This is a condensed excerpt from “It was on Fire When I Lay Down on it,” by Robert Fulghum, author of “All I Really Need to Know Learned in Kindergarten.” I laughed out loud on the airplane so many times, I thought it worthy of sharing with you. – Jeanne DeGeyter
Do you know about Geek dancing? (No, that’s not a mistake in spelling. Not GREEK, but GEEK.) Actually “geek” is in the dictionary. It refers to a carnival performer whose act consists of doing weird things. (Biting the head off a live chicken, for example.) In current slang, a geek is someone who looks capable of doing something like that. A person who bears watching. I hear young people using the word to describe anybody who is older and independent in lifestyle. There is a kind of compliment implied. It means you’re a little strange, but interesting.
I guess it’s true a lot of us older types are a bit geeky. At some point your genetic code presses a switch in your head. You look in your closet to dress for the day and you say to yourself, who cares?….
When I get down and my life is log-jammed and I need some affirmative action, I go where people dance. I don’t mention joints where people get crocked and then wobble around on the floor to music. I mean places where people who really like to dance go to do that… I enjoy the never-ending pleasure of being surprised by just who dancers are. It does me good to see a couple of ill-builts—kind of fat, homely and solemn and all—get upon the floor and waltz like angels.
My favorite place, the Owl Tavern, has traditional jazz on Sunday. The geek band plays swing music from Chicago and New Orleans from the good old days. Most of the people who show up are over forty, blue collar, one-beer types who have to be at work on Monday at 7:30. Not what you’d call a rowdy crowd. Dancers is what you’d call them.
I look around and find the king-hill champion geek for the evening. An old guy–balding, white hair, short, wrinkled. The kind who sort of lists to port when he walks. One who you might think was strictly nursing-home material if you saw him at a bus stop. But you see him here. And you know. A dancer. A dancing geek.
And he usually has a wife, the geekess, with him. A bit younger, always fluffed up a bit for dancing and has been for fifty years. Check her shoes. If they are black with mid-heels and a strap across the instep, it’s a sure bet what she came for and what she is going to do.
The music cranks up, he takes her by the hand and kind of limps onto the floor. It’s an act, just to set you up. And then it happens. She steps into a permanent spot formed by his embrace, the years fall away, and once again Cinderella and the Prince move to the music in the room and the music in the their hearts. It takes about forty years to dance with a partner this way. Such ease, such grace, with all kinds of little moves that have been perfected without words. He dances flatfooted and with an economy of motion. She responds to unseen suggestions to twirl out and around and back. Their eyes meet from time to time, and you know that you’re seeing a pretty happy marriage there on the floor. You’d have to love someone a long time to do what they’re doing.
Sometimes the old geek asks another lady to dance. And somebody usually asks the geekess. They make whoever they are dancing with look pretty good. And feel pretty nice, too, I bet. An eighty-one-year-old geekess once asked me to dance on such an evening. I gave her my best, and she stayed right with me. “You are real good, honey,” she said as I escorted her to her seat. I lived off that compliment for a week.
I want to be, and I finally intend to be, an old geek dancer. And my geekess and I are working on our dance routine. I realize that is a public responsibility; to help everybody stay as young as long as they can. To set a good examples. And I don’t want to die quietly in my bed, either—but at the end of the last dance some lovely night, sit down in a chair, smile, and pass on.
All this reminds me of something I heard about the Hopi Indians. They don’t think there is much difference between praying and dancing—that both are necessary for long life. The Hopis should know, I guess, as they have been through a lot and are still around. They say that to be a useful Hopi is to be one who has a quiet heart and takes part in all the dances. Yes.