Airport People Watching

I judged an Irish dance competition a few weekends ago. Traveling always provides interesting opportunities for people-watching and other wackiness, such as:

raccoonsweaterhttps://pixabay.com/en/users/RyanMcGuire-123690/

***

In the security line at the airport, I was behind a family with two little girls, around ages 8 and 6. Both of them had long brown hair and were wearing identical orange dresses and pink sweaters.

The line was long and moving slowly. While we were creeping along, the older girl came and stood in front of me. She stared at me for a minute, then she started saying, “Pig, pickle, pig, pickle,” over and over again in this creepy monotone.

Now I have an idea for a comedy horror film…

2pigshttps://pixabay.com/en/users/reimoon0-353381/

***

Then, in Dallas, where I was catching a connecting flight, I saw a woman with two Chihuahuas, both white but one bigger than the other. Both were wearing identical pink dresses.

I was glad that it wasn’t the two matching sisters walking the two matching dogs. That would have been REALLY creepy.

glassesdogshttps://pixabay.com/en/users/LouLou-W-645354/

These are not the actual dogs. I didn’t want to take a picture of any of these actual things, since people don’t always think that they are as funny as I do.

 

***

As I was boarding the plane from Dallas to my final destination, the lady at the gate counter made an announcement over the PA system. She said that our plane was small, with limited overhead bin space, and anyone in boarding groups 3 & 4 would have to gate-check their roller bags. Whew! I thought. I’m glad I’m in boarding group 2!

But then, just before it was my turn to scan my boarding pass and get on the plane, the lady made another announcement, saying that overhead bin space had reached full capacity, and anyone with a roller bag had to get out of line and gate-check it right then.

I wasn’t thrilled, but I knew that these things happen, and luckily I wasn’t going to be in a hurry when I reached my destination. I got out of line and dutifully gate-checked my bag.

So then I was pretty annoyed when I got on the plane and saw the empty overhead bin over my row of seats.

emptybin1webWhen I stopped to take this picture with my phone, the guy behind me said, “They took your bag away too, huh?”

Even after everyone had boarded, this was the overhead bin across the aisle.

emptybin2web

My bag and I had been parted for nothing. I feel like there’s a sad country song or a Mechant Ivory film here somewhere.

byeballoonhttps://pixabay.com/en/users/Zorro4-796252/

 

***

When we landed, the flight attendant announced that if we’d gate-checked our bag, it would be waiting on the jetway for us. Hooray! That turned out not to be true, though. Boo! Instead, I had to pick up my bag at baggage claim.

Well, like I said, I wasn’t in a hurry, and waiting at baggage claim gave me the chance to see another wacky sight: a woman pushing a specially-designed stroller with a Chihuahua and a mini-Yorkie in it.

It looked like a normal stroller if you weren’t really looking, and I only noticed it because the baby inside was making some VERY strange noises (I was relieved when I realized it was a dog making the noises, not a baby).

The woman pushing the stroller came and stood near me at baggage claim, and the mini-Yorkie was whining nonstop. “It’s OK, sweetheart; Mommy’s coming soon,” the woman kept saying in a baby-talk kind of voice.

Then another woman appeared, and the dog went absolutely nuts, jumping up and down and scratching with all his tiny might at the zippered compartment of the stroller. He started making a high-pitched screeching exactly like the noise your car makes when a belt is slipping.

“Mommy’s here, darlings!” cried the new woman, and then she unzipped the stroller compartment, took the dogs out, and put them on her shoulders.

dogstrollerhttps://pixabay.com/en/users/Mariamichelle-165491/

***

On Saturday, the competition ran a little longer than expected. My flight was scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m., and at 5:15 p.m. I was still at the competition venue. I reminded the organizer of my flight time, and she drove me to the airport.

I was trying not to feel panicky. In Denver, you really should be at the airport 90 minutes ahead of your scheduled flight time, because the airport is huge and security takes forever. Ray is so paranoid that he makes us get there 2 hours early. And now there was only an hour to go before departure.

The drive to the airport only took 15 minutes, because the airport was just outside downtown and not in a different time zone like Denver International. I got out of the car, thanked the organizer, and ran inside the terminal.

