In the Park with Dance

“So,” Amalia says, looking immensely pleased with herself.  She shifts in her chair, looking at Drin.  “When are you taking Dance out to dinner?”

Drin starts to chuckle.  “You know his schedule right off the top, Ms. Yenta?”

“Pretty much.  I think he’s got a Monday free next week, but of course those are lousy for decent restaurants being open in this damn town.  I swear, they roll up the pavement at dark.  No noisy tourist traps for Dance, right?  He doesn’t like loud bangs and surprise noises and yelling.”  She smacks her palm on her purple muumuu in punctuation.

“Neither do I when I’m trying to eat decent food, so that works out.  Any other advice?”

“He doesn’t drink.  Dunno why, maybe he knows better.  Offer him freebies and he turns it down.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, yeah.  He’ll eat anything that isn’t nailed down, and put up with the most godawful muzak, my God.  Most places, I don’t think you need to worry about his irrational hatred for boring 19th Century ooom-pa-pa pieces–”

“That’s your bias thing, not mine,” Dance says, coming up at her elbow and pouring more soda from a liter bottle into her cup of ice chips.

She clutches her purple-flowered bosom.  “Don’t give me a heart attack, sneaking up on me.  So what was all that muttering last week about those stupid Barber of Seville excerpts, huh?  Was that my imagination?”

“Yes, of course it was,” Dance says in precise mimic of her voice, without even blinking, and walks off.

Drin stares after him.

“Hooo boy, Drin, I think you got some surprises coming,” Amalia says, breaking the silence.

“I guess so,” Drin says, settling back in his chair.  He looks at her with satisfaction.  “I could be having with that, yeah.”

“Oh, one more thing.  Sometimes he forgets, he licks off the plates.  He does quite a number on a soup bowl.”  Amalia looks as if it’s perfectly normal to say it.

Drin stares at her.

“Boy’s gone hungry,” she says, fanning herself with her folded newspaper.  “Just can’t throw enough food at him.  Metabolism like a kid, burns it all off.  Won’t cheat on mooching unfair extras, but he’ll clean up every scrap.  Says he’s better now, he doesn’t stash food in his pockets any more.  I’m more used to those buffet towers from the older folks from South Korea, not the younger ones.  But I guess you might see it with any North Koreans who got out.  I hear they’ve been starving.”

“You think Dance’s family is North Korean?”

She shrugs.  “He says not.  But their manners sound like it, not Southern style at all.  From everything I heard from him, they’re pretending they live in the Forties or Fifties.  Bad as some of our helmet-headed Junior League sorts who started off as trailer trash.  Ask us to play for free, wear mail order party clothes once and send ‘em back the next day, spend all their money on a fancy car and live on booze and pasta.  Pretend they’re not crazier than a bedbug in a frying pan.  Smile, and lick all the pans clean when they think you won’t see it.”

Drin frowns.  “Well, those folks think the same way about us crazy ivory tower privileged–”

Amalia snorts.  “You mean the thin white prince club?”

“Sorry, neither.  Those guys are further right-wing than the churches or the politicians.  And you forgot to add crazy.  Crazy thin white prince.”

Amalia slants a glance at him under her hat.  “That’s a lot scarier coming from you.”

He smiles.  “Yeah.”

“Shades of Howard Hughes and other eccentric millionaires.”

“Oh, I only let the hair and the beard get real wild when I’ve been sailing for a long time.”

“Now, there’s an image that sticks with a gal.  Vikings, man.”  Amalia fans herself for a thoughtful moment.

“Ha.  Don’t let any of those hairy North Atlantic sea-apes fool you about the romance of the Outer Banks and that crap.  It’s all wet clothes that smell like rotting kelp, fish breath and chilblains and stiff joints and sunburn and not enough sleep.”

“Which is why an old Mainer guy would say you’re not a real sailor.”

He laughs.  “That’s right.  Man, that first day on shore, you get your dry laundry, a haircut, a soft bed, and a big old steak?  Heaven.  Just like coming back from camping.  Any long trip, I guess.”

She waves the cup of ice chips in agreement.  “Back when I was a kid, before I started going to music camp, my uncle used to rent this huge beach house every summer.  Running hot and cold relatives, packs of kids, screaming babies, plastic toys, piles of boiled food.  Sand everywhere.  Of course, music camp, band camp, those are a whole other kind of crazy.  Get Dance to tell you some of his stories.  I thought mine were silly enough.”

“Why do I have a bad feeling about that?”

She laughs, and whacks him with the newspaper.  They both pause when Dance trots by with cases of soda on the handcart, braid flying gently.  He’s whistling something complicated and Mozartian this time.

Drin starts to shift his grip on the chair to get up.

