Here it is, the fourth installment of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, which is the first chapter in The Movie Lovers. We’re at the halfway point. If you want to know more about The Movie Lovers, scroll back to Hello Dad? I’m in Jail!
A quick recap for those who just joined us. My storytelling style is a bit like abstract art. Each chapter is a whole story divided into visual chunks. You might imagine it as a group of postcards on a refrigerator door arranged by Picasso. The order is not chronological so much as a tumble of memories that collide and fall into patterns like shards of glass in a kaleidoscope. I hope it entertains you.
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
As a college undergrad I spent ten weeks in New York City on an arts and culture study where I was not completely ready for all the culture I would encounter. My first lesson came in the form of schooling in a new set of street rules. The most important rule I learned by returning the smile of a good-looking man; he followed me for three blocks. Now Manhattan blocks are easily four times the size of any city block from my neck of the woods, and unlike the men in a smaller city such as Portland, this one would not take my backside nor my determined walk as an answer. Finally, I gave up, whirled around, and half yelled half pleaded, “Why are you following me? Quit following me!”
“But you smiled at me.”
“I’m from the West Coast. We smile at everyone.”
Newly chastised about the devastating power of my feminine smile, I decided to explore the city to find a spot where I might feel at home, and I found it in the Village. I spent many hours writing in the coffee shops and parks there. Then one sunny afternoon as I sauntered down the street, a good-looking man walking toward me on the sidewalk smiled. I looked over my shoulder. No one behind me. Then another man smiled at me as he walked by. I did a quick mental inventory: no make-up, dressed in my favorite blue cotton blouson pants and one of Cliff's shirts, a pale blue plaid number from some ‘50s sitcom; braless, but that couldn’t be it since I was so thin my breasts didn’t bounce; new haircut, sheared short just the day before at a Village barbershop that specialized in haircuts for punks, but I hadn’t bothered to style it that day. In other words, I hadn't gotten any better looking than the day before when no man had smiled. I knew the rule. They knew the rule.
As I pondered this, another man smiled -- a beautiful man -- and this time I smiled back. He didn't follow me. After that, all the men seem to be smiling at me and I'm smiling back, feeling sassy, feeling like my old West Coast self again, thinking, Why are all these men suddenly giving me the eye, the once over, the look? After all, this is the Village and these guys are . . . . And then it hits me. They think I'm a boy.
I stayed in New York only a short time, less than three months, but I missed the arts and culture as soon as I returned home. So I got a night job ushering at the local performing arts center, where I was paired with an usher who was a schoolteacher by day -- closeted, naturally -- a mild man with salt and pepper hair and a quiet disposition. He not only showed me the ropes but, by way of example, an understated and impeccable standard of usher etiquette as well.
Between curtain time and intermission, ushers have very few duties and so most would sit in on the show or talk in the hallway. Patrons were one subject of conversation. For example, an opera regular in the second balcony was a middle-aged, not terribly attractive man who attended each show as a conservatively dressed matron. With her bland beige dresses, the braided belts that snaked around her apple middle, her low-heeled pumps, and the snapped-shut handbag that hung from her elbow, this matron was as badly dressed as anybody's auntie from the old country. But she was composed and courteous and we felt a kind of protective affection for her. Still, after seating our old-country auntie, the schoolteacher and I often found ourselves remarking ruefully on her sense of style, her choice of color -- does beige even count as a color? -- not to mention the grandma-style wig that lay matted and fuzzy around the edges. She was far too easy to spot as a cross-dresser, and we wanted nothing so badly as to take her out for a makeup session or to buy her a more flattering frock. Of course we couldn’t say this.
One night after seating our auntie, my trainer exited the auditorium door with a mime-white face, his eyes and mouth stretched as wide and long as the Minister of Morality in La Cage Aux Folles at the exact moment he realizes he has, with one feather-boa-wrapped gesture, sunk his entire political career.
He looked at me and said, "I called her sir.”
"She had trouble with her heels, you know, the carpeting and the narrow stairs, so I held her elbow to steady her, helped her to her seat, and when she said thank you I said” -- and at this point his face sunk like a punctured beach ball -- “You're welcome, sir.”
~ Dear readers. Tune in tomorrow to see me in my underwear. ~
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