There was no one there.

I mean, I saw a security guard, and a janitor, and a couple people sitting outside the Starbucks, but that was it. And the Starbucks was the only business that was still open.

Did I mention that it was 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in a state capital?

Mystified, I followed the signs to security. Security was open, but the only people there were the three TSA employees.

Oh. Well, in that case, I thought, I might as well change out of my fancy judge outfit and heels.

I went to the bathroom and put on jeans, tennies, and a t-shirt. Then I came out and went through security, along with two other travelers who had now appeared. It took less than five minutes. Then I walked to my gate, where I saw via the departures board that my flight was one of only two departing that night.

departures1web

Even with walking to security, changing, and stopping to take pictures, I still had a 20-minute wait before my flight boarded. No wonder no one else had been worried about the time.

When I landed in Dallas on my way home, it was almost a relief to see a packed-full departures board in the terminal. Much more what I’m used to.

departures2web

 

***

In Dallas, I had a 2-hour layover. I grabbed some dinner and then went to sit at my gate so I could blog (yay!).

While I was sitting there, a middle-aged dad and his 9-ish-year-old daughter plunked their vast collection of luggage down on the seat across from me. The daughter looked sunburned, and both of them looked like they’d had a long day.

“Excuse me,” the dad said to me. “My daughter and I are going to get something to eat. Would you mind watching our bags for a minute?”

“Sure,” I said, automatically, before I’d really thought about it, and he said thank you and left.

When they’d gone, I took a better look at their stuff (since, you know, I was supposed to be guarding it). There were two roller bags, a pink backpack, a paper bag full of souvenirs of some kind, and a laptop bag. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really trust people. There is NO WAY that I would leave any of my bags, let alone a laptop bag, with a stranger at the airport for even a minute. I’m so paranoid that I take all my bags with me when I go to throw trash away, even. The man had never seen me before in his life! How did he know I wasn’t some opportunistic kleptomaniac?

It wasn’t like anyone else seemed to be paying attention. The only person sitting in the immediate area was this kind of creepy twentysomething dude to my right who was watching a video on his laptop with his earbuds in and giggling.

Minutes went by, and the dad and his daughter did not come back. I started to have a new thought: what exactly was I supposed to do if someone did come by and mess with their stuff? Angrily confront them? That gave me an idea for a story where a con artist and his daughter ask an innocent-looking stranger to watch their bags, then send a confederate to pretend to steal the bags. When the innocent stranger jumps up to defend the bags, the daughter (or another confederate) takes the stranger’s wallet out of her purse.

Around this time, there was a security announcement on the overhead PA system–you, know, the one where they tell you not to leave your luggage unattended at any time because it’s a violation of federal security regulations. “If you see any unattended baggage, report it immediately to the nearest security personnel.”

Oh, geez. What if the man and his daughter weren’t con artists; what if they were terrorists, and there was a bomb inside the pink backpack? For several minutes, I pondered the ramifications of this story idea/paranoid fantasy (the line there is really blurry sometimes). The guy had been gone a really long time–more than half an hour by then. At what point was it reasonable for me to go tell someone about the bags without sounding like a crazed conspiracy theorist?

What finally made me decide that I’d had enough of bagsitting duty was not my fear that the guy was a con man or a terrorist, but rather my irritation that he was messing with my bathroom schedule. I make fun of Ray’s travel rituals all the time, but the truth is that I have mine, too. One of them is that I always use the restroom as soon before boarding the plane as possible so that I don’t have to go during the flight. The digital display behind the check-in counter was telling me that there were five minutes to go before boarding started, and it was time for me to hit the restroom, guy or no guy.

Before I had to take any drastic action, though, the guy and his daughter came back (with a pizza box, so I guess they really had gotten dinner and weren’t international criminals). Relieved, I gathered up my stuff and made it to the restroom and back right as my boarding group got called.

You want to know the worst part? After all that, the jerk didn’t even say thank you.

byeplane

Until next time!

