Monday, July 27, 2015

When I Saw Him Standing There

Well, he walked up to me
And he asked me if I wanted to dance
He looked kinda nice
And so I said, "I might take a chance" - 'Then He Kissed Me', The Crystals 1963

I only know when he
Began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced,
All night! - 'My Fair Lady', 1956

Dummy in NYC Haberdashery
A hundred years ago a dancer from the Bolshoi Ballet asked me to dance. This is a true story.

I can't remember how I managed to walk to the dance floor, or what sort of dancing it was. I don't remember the music either. I do know it was in Melbourne during the Cold War and that I had been dragged along to a social function put on by the Australian Russian Friendship Society.

He told me his name was Sasha. We didn't speak much. We gazed into each others' eyes. He had a lovely smile, a half smile. I remember thinking of the mambo scene in "West Side Story".

Perhaps we didn't even dance. Perhaps we just stood still, looking at each other. I can't remember. I do remember that  we tried to work out a rendezvous, but what with my shyness, his limited English, and the restrictions imposed upon him by his KCB minders, we didn't get anywhere

I was star-struck for at least two nights and then, being young and carefree, all  thoughts of Sasha faded. My memory of him now is of a young Count Vronsky look-alike -  dressed in black and white,  handsome against a monochrome Soviet background - a memory influenced no doubt by the many experiences I have both enjoyed and suffered in the intervening years between then and now.

I thought of Sasha last week when I looking into the ice-cream freezer display at the Keyfood supermarket on Second Avenue in New York.

An elderly gentleman - a fellow shopper - was trying to get my attention. Why did I think so suddenly of Sasha? I hadn't thought about him for years.

Perhaps there was something about the black-and-whiteness of the fellow, the hesitation, the half-smile.

I turned away from the shelves of  tubs of Edy's ice-cream to ask him what he wanted. "Can I borrow your coupons?" he said, pointing to the leaflet of coupons at the bottom of my shopping basket.

Around us streamed the afternoon throng of elderly New Yorkers. The 3:00 pm crowd. Getting in before the rush and crush of the millenials. War-weary ex-peaceniks, the beaten-up beats of generation 1950. Aisle after supermarket aisle of elderly men and women.
New Theatre Review Melbourne 1942

Did Mr. Coupon think I was one of them? I tried to look young. Well younger. "I'm not there yet",  I was thinking. Soon yes. But not yet. I am only old, not elderly. There's a difference!

You can HAVE the coupons, I told him. I didn't explain, but printed coupons aren't necessary. The cashiers ring up the sale price in any case -  the coupons being more an advertising gimmick, placed indiscriminately by supermarket staff into the  shopping baskets, aiming to fool people into buying things they don't need; tricking them into thinking that they are getting a bargain.

I went back to surveying the freezer shelves, trying to choose between the slow-churned vanilla and the cookie dough flavor. Maybe two tubs of one, or one of each ...

He was still standing there. Like the girl in the Beatles song. "Oh why did I think of another?"

I'll tell you why. It was 1964 and I was dancing with Sasha in gloomy old Melbourne-town during the Cold War. I was the rescuer of a  possible defector to the Free World. We were going to try to meet somewhere on St Kilda Road. But then the music died. The night the music died...

The supermarket was playing our song. I jolted back to reality. The coupon man was still there. Standing. Just.

"You should buy one of these Edy ice-creams," I told him. "They are two for the price of one."

He said he didn't trust the supermarket. If he didn't have a coupon, then how did he know it was true?

By now the tubs of ice-cream were starting to melt. "Like my heart when Sasha asked me to dance," I mused.

Sasha. I had tried to look him up. Tried to get a playbook of the ballet. But of course his real name was not Sasha, Sasha being a diminutive of Alexander.

Reality girl! Elderly man. Coupons 2015. New York. Not Melbourne. Summer, not Soviet.

I closed the door to the freezer. "Look," I said. "There is the notice on the door. Two Edy's icecreams for the price of one." He peered through myopic eyes. And smiled. A sort of half smile. Hesitant. A wary-of-the-KGB sort of smile. I half-smiled in return.

And hurried away, not looking back. So as not to to see if my Sasha was using a walker.

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