Dance With Me

Fall is a glorious time in the wine country just as it is in New England. The end of August starts the harvesting of rich ripe grape clusters and continues through the beginning of September while the work of crushing and fermenting is usually complete by mid October.  Then the wine has been put to a long eighteen months rest in new oak barrels. By the end of October the fall celebrations are under way and autos full of people are flocking to the highways watching the leave first turn varying shades of yellow then red and finally that dark brown that marks the end of their yearly lives. Later when soft rains of Thanksgiving fall they will be disked into the ground and provide the nutrients for the vines.  This work is done each year around the world, from France, Italy, Germany, and many other countries on the European continent to America, Canada, and Mexico on the North American continent to India.  It is an age old practice from the time man first harvested grapes and made wine.

 

Michael and Paula had invited me to their vacation home in the wine country, a modest bungalow that had belonged to his parents, a wedding gift for the couple.  The last of the turning leaf army had straggled back to congested cities and suburban tracts of ticky-tacky yet the leaves still retained the last vestiges of color as if they had waited on my approval.  I approved most gratefully and thanked them for their patience.   The dark grey stone gave the house a sense of age and presence, a lesson of endurance for the younger stucco that sometimes crowded the hillsides.  Michael’s great grandfather had built that house before the turn of the last century, the tremors that so delight the inhabitants in the coastal cities had failed to even move it out of square.  Most of the original land tract had been sold to a couple of grape growers but Paul had one or two acres left on which he tended the few apple and plum trees clustered around the house.  One sprawling oak dominated the property, it was planted in 1895, not long after the house was built.  The gravel lane from the main road was half hidden and one had to traverse a little more than a mile up that path to the top of the hill.  I remember the first time I was on that crest, the view was impressive as fog press the colors into grey wisps and flowed like the sea across row after row of vines.  It was a million dollar view that I hoped would never be disturbed.

 

Sam, golden retriever greeted my car with an air of authority and waited until I opened the door to give me close inspection.  Michael followed behind and gave the command, “Sam, sit!”  Which he did as a good and obedient dog should.  “I have to watch Sam, he likes to jump up on strangers.  Never could break him of that habit, don’t know where he picked it up.”  “Maybe from Paula” I said.  We both chuckled at the thought.  And on cue, Paula came running out of the house and leaped into my arms with a welcoming, “Hello, stranger.”  Michael and I both looked at each other.  I put her back on her feet and she led the way to the door.  Michael had my overnight case in his hand while Sam brought up the rear.  “It’s a stunning time of year, thank you two for having me.”  Paula spoke in the quiet but assertive manner of hers, “We love it here when we can get away.  And you know we love having you stay with us.”  We walked through the door and Michael took me to my room, a cozy little place just large enough for a regular bed, a wash stand and a small dresser.  The view out the window more than made up for it’s lack of size.

 

In what used to be called a common room and not is today’s open concept, we sat and sipped a glass of white wine.  Two of the old growers always gave Michael and Paula a couple cases of their yearly vintages as a gesture of good will.  The couple snuggled on the couch while I reposed in the wingback.  Paula knew I had a preference for the old wingback style and had added this one to their decor, ridding themselves of that hideous barrel type one considered chic decades ago.  Their style of living here, away from the pretence of the city, was one of old comforts and ease of life.  As Paula once explained, “In the city we need to keep some pretence of current style because of our work.  But we never feel as ease there.  Here, we can let down our hair and be horribly middle class.”  Michael cut in, “Time is measured in seasons here and moves slowly, in tune with nature.  I feel relaxed, I can think about life.  But you’re a writer, you know all about that.”  I envied them, not because they had this getaway but because they had each other.