13 Ways that March 2016 Kicked My Butt

Hello! You might be wondering why you haven’t heard from me in such a long time! Usually during March I blog every day about funny things that happen at our shows. This year, however, I did not manage to blog at all. I was too busy trying to deal with all the crazy things that were happening.

 

But now things are finally settling down, and I have time and energy to blog again! Here, for your enjoyment, are the top 13 crazy/embarrassing/difficult things that happened during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day season.

rainbowshamrock

  1. I am STILL getting over having mono last year. It’s been nine months now, and I am really, really ready to be back to 100%. Unfortunately, a couple people I know who had mono said that it took them a year before they were back to normal.I get tired very easily and have to take a nap every day in order to function. Sometimes ordinary things feel overwhelming, like paying bills or vacuuming. Worst of all, I feel like an energy-sucking vampire has clamped his teeth on my neck and drained out every last drop of my normal enthusiasm. I haven’t been writing much at all, and I only choreographed one number for our big March stage show, because all my creative juices are just gone.Luckily, I feel enough better that I was able to make it through St. Patrick’s season. If I’d gotten mono this January instead of last July, I’m not sure what I would have done.
    vampireghost
    2. I got a letter from my insurance company telling me that they were not, after all, going to pay for the septoplasty I had in December, even though they’d preapproved the surgery and told me I was 100% covered. I had a total panic attack when I saw that; dance teachers aren’t known for having loads of disposable income lying around. I never would have had the surgery if I’d thought it wasn’t covered. Now my doctor’s office is duking it out with the insurance people to try to get them to cover it. Fingers crossed!
    devilbook
    3. I was making potato salad for lunch with my sister. First step: quarter potatoes. Second step: put them in a pot of water and bring to a boil. While I waited for the pot to boil, I checked Facebook. I got so wrapped up in Facebook that it wasn’t until 20 minutes later that I wondered why the water wasn’t boiling yet. That’s when I found out that the big burner on my stove was dead.

    My husband and I did some research and found out that the stove was the original one from when our house was built in 1984. You can still find replacement burners online, but they are so expensive that it would be more cost-effective in the long run for us to buy a new stove (especially since there was no telling when one of the other burners might go).

    So we went stove shopping. We had to replace our fridge–also the original from 1984–last year, and now Ray says that our dishwasher (the only remaining original appliance) is running scared.

    I joked that the stove was the only birthday present Ray was going to get (see above comment about disposable income). As it turned out, he also got a new bathroom sink, too, since the bottom of his sink had rusted through.
    stoveweb
    4. Speaking of which, it really sucks for Ray that he has a March birthday and married an Irish dance teacher. I say that every year, because every year it sucks just as much.
    birthdaycake
    5. I got a phone call from the mom of one of my 12-year-old dancers. They were at the doctor’s office, and her daughter had an ingrown toenail that was so bad they were going to have to cut the nail off. She wanted my advice on which option was better: A) have the infected toenail cut off now but risk her not being able to dance at our big stage show later that week, or B) wait until after the stage show to have the nail cut off but risk her not being able to dance because she was in so much pain.

    Kind of a catch-22.

    As I was talking to the mom, I was wondering what I was going to do if her daughter couldn’t dance, because she was one of the leads in our finale and we didn’t have 1) any understudies or 2) any more rehearsals before the show.

    They eventually decided to wait to have the toenail removed, and in the meantime the doctor gave them a bunch of other remedies to help with the pain. The girl danced at the show and was fantastic, and then the next day she went and had her nail cut off.

    That’s dedication!
    toe
    6. One of our other dancers in the show was in a car accident at the end of February and fractured her arm. We were sure she was going to have to pull out of the show, but she came to rehearsal with her arm in a splint and said there was no way she was quitting.

    “Luckily, I’m an Irish dancer and don’t use my arms,” she said.
    dogincast
    7. I already talked about the troubles I had getting one of the costumes for our stage show (http://nerdseye.com/2016/04/04/owls-well-that-ends-well/).

