Friday, June 17, 2005

Odd Jobs

Circa, February ‘92, I went on an interview for a personal assistant as advertised in the Sunday New York Times Help Wanted section. I phoned the person who’d placed the ad, an M. Kline who asked if I were available for an interview that very evening. With no pressing engagements, I agreed to meet Mr. Kline at his 5th Avenue apartment at 6 o’clock.

He asked my age, race, background, and the little voice questioned the urgency in scheduling the interview, but I had been out of work for over a month and thought this couldn’t be half-bad. It was Fifth Avenue, and maybe my head was in the clouds.

I phoned my grandmother and mother and told them about the interview with the mysterious and impatient Mr. Kline. As usual, Granny said, “Do your best!”

Mommie chimed in, “Be careful!”

Off to the interview.

When I arrived at the swanky (my by accounts) 5th Avenue address, an arrogant doorman gave me a hard time. What on earth would I be there at this hour? Five minutes later, after verifying information, I was on my way to the apartment.

Exiting the elevator, I noticed a young Latino about my age leaving the apartment. I thought he had been awarded the job, and why in the heck hadn’t I been told in the hours since the phone call!

I rang the doorbell, a faint voice called out to enter, “Back here,” the voice beckoned from the bedroom where his massive, freckled frame lie stretched out like a beached whale in his brass bed covered to his chest. Was this the big bad woof waiting to feast?

The apartment was dimly lit, and by this point, the Latino had returned from emptying the wastebasket. As he left the apartment, Kline told him he’d be in touch. Was emptying the trash and returning the receptacle a pre-job task?

Mr. Kline asked if I’d seen the apartment, and granted me a tour. Paintings, sculptures, Tiffany lamps and accessories filled his home, with splatterings of Lalique and Tibetan vases.

The sight of Mr. Kline reminded me of Jabba the Hut of the Star Wars saga. I returned to the bedroom, and as I spoke to him, I pulled a chair backward from his bed with my foot, hoping he hadn’t noticed.

Checking to make sure my mace was in my pocket, I sat and the interview began (Looking back on this, I should’ve departed then). I talked about my qualifications of being a caretaker (raising two brothers, cooking, being a take-charge person) and how I could benefit him, hours, fees, and perks.

He attempted flattery by telling me of his alleged friendship with playwright/actor Harvey Fierstein. He placed and received calls, two in particular, a “model” phoned and offered his penis-size, hair and eye color, and other measurements. Kline wanted to be offended, but was intrigued all the same. The little voice again spoke out! He then called a previous employee to scold him about his boyfriend calling to check up on him while working (during the phone call, they seemed to patch things up).

“Do you know how to massage? I tend to get stiff in and around my lower back.”


He needed assistance getting his large frame out of bed to go to the toilet; I struggled to help lift this man, all of three-hundred pounds to sit up in bed.

He wheeled himself around to the side of the bed, and oops! He was nude, ughh-ughh!

Returning to his bed, wrapped in a king-size beach towel, he asked for soda/juice to take medication.

I attempt to change the subject back to clerical duties that were supposedly in the job description.

He started to nod, and would be out for a few seconds at a time, it was really funny seeing his massive cranium fall into his chest, and then his struggle to lift it again. The shocker came when he asked pointedly if I’d mind bathing him.

“Oh, my gosh!”

“You don’t have to be nude unless you want to, there are swimsuits in the bathroom to use.”

“Excuse me?”

“I have trouble getting myself fully clean.” (Well, if you wouldn’t stuff your face all day, you could fit into the tub!) “I can’t quite reach my balls; I have a brush you could use!” (Like hosing down Shamu or Jumbo?)

Okay, I’m ready to go, and show my discomfort. I ask to make a phone call to alert friends of being late for a nonexistent dinner date; (actually to give the address should I go missing in action) he was completely pissed off that I wanted to leave!

“I wanted to try you out,” have you cook for me, and give you a chance to bathe me.”

Apparently, he didn’t hear me say, “When there’s ice-skating in Haedes!”

“I thought you were an actor? Aren’t all actors gay?” (Look, Shamu, not everyone is, and I’m not!)

“No, a few of us aren’t!” “Is it the way I look?”

