Thursday, April 5, 2018

On Age and Aging

'I am old, Gandalf. I don't look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed!' he snorted. 'Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can't be right. I need a change, or something.'

- Bilbo Baggins, a literary device of J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings

I started teaching ballroom dancing when I was 21.  At 29, I surfaced just long enough to look around and decide I didn't like what I was seeing.  I worked long hours and burned 4,000 calories a week.  I was successful, as success is measured in the ballroom dance industry.  I ended up in the largest studio in Ohio (at the time).  The owner, whom we'll call The Bank, had big dreams which he was willing to pursue.  The Bank wanted us to have a high dance standard, meaning that the quality of the instructor's knowledge was much better than average.  As a sort of comparison, if average in the State of Ohio was 100, we were at 180.  He'd bring in world champion dancers to train us and to train the students.  Not all these people were especially good instructors.  Many were, but others weren't.  One of the instructors, or rather a pair of instructors that he brought in were Vernon Brock and Linda Dean, who were the U.S. Latin Dance champions.  They never won the world title, but they had the U.S. deal in the bag.  We also had the current world champions in for training.  David Sycamore and Denise Weavers out of Jolly Old held the world championship title, and after I watched them dance there was no doubt in my mind that they deserved the title.  They were, by the way, very nice people, pleasant to work with and good instructors.

That was back in the bad old days.  Since then, some of us have gotten older and others haven't.  Vernon Brock, for instance, died of AIDS during the early 1980s.  The death and cause of same were hushed up, although it wasn't any secret that Brock was gay.  The Bank went bust.  When he paid us all off in cash one Friday, I knew the party was over.  I left before I got recruited for clean up duty.  The interesting part about The Bank was that after the studio folded, one of the old widow ladies that he'd sold 5,000 hours of instruction to sued him.  Well, her family sued him.  I think the amount was something like $2.5 million, and they settled out of court for $200 large, which was $190,000 more than she'd ever spent at the place.  Then the I.R.S. got involved, and The Bank was on the hook for another couple hundred grand.  Then his wife filed for divorce, which was pretty justified in my mind because The Bank couldn't keep it in his pants for love or money, and she walked in on him while he and his sister-in-law were practicing the horizontal mambo on the living room floor.  The Bank headed West, and after a few months we heard he got killed in a traffic accident.  Only, see, this is where it gets interesting.

The man with the master franchise for the State came in for a final audit.  Big Daddy was smart, and he was used to dealing with people who were always trying to rip him off one way or another.  Not that he ever did anything like that, oh heavens no.  So he looks around at the receipts, contracts, and cash, and in his opinion something didn't add up.  It seems like there's about $100 large missing, and this in round numbers from a guy that knows the business cold, and is used to dealing with numbers and people.  Then I remembered a trip The Bank and a bunch of us took that was South of the border, again in the 1980s.  In an unguarded moment, The Bank talked to me about opening up a place in Mexico.  I though the language would be a burden, but he didn't think so.  He mentioned it again a few times, then went quiet on the idea and would never talk about the trip again.  Which wasn't like him at all, at all.

So I think that maybe, given all that debt and all those people pissed off at him, and calling him about late loan payments and child support and all, well... I kind of think he went south and opened up a little business.  One hundred large would go a long way down there.

For me, one day I noticed that there wasn't any sympathy for old dance instructors, and went into a different line of work.

So the years roll by, and the other day I happened to notice that a local dance studio in Columbus, OH was advertising coaching sessions with Linda Dean.  Sure enough, it's the same lady I knew back when.  But the thing is, you know, we aren't all young anymore.  Some of us aren't even good looking.

I was tempted to go over and say hello, but I decided against it.  The past is past.  It's done.  Judging from her photos, Linda Dean has aged pretty well.  But like I say, the job requires 4,000 calories a day, and often makes you want a drink when you finally get off work.  Dean has got to be in her 70s now, and she's still traveling around the U.S. of A. pounding the boards for a living.  I'm thinking either boredom or desperation, neither of which I find appealing.

None of us plan to get old.  We're just walking along one day, and realize that a young person is holding the door for us because he's been taught to show consideration for elders.  There are worse things than getting by on Medicare, Social Security, and the occasional odd job.  Flying from Texas to Columbus and teaching 8 hours of coaching lessons to students who lack the flexibility, stamina, and talent to be local champions, never mind national.  The money isn't that good, you stay in a hotel, eat out a lot, and many people you work with you would never invite out for an evening of dinner and drinks.

The last time I associated with a group of dance instructors, I got stuck with the bill.  I didn't mind; I could afford it.

I live well.  This evening, I think I'll go over and pay my Sprint bill, then get some dinner at Noodles & Company.  After that, it's happy hour.


CWMartin said...

I hope when I grow up I can tell a story half as good as you.

Glen Filthie said...

I understand you and copy. The past is what it is, and when folks go their ways - there's a reason they did it and time doesn't change some things or necessarily heal all wounds.

Bob G. said...

Mad Jack:
One of the (few) things GOOD about Internet socializing, is that you DO meet some very interesting people (in a good way, mind you) with some great stories to relate.
Didn't know you had the ballroom gig down.
I actually prefer a nice slow dance (properly done) than all the shimmy-shake crap.
---But as you say...with age comes not a lack of desire, but a lack of the body to WANT to follow the mind...heh.
Not near am "nimble" as I used to be (the candlesticks have to be shorter these days...LOL).
A very good story from you.

Stay safe (and light on your feet) out there.

Mad Jack said...

Thanks guys.