bowl of Petunias and all it wants to know…”

“What?”

“It was sung in a sci-fi comedy by a computer.”

Kay responded with her head shaking, “I know better than to ask if you are kidding. But it actually came from “Carousel” by Rogers and Hammerstein” and she commenced to sing:

Walk on, through the wind,
Walk on, through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

We all joined in.

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart,
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never…

And the boys ran in. Two, including the pirate fellow. Boys, men, in their thirties or forties. Of course, over the last few days I had spent much time with Charlie and never a peg was in sight. He was chased into the room by Joshua. Up went Charlie held around the middle by Joshua, down went Charlie to the floor held around the middle by Joshua. Face toward the floor, hands on the floor, knees on the floor, and Joshua, holding him down unsteadily with one arm, reached under his dungaree hem for Charlie’s right ankle with the other and pulled. He pulled as Charlie struggled, laughed, struggled. Both laugh and we watched.

And his leg grew longer. As Joshua pulled, Charlie’s leg stretched, slowly, an inch, two, slowly, slowly, then, all at once, it simply pulled out of his pants and we gasped, song stopped dead, and Joshua got up and ran off with three legs as an arisen Charlie hoped after him with one.

Just as many legs went out as came in but not with the same people.

Mary Ann walked by, Charlie’s Mom, Coordinator for the camp, and said as she passed, as though it was commonly known, “They’ve been doing that since they we were ten.” She kept on walking. My mouth was, I am sure, still open because I know Valerie’s was. So were several others.

And I can’t remember what we sang after that.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2007 in Culture, Family, Religion, Social

 

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