 

A few years ago I first met Michael at a party, one of those affairs where the hostess needed an extra man and I was pressed into service at the last minute.  Dora was member of a class who collect literary agents, owners of art galleries, and so forth.  A regular socialite with a dubious day job.  She chaired or sat on various committees of good works and social agenda.  So when the writer she invited had to cancel at the last minute, my name was suggested and I was immediately whisked into service to round out the usual cadre of artists, writers, and musicians.  The average upper class individual, or at least those middle class individuals with newly acquired money, love to think that we are extremely interesting and profound.  I’ve never met one of us who were.  But it meant a good mean, good champagne, good wine, and if I was lucky, good single malt.  After the usual grazing of the herd on canapes and champagne we were ushered into the dining room and took our assigned seats.  I was sandwiched between a woman who was a member of the local school board and a man who was a legal counsel for a for one of Dora’s charities.  Michael sat across from me, hemmed in by an outspoken woman performance artist on one side and a well known but, in my opinion, mediocre musician.  I remember being asked to pontificate on a number of idiotic ideas and like a fool I addressed that idiocy as it should have been addressed.  Needless to say I was not employed by the hostess in any capacity in the future.  Several times I caught Michael looking very amused at my comments and once I detected that he actually had great difficulty suppressing laughter at one rejoinder I issued point blank at that local school board member.  I think I called her lack of intelligence on issues of education a crime against humanity.  The lawyer next to me had actually given a hearty chuckle.

 

After the ordeal of dinner was over I had been standing in the corner doing my best wall flower imitation when Michael walked up and said,”Follow me, old man, you look in need of a serious drink.”  I’m not sure if my age was showing that night but I had at least ten years on him.  He led me into what I concluded was the library, for it actually contained a few volumes artfully arranged on built in shelves.  But I would lay odds no one ever opened them. It was apparent he knew his way around the very large house for he went to the right cabinet and pulled out two short glasses and a bottle of Glenlivet.  “Ice or a splash of water?” was all he said.  “Water, thanks.” was my reply.  “Sit down, let’s have a decent conversation.”  I was a little stunned by that remark.  “What’s on your mind?”  “You gave such a splendid performance back there at dinner, I’m sure Dora will hear of it.”  “Ah, is that Ms Worthington’s name?  You must be on intimate terms with her.”  “Oh, by the way, my name is Michael Banks, pardon my manners.  I know her husband, John.  I’m in his law firm as a junior partner.  By the way, I thought the lawyer joke rather funny.”  “Thanks, er.. Michael, if I may call you by your first name.”  “Oh please do, I don’t stand on ceremony.  I’m only here as a favor to John.”  “Mr Worthington?”  We had another single malt and parted our ways for the evening.  I skipped out knowing Ms Worthington would never call upon me again.

 

Michael called me the next Wednesday, would I care to have dinner with him on Friday at Le Bistro?  My first instinct was to turn him down.  I have little in common with lawyers and certainly junior partners with a national reputation are beyond my perceived worthiness.  But I was curious as to why someone like him would wish me for a dinner companion.  I had no money or social position, so the reason intrigued me, I accepted.  “I’ll meet you in the bar.  Just give them your name and a libation will be waiting for you.”  Apparently he knew of my reduced circumstances.  I had a small pension, so I turned to writing thinking I might actually earn a few dollars each month.  The operative word is few, by the way.  And he had the courtesy to suggest a good restaurant that was past it’s incrowd prime but still offered excellent meals at a decent price.  I was at the restaurant at five past the hour for I did not want to appear too desperate not inconvenience him by being fashionably late.  I shouldn’t have worried, he was fifteen minutes late and most apologetic for his tardiness.  His mother had taught him good manners, that was a mark in his favor.  The decor was understated in accord with the idea that the parton should be delighted with the food and not the embellishments of the room.  I was half way through the standard serving of a very nice but not well know white burgundy, a village Meursault of good vintage.  My enjoyment of the wine was evident when he came in.  He asked me what I was drinking and I told him.  “Ah yes, a very good wine, excellent value.  It has nice legs, a hint of floral notes, a touch of citrus, and acid enough for the long haul.  How did you come to chose that one?”  Michael was a man who knew his wines well.  So my credentials were offered by way of a few past wine experiences and we felt an immediate bond.  We went in to dinner and got down to cases.  I need not bore you with the menu and wine list, let’s just say it was a very good meal, the finest I have had in the last five years.

