Saturday night in Boston, and my boyhood friend Mad Dog is in town. Normally I take such an opportunity for a guy's night out at one of Beantown's four major league sports venues, but this time Mrs. Dog is with him, and my wife has put the ix-nay, as well as the kibosh, on any non-couples-appropriate activity.
Pas de trois du kickboxeant.
"Why don't we go to the ballet?" she suggests, and her distaff counterpart can barely contain herself. "I'd love that!" she exclaims, but her spouse--for some reason--is less enthusiastic.
"Will there be male dancers . . . in tights?" he asks, fearing the worst.
"Of course," I say. "But those 'tights' are no tighter than the pants worn by NFL cornerbacks."
"Why is it," Dog asks, "that male ballet dancers are always so . . . overendowed down there?" I get the sense he feels . . . inadequate.
"It's because men's ballet belts are padded."
"Like Mary Jane Schlefke's training bra in eighth grade?"
"You got it. Male dancers aren't hung like quarterhorses, they just look that way."
He seems mollified by this information, which does not mean he now feels like a molly-bolt.
"So you actually like the stuff?" he asks, incredulous.
"I don't know what it is that attracts me so much to the ballet," I reply thoughtfully. "Some mysterious, irresistible force, like my wife telling me I have to go."
"Isn't there a sports event on TV with spoiled, overpaid men fighting over a ball?"
"Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but resistance is futile," I say. "You just have to grin, or rather not grin, but gush--'Oh, it was lovely!'--and bear it."
That's easy for me to say because I'm like the senior convict in a maximum security prison when it comes to ballet. I've served a 25 year sentence as a ballet husband, and suffer from a sort of terpsichorean Stockholm Syndrome as a result.
Resigned to his fate, Dog glumly accompanies us to the Opera House and we make our way through the teeming masses of culture vultures. We're not the only straight males in the place, but we seem to be the only men in the building not wearing scarves.
How to untie a men's fashion scarf while committing suicide.
"I need a beer," Dog says, and I caution my wife that if we don't want a medical emergency on our hands, an injection of malt-based beverages may be required.
"Fine, here are your tickets," she says, and the Dog and I make our way down to the Saltonstall-Cabot-Lodge Lounge, a swinging place for those who by lack of breeding and training are incapable of appreciating boll-ay (Baryshnikov's pronunciation, not mine) without chemical stimulants.
"Yoo-hoo . . . Mr. Balletomane!"
"The line is long," I say.
"With ma-ny a winding turn," Dog replies, channeling "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother."
"I don't know if we'll be able to get our drinks and finish them in time to get to our seats."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Dog says with a glint of Irish madness in his eyes.
"Well, I don't want to miss the pas de deux," I say scanning the program.
"What's a paw duh doo?" Dog asks. My chance to teach him a little bit of the art of dance, drawing upon my two years of high school French.
"'Pas' is French for 'not'," I explain. "'De deux' means 'of two.' So when somebody says there's a pas de deux going on it means there's more . . ."
" . . . or less?"
"Correct . . . than two people dancing at one time."
"Well, I suppose ignorance is bliss."
The woman in line ahead of us turns to give me the hairy eyeball--excuse me for trying to make a classical art form intelligible to the masses, I say to myself as I give her a simpering little smile.
The overhead lights start to flash, signalling that it's time for the audience to take their seats, but they have an unintended effect on the Dog-Man.
"What's happening?" he asks, and I can tell he's having a strobe-induced backflash, back to a Freddy King concert in Houston sometime in the early 70's. Thankfully, the crowd clears out and we are left face to face with the bartender, a degenerate scion of an old New England family who I'm guessing has been reduced to his current lowly state by a felony conviction for unpaid library fines at the Boston Athenaeum.
"This man needs a Miller Lite--quick!"
"You mean 'quickly,' don't you?" he asks. "He needs me to serve it to him, so it modifies 'serve,' so you should use an adverb, not an adjective."
