#ImprovRespect – A Short Story


“A little late to the party on this one, but I had started it way back in September and told myself I might as well finish it.” – the Jazz Monkey

* * * * * * * * *

I flicked my cigarette to the ground and was starting to head back inside (I didn’t really  flick it and carefully slid it in the ashtray pole, but come on: flicking it is way cooler, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) when a voice from behind caught my attention.

“Hey!”

I swivelled around and noticed the man sitting on the bench. Funny. He wasn’t there before.

He wasn’t sitting as much as slouching, shoulders askew, his dishevelled hair partly hiding his features, cloaked in a dirty grey overcoat. When he looked up his eyes pierced my soul like some kind of giant, soul-piercing needle.

Yeah we’re… We’re off to a slow start on the metaphors today.

“Have a seat,” he said, creepily patting the bench with his hand, a dirty hockey coach wanting to help me tie my skates. I was half expecting him to utter “Yer a wizard, Harry”, and then having to awkwardly explain that wasn’t my name. Like, at all.

“So, um,” I stuttered, “what’s your name?”

He snickered.

“Like you’d remember.”

He was right.

“You can call me Hobo,” he finally said with a smirk.

“Okay…

– So what did you think about the competitions tonight?”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Truth is, I didn’t think much about the competitions, actually. I enjoyed some, was bored by some, and some made me feel profoundly indifferent about the whole thing.

That’s what I was about to say when a lady of a certain age – she was either really old or awfully banged up – turned the corner. In an almost sorriest state than the Hobo, she was literally dressed in a plastic bag and was completely missing a left foot, in much the same way a normal person is not. She stumbled towards us, visibly intoxicated and reeking of a distinctively nasty brand of Mexican beverage. Mentally I branded her Tequila Witch.

“Bullshit,” Tequila Witch vociferated. “It’s aaaaaaaall bullshit and that was all bullshit. And it’s gonna go on being bullshit.”

She let out a loud, odoriferous burp which temporarily made my eyes water, before going on.

“Here,” she said, “have a swig of this.”

She handed me a beat up flask which was definitely worthy of suspicion. It was smeared with grease and another sticky substance that I deduced was semen, but was too afraid to have confirmation to ask the question. I’m a dumb – and weak – man, so I took a sip.

It felt like at last all the dormant volcanoes on Earth spewed out Satan’s slow-brewing Taco Bell diarrhea in my throat after several painful decades of crippling constipation. The lamppost across the street started to alarmingly look like Jack Skellington from A Nightmare Before Christmas.

It’s not even September, I thought. This is weird.

Jack pointed at me mockingly and started snickering.

Fuck off, Jack.

“Lindy Hop is in a sorry state I tell you that,” she went on. “There is no respect for the dance anymore, strictly competitions are just people cranking out routines in an 8×8 format. Everything is becoming showcases.

— But wait a minute,” I said, “weren’t the dancers of old always doing this? The Harvest Moon Ball reels look full of obviously choreographed stuff!

— You absolute shitstain on humanity’s otherwise pristine lacy panties,” the Hobo cut, “one has nothing to do with the other. The Moon Ball wasn’t advertised as an actual ‘social dance competition’ first of all – something which most Strictlys nowadays are. Second of all, there were no other divisions, like Classic or Showcase today, to show off your choreographed shit. Third of all, fuck you. Fourth of all, they did improvise – you just don’t see much of it on the newsreels. Because, well, newsreels.

— Aren’t Jack and Jills supposed to be all about improv?” I said. “That’s where improv should be!”

Tequila Witch smacked me in the back of the head and brought her flask to my lips, sending some more of Lucifer’s liquefied feces down my ferociously un-agreeing belly. My stomach growled in protest and I unmistakably heard it shout “What the fuck are you doing!” while my sphincter was screaming out “Hold the line! Hold the line!” If it was possible to actually be arrested for severe vital organ assault, I would have gone to jail. Jack across the street was shaking as if he was having a really intense fit of laughter. Fuck off, Jack.

“You make me sick like a twelve year-old quesadilla,” the Witch said. “If your brain exploded it wouldn’t even be enough to blow your nose.

— You’re a few French fries short of a happy meal, boy, the Hobo added.

— A couple of screws away from a hardware store.

