Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jiggles and Squirms at the Burlesque

Earlier this month, I was looking forward to visiting my son, Adam and his wife, Emily and my sister, Kim and her family, all who live in Dallas, Texas. Three nights before I’d leave for my weekend visit, the phone rang. It was Kim.

“Want to see a burlesque while you’re in Dallas? She asked, her voice filled with girlish excitement.

I closed the book on my lap. “A burlesque?” My mind swarmed with visions of girls dancing in feathers, comedians telling raucous vaudeville jokes in a red-velvet-curtained theater. Hmmm . . . should I try something new, or stick to my comfort zone—a safe dinner out with my son and his wife? Girls in dancing feathers or Tex-Mex and margaritas?

“Well, okay,” I answered, deciding to take the risk. “But let me just check with Adam and Emily,” I said. “If they don’t want to go, I’ll probably just spend the evening with them.”

Though I thought Emily might be up for it, I wasn’t so sure about Adam. He is the proverbial acorn fallen from the oak, and he got it from both sides. Neither his dad or I are natural risk-takers. Better safe than sorry we always said.
I told Kim I’d call her right back, and proceeded to dial Adam’s number.

He answered. “Hello?”

“Hi! Aunt Kim just called to ask if we’d be interested in going to see a burlesque Saturday night.” That’s right, blame it on someone else.

“A burlesque?” His voice signaled caution.

“Yep. Tee and Paul are going, too.” I figured he might feel safety in numbers if I mentioned his cousin would also be attending.

“Isn’t a burlesque a . . . strip tease?”

“Noooo,” I reassured. “It’ll be like a Las Vegas show. You know, the ones that have the dancing girls in glittery, feathered costumes?”

“Let me see if Emily wants to go. She’s right here.”

I heard her giggle beside him before she took the phone. “A burlesque? Sure, that sounds fun.” Her voice was filled with curiosity, caution and adventure all at once. “I’m not so sure Adam wants to go, though.”

“I’ll go, if everyone else wants to go,” he mumbled next to Emily.

I was cautiously excited, and happy Adam had agreed. “Great! Aunt Kim will get tickets for everyone then. This’ll be fun – a new experience! See you guys Friday night.”

Another sister, Cyndie, and I drove down from Tulsa on Friday, and arrived in Dallas in time for dinner. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant, and I couldn’t help but notice everyone but Adam and I ordered “three-star spicy.” We ordered “mild.”

Saturday evening arrived and we all dispersed to our bedrooms to dress accordingly for a burlesque. I wondered. How does one dress for a burlesque? Not too flashy, lest someone think I’m trying to compete with one of the showgirls, but not too matronly, lest someone recognize I was out of my element. So, I compromised, and wore a black turtleneck with a sequin shawl. A flashy sort of matron.

Eight of us enjoyed Tex-Mex with margaritas prior to the show time of eight o’clock. Heck. I’m usually in my pajamas and reading a good book with my feet propped in front of the fire by eight o’clock.

Anyway, after dinner we waited in line behind a mass of colorful fellow attendees. Girls with feathers in their hair and five-inch platform shoes. Goth (is that still a word?) men and women with heavily-lined eyes and black nails. And a few “regular” (read, dull) people like me. You could pick them out by their conservative attire and gawking eyes.

Security guarded the door, checking driver’s licenses to assure all attendees were over 21. My first alarm went off. Maybe this isn’t a family-oriented burlesque. But I shut off the alarm by assuring myself it was probably due to alcohol being served.

Inside, voluptuous young women adorned in sequins and feathers acted as ushers. I stared—trying not to look like I was staring—at their sexy costumes and well-exposed cleavages. Proceeding further into the dimly lit theater, we found booths displaying the wares of burlesque—posters of scantily-clad women, feather barrettes, sparkly pieces of jewelry and well, uh, pasties. My second alarm.

And I was oh, so curious about those pasties. I’d never seen one close up before, only pictures. I studied them, trying not to look like I was studying them, all the while keeping my eye on Adam’s location so he wouldn’t see my interest.

Cyndie stood next to me, cheering me on. She pretended she was looking at jewelry instead of the pasties. “Go on, Jan. You have to buy them.”

“What?” I asked, innocently. “I’m only looking. I’m not going to buy them.”
The porcelain-skinned redhead behind the table said, “Oh, come on. They’ll look great.”

I felt my cheeks burn and I chuckled. “But my son is here! I can’t buy these in front of my son.” My mind raced with excuses I could give him, should I be caught purchasing uh . . . pasties.

An idea arose as I held up one particularly sparkly pair. “These would make pretty earrings, wouldn’t they?”

Cyndie agree. “Yeah! You can make earrings out of them.”

I dug in my purse for my wallet, pulled it out and quickly paid the girl. Then, I scanned the crowd for Adam again before shoving the uh . . . pasties deep into my purse. I have to admit, the transaction had a yummy, illicit feel.