 

“You’ve guessed I have an ulterior motive in asking you to dinner.”  “Well, yes, I am hardly in your social crowd and the thought did occur to me.”  “Let me put you at ease.  Dore is not the reason you are here although she is very put out by you.  She was trying to convert that ignorant Ms Meacham to her cause.  You’ve set Dora’s plans back by a month.  But to continue, I became aware that you are the father of Ms Rebecca Lynn, are you not?”  “Yes, but what does my daughter have to do with all this?”  “Simple, your daughter is a member of a dance group run by Paula Johnson.”  “Yes, go on, how does this affect me?”  “Since I do not know either woemn and would like an introduction to Paula Johnson I thought perhaps you might arrange with your daughter to introduce me to Ms Johnson.  I’m afraid that if I tried to do it myself I would be looked upon in a most unfavorable light.”  “You mean something akin to a stage door johnny?”  “Yes, yes, that’s what I thought.  And while tonight’s dinner was an obvious bribe, please don’t get me wrong.  I rather like you, you have that odd sense of humor.  You have wit and intellect.  I think you might like to see me in a more relaxed setting with a few of my more modest friends.  We all aren’t society hounds.”  “So why this woman and wouldn’t it be more direct to intrude upon her at some social bash or something?”  “Paula is too busy for such trash as Dora and her friends.  And Paula is a bit of a recluse, likes to guard her privacy, hates society parties.  I mean, I’ve tried, but no gambit seems to get past her defenses.  Look, this is not a case of unrequited love or anything like that.”  “Well, I’ll broach the subject with my daughter.  I can’t say how much influence Rebecca has since she is a substitute for the regular dance cast.  But tell me, if you wouldn’t mind, just what attracts you to Paula?  What do you see in that woman?”  “I suppose I could say that I see the grace and style of the world at dance in her movements and that her smile was line the sun shining just for me.  The fact is, I saw an interview of her last year and she touched my heart.  There is something that rings true in her, reverberates in my soul, if you understand my meaning.  I think, given a chance, we might find a way to make our burden’s less odious.  But until I do meet her and have some time spent talking with her I doubt I shall ever know.”  “Then I will enlist my daughter’s aid to get your foot in the door, so to speak.  After that is shall be up to you to make your plea.”  “Thanks so much, Bill.  You don’t mind my calling you Bill, do you?”  “Only my friends have that right, Mike, and I think you just may qualify on that point.  I shall talk with my daughter and see what can be done.”  Well, you should have seen the grin on Mike’s face.  Like a little child with a lollipop in hand.  He ordered some port and a plate of Stilton, walnuts, and gravenstein apple slices.

 

So the following week I talked with my daughter.  We met at the theater during rehearsal.  When a break came for the company we huddled in the front row seats and I outlined my dilemma.  I had a friend, Michael, who would appreciate a private audience with Paula as I tried to so delicately put it.  We did not notice Paula as she stood just behind us but out of our of direct sight.  I heard Paula’s voice in that quiet assertive way ask me who did I think I was to come here to her theater and try to monopolize one of her girls?  Rebecca turned around and said, “I’m sorry madame, this is my father and he had some important information for me.”  “Oh!  I though he  was hear to play cupid.  I have been listening.  Am I to be the target of one of his arrows?”  By now I was very red faced and was stammering what poor apology I could muster.  “Oh, please don’t go on like that, Mr Lynn.  Now tell me more about this secret admirer.” The stage manager called “Time, Places.” But Paula held up her hand while the company dithered a bit on the floor.  I tried to be succinct in my message, it took about five minutes.  “I can’t be sure but my opinion is that he is interested in you as an individual.  Call it a simpatico attraction, if you will”  “Interesting.” was all she said.  “Stay here for a moment or two.  Rebecca, time to join the rest.”  Then she quickly glided over to a man standing by the person I thought was the stage manager.  I saw him disappear for a few minutes and then return to the foot lights.  He came down to the row where I was sitting and handed me an envelope.  “Madame says to give you this.”  Turning, he took two steps and leaped upon the stage.  I had just spoken to one of the principle male leads.  I looked into the envelope and saw a pair of tickets for Saturday’s premier and an invitation to the backstage reception after the performance.

