THE DAY OF HIS BIRTHDAY I got depressed. They kept playing his records on the radio and referring to his movies and there was even an editorial in The Washington Post. Oh, how he could dance, the Post said in its wisdom, as if any one didn't know that already, Oh, Fred Astaire. How I hate Him!
I don't talk about it at all. I never mention it to people and almost nobody knows about it except my sister. She's my twin sister - 25 minutes older. We were born during the golden age of tap dancing and my mother , although God knows we've never talked about it, wanted us to be Fred and A. Jele Astaire, or maybe Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I don't know. It doesn't matter. Either way I was to be Fred Astaire. This is quite a burden for a 7-year-old!
Back then it seemed natural to want to be a tap dancer. Now, of course, it's the rage and women take lessons to lose weight. Believe me, I wasn't overweight at 7.1 was doing it to make a buck some day, to be rich, to play the Palace. Three a day. Remember the old three a day? Stop the slow I would stop the show.
My sister and I took lessons together. Once or twice a week, I forget. I could call my mother and ask her but I couldn't bear to talk to her about it. It's Mother's Day. It wouldn't be fair. We went to some place with exposed wood floors and railings and along the wall and we danced. In the beginning there was no music. We learned things like turns and my sister would get dizzy.
After awhile, we got shoes. I got little black patent leather shoes with taps on them and I would walk around the house, making this clicking sound - tap, tap, tap. We lived over a lampshad factory in Passaic, N.J., just up the street from the red and white tavern where my uncle would buy me birch beers.
I would walk up the street, clicking away in my tap shoes. I wasn't supposed to go outside the house with them, but I did. I used to see Johnny K. who later became an alter boy and whose father may be rest in peace,died of heart attack when the cops raided his bookie joint. I used to see Mrs. Wood who hung wet newspapers on the fence of the Holy Rosary Church and I used to see all the guys who frequented the Passaic Atletic Club a place of chairs and beer coolers, and later, a television set. Everywhere I went I just tapped away - tap, tap, tap. I was a hit.
The lessons continued. My mother had visions of my sister and me playing the Palace - a regular Fred and Adele Astaire, people used to say. I have vague recollections of relatives coming over and me and my sister doing our little tap numbers. To this day I firmly believe that any kid on tap shoes is better than the best kid doing ballet. It's that scratchy sound with ballet slippers that I can't stand.
Then one day, the teacher went to the piano, for the first time we were going to dance to music. The teacher played some tune and we all started to dance to it. The teacher gave us a heavy beat. You could walk on it. I danced. I danced some more. I had the beat and then I lost it. The music stopped. We started again. I danced. Tap, tap. I danced terrifically. You should have seen me . Then I lost the beat again. It just went. The music stopped again and then started again! Every time it was the same thing. Everytime I lost the beat.
The teacher came over to me. Everyone was watching. Another teacher went to the piano. One-two, the teacher said, Clumpety, clump my feet said. The teacher got down on his knees. The music started again. I trampled the beat, stepping all over it. My mother was called.They broke the news to her: Your son can't danced to music. Her son was standing there when the announcement was made. He was holding this black, patent leather tap shoes. He took them later and put them in the back of the closet and he danced no more.
After that day, I did not dance the Lindy and I did not dance the mambo and I did not dance the cha-cha either. I wouldn't dance the rhumba and I wouldn't dance bump and I didn't even try the twist. The world danced, But I would not. I would stay off the side, a wallflower, asked by women to dance,responding with a joke and then with some excuse, and then, finally, having to say, "Don't you understand, I can't dance. I want to but I can't."
It all came back to me the day of Fred Astaire's 80th birthday! I was supposed to be him but I couldn't dance. Maybe I can now, but it's too late I won't dance.
Don't ask me.