— The mail is coming back with a ‘Return to Sender’ stamp, if y’know what I mean.

— Several crayons shy of a Crayola box.

— Just a half-dozen feathers short of a duck.

— The phone’s ringin’ but no one’s home, is what we’re saying.

— Alright, alright, Jesus…” I said, my jimmies ever so slightly rustled. Jack was now bellowing a hysterical laugh. No, really, Jack, feel free to fuck off at any time of your convenience.

“Jack & Jills perform a function, ” Tequila Witch explained, handing me her flask for what felt like a definitely unhealthy number of times, “which is basically to see how can you MacGyver your sorry ass out of a situation where you don’t know either your partner or the music. Strictlys are about connection with a specific partner, and you basically throw that baby out the window once you rely exclusively on sequences.”

Even as a known ungiver of fucks, I was hesitant to voice my opinion, but did anyway, because I’m a dumbass:

“I feel like whatever one does is pretty groovy. Some things are not really possible either if you’re relying exclusively on improv.

— You don’t understand.”

The voice was hoarse, deep and drawn, as if a member of the equine persuasion was trying to spell “antidisestablismentarianism” underwater. Out of the shadows materialized a tall and imposing figure. Clean cut but awfully dressed, the man looked like a successful businessman who fell on hard days. His patched up suit gave the impression of sticking together by fear of its wearer alone. We’ll call him Patch.

Before I could answer the question my mind was asking – “where the fuck am I again”, more specifically – , Patch went on:

“You’re all focusing on the wrong thing. You’re doing the equivalent of trying to fuck a fly – it’s an impressive feat indeed, but you only indicate by it that you have the tiniest dick in human history and, in the end, the best possible outcome is that you’ll have successfully fucked a fly.”

The Hobo, the Witch and myself looked at each other, puzzled, while Jack was busy attempting to flick a very enthusiastic bat away. Every time he tried, the bat would somehow squeeze through his fingers. Patch sat down on the bench.

It was a really big bench.

“You don’t seem to understand where the real problem is coming from, is what I’m saying. The problem is not to fuck the fly or not, the problem is… Why the hell are you trying to fuck a fly in the first place?”

I lit another cigarette, because fuck it (not the fly, I would not recommend that), this was quite entirely the opposite of a “let’s do yoga, eat fruits and take care of ourselves” moment.

“The problem doesn’t lie with the dancers themselves,” Patch went on. “Scolding competitors about doing this or that is the equivalent of telling your fat fuck failure of a son to not eat all the cheesecake. You know he’s gonna do it anyway because hey, cheesecake! Can I have one of those?”

Patch held his hand out to me. My first thought was “I don’t have any cheesecake.” Bewildered, I thought better of it and shook his sweaty palm, before realizing he wanted a cigarette.

“Thanks,” he said after I handed him one, “I’m trying to quit but my kids won’t let me.”

He flicked open a ridiculously oversized golden lighter and started puffing away.

“So are you trying to say that couples who choreograph their Strictlys are not disrespectful, steaming piles of shit?” the Hobo said.

“The thing I’m trying to say, “Patch answered, “is that first of all, that’s not for us to judge. We can voice our opinion of course, but what gets me is the fucking arrogance. Who the fuck are you to say this? Caucasian middle class dudes and dudettes with hipster shirts, Starbucks-drinking, suhi-eating, Doctor Who-watching motherfuckers who overpronounce Italian meal names at the Olive Garden, trying to lecture people about the spirit of Lindy Hop? Respect for the dance… Give me a fucking break.

— I like Doctor Who,” I said, obviously without thinking.

“Shut the fuck up,” the other three said in unison.

I don’t even like Doctor Who that much actually. Apparently Jack didn’t either because he was scowling at me intently. I mean the show’s okay but feels really uneven at times, especially if you watch it from its very beginnings in the 60s. I can without a doubt say I like *some* episodes of Doctor Who – maybe even *quite a few*, I mean all the Weeping Angels episodes are awesome and Daleks are basically a staple of pop culture now – , but the best Doctor was definitely David Tennant and we’re never going back to that and you’re going to have to explain yourself a lot if you’re not of the same opinion.