“No! You could be a matinee idol, I’m still not showering with you.”

The attempt to leave was again stalled by his asking me to fix the ailing VCR, (when will it end?) the machine was Greek to me.

“I should have told you from the onset . . .”

“What you need is a nurse, not me . . . ”

After all had been said, and all attempts to sway had failed, the man was searching for a boy-toy, preferably young and agile. After thanking God on High for leaving unscathed, I phoned Sarah from a corner payphone to explain the frantic call earlier. We laughed, and I returned home. About two weeks later, I noticed that Mr. Kline had placed the identical ad in the NY Times.

Round Two.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

International Dance Festival (2003)

Dance unites people from all over the world and from all walks of life – rich, poor, young and old, black, white, and all shades in between. This was evident at the 2nd Annual International Dance Festival, July 22nd – August 10th, at The Duke Theatre on 42nd Street.

The Hip Hop Showcase featured Rhapsody: The Company, in a new show entitled “Ripped”, with special guest choreographer Brian Friedman. During the prelude to the show, the audience comprised familiar current and aspiring dancers and choreographers. The mood was charged, expectant, and electric in the intimate 199-seat theatre. The first installment Frozen, paid homage to the movie Flashdance and Jennifer Beals, with music by Madonna. A Day in the Life told the story of homoerotic love gone awry as white noise from televisions zigzagged in the background and flags waved while urban street kids enacted their triumphs and tribulations for all to watch. Trophy Girls was a stylized and sophisticated video shoot without the choppy editing and close-up on one star. This piece brought to mind Vanity 6/Apollonia and Sheila E, as go-go girls gyrated and groped to music by Jene sampled with Annie Lenox’s Sweet Dreams. This was a smooth ensemble.

Brooklyn vs. Queens was a ghetto fabulous romp that stirred the audience into a high-energy fervor, clapping hands and cheering as the dancers strutted and cavorted to an explosive soundtrack. A standout in this set was the gender-bending solo by a male dancer who blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity to the song Whateva Bitch. He set fire to Paris with his performance. Demolition of Joy switched gears to a softer, balletic and modern style. Three shadow dancers behind shears suspended from the ceiling set the stage for this appealing journey. This was the audience’s first opportunity to see the choreographer, Rhapsody. The dancing, music, and imagery worked in concert to create a solid performance. Colour was reminiscent of a thematic ballet with dancers poised in colored fabric bags, breaking free of their cocoon, waves of white fabric criss-crossing the stage. The male flag twirlers were stationary ribbons of color to round out the inspired choreography.

The Puppet Master addressed the interdependence of people in society illustrated by a masked puppeteer wearing a top hat atop stilts as three dancers “on strings” were subjected to his maniacal whims. A mystical and voodoo-esque subtext was woven into the choreography and staging. Devil dealt with the misconceptions of domestic violence. Sophisticated Lady transported the audience to a high school unisex gym class with kids from the block costumed in a sports motif. My Life was a soulful and reflective solo performance by Rhapsody to music by Mary J. Blige.

The MPAC Showcase opened with En L’Air Aerial Dance with an ethereal and light performance. The suspended ring dancer defied gravity, while the rope dancer brought to mind the professionalism and quality of a trained circus performer. Their performances were based on ballet and modern dance techniques, which was pleasing to the eye. Synthesis Too, Apprentice Company of Synthesis Dance Project, performed futuristic and sparse pieces. A Dream Called Happiness was the brainchild of Sheila Barker and Europe Harmon that pulled together eleven performers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen in a ten-day workshop that focused on dance, singing, and acting. The goal of the workshop was to give Broadway hopefuls a taste of the New York audition circuit. The vaudevillian opening emphasized their slapstick and chorus line uniformity with original songs, music and choreography. The future Broadway stars showed their ease reenacting life lessons as they went on mock auditions, dealing with rejections and ultimate success.

Shea Sullivan’s company opened the Eclectic Showcase with a polished jazz number, They’re Playing Our Song that seemed effortless. Synthesis Too continued with Slanguage, a performance featuring a classically trained ballet dancer and a hard-edged Funk/Tap dancer rival. Synergistic Energy eXchange performed a Fosse-inspired Jazz/Funk/Broadway number. Shea Sullivan’s company rounded out the first half of the showcase with a lively tap ensemble that left the audience exhausted and wanting an encore.

