The Hess Report

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Bitterness, followed by the Happiness, followed again by the Bitterness and Happiness, this time mixed together in a baked casserole of indeterminate state

The structure of the following, so you can skip the parts you choose:
1. The Bitterness - dance recitals on the low end of the spectrum.
2. The Happiness - a week in the Outer Banks.
3. The Bitterness and The Happiness together again - returning to Pennsylvania and to home, respectively.

Part the First - The Bitterness
I have to preface this with a disclaimer: I know that a lot of things that led to me being in the about-to-be-mentioned place at the about-to-be-mentioned time are largely due to conditions of my own choosing. I don't care.

We're on our fourth different dance program for Maddie. The first one was sort of trashy. The owner/head instructor kept ducking out for smokes. The second was very good, and the older girls were doing some pretty advanced stuff. But we got the feeling that they were looking for people who were very serious about dance. The classes were getting unusually tough and sort of militant, which might work well if you really want to dance as a profession, but not so good if your kid is just looking for a little structure, exercise and fun. The third was also good - nice facility, more laid back. A fairly classy operation overall. However, it seemed like they were just humoring a lot of the younger kids, and well, I can do that for free at home. So this year we tried Maddie (and now Lucy) in the local school's PTO-run dance program. It was not nearly as well run as the third, best-so-far program, but it was much closer (7 minutes vs. 20 minutes), and significantly less expensive. And like I said, at this level they're pretty much just humoring the kids anyway.

So we've slogged through another season of "dance", which in Lucy's three year old case is called Creative Movement, and in Maddie's is Acrobatics I. The classes are clearly not as good as the previous place we were, but it really is all just to get kids' feet wet at this point, so what's the difference? What were we paying for at the other place? Apparently, we were paying the other place exclusively for the retention of our sanity and human dignity during the recital process. The recital rehearsal that I took the girls to was perhaps the most poorly run, embarrassing, horrific function in which I've ever been semi-compelled to participate.

To better simulate my experience for the rest of this section, please find someone's baby, take it from them, strap it into a chair behind you, then have someone begin to jab it in the ass with a pen knife every time it stops crying for its parents. Because I suspect that is what the people behind me were doing, the entire time I was there. If your 1 1/2 year old won't stop crying, the best plan is generally to remove them to a different setting and then try to determine what the problem is with them. A worse plan would be to growl "Be quiet! Stop it!" at the baby through your clenched teeth every five minutes. But who's to say what's better and what's worse?

The auditorium is your standard middle school fare - big stage, folding seats, unremarkable in every way, and that's fine. The kids are supposed to be there at 5:45, in costume, because everything will start at 6:00! They have the kids arranged by their particular class in the auditorium seats, and they take up the 1/6 of the whole place. But there is no adult supervision. So you have a hundred sixty kids, aged 3 through 10, sitting by themselves. Okay. If they get started at 6:00, like the info sheet said, the dancing should hold most of their attention. That must have been what they were thinking. But oh. Oh. Oh.

A girl (who I later learned was the twirling instructor) climbs onto the stage and grabs the mic. She looks like she's barely out of high school, and the program obtained on the night of the actual recital confirms it. "Okay everybody! Listen up! Come on! Listen up!" Do you know what a Pittsburgh accent sounds like? Do you know what a Pittsburgh accent sounds like over a loud speaker? We all talk like we talk, but colloquial speech is generally not for public broadcast. When you're with friends or family, you use your casual dialect, whatever it might be. When you get on the stage, though... eek. It's embarrassing to hear.

And did I say that she was the "twirling" instructor? Twirling as in majorettes. I need to say that I find the whole majorette thing completely trashy. There is no excuse for it. People who learn to play a musical instrument, or dance, or sing, or even to do gymnastics can take pleasure from that for most of the rest of their life. But when was the last time you saw some old lady twirling a baton? You haven't, and God Bless You and your poor gouged out eye sockets if you have. Twirling's sole purpose is to let high school girls think that there is a valid excuse for running around in public in whore-level makeup and sequined bathing suits in which even the most flaming of homosexuals wouldn't be caught dead. A valid excuse, that is, other than being trashy. Which they are. Offended because you either were a majorette yourself, or best friends with one? Think back then, and be honest. Weren't you/your friend trashy, at least in intent if not in actual practice? Indeed you/they were. Therefore, when you teach such a thing to little innocent girls, and have them dress in the same sort of hideous, slutty outfits, and give them "dance" routines that would be better performed with brass poles in the room, to music that would make a, well, a person like me blush, are you doing anything other than training them to be the future trashy excuses for something useful that it's clear they're going to be.

