It’s family vacation time, and against their noble savage instincts, we’ve decided to inflict some high culture on the boys by taking them to the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs.
“Do we have to?” Scooter, the older and more forthright of the two at twelve asked–or to be more precise, whined.
“Yes,” I said with grim determination as we made the turn down the Avenue of the Pines, which by coincidence was lined with pine trees. “Learning to endure boredom is part of growing up.”
“It won’t be boring,” my wife interjected. Easy for her to say; she’s been taking ballet since she was a chubby little girl, while I crapped out as the next Gene Kelly after one (1) class at Miss Finch’s School of Tap. “There are interactive videos, so it will be like Disney World.”
“Will there be rides?” Skipper, the younger one asked.
“No such luck, Skip,” I said, “although that’s a great idea. You could have the 32-fouette Don Quixote Tilt-a-Whirl.” I snuck that one in just to show my wife that I do listen to her ballet talk, if only to mock it mercilessly later.
We parked and entered the graceful building, which is maintained in tip-top shape thanks to an endowment funded by 19th century robber barons. “I’m going straight to the Kirov and Bolshoi exhibits,” my wife said, like a St. Louis Cardinals fan who makes a beeline for the Rogers Hornsby plaque as soon as he enters Cooperstown.
“I think we’ll roam around for a bit,” I replied. “I want the kids to get a broader sense of the history of the dance, rather than just a limited focus.” I narrowed my eyes as I uttered these words to distract her from noticing how deeply my tongue was lodged in my cheek.
Hornsby: “What the hell am I doing in a ballet post?”
I wandered the halls with the boys, taking in the many colorful and informative exhibits. As I stopped at a video of Judith Jamison, I got the sense that they had, after five minutes, just about had enough.
“Dad–do you like ballet?” Skipper asked.
“Some of it,” I replied. “I like the older stuff, as long as it’s not a story ballet.”
“I like stories,” Scooter said.
“Everybody likes stories, Scoots, but in ballet a story means that the dancers cock their heads and put their hands under their cheeks to show that they’re sleeping. It’s like something you’d do in kindergarten.”
“Why don’t you like the new stuff?” Skip asked. He’s young, and in his world new–baseball gloves, bicycles, etc.–is better than old.
“I don’t know why the dancers in the new stuff are so angry all the time. I mean, they’re doing what they love for poverty-level wages. They’re giving up the best years of their lives and any chance of having a family. They get to stay overnight at the artistic director’s apartment and get dumped a year later when a younger dancer comes along. It’s all good!”
“Why the long face(s)?”
“So . . . if you don’t like the new stuff and you don’t like the story stuff–why are we here?” Skipper asked with the relentless logic of a pre-adolescent boy who’d rather be eating ice cream.
“We’re here because mom likes ballet,” I said, and I got down on one knee, as I always do when I want to drive home a point to the kids. “Guys, you’re going to find when you get older that you’re going to want a mommy.”
“We already have a mommy,” Scooter said with a confused look on his face.
“I mean a girl–a woman–like mom who you’ll want to play house with.”
“Ew!” Scooter exclaimed, almost involuntarily.
“Trust me, Scoots, you will. Anyway, when you find the right girl, you have to start giving things up so you can live together.”
“Like what?” Skipper asked.
“Well, chances are as you grow older you’ll pick up a friend named Mad Dog in high school or college. She’s going to want him out of your life.”
“Why?” Scooter asked.
“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain. Your friend Mad Dog will be the guy who stood by you when you said you couldn’t go any further and had to give up. He’s going to encourage you, really push you to keep going when you don’t think you can go on. He’s going to make you drink another beer, and then another, and another, until you’ve matched and exceeded your personal best.”
“Beer stinks,” Scooter said, and screwed up his nose in disgust.
“Sure it does, at first,” I said. “But sometimes in life we have to learn to accept and even enjoy unpleasant things if we’re going to barf our guts up later.”
This last truth caused the two of them to launch into their respective imitations–complete with sound effects, facial expressions and gestures–of the act of upchucking, which they have perfected to a high degree of artistry. Unfortunately, there is no National Museum of Vomit.
“Are there other things you have to do to make mommies happy?” Skip asked when they were done.
“Well, you’ll probably have to let her decorate your room.”
“No way!” they both screamed. Over the years they have acquired a valuable collection of posters of athletes from the four major sports groups, plus a boy band or two and a few sullen-faced rappers.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way the world works,” I said. “That’s why it’s important that all the furniture you guys buy when you’re out on your own be very lightweight.”
“Why’s that?” Scooter asked.
“So the mommy won’t hurt herself when she throws it out on the curb.”
Available in print and Kindle formats as part of the collection “Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!”