    There’s just never a dull moment in the life of a performer, nor an end to all the wacky things that can go wrong.
    OwlCostume1web
    8. We agreed to do a last-minute performance for charity at a club downtown. They only wanted six or so performers for one number, which should have been easy, but things got complicated when they sold out all the tickets and could only let two parents in with the dancers. Everything worked out ok, but I had to promise the other parents that the oldest dancers would help keep “creepers” away from the tweens.
    glitterball
    9. My husband is a Type 1 diabetic, and in the past he occasionally had trouble with bad insulin reactions that basically made him act like he was drunk. He got a new endocrinologist a couple years ago who put him on a better type of insulin, and since then he hasn’t had any bad reactions.

    Until now.

    Ray usually leaves for work before I get up, even during St. Patrick’s season. Right before he takes off, he says goodbye and gives me a kiss, which is sweet, but also amusing for him, since I am half asleep and sometimes say funny things. To get me to say something funny, he will often say something silly himself.

    So when he was giggling and acting weird as he kissed me goodbye, I didn’t really think anything of it. A) I was half asleep and B) he acts funny in the morning all the time. I did notice that his face was kind of damp when he kissed me, but I thought it was because he’d just taken a shower.

    Well, turns out he was having an insulin reaction, which makes him sweat and act strangely. When he has one of these bad insulin reactions, he needs to eat something right away to get some sugar into his system. Sometimes, if the reaction is bad enough, he becomes a kind of sugar-craving zombie, mindlessly doing whatever he can to find food. This is scary, but it can also be kind of funny (and I’m sorry to say that I have shamelessly exploited his medical condition for funny blog posts in the past).

    On that day, the insulin reaction was bad. He told me later that he got in the car and started to drive to work, and the next thing he remembered was coming to his senses in a King Soopers parking lot. He was sitting in the car eating a doughnut, and there were doughnut crumbs all over the seat and down the front of his shirt. Next to him, on the passenger seat, were four dozen-size boxes of doughnuts (with about five missing from the top box), and a receipt for $16 worth of doughnuts from the King Soopers bakery. He has no memory of driving to the King Soopers or buying the doughnuts, and he has no idea why he thought he needed to buy 48 of them.

    When Ray first told me this story, I was pretty freaked out. I kept imagining what would have happened if he’d passed out while driving, crashed the car, and hurt himself. That REALLY would have made for a stressful March.

    But as time went on, I was able to see the funny side of things. It was exactly like a werewolf movie, where the protagonist doesn’t know he’s a werewolf and wakes up the morning after a full moon to find blood all over him. Only Ray wakes up to find himself covered in mangled doughnut crumbs.

    I think I might have a comedy movie here…
    doughnutman
    10. We had really bad windstorms the week of St. Patrick’s Day, especially on the Monday before. The Weather Channel said that some of the gusts were over 50 mph.

    After our Monday-morning show, I drove back to my office to pick up the wooden boards I would need for our Tuesday shows. I put the boards on a dolly and started to take them out to my car by backing out of the glass front door to our studio.

    The second I put my back against the door, a monster gust of wind caught it and slammed it all the way open, ripping the top hinge in half.

    I screamed in surprise, and my assistant Jeremy came running to see if I was OK. Luckily, the glass of the door hadn’t shattered, but since the door only has two hinges and the top one had broken, the door was hanging at a crazy angle and trying to fall all the way over.

    Arg!

    Thank goodness Jeremy was there. He held the door upright while I grabbed a ladder and took a look at the damage. That’s when I found out that the top hinge (which was made of metal, by the way), had torn in half when the wind slammed the door open. Crazy. There was no way I could fix it, and, with all the shows coming up that week, we weren’t going to be able to come in and wait for a workman to fix it, either. What were we going to do? With the hinge broken, we couldn’t even get the door to close.

    Well, the one thing that Irish dancers always have on them is duct tape, for putting on the bottom of hard shoes (it makes it easier to dance on slippery surfaces). So I grabbed some duct tape and taped the broken hinge back together while Jeremy held the door in place. It was really ugly, and not very functional, but it made it possible to get the door upright again so we could close and lock it.

