The Back Page Crossing over

I stared at the enormous white sheet hanging across from where I sat inside the Washington Square Church with its high ceiling and plush pews and wondered, how, without a dance background, I could convey the intricacies of the work an acquaintance, Tami Stronach, was about to present.

I had my head down reading the program when a young woman asked me to hold the seat next to me for another woman. She put a tiny piece of masking tape there to insure this. I of course agreed. I’m not good at much, but saving seats for others has always been a special gift.

About five minutes passed as I read Michael Frayn’s new play Copenhagen about a mysterious visit between two important physicists in 1941 and how difficult it was for them to communicate directly without falling into scientific jargon. I sensed movement near me, looked up and watched a very young, tall, elegant woman take the reserved seat. She wore cache pants and sandals and a sleeveless top. Her fine light brown hair was pulled back revealing an exquisite neck. Her features were, without makeup, as fresh-faced and untouched as a girl in an Irish Spring soap commercial and I apologize for that metaphor. I told her the seat was taken. She stood uncertainly.

“But it looks like the other person never showed,” I said quickly.

She sat back down, saying in perhaps a South American or European accent, “I feel like something is going to happen to me, sitting on this tape.” She had a tiny silver pin in her left nostril.

We sat reading our programs. I put mine down, picked up Copenhagen, couldn’t concentrate, picked up my program again, finally turned to her and asked, “Are you familiar with Tami’s work?”

That began our conversation, wherein I discovered she too was a dancer who had a myriad of opinions about the subject. I tossed out the names of various performers and venues, we compared notes, and I tried to sound like I knew what I was talking about. She even sat elegantly. Her skin was absolutely wrinkle-free. Composed, well-spoken, yet enthusiastic, she made me want to demand she get up and dance something at intermission. Instead, I expatiated on several themes within Stronach and friends work, impressing myself immensely. She seemed to agree or maybe she was just humoring me. “I’m going to get some fresh air,” I said.

Outside, the Friday downtown scene was as combustible as any of the atoms discussed in Copenhagen. I walked to the corner, ducked into a store to buy a bottle of spring water and a candy bar, realized I only had twenties, glanced at the swarthy proprietor’s stern face which seemed to say, “You should be happy I emigrated to this country,” then went back into the aisles to buy cookies and banana bread so it didn’t look like I was there just to break a twenty. This is why I should be in therapy.

Back inside, without a clear plan, I offered her a chocolate chip cookie which she pondered a moment before declining. I didn’t press the issue. The second half was about to begin and I came this close to saying, “You have pretty feet for a dancer.”

What am I doing, I asked myself. What the hell am I doing? She was young enough to be my daughter. So was Tami and every other dancer including the one who resembled a young Grace Kelly. I sat there conscious of something I couldn’t put into words. Now I can. I was increasingly aware I would never see this woman again and if I did she wouldn’t remember me and why should she? I was a blip on her radar screen. At the same time, I imagined us spending a glorious summer bouncing around the city, sitting alone at 2 a.m. by the fountain at Lincoln Center, me with a pin in my nostril, she telling me her life story. I’d know where she got that accent. In fact, I’d know her name. I’d give her my mustache trimmer and let her do Post-Modern downtown artsy things to my stash. We’d bond in all the important ways. I’d teach her photography; she’d show me a few steps.

The show ended. Lights up. Blank white sheet confronted me. I futzed around with my shoulder bag, hoping she’d remark on something. She sat quietly, stared at her program, which I’m sure she had memorized. A hundred lines blitzed my mind, none of which would do anything but make her uncomfortable. I stood up, tossed my bag over my shoulder.

I leaned down, extended my hand. “Good luck with your dancing.”

She started, as though I’d already receded into the dim past. “Oh, thank you.” Her hand was small, delicate. I never got her name. I’m calling her Elizabeth or Esmerelda or Henrietta.

Outside I felt a blanket of sadness that blotted out the surrounding lights. On Wednesday I sat at the Fez to see Lisa who is young enough to be my daughter; Thursday, Carol in my book discussion group asked about my running the club – young enough to be my daughter. I had planned to see Ruth perform at Sidewalk Cafe right after the Stronach thing – also YETBMD. I decided to go home. On the PATH, five girls YETBMD got on the wrong train and sat dumbfounded as the conductor lectured them. The editor of this paper is YETBMD.

I stared at the constant comforting blackness of the subway wall through the window, wondering when exactly, in what elusive, amorphous moment my life, had I crossed over from legitimate possibility to foolish dream. I did the only logical thing, which was to finish my chocolate chip cookies. – Joe Del Priore


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