Magbana Dance and Drum challenged conventions and expectations as a predominantly Caucasian company immersed in West African drum and dance. In the piece From Kuku to Konkoba, the rhythms stirred memories of natives and intrigued the uninitiated as feet tapped, hands clapped and shoulders swayed to the beats. Matthew Dean was the standout performer who dared the audience to get involved with his interactive drumming.

Juxtapower, a South African dance troupe was an ideal follow-up to Magbana. Izigqi Zezizwe was the scene-stealing signature performance that made audience members sit back in their seats and take notice. Costumed in a prehistoric caveman motif, the symmetry and lines of the dancers’ bodies would motivate most to head to the nearest gym. The razor-sharp kicks to either side of the male dancers’ heads were awe-inspiring. Wondering how they were able to balance themselves, not fall backward, and keep time to the music might have crossed many minds in the audience. Sduzduzo Ka-Mbili and his brother Solomon Bafana Matea, by the end of their performance had new female fans and envious men who would no longer put off getting back into shape. It was an overall powerful performance – funky, hip, and traditional; with original music by Sduzduzo, Tomas, and Lucky Dube.

When the audience thought it couldn’t possibly be dazzled further, two top-notch tap dancers from Shea Sullivan’s company took the stage for extended solos and duet performances. Jared Grimes and DeWitt were extraordinary dancers, who played off each other in call-and-response method in their complementary style of dancing.

To round out the Eclectic Showcase, Magbana Dance and Drum returned to perform Ode to The Baga, an invigorating and spirited performance wherein the female dancers doubled as drummers as they alternately stepped forward to dance while the remaining company drummed and kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

People came to The International Dance Festival for any number of reasons – to support family or friends, to be exposed to different styles of dance, or to be reminded of dreams they once pursued yet abandoned for other interests. Audience members walked away with a new or renewed appreciation for dance and the Arts – job well done to the producer, choreographers, and dancers.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Gospel According To . . .

Gospel music and spirituals were two of my building blocks growing up in the Bible belt of the Southwest, whether at church or in the glee club in elementary school. The glee club director was a flamboyant man who pulled good, if not great performances out of his students. The boys wore puffy calypso-inspired homemade long-sleeved shirts, which might have kept a few local seamstresses busy for a few years.

The girls didn’t suffer a lesser fate than we did; only they wore black skirts to our black pants. Patten leather shoes or real leather shoes, for those who could afford them, and dark socks rounded out the uniform. Apart from those garish uniforms, I remember his belief in us as a group and individually. I remember a few of the songs or scattered lyrics when I feel the blues coming over me or when thinking of former choir mates.

Ezekiel saw the wheel (sustain note, breathe) way up in the middle of the air. Ezekiel saw the wheel (breathe) up in the middle of the air. Doom-a-looma-doom-a-looma. A wheel, and a wheel.

* * *
Eli~jah R’o’c’k! Elijah Rock, Elijah Rock, Elijah Rock. Elijah Rock, Elijah Rock … Elijah Rock, shout! Shout! Elijah Rock, coming up Lord. Elijah Rock, shout! Shout! (repeat refrain, boys begin, girls echo) Satan’s a liar, and a conqueror, too. If you don’t watch out he’ll conquer you. If I could, I surely would. Just on the rock where Moses stood. Rock-a-Elijah Rock, shout! Shout.

* * *
Sunday morning services were different in my Methodist church. There were no tambourines to glory or choir director standing, playing the piano with hand one while directing with the other. I was in the children’s choir at church, but not for long. It’s probably a lopsided comparison, besides, an adult choir versus a youth glee club.

Each holds a space in my mind and heart. The various adult church choirs had experience and suffering that fueled their voices; the glee club with its natural and trained voices, now seems like the beginning of a journey.

Back in Houston when I sat in the balcony overlooking the congregation and choir, or standing with my back erect in the glee club before the curtains opened, I didn’t think ahead to how those songs and experiences would carry me through the rough spots in life.

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are going to see the King.