Oh look! Joy bought Lucy a baton at the beach! Lucy thought the baton girls at the recital were great. I've often said that the only reason Lucy doesn't want to grow up to be a stripper is that she doesn't know what a stripper is yet, and this just throws one more log on that fire. She's on her way.

So now we've suffered through twenty-five minutes of announcements that were all printed quite clearly in the distributed information sheets, but we have the advantage of having heard it through the filter of Twirly-Girl's (TG) over-amplified Pittsburghese. And the real fun hasn't even started. We are then treated to the random award of about thirty prizes to the kids from local retail and service establishments. Maddie won a $10 Build-a-Bear gift card, which is actually perfect, as she's going to a Build-a-Bear birthday party the very next evening.

By the way, remind your assistant to jab that baby a couple of times, because I think it's settling down. Waaaaaaaa! There, that's better.

Let's get this show on the road! Miraculously, the horde of unattended children is relatively well behaved. Are we ready to dance yet? No. Parents, every parent in the auditorium is now asked to line up and receive some special gifts for their dancers, including trophies if the parents had previous sprung for them and... THEY... BRRRAAARRGGGG.... HUUUULK SMAAAAAAASH!!!!!!!!



Sorry. Just the parents buying their kids a trophy thing. I thought that, like, you won those when you did something particularly well. Or even, dare I say it, when you beat everyone else. This whole thing is making a green cloud of barely-checked fury descend on my thoughts.

So we line up and for ten minutes waddle back and forth in line. I see my kids looking a little worried because they can't see me. I finally manage to catch their eyes. At the front of the line, I receive their completion certificates. Oh, Mr. Hess, you need to get their commemorative bags. Cool, I'll just grab them... I'm sorry, you have to get in the line for them. But, they're right here. Sorry, everyone else is waiting, I can't just give them to you. Take deep breaths. Close eyes. Recite primes. One. Two. Three. Five. Seven. Nine. No. Eleven. Fourteen. Damn! What's wrong with me. This place, this... event, is like a virus, a cancer on this planet. I can't stand it any longer. It's the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste the stink, and every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it.

And so I'll enjoy the rest of it. I'm a part of it now, waiting in line for the purple canvas commemorative bags. The music, covers of I Love Rock and Roll, I Want Candy, an original song by the Olsen Twins, is grand. And that song Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid, why it had been begging for a dance-themed cover version for years. I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. They had some crappy orchestra song in there for the ballet girls, but it was the one from those diamond commercials with the shadow people, so I guess it wasn't too bad. And what's the use of putting costumes on kids if they don't sport five different fully saturated colors a piece? And what about sequins? It's good exercise for your eyes, I say.

A tangy, comforting smell invades my mouth and nose.

Little kids strutting and gyrating, just like that Madonna lady. Gosh, that's cute. Oh look! Majorettes!

Suddenly, I'm standing outside, with Maddie and Lucy. How did we get here? I'm not sure. They're pulling on my arms, saying "Dada?" A voice in my head tells me to give them a licken' with my belt and send them to sleep in the outhouse for the night. Then slowly, the cloud begins to lift.

"Girls," I say, and it's weird, because I can hear my own voice like it belongs to someone else.

"Dad," says Maddie. "Tell me about fractions again. Can we look at the dictionary before bed?"

Lucy tries to help. "Let's listen to the Mozart song on the way home," she says.

It's like I'm swimming upward, but not through water. It's engine oil: used, thick, nearly-impenetrable. There's a scent to it, pungent and organic. The same odor from inside. I've smelled it before today, but can't remember where.

Like a robot I walk the girls across the parking lot. My hands know to buckle them into their car seats even though my brain is telling me they should both ride up front.

They will not be going back to the PTO's dance program next year. From now on, it will be the moderately more expensive place that humors the parents and kids. But not for the girls sake. It's for mine.

It's not until we're halfway home these thoughts coalesce, as my senses come back to me. And it's not until later that night that I realize what the smell was, as I stare with the bitterness of a broken man at the flecks of chewing tobacco caught in my toothbrush.

Oh the bitterness. The horrible, horrible bitterness.

Apology/Disclaimer: Okay, that got really weird. But if that's the first time you've ever seen me get weird, then what are you reading this for? Go away.

Still to come: The Happiness

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