    We put up a sign telling everyone to come in through the side door, and then we just left it like that until after St. Patrick’s Day, when we finally could call someone in to fix it.
    tornadoes
    11. One of our dancers is a champion named Phil, and Phil is one of the best-natured people you will ever meet. No matter what goes wrong, he always rolls with the punches and never loses his temper (although I understand from his wife that things are a little different at football games).

    Phil has a lot of practice rolling with punches, because if something really weird happens at a show, it almost always happens to Phil. A senior hit Phil with her walker once, for instance, and once a therapy dog took a dislike to Phil and barked at him during the entire show.

    But Phil had an Achilles’ tendon injury this year and couldn’t dance. So instead, the unlucky karma fairy transferred her attentions to Jeremy, the assistant I mentioned above.

    The zipper of Jeremy’s jacket got caught on the shirt underneath it at a show on St. Patrick’s Day, and it took several minutes of patient work for one of the moms to finally get it free. But then the zipper got stuck again at the next show, so firmly that the moms finally had to find a pair of scissors and cut him out (fortunately, they only had to cut the inexpensive mass-produced shirt and not the expensive handmade jacket).

    Jeremy was upset about this at the time, but by the next day he’d seen the humor in it. Surviving the weird things that happen when you’re a live performer is kind of a badge of honor. He wore a different vest to our Friday shows the next day and said he was lucky he had a second outfit.

    At our third and last show, I was helping the parents set up our dance floor while the dancers got their costumes on backstage. I looked up to find Jeremy standing next to me in his sweatpants.

    “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can dance at this show,” he said. “I tore a hole in my pants.”

    “Oh,” I said. “Are you sure? We could patch the hole with black duct tape and no one would know.” (Black duct tape is the dancer’s solution to everything; see #10 above).

    “Or we could safety-pin the hole shut from the inside,” chimed in one of the moms.

    “I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that,” Jeremy said, politely but firmly, and since we had a lot of dancers for that particular performance, we just took him out of it and rearranged the numbers.

    After the show, he showed me his trousers, and I immediately understood why he hadn’t wanted to dance with safety pins holding the rip together. He’d been warming up backstage with the other dancers, and they’d all decided to do some squats. He told them that they weren’t squatting low enough, so he demonstrated how to do it correctly. He got down really low…and RRRRIIIIIPPPPPP! The entire center seam gave out, all the way from front to back.

    That would have been A LOT of safety pins under a lot of pressure in a VERY dangerous place. So, yeah, good call. I’m just glad it happened that day and not two days later at our stage show! I’m sure Jeremy was glad, too.
    pantsweb
    And that leads me to two stories which I’ve been dying to tell people but which are, unfortunately, kind of inappropriate.

    The inappropriateness was, in both cases, completely accidental and also harmless, since in one case no one heard it and in the other no one seemed to understand it. Thank goodness!

    Both cases are sort of on the PG-13/R level enjoyed by Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and adolescent boys.

    If that sounds like your thing, keep reading. If it doesn’t, you can stop reading now and I won’t mind. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.stop

     

    12. We were doing a show at a very nice retirement home one afternoon. The activities director, a friendly woman in her late fifties or early sixties, introduced us to the crowded room of seniors. She finished her introduction by saying, “Everyone, please take a moment to turn off your cell phones and vibrators!”

     

     

    smartphone

    13. Our St. Patrick’s Day season was very busy, and I got behind with a lot of things. That always happens, but this year was worse because of the post-mono exhaustion I’m still experiencing.

    So I didn’t finish the narration I was supposed to write for our big stage show until the night before. That was OK, because our narrator (the dad of one of our dancers) didn’t really need it until the day of the show, but I still felt behind and frantic.

    It was getting late by the time I wrote the introduction for our last number, the story of how a boy monkey at the Dublin Zoo won the heart of a girl monkey, and I rushed through it. I didn’t proofread it when I finished; I just printed it out and put it in my bag for the next day.

    The next day, the day of the show, my husband drove me to the theater, and we arrived really early (my husband is always early for everything). I was nervous with pre-show jitters (which also always happens), so while we waited for everyone else to arrive, I decided to read through the narration and make sure everything was OK.

    It wasn’t. There was an unfortunate turn of phrase at the end that I hadn’t noticed the night before.