I took a deep breath and walked back to mingle with Adam and Emily. He looked at me oddly. “Mom, did you just buy something over there?”

“What? Oh, yeah.” I took a deep breath and giggled nervously. “Just some uh . . . pasties. I’m gong to make earrings out of them.”

The crowd began to push toward the theater auditorium. “Oh! Look. It’s time to go in,” I said. Saved.

Our group filled up one section, and I felt safe and at the same time, awkward huddled in the middle, Adam on one side and my nephew on the other. We were a rather staid-looking assemblage, exaggerated by the fact none of us hooted and hollered for the show to begin, unlike the rest of the audience. My third alarm.

At last, a comedian entered center stage. I was momentarily relieved. Good. A comedian. So, this will be like a vaudeville variety show. But my respite didn’t last long. Sexually-colored jokes soon filled his routine, obviously intended to rev up the audience. Alarm number four.

I sank slightly in my seat.

The first dancer entered the stage: Pearl, a voluptuous woman, clearly well-versed in the art of burlesque. She jiggled and teased to a pulsing beat, so heavy it pounded through my body. My jaw dropped as I watched this woman move her hips faster than I’d ever seen anyone move a body part in my life. I held my breath.

And this is the first act?

Then, she . . . stripped . . . down to her thong and uh . . . pasties, and proceeded to swirl her jewels in ways I’d never have thought possible.

I sank way down in my seat and felt the back of my neck burn. Might have even shut my eyes. I squirmed between my nephew and my son, and tried to glance over at Emily to see if I was in trouble. Thoughts raced through my head. And this is only the first act? I started calculating. Let’s see, with set changes and set up, this dance was about five minutes long. Probably a ninety minute show. Maybe a thirty minute intermission, hopefully longer. That leaves an hour of dancing. Oh, no. Twelve more dancers?

While the audience whooped and yelled for more, I looked down our row of family members: wide-eyed, open-mouthed and arms crossed, speaking the body language of “protect me.”

I leaned over to Adam. “I’m sorry. I really thought this was going to be like a Las Vegas show.”

I could see his blush, even in the dark. “That’s okay.”

My poor son--stuck at a strip tease, seated between his mother and his new wife.

I couldn’t stop squirming, and asked, “Is Emily doing okay? We can leave if you want.”

Please say you want to leave.

He looked at Emily, then back at me. “I think she’s fine.”

I leaned over to check for myself. How shall I describe the look on my new daughter-in-law’s face? Her eyes too, were wide, but she smiled, kind of shy, kind of mischievous, all with a good-natured sense of adventure.

Still, I wondered. What would she tell her parents about “the night Adam’s mom took us to a strip-tease?”

Three more sultry, snappy strip teases by Ginger, Tangerine and Peaches, accompanied by more whoops, wahoos and yeehaws, and it was time for intermission. Hurray—halfway there!

During intermission, the stage crew worked to hang a huge swing at center stage. I imagined a bare, baudy, burlesque babe swinging over the audience, guessing she could probably make it to the fifth row. I was happy we were in Row Ten.

Pearl, Ginger, Tangerine and Peaches all returned for the second act. My mind wandered as they jiggled and oozed around the stage. What did they do during daylight hours? Were they accountants? Teachers? Housewives? Mothers? Students? I have to admit, after about the fourth dance, I thought it all began to look the same. I mean, how many different ways can you twirl a pasty?

At last, the show ended, and we stood with the rest of the audience to give the women a standing ovation. I came away from the evening believing burlesque is an art form, and this was an artistic group of women, all right.

I recently heard someone say “If everything goes as planned, it’s not an adventure.” Well, our evening at the burlesque didn’t go as planned! I suppose it’s good that not everything in life is so predictable. And if unpredictability is adventure, then adventure is spice. And maybe it wouldn’t hurt me to go from “mild” to spicy every once in awhile. At least one-star spicy. Maybe two.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rowing the Boat

“Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!”

That hot summer day in 1972, my four siblings and I bounced up and down like bobbers in a pond full of hungry fish. Anyone watching might have believed it was because the summer heat made the concrete below our bare feet sizzle. Or, perhaps it was because our father, an Air Force pilot, had returned home from an overseas trip. But, this time it was because Daddy had arrived in our new motor home—a 1971 Ford Condor, a boxy monster on wheels, corrugated and white with a brown stripe down the middle. I considered myself a sophisticated fourteen-year old, but when he turned into our driveway, I squealed every bit as loudly as my nine-year old little sister.

The goliath came to a stop and rumbled for a few seconds, vibrating the ground below my feet. Daddy poked his head through the driver’s side window, a smile beaming on his face. “All aboard!”

We burst through the side door, “oohing” and “ahhing” at the olive-green plaid upholstery and dark-wood paneling. We each had our favorite space—the quaint living room, complete with television and stereo eight-track player. The cleverly-designed compact shower. Mine was the kitchen, so cute I might not even mind doing dishes there. But the volume of excitement rose when it came time to stake claim to one of the myriad seats—a selection made not only for the prime location near a window, but for the beds they would become.