“Stop,” Amalia says, barring the way with her newspaper.  “You’ve done plenty, take a load off.  We’ll need your help later, talking to folks who show up in an hour or so.  I’d die of heat prostration trotting round like that, but not him.  Let him run it off.  He’ll fade later.  Trust me.  Whistling like that?  He’s happy as a clam in a tomato cocktail.”

He blinks at her, struggling with the image.  “At least there’s no shortage of food.”

She snorts.  “Yet.  Give it time.”

Drin settles back with a sigh, watching the concertmaster.  Amalia is watching Dance too.  He doesn’t even have to say anything.

“Tell me you don’t love all that hair, huh?” Amalia adjusts her straw hat.

“Well, I do.  But he keeps talking about cutting it,” Drin says.

“That’s new.  He never used to let anybody touch him except me, and hell, do I look like a hairdresser?”

Drin looks at her, lounging in her orange flipflops, and her straw hat with floppy sunflowers, and purple muumuu.  “No.  Jersey on vacation in Florida, maybe.  Definitely a member of the Red Hat Ladies.”

“Thank you, Mister Reality.”  She points her newspaper at him in agreeable satisfaction.

“Well, I hope so,” Drin says, bemused.  That reference worked beautifully; but it usually does.  Goodness knows he’s signed enough birthday cards  at work about wearing purple.  Just mention it and their eyes light up.  Amazing.  It really doesn’t take that much, picking up this stuff–just paying attention to things happening.  He never understands why the younger guys miss all this stuff.  But then, apparently they don’t regard their work environment as a challenging social engagement in a virtually foreign language.  Somewhere he picked up the impression that it is, and that he’d better pay attention to all the odd nuances, years before he ever went into combat.  He’s just not sure where he learned it.

“Well, gotta hit the little boys’ room.  Should I pick up a plate of food for you, before it’s all gone?  Any preferences?”

She reached out and pats his arm.  “No, thanks, I’ll just rest right now, chat to people.  But yeah, you could grab Dance in a little while, make him take a little break.  End of the day, he will run himself ragged, trying to make up lost time at work.”

Drin looks at her.  “Like you do too, huh?”

She gives a broad wave of her hand.  “Takes one to know one.”

Drin chuckles, gets up, stretches, and yawns.  When he goes strolling around putting food on two plates, he’s not surprised to find Dance popping up at his elbow.

“I locked the handtruck in the van.  Keys,” Dance says, holding them up.

“Shirt pocket,” Drin says, since both hands are occupied with floppy plates.

“Okay,” Dance says, stepping close between outstretched arms.  He drops them carefully into the pocket on Drin’s Hawaiian shirt.  “Is that food for Amalia?  Shall we take it to her?”

“Nope, got hers done up already, it’s for you,” Drin says, presenting an overflowing paper plate.  They’ve already run through all the nice donated plastic plates.  “Need any more  condiments?  Oh good.  We got a date with a checkerboard table, if somebody hasn’t nabbed it already.”

“Taken, yes.  But there is another one,” Dance says, pointing.

“That’s got better shade anyway, good.”

“Also, we have collected acorns and caps.  Checkers are good.  No arguing about whether a chess piece is a rook or bishop or the Queen when everybody got confused.”

Drin finds himself grinning.  “I take it you’ve had to keep some bored musicians out of trouble.”

“Like Amalia told you to keep myself out of trouble?” Dance says, getting his plate safely onto the table.

Drin laughs.  “And Bud, too.”

Dance waves his hands in defeat, and sits down.  “We wondered maybe so.”

The benches are far too low for Drin.  He puts on a silly expression as he perches on his bench.  He’s delighted to see Dance’s face split into a wide grin.

Drin says solemnly,  “Now, let’s see about taste-testing this galbi of yours.  Here’s the chicken, here’s the spicy pork, here’s the– oooh I knew this was gonna be good, but daaayum, this is–”  He forks up another bite, making appreciative noises.

“Okay?” Dance says, pausing while he is emptying his pants pockets of acorns and empty caps.

“Okay, I am kidnapping you for dinner officially, and I might not give you back.  This–” he points at the really hot stuff, “–would have cured my flu last month in about three bites.  That is radioactive.  That is exactly what I wanted all this week, too.”

“Very good,” Dance says, and he starts taking tiny, careful, controlled bites of food, pausing between arranging rows of bare acorns in front of Drin.  Then he starts placing the caps in front of himself.  “There’s plenty in our galbi pans now, if you want more food,” he says.

Drin frowns.  Something bugs him about seeing those empty acorn caps in front of the concertmaster.  He puts an acorn back in its cap, and places that on the concrete checkerboard in front of Dance.  Then another.  And another.  He reaches down onto the scraggly grass and retrieves three more to finish the board’s layout.

Dance just watches him, head cocked a little to one side.

“There, that’s better,” Drin says.

“So you do with the Metro too, filling up empty acorn caps,” Dance says.

Drin huffs out a noisy sigh.  “I hope so.”  He palms acorns in either fist.  “Pick a hand.”