 

I made a point of phoning Michael and telling him I had to see him at once.  I wouldn’t say one way or another, but I told him that if necessary I would stop by his offices if he deemed me presentable.  “Of course, old man, do come on by.”  When I stepped out of the elevator there was a young man waiting for me.  Since I did not look like the client type he came over immediately and said, “Mr Banks is waiting for you.  I’ll show you in.”  Mike rose from his chair when I came in, he was wearing that grin of anticipation as I approached his desk.  Sit down Bill, please.”  “Sit yourself down first, you might faint.”  I handed the envelope to him as he sat back in his seat.  He took the tickets out slowly and seemed quite amazed.  “No one has been able to get tickets for me to this event, not fifth row center, no one!”  Then he saw the cards for the reception.  His shoulders collapsed and his head sloped forward in thought.  A few seconds later he looked at me and said,”How on earth did you ever do it, Bill?”  ” I think Paula wants to meet you.” was all I could say.  I think you can guess the rest of the story.  My daughter finally obtained her dream and became a regular member of the dance troupe.  She will, of course, never be another Paula but I hear she has a junior law partner interested in her.  I am still writing and trying to sell short stories to whoever will publish them.  And I have a book started, one I think just might see the light of day.  Dora has forgiven me, she wants me to use my supposed influence to get Paula into that society social circle of hers.  But I demuir, claiming that I am just an acquaintance and have no powers of friendship.  I also never review this secret hideaway to anyone.  It’s more than a secret, its a good way of life.  Life and love are too precious to waste on superficial people.

 

Dance with me.  I want to be your partner, can’t you see.  The music is just starting, night is calling, and I am falling.  Orleans

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I’d Really Love To See You Tonight

Some call it unrequited love while others unfinished business and still others claim it’s about closure, I’m sure these three assertions are correct, but then I wonder.  What we share so closely with another seldom fits so neatly in a pigeonhole.  There is a sloppiness about life that makes its summation difficult, defies that final analysis so many authorities speak of as being so final.  If life has taught me one thing it is that love may die but feelings remain.  The attraction that brings us together can also tear us apart, as strange as that may seem.  Yet, that final analysis never explains the attraction that remains.  I think that what we see in others is what we can see in ourselves and this mirror of our desires becomes a talisman in our lives.  We are drawn to it even if we disbelieve.  So was the case on my friend Connor, so named not of the author, McCauley Conner, but for the baseball player and actor, Chuck Connors.  True, no one names a child Connors, the plural is just not done.  But his mother loved Chuck Connors, the actor.  Of course if it weren’t for an injury, Mr Connors would have remained a baseball player of average standing.  As an actor he had the broad shoulders and chiseled good looks that make a few women swoon.  As an actor, his range was a bit limited.  Chuck Connors and Academy Award were exclusive entities.

 

A boy named Connor would not have your average John or Bill or Tom’s life.  We would sooner see a Connor as class valedictorian than someone named Harry.  With this in mind, Connor pursed the nubile Dakota.  Any woman named Dakota must be special as an ordinary Jane or Mary or Linda just won’t do.  This need for uncommon given names seems to me to be superfluous, a waste of expectations on the part of those without such theatractical names.  But all names have destinies and most certainly did Connor.  And if that destiny is to go a little farther than the average is have a family name to match.  Alas, Connor was doomed on that score since his family name was James.  True, there was a sort of ring to it but nothing exciting or forceful.  It was an ambivalent name and his personality seemed to grow into that mold.  Connor was hesitant towards risk though when he did risk he tended to go all in.  Often this risk resulted in loss.  But rather than learn to moderate his behavior and build upon his successes he would lead with his heart and suffer the disappointments.

