The strangest things come back to you. I've always thought I was a decent dancer. There were Disco Dancing Lessons at the Masonic Temple. My buddy, Doug, and I were about 17. We took the lessons to impress the girls at school dances. The lessons were $5 or $10; one night a week for 3 or 4 weeks. Our adolescent minds were blown, when we showed up at the Masonic Temple. We were the only males there. AND! the females were all in their 20s and 30s. They were nurses and secretaries and even a couple young teachers, if I recall. We learned the Hustle right away, which is basically a line dance. Then we learned couples dances. All the ladies wanted Doug or I as a partner. We were in seventh heaven. Any older and we might have gotten more carried away. There we were in the basement of the Masonic Temple surrounded by women, some dancing with each other, but all waiting for a chance to dance with us. My head swims today just thinking about it. Older women, those late '70s clothes, and perfume that filled your head with visions that you didn't even understand.
Another time, I worked with a girl on a routine for a disco contest at school. She was a year older. Man, I hit the big time. We really worked hard. I was going over to her house for several weeks. She was very nice, and a good dancer. Ultimately, some of my buddies got inside my head. They were teasing me relentlessly. Between them and my nerves, I chickened out and left her hanging. I was a dog. But there was this basketball player named Eddie, he was in her class. He and his partner won. They were fantastic and would have won anyway, but I should have danced.
Then imagine me in a black vest, white shirt with a huge pimp-ish collar and belled out black pants up on a stage with 5 or 6 girls singing Disco Inferno. Really. There's a picture in the yearbook. It was a consolation actually. For the same show that is on my "Music Page." The Jazz Band picture and the Rubber Chicken picture are from the "Band Bounce," an annual concert and variety show. Some girls from my class and I were working on a song from "Grease." Some upperclassmen heard us rehearsing and decided to audition the SAME ACT. Somehow, they got in and we didn't. Some of us complained about it and got the Disco Inferno gig. The Modern Jazz Dancers were going to dance to the song. They let us sing it rather than playing the record. It was fun; in the same auditorium where I was in "the crowd" for Annie Get Your Gun.
In college, I dated, and was engaged, to a girl who was an incredible dancer. She grew up downriver, south of Detroit, and had the moves. I must have made a fool of myself trying to dance next to her, while oggling her at the same time. She oozed. I loved it. We were so sappy. When I was away on an internship, she sent a hankerchief soaked with her perfume.
She was Polish and Lebanese and Italian with beautiful china doll features and olive skin. All three grandmothers, or at least a couple grandmothers and a great aunt, were still alive. The food was awesome when we went home to her parents' for the weekend. I had a pretty whitebread midwestern upbringing. It was very cool to be surrounded by ethnic traditions. I learned a lot, including to eat raw lamb meat. Her mom made kibbe and the best tabbouleh. I had tunafish spaghetti during lent one year. Sausage and potatoes and Oh, my. We each had an Aunt Lou, hers was a neighbor who made incredible BBQ ribs.
Somehow, I screwed that up. I'm not sure I was too young, but I was definitely not ready or too stupid or something. We got engaged. Life was good for a while. Expectations started to swallow me up. To this day, I don't do well with that. I broke off the engagement. It was probably the one relationship that I could have always been happy in. I really don't remember the "why." I just remember running away. One of these days I'll quit running.
I pulled up to the Toll Booth northwest of Des Plaines, IL last week. The attendant was a lady. She could have been Italian or Lebanese; maybe Hispanic even. She was not much taller than she was wide, but she had a rich complexion and wonderful wavy dark hair, cut short. There were big bing cherry lips in fiery red, dark black eyes and some little gold earrings; angels or something. A big smile; she was just perfectly pleasant.
Even in the breeze, the tail end of a late winter storm, when I pulled up to her window, my cab was filled with her scent. If it was visible, it would have been like the plague clouds in the Ten Commandments Movie, stealthily climbing up the steps to my cab, over the window and into my lap, filling the space around me. It was overpowering. It was Tatiana, I'm sure of it. The same perfume as on that hankerchief all those years ago. I'd bet a hundred gallons of diesel on it.
Driving through Chicago all I could see were flashing lights, a sequined vest, filmy shirt and a denim miniskirt and those hips in a club called The Outer Limits; the greasy spoon restaurant her mom liked. I saw grandmas and pasta and kibbe and baklava; a Lebanese restaurant called The Sahara in East Detroit. There were flannel shirts over tanktops and sweatpants; dormwear. And there were walks around campus in the fall. She must be why I always think the crisp fall weather and changing leaves is the most romantic time of year.
I really should go back and thank that Toll Operator.