    Well, maybe it wasn’t really that bad. I decided to ask Ray.

    “Can I read this to you?” I asked. “Then can you tell me if I need to change it?”

    “Sure,” he said.

    So I read it out loud. Basically, the story is about how all the animals at the zoo have a family except this one sad boy monkey. The zookeepers introduce him to a girl monkey, but she doesn’t like him.

    Then came the last, problematic line: “Maybe something will happen to give our story–and the boy monkey–a happy ending.”

    Ray laughed so hard that he couldn’t talk for like five minutes. That was all the answer I needed. Red in the face, I went through and changed the line to say, “Maybe something will happen to give our story a happy ending,” which seemed to take care of the problem.

    THANK GOODNESS we got there super early and I read through the script in advance. I will never complain about Ray’s earliness again.

    And that’s the story of my March! Now that it’s over, I am hoping that I can get back to blogging on a regular schedule.

    Thanks for reading!

 

Owl’s Well That Ends Well

owl3

I previously wrote about trying to get a child-sized set of owl pajamas for my March stage show (http://nerdseye.com/2016/03/04/owl-i-want-is-you/).

 

When last I left you, I’d just ordered the pajamas from a second company in China and was crossing my fingers that they would arrive before our show on March 13. The tracking information on Amazon said that they would arrive by March 10, so that gave me a couple days’ leeway.

 

Well, it got closer and closer to March 10, and still no pajamas. The tracking info on Amazon still said that they would arrive on the 10th, so I tried not to worry about it. There wasn’t really anything I could do.

 

March 10 came and went, and no pajamas. A quick check of the package tracker still showed them arriving March 10. I’d wait one more day.

 

March 11. No pajamas. The tracker was unchanged. Arg!

 

I copied the tracking number from the Amazon page and searched for it on DHL’s page. A message came up: “No result found for your DHL query. Please try again.”

 

Uh-oh.

 

After trying the number two more times, just in case I’d done something wrong, I emailed the sender to ask about the status of the package. I got this reply:

 

“Hello
 Really sorry. I sent out the goods were returned customs, and now it can not be arrived at when you need it, if you still needed. I will send you. If you no longer need it, I’ll give you a refund, hope to get your understanding. Really sorry!”

 

No!!!

 

That left me with no child-sized owl costume for March 13, and no way to get one. All I had was the gigantic adult-sized owl costume that the original vendor had sent me, and it was WAAAAAAYYY too big for our pint-sized dancer.

 

But when you work putting on live performances, things go wrong, and you learn to roll with the punches. So here’s what we did:

 

Two of our fabulous dancer moms took the gigantic adult-sized owl costume and put it on the pint-sized dancer. Using scissors and a whole box of safety pins, they turned the pajamas into an owl-shaped dress that, while still big, fit the dancer enough for the performance.

 

Hooray!

 

But we still had our second performance on March 20, and I was determined to get the child-sized owl pajamas if we possibly could. I emailed the vendor back and asked for them to go ahead and ship the pajamas again.

 

Would we be able to get them by March 19? I asked.

 

Here’s what they said:
“For the trouble you caused, we apologize, we will send the goods to go through Get out!”

 

This reply was not altogether reassuring, but by that time we were fully into the St. Patrick’s Day season and I had other things to worry about. If the pajamas didn’t come, the dancer could always wear the jury-rigged owl dress again.

 

So imagine my happiness when my sister texted me this picture on March 17:

owl1web

It was the owl costume! It had arrived from China! It was a St. Patrick’s Day miracle!

 

The dancer was really, really happy to have a costume that actually fit (and that had legs). She looked super cute in the outfit when we performed on March 20. As an added bonus, a bunch of people in the audience told me after the show that the number with all the animal pajamas had been their favorite part.

 

We’re going to take this number to the Regional Championships in November, and now I HAVE ALL THE COSTUMES AND WON’T NEED TO TRY TO ORDER ANY MORE PAJAMAS FROM CHINA.

owl2web

But I’m sure, in a couple years, I’ll come up with some new crazy scheme and have to do this all over again.

