Thursday, August 08, 2019

Two Kizzes Walk Into A Theatre

I had this written and ready to go, everything but the photos, in plenty of time to post before the end of July. It didn't happen. And I get why it didn't and that's ok because things are really hard now. I'm fortunate to have great friends and work and kids around me just like the ones in this story. So here's the story, a little late.


Years ago I lived with a guy and I taught dance to kids and I worked in a restaurant to make money and I was going to be an actress and the world was my oyster. I was under 25 and under 110lbs and, at least one year, made under $15,000 and still lived in New York City without starving.

Now I live with a guy who has 4 legs. I teach dog behavior to people of all ages. I work in an office for health insurance. I have no idea what I'm going to be next or what the world will do next, and I'm under nothing but the gun, if you hear what I'm saying.

Back in that day I also had a friend who danced with The Royal Ballet. Our parents were better friends than we were but I was proud to know her and I was teaching dance so when she came to The Met on tour I wanted to see her.

That guy, JAM, and I splurged for nosebleed seats for ourselves to see Manon. It was a ballet I didn't even know the story of, which was intriguing and fun. Then we splurged some more to take 3 of my students, women I remain friends with to this day, to see Swan Lake.

I have never had a refined fashion sense. I don't seem to have a feel for what I both like and what will look good on me. On anyone, really. It confuses me. There are rules about color and line and fit and form but you're supposed to flaunt them more than you follow them. You can only flaunt them within a whole other set of rules that no one can quite define. At least that's what it seems like to me. Back in the day I was experimenting a bit and finding a style that made me feel like New York and me and someone anyone would want to meet.

The night we saw Manon I wore my favorite outfit. It was a short, black, swing dress in a jersey fabric with a mock turtleneck and no sleeves. I had these wildly patterned tights in bright colors and a pair of black, high heeled pseudo booties with elastic "laces" that I still miss. They were commanding and comfortable and I wore them straight into the ground. I rolled my shockingly permed hair in a tightly rolled style that was one part Howard's End, one part East Village retro, and several parts desperation (it was a terrible perm and I could not see it at the time).

At the end of the night we climbed our stoop and I saw myself reflected in the window glass of the big wooden door. I looked exactly the same as I had when I left. Maybe a little more flushed. I was worldly and in control and ready for what came next. In that outfit, with all I'd learned, I could take all comers and look forward to it.

A few nights later we boldly set out to bring 3 girls between the ages of 4 & 8 to their first ballet performance. We gathered at B's house to set off. I wore an emerald green silk tea length dress with puffy 1950s crinoline and cheap silver shoes that were all the rage at the time. The same hairstyle now felt like something out of Leave It to Beaver (same number of parts desperation, though, it really was the worst perm and all my fault). B brought out some of her jewelry to complete my look.

She clipped 2 earrings to the top of my shoes as embellishment and the girls looked on in awe. J, B's youngest asked, "Are they real diamonds?" I was quick to tell her no no no but B cut me off, "If anyone ever asks you that you simply reply, 'Every other one!'" Then she taught us all how to fold our sweaters and carry them over one arm and waved us off toward the subway.

Fellow passengers complimented us on our beautiful, well-behaved girls as we rode the 2 train north. We still had nosebleed seats but with kids the trip all the way up to the top of the sky was part of the joy.

At the end of the first act J told me she was tired. For 5 seconds I had an epic internal battle with myself about what to say to a child for whom I had bought a ticket I couldn't really afford and then I took a deep breath and said, "Do you want to sit in my lap?" She did. And slept soundly until it was time to go home.

I am someone who is afraid at my core about "wasting" money and to this day I am grateful that I realized that the real waste would have been to force a child to stay awake for a whole performance and have that cause her to dislike it. She loved the first act and she loved being included in the outing and she loved sitting in my lap and she loved being carried to the cab by JAM. Not a thing was wasted there.

By the time JAM and I were climbing the steps to our own apartment in Brooklyn I felt proud but also like I'd been pecked to death by a thousand swans in matching tutus. There was a plastic bag trailing out of my purse for the 7 year old who got pukey on car rides and my cheap sparkly shoes were filleting my ankles at every step. I saw my reflection in the door's window and if I'd had the energy I would have laughed.

The shiny green dress would have been less wrinkled if I'd slept in it, one whole side of my hairdo was unraveled and pointing in several directions, I had mascara smeared down one cheek, and my glasses were askew. I looked nothing like I had when we'd left the house. I might have been worldly but I was not in control of anything and certainly not ready for whatever was coming next. On the other hand I had still learned things that night and I had already taken all comers and I knew how I'd tackle the opportunity again next time it was offered.

The difference between Elegant Swing Dress Me and Wrinkled Donna Reed On A Bender Me was that Wrinkled Donna Reed had already accomplished something. I gave three young friends their first experience at the ballet. I, with JAM's full and vital participation, got all three of them to  and from Lincoln Center safely and calmly. We talked about the performance and the theatre and probably a bunch of other things we've since forgotten the importance of.  We didn't give them tickets to the ballet, we gave them an experience at the ballet and with their friends and with us. We put them first and we let them lead (mostly) and we learned from them. I couldn't enumerate the things they taught us that night but I'd bet money that those lessons crop up frequently when I'm interacting with kids even now.

While elegance is fine for starting out toward a goal, if you're actually going to get anything done you have to be ok with getting your hands dirty. Or in my case your cleavage drooled on by a sleeping pre-schooler. The wrinkles and the lost bobby pins and the heel blisters were signs of a job I had committed to, I didn't do that night halfway.

I couldn't figure out what kept bringing these memories up recently. I'm still not 100% sure but I think there's something about the woman I see reflected back at me in windows these days. She looks a little rough. Big scar, rounder cheeks, deeper wrinkles, way better hair style. I miss the elegant me, I think. I haven't seen her in a while.

Perhaps I had forgotten that it wasn't elegant me who's done all the things I'm proud of in my life so if I had to misplace one of them she's the one to pick.