Mad Dog's eyes are rolling back into his head--this is no time for an argument on usage.
"Fine--'quickly.' Are you satisfied?"
"Most indubitably," he replies as he pours a lager glass full of the liquid nourishment that has sustained the dog for . . . God, it must nearly four decades now.
Dog takes a drink and he seems to regain his equilibrium. "I'm okay now if you want to go in," he says.
"I'm afraid, gentlemen, that you may not enter the auditorium once the lights stop flashing. You will have to remain here until the first intermission."
Dog looks at me--not exactly crestfallen. "Far be it from me to violate the decorum of such an august cultural institution as this one."
The bartender gives us a look of imperious condescension, then says "You may watch the first piece on the television monitor" as he directs us by his glance to an image of a red-curtained stage over his left shoulder.
Limbo lower now!
I know what vulgar idea is running through Dog's mind before it takes form in language. "Can you . . . change it to ESPN?" he asks.
The barkeep laughs a mirthless little laugh. "It's closed-circuit--no mindless, jock-scratching sports channels."
"You can at least try to learn to appreciate it," I say to the Dog, trying to shame him into giving high culture a try.
"I don't know how you can even fake an interest in this stuff," he says.
"Like any other athletic endeavor--and these guys and gals are true athletes--you've got to pick somebody to root for. Here--flip through my program and see who you like."
"Who's your favorite?" he asks as he scans the corps de ballet for a good-looking corpse.
"I used to be a big fan of Olga Maksakovmalinovslutskaya, but she's on the injured reserve list this year."
"Major off-season surgery. She had a syllable removed from her last name, she could be out for the rest of the year."
"I kind of like this Ekaterine Chubinidze," Dog says.
"Why'd you pick her?"
"It says she's from Georgia. My grandmother's from Atlanta."
"Not that Georgia, you dingleberry. A member state of the former Soviet Union."
"Oh, right. So how do I root for her?"
"When it's her turn for a solo, you cheer her on."
"How do I know when she's doing good?"
"Well, say pirouettes. It's like DiMaggio's hitting streak--the more you can string together, the better you are."
The music gets going and pretty soon it's Ekaterine's (hip-hop name: E-kat) turn. She launches into her pirouettes en dehors and pretty soon has knocked off five in a row. "She's hot," I say to no one in particular, and all the hangers-on, the dilettantes, the scum and the lowlife who are too far gone in this indifferent world, who don't care enough to get their asses out of a crumby bar and join their wives begin to feel it too.
"What's that--eight?" Dog asks.
"I lost track."
"Go Ekaterine . . . go," somebody shouts from the back of the room.
"Ten," Dog says with a tone of awe.
"I'll bet you twenty she don't break twenty," a wise-guy at the end of the bar says.
"You're on," Dog says, just like that, and throws a bill on the bar. He turns his face back up to the TV and--as physicist Richard Feynman would posit--seeks confirmation for the commitment his mind has made with his wallet, fooling himself--the easiest person for one to fool.
Richard Feynman playing the bongos: Go, man, go!
And yet . . . it looks like she may be able to pull it off. The men in the room crowd down front and begin to chant like plungers pulling for a horse coming down the backstretch at Belmont. "Go . . . go . . . go!" they cry and . . . she does it! She breaks twenty easy, then finally runs out of room stage left at twenty-five and nearly falls as she hits the curtain just as the union ballerina-catcher is going off his shift.
"Pleasure doin' business with you, my good man," Mad Dog says as he collects his winnings. Up on the TV screen the entire corps is out on stage for the rousing climax, and soon we hear the echos of applause from the auditorium.
Our wives join us and are so enthralled we don't even get a scolding for somehow not making it to our seats.
"Wasn't the pas de deux lovely?" my wife asks and Mad Dog, now trained in ballet lingo, hastens to agree.
"Oh, yeah, that was something else," he says as he pockets his winnings. "There must a been thirty people up there dancin' at the end."