Owl I Want Is You

owls

Every year, my dance school puts on a stage show in March, featuring Irish stories told through stepdancing and music. It’s a great way for my students to really show off their creative sides, since they get to act as well as dance. We use special costumes and props, and sometimes we even have sets. The shows are a lot of work to put on, but I love doing them.

This year, one of the numbers is about the Dublin Zoo. I decided that the dancers playing the animals at the zoo would look really cute in animal pajamas, and it just so happens that there’s a craze for animal pajamas (called kigurumi) in Asia. That means that you can buy these big, baggy pajamas shaped like just about any animal you can think of online. There are even whole sites dedicated to selling  these pajamas. Perfect, right?

After reading reviews of some of these sites, however, I was worried about buying the pajamas through them (there were multiple horror stories about goods never arriving, money never being returned for damaged goods, etc). So I decided to go through Amazon instead, which not only was a known company, but has a generous return policy and good customer service.

Since Amazon is kind of like the online version of a giant bazaar, though, buying the pajamas I wanted wasn’t as easy as all that. It required a couple hours of sifting through products, reading reviews, seeing what sizes I would need, finding out which vendors had those sizes, finding out which vendors could get me the pajamas before the date of my show (since the pajamas were mostly coming from China), etc. Also, I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to get all the animals I was looking for from one vendor.

But eventually I was able to find two vendors who had all the animals and sizes I needed between them, and I placed the order. For a little extra in shipping, I was also able to guarantee that the pajamas would arrive before our next rehearsal, which was great.

One of the vendors was based in China, the other in the US. Interestingly, the package from China arrived first, and the pajamas were just as adorable as they looked in the pictures. They were much bigger and baggier than I expected, making me a little worried about dancing in them–the owl pajamas especially looked enormous–but I figured we could always alter them if we had to.

The package from the American vendor arrived a couple days later, and at our next practice all the dancers got to try the costumes on. They looked great!

The only problem was the enormous owl costume from the Chinese vendor. It was supposed to be a child XL, but when our tiny dancer tried it on, she was completely swamped in it. It looked even bigger than the adult Small owl costumes that two older girls were wearing (which I’d gotten from the American vendor). There was no way she was going to be able to dance in it, or even walk around without tripping all over the gigantic legs.

But one wrong size out of 11 pairs of pajamas ain’t bad, and everybody else’s costume seemed to fit. Through Amazon’s website, I contacted the vendor and explained that we seemed to have been sent an adult-sized owl costume instead of a child-sized one. How could we exchange it?

After a delay due to the time difference between the US and China, I received this reply:

“Dear buyer, can take a photo to me see?I’m not sure if the warehouse send the wrong goods”

I must admit that I groaned at this reasonable request, since March is so busy for us that I already have five times as many things to do every day than I can actually get done, but after a day I managed to get a minute to take the pictures and send them off.

OwlCostume1web

The owl on the left is the one from the Chinese vendor; the one on the right is the Adult Small from the American vendor. Definitely not a Child XL. But aren’t they cute?

Would it be possible to get the child XL by March 10? I asked. Our performance was the following weekend, and I was starting to freak out a little bit about having the costume in time.

I received this reply:

I’m really sorry, we have only this size, the owl other size didn’t goods, we return to you the owl’s money, $32.31, then you go to other places to buy, ok?

I was not exactly excited to see this email. It meant that I had to go back through the whole process of looking on Amazon for child-sized owl pajamas, then seeing which vendors had the child XL, then seeing which vendors could get them to me by March 10, then reading reviews of the vendors to see which seemed the most reliable, and then saying a little prayer before actually placing the order, because if this didn’t work I was going to have one tiny owl with no costume come showtime.

The whole time I was grumbling, “If they only have one size of owl pajamas, why did they bother putting a drop-down menu with different sizes on their page?!?”

But by tonight, when I decided to blog about it, I was smiling every time I thought of the email. Really, it’s one of the cutest, friendliest emails I’ve ever gotten from a vendor.

