From now on, this weekly Newsletter will be called ROBERT A. MILLS'S OP-ED COLUMN. Access it and enjoy!
Newsletter Dated: 3/24/2012 5:34:54 AM
Subject: SUITS! - March 24
A tip of my old tam o’shanter to the bunch of you who wrote and called regarding my recent bouts with Primary Lateral Sclerosis. I appreciate your words of encouragement. It’s a bitch of an inconvenient truth and a frustrating hassle, but the other day I met a fellow who’d lost his right hand overseas to a roadside bomb. Talk about the fickle finger of fate! Just how lucky am I?
A lot of people who are afflicted with PLS have asked me to use this space to talk about my continuing fight against the disease, but quite frankly I have other, more pressing fish to fry. I will rarely write about this ailment, devoting my efforts to genuine op-ed matters of a general interest. You see, I was a writer, novelist and essayist long before I was plagued by neuro-matters.
On to today’s thoughts . . .
I am a firm believer in dance education. Bring ‘em young, and get ‘em started early in classroom exercises, is my mantra — be it classical or ballroom, whatever is available and whatever you can afford. And it doesn’t matter if they’re boys or girls. In fact, because there is a dearth of boys, the more the merrier!
Alexandra, our youngest daughter, was about five when she was enrolled in the Draper School of Ballet. At eighteen she was injured and changed her major at the University of Georgia from dance to early childhood education, later becoming a 3rd grade teacher at a private school — and a ballet instructor for young children!
La pointe is, her dance training was what prepared her for adulthood, for marriage to a professional and for motherhood to a remarkable kid (who just happens to be one of our six grandchildren.)
Shortly before starting college, we took Alex and several of her dance classmates for a Spring Break vacation to the Florida Panhandle, near the Gulf of Mexico. Boys as well as girls. We rented a house at Carillon Beach, as we had done four or five times previously (I actually began my first novel on a borrowed laptop down there in 1998.) The weather was rainy in 2003, but it was a marvelous time.
The boys who accompanied us were splendid fellows, true gentlemen whose tenure at dance was at once evident by their attitude, maturity and sense of genial comportment (both went on to college and illustrious careers.) During vacation they even concocted a scenario for a teleplay involving everyone; it took the full week to videotape. I tried peddling the idea to HBO, AMC and TBS, but it didn’t pan out.
It was, however, one of the best Spring Breaks we had at Carillon Beach, and it reminded me of my own youthful days as a “dancer”.
I was ten or eleven, living in Buffalo at the time, when my mother enrolled me in a ballroom dance class at someone’s home on Ferry Street, near Delaware Avenue. I eagerly attended, mainly because the house on Ferry Street was a veritable palace compared to our dreary second story dump on Breckinridge Street. Besides, I had just discovered that girls like Fanny Montenegro were not only fun to fondle, they smelled nice, too.
There was only one problem: after about ten weeks of diligently learning the waltz and foxtrot, we were informed there was to be a recital on a Saturday, to which it seemed the entire city of Buffalo was invited. And all the boys, of course, were required to wear suits.
Fine — except for one snafu. I did not own one. And we could ill afford one. Oh, the ignominy of it all!
My maternal grandmother Lizzy, a Maugham, cousin to W. Somerset, lived with us in our contemptible cold-water flat. She came to my rescue that year, as she often did. She was a free-spirited Brit, a former gypsy fortune-teller who grew up reading tea leaves in a traveling caravan, the eventual mother of five daughters, married to a Croatian whose English was deplorable — but Lizzy, as we all knew, was also a trained seamstress!
“Not tuh wurry,” Grandma Lizzy declared. “Aye’ll mike da boy a soot, Aye wull! An’ he’ll look as shurp as eny lad who ever tripped over da lyte fantastic!”
Grandma Lizzy’s plot was simple. She’d merely alter one of Grandpa Stefan’s two suits down to where it would fit me, and I could dance my heart out and grapple with the lilac-drenched and nubile Fanny Montenegro — and everyone could oooh! and ahhh! over the sheer sensuality of it all!
There was, sadly, an insurmountable dilemma no one anticipated. Grandpa Stefan was 5’3” tall and weighed 222 pounds. I was, at eleven, 6’ tall and tipped the scales at ninety-six pounds. Grandma Lizzy’s work was cut out for her, so to speak.
But, after four weeks of running amok with pinking sheers and razor blades to desperately destroy Grandpa Stefan’s old suit (the one he claimed to have arrived at Ellis Island in, circa 1908), the roughly drawn patterns on wrapping paper came to life, and I was decked out to wow anyone foolish enough to whirl about the floor with me.
“Dere now!” Grandma Lizzy cried, allowing the neglected ash from her Chesterfield to flutter down upon her ample bosom “ain’t dat a ting a bewty! A muntago who woulda gave me a chance in twunty we coulda myad a doe’s ass outta a pie-suh a crap yur granfahter probly took offa sum poor dum Serb inna furst place?”
The suit, of course, was a disaster, despite my grandmother’s tireless efforts. A stiff woolen herring bone, brownish with blackish specks and irregular stripes, sporting lapels doubling as water wings, trousers boasting suspender buttons and hitched up under armpits, featuring cuffs deeper than pockets, as ill-fitting as the skin of a stray Shar-Pei — it was a garment any self-respecting Good Will store would laughingly reject.
In Grandma Lizzy’s eyes, however, I was the Beau Brummel of the dance world.
Needless to say, Fanny Montenegro and I never became an item. She danced a portion of Stormy Weather with me, and we circumvented three-quarters of the floor before my nemeses, Raymond “Spud” Carson, cut in. Spud, as I recall, was wearing a smart corduroy jacket and starched dress shirt with a fashionable four-in-hand, all very stylish and soft.
“Get lost, Loser!” he snarled. “I’ll take it from here. Let’er rip, Fanny!”
Not to be outdone, I stuck out my foot and tripped the couple as they moved away. They collapsed to the floor in a startled but thrashing heap, all grace and tempo gone forever.
That was the first and last time I ever attended a dance class, or, for that matter, was invited to participate in a recital. The following semester I went out for football. I lasted two practice sessions.
Today, when I might well afford a wardrobe of dashing suits, I have only a traditional blue blazer, a pair of gray slacks and a polo-shirt with collar to wear exclusively at weddings, funerals, baptisms, Atlanta Press Club luncheons, and on Christmas and Easter when I occasionally attend church. In all likelihood, that is the raiment with which I’ll be adorned when I meet my Maker — although I doubt if my appearance in an urn will matter all that much.
Normally, I live in jeans, khakis, shorts, battered t-shirts and K-Mart boat shoes. Cable TV, eat your heart out.
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