“I get the seat by the window.”

“No way. I called it first.”

“Top bunk is mine.”

“Uh-uh. Daddy!”

His six-foot-four frame towered over us. He grinned, even through the noise and chaos. “There’ll be enough room for everybody, and plenty of time to try out it all out when . . . we . . . go . . . to Grandma’s house!”

“Oh boy!”

“When are we going?”


A week later, my parents, brother, sisters and I—a trail of ants in fast motion—traced back and forth from the house to the motor home, arms full of clothes, toys, games, eight-track tapes, Polaroid cameras, and our newly-bathed dog. At last, we were ready to leave on our first adventure in our goliath chariot, an 1800-mile trek from California to Kentucky to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

We took the seats we’d won in battle days before. Daddy started the engine, and I watched the eyes of my younger siblings widen. Even I was so excited I could hardly sit still. But being the oldest, a nagging thought prickled at my enthusiasm. I recalled a quote from an old Western: “This town ain’t big enough for both of us.” And by my figuring, the motor home wasn’t big enough for seven plus a dog, either.

My fear began to materialize when Mom complained of the onset of a migraine. Two days of being trapped with five high-energy kids was already too much for her. She surrendered to a bed in the back for the rest of the trip.

Dad drove hour after hour with his usual good-nature. Sometimes I sat next to him, and pretended to be his co-pilot. A couple of times, I saw his head nod. He’d open his window and begin singing You Are My Sunshine. If these “perk-up” tricks didn’t work, we’d pull over for lunch and a nap.

I wondered how my father did it; driving eight hours a day, taking care of five kids and a sick wife. Maybe as a pilot, he was used to being behind the wheel for long hours under stressful conditions. But, how did he manage to keep his patience with his unruly mob?

Heaven knows, I’d already lost my temper with my younger siblings—more times than I could count on my fingers. I was well into counting my toes by Day Three.

We were bored, bored, bored. Tired of playing “I Spy My Little Eye,” we created a new game—Human Ping-Pong. The five of us flung our bodies from port to starboard and back again, like wild electrons bouncing off the walls.

Daddy beseeched from the driver’s seat. “Okay, kids. Settle down. Mommy has a headache. Why don't we sing Row Your Boat.”

“No,” we whined, breathless from body slams. “That’s no fun.”

“Row, row, row your boat,” he began. “Now you start. Gently down the stream.”

I rolled my eyes. But inside, I’d begun to feel sorry for the challenges we’d presented. Empathy won over my aversion to singing, and I obliged. “Row, row, row your boat.”

Soon, we were all singing in rounds, smiling and having almost as much fun as we’d had as human ping pong balls.

The next day, the thrill of being in our new motor home had morphed to feeling trapped on a sinking ship.

“How long ‘til we get there?”

“Soon,” Daddy replied. “Time will pass faster if you quit thinking about it. Come on. Let’s sing again.”

But we were tired of “row, row, rowing,” and we wanted off that silly boat.

One day to go. Like marauders, we rummaged through drawers, cabinets, and glove compartments for something—anything to do.

Mom’s nylon stockings. We pulled them over our heads and laughed at each other.

You look like bank robbers,” my brother said.

Next, we found Mom’s Twiggy wigs. The Fab Five – a bad imitation of the Beatles. We looked odd, but not odd enough. So, we kept searching.

My sister called from the mini-fridge. “I found some oranges.” Just the touch we needed – orange bug-eyes! After stuffing them under the nylons and over our eyes, we each took turns at the stern, where our stage was a large square window to the outside world. We performed for passengers in cars that followed us, bouncing our heads back and forth like strange bobble-heads.

“Anyone hungry?” Dad asked. “We’ll stop for the night just a few miles down the road.”

The K.O.A. campground was filled with wheeled-tin-cans like ours. Within seconds of the engine stopping, the five of us poured out of the Condor, our mutt barking behind us. Daddy stayed behind to cook dinner and take care of Mom.

After we’d finished eating, I washed dishes in the kitchen I didn’t think was so cute anymore. Dad plopped into the driver’s-seat-turned-recliner, and opened a book. His head nodded. This time though, he didn’t sing to try to stay awake.

Late the next afternoon, we finally pulled onto the dirt road to our grandparents’ house. From the starboard window, I watched Grandpa fling the screen door open. Grandma ran out next, arms ready to wrap around us.

We flew out of the Condor, and were greeted with hugs and wet kisses on the cheek.

“How was the trip, son?” Grandpa asked, patting my dad on the back.

Dad took a deep breath and grinned from ear-to-ear. “Oh, it was a trip we won’t soon forget.”

I never did forget. Years later, when I lost my temper with my own children, I remembered that trip, and marveled at my father’s patience then and throughout our lives. How did he do it? Then I remembered the words to the song we used to sing, at the times when his patience was most tried.

. . .Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream.

And I decided it was a pretty good philosophy of life.