Patch went on:

“The one mistake you’re making is to treat this whole situation as a vacuum. Like all those tiny choreographing fairies were created from thin air and unicorn’s breath. Most people don’t understand that these competitors are a product of their environment – specifically, they’re YOUR goddamn fucking product. YOU are the audience cheering for spectacular 8×8 routines in Strictly; some of you…”

He looked at me sharply.

“…ARE the judges who place these couples high. Or are the organizers who lack the proper amount of balls to specify to both the judges and the competitors that it should be an improv only competition. They literally are US. Judges don’t want to misplace a good couple who was cheered on by the crowd, organizers don’t want to tone down the spectacular aspect of the competitions, and audiences, well… You know. Panem et circenses and all that shit. Competitors are doing what they’re fucking expected to do. Because if you’re inviting some random fucker to a fight and tell them to bring whatever they want, they won’t bring a fork – they’ll go for the goddamn rocket launcher. We live in a top shelf society.”

Patch paused, before the paragraph would get too long. Jack was now listening calmly in the distance. How could he hear that, seriously, with all the bats fluttering around his head?

“WE are the ones who made choreo so reliable. So complain about it all you want but it’s like blaming McDonald’s for selling delicious product: no one admits outright to loving it, but we all enjoy those perfect fries once in a while like a fucking normal human being. The only thing that will revert that is: stop going to fucking McDonald’s, what’s wrong with you? Stuff’s bad for you, man.”

Taking a deep breath, the man went on:

“To blast solely the competitors for this is complete bullshit – if there’s any blame to be addressed, which is a very different and much more crucial question, it should be laying on every one of us, as a global scene. Maybe WE forgot what’s important and blurred the lines. Or maybe we shouldn’t be so quick in trying to obliterate a whole aspect of the dance. Maybe the whole format needs rethinking. But one thing is for sure, if I give a dog a treat every time he shits on the carpet, he’ll keep doing it. You can trust me on that.”

The Hobo opened his mouth, but ultimately fell short of anything to say. The Witch took a swig of her flask, and I just sat there in stunned silence. Not necessarily because of what he said – he actually very well articulated what I wanted to ultimately express – but because Jack the Lamppost was making increasingly lascivious movements towards me.

Patch got up.

“Well I’m going to the strip club. You coming?

— Sure,” Tequila Witch replied, hopping herself up on her one good foot.

“Why not,” the Hobo said, readjusting what was left of his collar.

My head was spinning like crazy.

“I’m good,” I faltered, “I… I need to sit for a little while.

— Suit yourself.”

They left and soon disappeared around a corner. Across the street Lamp Skellington was now laughing his ass off freely.

Fuck off, Jack.

“Sir?”

I lifted my head, looking into the face of a very serious security guard.

“Are you okay, sir?

— Uh yeah, I was having a cigarette with friends but they, uh, they literally just left actually. Sorry, were my friends being loud? Is it late? It feels like it’s really late.

— Sir you’ve been alone and whispering to that whiskey bottle for a solid hour and a half in what was described by some hotel guests as a ‘disturbingly libidinous manner’.”

I looked at my closed fist and, sure enough, there it was. Almost empty, too. My stomach felt like Moses was trying to part it; my head was periodically exploding with the force of a thousand suns.

“Oh,” I let out feebly. The interjection stumbled to the pavement miserably, never making its way to the guard’s ears.

“Let me escort you to your room, sir. Do you have your key?”

I checked my pocket.

“Yeah, sure. I mean I think it’s my key.”

He got me up with great difficulty, and we crossed the sliding doors.

“Thanks.”

The guard helped me on the elevator. After a few seconds of stunned confusion, I remembered my floor and pushed the button.

As the lift was going up, I thought about all this, and Patch was right: we all had a responsibility in this and should voice our concerns, not as omnipotent outsiders hovering smugly over the common mortal, but as members of a scene healthily concerned with where the dance was going. If we’re gonna hold competitors accountable, we better hold ourselves accountable as well. And the fact that the dialogue was open was, overall, a nice thing, whatever we as a scene decided to act on.

We are all part of the problem.

Good thing is, we are also all part of the solution.

Despite everything though, something that night was bothering me even more than this.

I turned to the guard:

“You know…” I blurted out. “You should really do something about that lamppost.”

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About Zack

The Jazz Monkey View all posts by Zack

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