All through grade school I was jealous of Jennifer Hardy. She was very popular and everyone liked her. Truth be told, she was a pretty likable person. In 4th grade I took a dance class from a place called The Dance Factory. Jennifer was the only other person in this class from my school. We paired up to perform a human flip flop—the big move in our old-timey beach-frolicking recital dance.
To perform the flip flop two people stand back to back and do a back bend but instead of reaching back to the ground you grab each other around the waist creating a rainbow shape. Then you lift and flip each other across the stage alternating between facing up and facing the ground. It’s really a feat more than a move.
One day Jennifer wanted to do the flip flop with me at recess to show all our friends, more her friends than mine—but whatever. When we did it I passed gas in her face—not on purpose, of course. That’s just kind of how it goes for me. Popular, friendly people don’t scorn me or leave me out. It’s just that when they do include me I accidentally pass gas in their face. It’s no one’s fault, really.
The best thing about The Dance Factory was that they had a van and a driver who would pick you up from school, take you to dance, and bring you home at the end. This was great for my mom because she worked. Our driver was named Richard and we thought he was great. He was young and cool. He looked a little like Barry Gibb and if there is a better recommendation than that, I can’t think of it. The three of us were the only ones on the bus. Think about it … would you send two 4th graders alone on a bus with Barry Gibb? It’s just an example of how things were different back then.
We had a blast. I looked forward to the bus rides more than the dance class which made me feel self-conscious and awful and like I was betraying my true self (which I was). We hid under the seats of the bus or sat up front—we weren’t strapped into car seats like today’s 4th graders! Jennifer was adorable and gregarious and when we played “Name that Song” with the radio buttons, I always won. Together Jennifer and I were the whole package, she was a bigger portion of the package than I was—but whatever. We got the feeling that Richard really enjoyed our company and thought we were cool. Of course one must ask, what guy in their mid-20s drives a dance van for tweens in leotards? From my—I’ll say it—gorgeous picture above you can see that we were OBVIOUSLY very lucky nothing untoward happened. But seriously, we were lucky Richard was a nice guy who didn’t kidnap or molest us. And I was lucky because I believe that Richard really did think I was cool and funny, which was formative and served me well when I was accidentally passing gas in people’s faces.
On the last day of class we had a picnic in the van. We had been planning it for weeks … like you do when you are little and the planning is always way more fun than anything real you can ever do because you don’t have money and can’t actually go anywhere. We all contributed something. Guess what I brought? See if you can. Let’s see, what would someone who might accidentally pass gas in your face bring to share at a picnic? Tuna fish sandwiches, of course! If there’s any offering from a 4th grader with stinky tap shoes that is more off-putting than a homemade, brown-bagged tuna sandwich, I can’t think of it.
Bless Richard and Jennifer’s hearts: They ate them—and happily, too. Jennifer brought drinks and Richard brought a bag of Twizzlers. He actually went to the store and picked up a bag of Twizzlers for the picnic we had planned. I know it’s weird. I would never recommend dating or marrying a dance van driver who parties with 4th graders, but I got the sense at my young age (and I still have it when I look back on our seemingly completely inappropriate bus club) that Richard might have been a really great guy.
My dance teacher was a man named Don Zimmerman. We never had a picnic with him but he wore tight, yet somehow flared, knit dance pants and those shoes. You know the shoes—jazz shoes. Except for my haven in the van, it was all really quite hideous. If my girls want to take dance, they can. So far, they don’t. And unless Barry Gibb is their dance bus driver I don’t see myself pushing the issue.