 

Connor had gotten through school and finally university, his successful classes outweighing those less than successful ones.  And he found his niche in life after a couple of fitful starts writing copy for the marketing department in a medium sized advertising agency.  And true to form, occasionally he has a successful idea but mostly failures.  Perhaps his saving grace was that when his ideas were good, they were very good and made the agency a lot of money.  If one were playing the percentages, on average, Connor was a winner.  One of his winning ideas was used by the Navy for recruiting.  One of his failures was for a Japanese electronics company: “From those wonderful people who gave you Pearl Harbor.”  Even few baseball sluggers ever come close to a 400 bating average.  This time, he had a really brilliant idea for the advertising campaign for a woman’s hand and body lotion.  This would set an industry standard for hand and body lotions for some time to come.  So to celebrate the brilliant idea a good number of the people who worked on that particular campaign headed to the usual club to party away in the glory of their supreme success and come in late the next morning.

 

Connor called to invite me to this display of Caesar accepting the laurel crown and the spot chosen was apt.  It was the 52 Club, so named after that joke of a card game called 52 pickup.  I am not against such places as this but I have little use of them.  The idea that one may find true love in these meat markets is a bit far fetched, even by Hollywood standards.  I’m a Bill, a John, a Tom, an ordinary solid everyday guy with a job as a consulting engineer.  All very drab and boring for most people as a life goes, and I have a steady girlfriend whom I suppose I will marry in a couple of years, assuming we don’t fall out.  But loyalty compels and I have know connor through these many years.  Besides, I am happy that he has had a great success for he has a habit of wallowing in his failures and when he does he makes for rather morose company.  So when I arrive and give my name, for it is “invitation only” that this place exists and makes it appear exclusive as does the “entry fee”, the party is underway.  Connor is holding court as he is a very funny man at times like these, particularly when he has been hoisting a few rounds.  He might have made a good stand up comedian if he had the right temperament.  Of course the women here are all very pretty, plain and ugly need not apply.  their reason for attendance is simple, about a quarter of the men who pay the dues have six figure incomes.

 

I have always been amazed by the first names oby which so many of these women have been christen.  There are no Janes, no Marys, no Bettys.  There are Jasmines, Veronicas, Martinas, Elkies, and the occasional Svetlana.  And yes, tonight there is a Dakota.  A femme fatal in training.  So far I have been “felt up” by five women and one man.  As I said, I really don’t enjoy these places.  the music is too loud and too modern, the ambient noise level makes shouting normal conversation, and the booze makes inhibitions drop like lead balloons.  I suppose I would be enjoying myself more if I were in the market of bringing home a filet mignon for the evening.  So by the time that midnight is approaching I am ready to head out the door and crawl into my own bed, alone.  I have to work tomorrow on a large building project.  But I notice that Connor has grown a little quiet.  A raven haired woman has his attention and the two of them are engaged in intimate discussion, comparing the differences between the male and female iguana, perhaps.  I siddle and wrythe my way over to Connor to wish him well on his big project and thank him for the evening.  “Matt, meet Dakota!  She is an amazing woman! (Hell, here everyone is amazing, even me.)  She’s a stage actress in the theater over on Market.  I can’t believe we have so much in common.  (I’ll be polite and not say what I’m thinking.)  Hey, call me tomorrow, maybe we can get together for lunch.”  “Okay connon, I will.  Nice to meet you, Dakota.”  She nods to me in a non committal way, I have been acknowledged and may now move away.