Dance smiles.  “This one,” he says, and he touches Drin’s knuckles.

Drin opens the hand.  The acorn is bare.  “You did that on purpose.”

The smile widens.  “We always remember which acorn is the bishop,” he says mildly.

“So you’re a mean hand at a poker game too, huh?”

“Oh, you mean card-counting?  We have not practiced it, we are not smooth.”

“Oh, what you mean by practice, huh?”  Drin shakes his head, moves an acorn on the board, and keeps taking small bites of the different types of galbi.  “Mmm hmmm mmm.”

“You must stop making these happy cow sounds,” Dance says after several moves.

“Oh?”  Drin smiles at him, and licks his lips of extra sauce.

The musician’s eyes are following the gesture.  Then he gives himself a shake, and frowns.  “Miss Amalia will think very naughty things.  Then she will say them, you know.  Yes, too distracting.  We begin to wonder if you play tricks on your brothers during games.  Tap the board until it falls, surprise body noises, jumping, whistling, yelling–”

“Here I thought you didn’t have any brothers!”

“Oh, our cousins make all the belch and fart and armpit noises.”

Drin can’t help it, he starts to laugh.  Then he can’t stop.

Dance arches up an eyebrow.  “What, am I too rude?  No?  Oh good.  Am I allowed to make happy happy moos when I eat new food at a restaurant and I like it very much?”

“I’d be honored if you would!” Drin says.

“And no whistlings or yells or ketchup squirting noises, I promise,” Dance says, and tilts his head and gives a shy little smile.  “See, now I have reached the end row, I get a double cap.  We–I– am marking it with two caps, very silly.”

“Sonuvabitch!” Drin says, astonished.  “I should have seen that–”

“Happy food distracted you,” Dance says, looking pleased.

Drin nods.  “It’s damn good food.  Let’s see if I can stop you this way…”

“Oh, you want to make us work now,” Dance says, steepling his hands and resting his chin on his fingertips.

Two games later, Drin says wryly, “Remind me never to play for money with you.”

Dance looks up, smiling.  “If you wish, of course I will remind you, but it is just practice. There is always a Metro game when we are waiting on something, and there is always the gambling pride, you know, that gets people in trouble.”

Drin sighs and rakes aside the acorns to set up the next game.  He’s got nowhere else to be now, and he fully intends to be waiting around until dark anyway.  He will be making sure that Amalia and Dance and all the neglected stuff that needs hauling afterward makes it safely out of the park.  He’s much rather be here, listening to Dance whistle and conjugate rude verbs, than at home sitting alone on his comfortable chair staring at his investment algorithms.  Dance is a much more interesting subject of attention.  The investment programs will be waiting tomorrow.

Pushing acorns around, Drin asks, “Say, what do you know about computer programs to compose twelve-tone music?”

“Only book knowledge.  But we could find out.  In what way could we help?”

“It might be just a silly idea, but there’s guys trying to map stock market trends onto regular music notation, trying to predict things.  They’re getting pretty mediocre results, but possibly they’re not using the right kind of notation, or the right type of compositions, and I’d like to try some twelve-tone mapping instead–”

Dance tilts his head slightly to one side.  “How careful should we be on who we ask, and how we ask persons for help on the right information, on which computer programs?”

Drin stares at him.  “Careful?”

“Perhaps you do not want the gossips to share your stock market ideas too early?”

Drin blinks at the man.  An odd little flare of delight warms him.  “Damn, you’re fast.”

“Are we wrong to ask?  Is it less like testing a light bulb shape and more art form like–oh–” Dance frowns, apparently grappling for words.  “More like playing the same score of Mozart between different performers?”

“Yes, it’s how you apply it.  More like the different performers,” Drin assures him.

Dance’s shoulders relax.  He nods.  “How did twelve-tone music theory come up?”

“Oh, Engerman was raving about experimental music.  I guess his favorite flautist is working on some performances up at the college.”

“Oh yes, we would start by asking her about who to consult, if that is all right with you?  She may mention these questions to Engerman if we are careless or weird.  We are not always asking things in ways that people expect.”

Drin smiles at him slowly.  “But that’s one of the things I like about you.”

The musician flinches back a degree, hand flailing, and then he’s bending away to retrieve fallen acorns.  “Sorry,” he says, coming up with a handful of them, looking flushed and awkward.  Stiffly he resets them, scanning the board carefully.  “There.”

“It’s all right,” Drin says.  “You’ve already won this game.”

“No, if you moved this piece–”

Drin just smiles wryly.  “But I wouldn’t be able to get away on the next move.”

Dance frowns at the board.  “Oh, yes.  That would be awkward.  Perhaps here?”

“You never give up.”

Dance looks up, still frowning.  “Musician, yes?”

Drin starts to laugh, and can’t stop for a long time.






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