 

Their courtship was not overly quick, I think it took about three months for them to get around to tying the knot.  I was there at the wedding, a lavish but spartan affair.  By that I mean the accoutrements were lavish but the guests were sparse.  The few, the proud, the single.  Not one married couple was invited.  Then off to the Bahamas for a week or two.  During the couple’s courtship I was made aware of the extent of Dakota’s personality and career prospects.  She was a stunning looking woman, about five eight or nine to connor’s five ten.  In heels she always looked taller.  I had never seen her in a conservative outfit, almost every thing she wore was either arty or provocative, even to “grubby” wear.  Dakota was an aspiring actress of sorts and the best that she could manage was as understudy for a few supporting character roles in mediocre plays.  She was also ten years younger that Connor, something that delighted him and like a fools, made mention too often.  The both tried too hard.  She wanted the fame of being an actress almost desperately and didn’t seem to understand that few are gifted with enough natural talent to walk into instant stardom.  She was pretty, she had that slender body most men adore and most women hate.  But her personality had not the maturity to make success by habit, by regular hard work and by determination.  In many ways she was like Connor.  Initially hesitant to risk but once she made her decision she was all in.  Frankly, I was of the opinion, unsupported as that was. that she was tired of hustling to pay the rent and that this marriage was for convenience, not true love.  Connor’s part was not too far off that mark.  I knew he was tired of living alone and his past failures with women weighed heavily in his decision to marry an all too willing partner.  They were fools on the same ship.  I kept my feeling to myself but I gave them a year, two as a generous outset.

 

They surprised me, for they kept the marriage going for nearly three years before it sunk on the rocks of disharmony.  During this period the economic conditions for my work had changed and I was compelled to spend more time working on consulting work in other states and even a few foreign countries.  the original company I worked for had been acquired and then that one was acquired until I was working for a large consulting concern.  My old apartment felt more like a hotel room during a vacation.  Of course my romance had suffered to the point of extinction.  But I had kept in touch with Connor, his wife tended to avoid me, and a few of his old friends.  It was through them I heard of the arguments, sometimes violent, but usually no decision.  Connor had complained that he had no good ideas, the well was dry and he might lose his job.  Dakota complained that getting acting parts, even walk ons was getting harder.  Both were unhappy in their careers and in their marriage.  So they parted, not on the harshest of terms but not exactly friends, either.  For as much as they had grown out of love, they had also grown up.  Connor did lose his position at the ad agency while Dakota managed to finally obtain a character roll in a decent play that would run two years.  I think that gave her the confidence in herself and life in general.  She even helped Connor get back on his feet.  This time Connor took his first measured risk.  I heard he had studied and planned the opportunity to open his own agency, he specialized in theatrical advertising.  It was no longer a hit or miss employment of his talent, he had learned to value patience and planning.  True to form, some of his advertising attempts were very strong, very well received, but he has far fewer failures.

 

Meanwhile, I had tired of living out of a suitcase and came back to start my own business.  I was a professional engineer now, complete with seal.  So I started selling my services to remodeling contractors, small businesses, apartment and home owners.  It’s not a six figured salary but I have enough.  And I have a good relationship, we shall be married in June.  Yesterday I received an invitation from Dakota.  Just out of the blue and complete unexpected.  I was invited to the premier opening of a new play in the best theater in the city.  So I went with Mary, my intended, to the reception after the play.  I must say that Dakota had put on a very good performance, she being the lead.  I think both the script and the director made a great difference in opening her formally hidden talents to the public.  But back stage where the celebrations were happening I was stunned to find Connor standing very close to Dakota and she smiling at him, introducing him to the cast members, the director, and the playwright.  They had become friends, close friends.  I pulled him aside for a minute and had to ask if they were back together, perhaps about to be married.  Connor looked at me for a few seconds.  “No, we aren’t stupid.  We can’t go back to that state again.  We have learned the value of our friendship and living together would just get in the way.”  I was stunned.