So thank you, friendly vendor, for getting me my order so unbelievably quickly (it takes 2 weeks for us to get shoes from Ireland, and you got our order to us from China in a little over 2 days!). The two sets of monkey pajamas you sent were perfect, and the dancers are very excited to perform in them. And since the owl pajamas you sent are my size, maybe I’ll just keep them for myself. They are pretty adorable, and I bet it’s hard to feel stressed out when you’re dancing around at home in an owl-shaped adult onesie.

2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Day 7

Originally written March 15, 2011.

Why is my cat so in love with my dress bag? Whenever I’m careless enough to put it somewhere she can reach it, she rubs herself all over it and then crawls under or behind it, purring like a diesel engine the whole time.

I know that part of the attraction is the fabric of the bag. She’s all white, and the bag is black, and (while I know that cats are supposed to be colorblind) she really seems to prefer shedding on dark fabrics. Also, the bag is made of heavy cotton, and cat hairs stick to it very well. Again, she tends to like lying on fabrics that her fur sticks to. Some of our chairs look like they’re made of white angora.

What I can’t figure out is how she always knows when I’ve put the bag where she can get to it. This morning, for instance, I was getting ready for our first show, and the cat was nowhere to be seen. Normally, she gets up with my husband and follows him around while he gets ready, and then she waits for me to get up and do my morning routine. My morning routine includes changing her water and feeding her, and once I’ve done that, she usually wants me to pet her.

This morning, however, I hadn’t seen the cat at all. I’d gotten up, watered the plants, changed the cat’s water, fed the cat, cleaned out her litter box, had breakfast, and stretched, and not a sign of her. Lulled into a false sense of security, I took the dress bag out of the closet and hung it on the closet door so I wouldn’t forget it when I left. I brushed my teeth, which takes about two minutes, and when I put down the tooth brush, there she was, INSIDE the dress bag, since I’d naively left it unzipped. I hadn’t even seen her get in.

And of course she was purring.

We had two shows today. The first was at an Alzheimer’s care facility in Highlands Ranch. We’ve danced there annually for almost ten years now, and it’s a show I enjoy. The facility is bright, welcoming, and interesting; the whole front area inside the building is designed to look like a main street, with a lamp post in the middle of the big foyer and a little “shops” lining the hallways, like a hair stylist and a candy shop. Alzheimer’s care centers are some of the most heartbreaking places we visit, but at this facility I can tell that the residents are well-cared for and as content as they can be.

The second show was at a senior center we hadn’t danced at before. It seemed like a nice enough place, and the organizers and residents both appeared to enjoy the performance. We had to be careful while we were dancing, though: in the dining room where we were performing, each individual table had its own light, which was dropped down from the ceiling. The tables had been pushed out of the way for our show, but the lights remained, and the decorative knob on the bottom of each light was less than six feet off the ground. Since Phil is 6’ or a little taller, we were worried that he was going to run into one of the lights and knock himself silly. It probably wouldn’t be good for the light bulb, either.

So we laid our show boards on the floor between a couple sets of lights and told Phil he couldn’t dance off the boards. That gave him about 10’ side to side to dance in, which is tight, but he managed it, and both Phil and the lights survived the show unscathed.

After the second show, we headed back to the studio to do a dress rehearsal for our annual stage show. A dress rehearsal is always kind of an exercise in organized chaos, where almost forty people are getting dressed at the same time and finding out that their tights have runs, their tights are too small, they don’t have any tights; that their bra doesn’t work under their leotard; that their jacket clashes with their pants. You assign people to help with these problems while you, dressed in your outrageous goth fairy/Lady Gaga outfit, run back and forth fetching wigs, veils, headbands, safety pins, and scripts. There are customers in the store who aren’t from your school, and you hope that they have no idea who you are.

Once everyone is dressed, you run through the whole show, where you find out that there isn’t enough time for one of your main characters to change her shoes and her costume between numbers. Since you haven’t ever run some of the numbers back-to-back before, no one has realized that they need to be sidestage at a particular time, and as their music is playing, they are all sitting next to you, looking at the empty stage. The set takes up too much of the stage for your big finale. The beautiful fairy wings won’t work for the audience participation number, because they tend to poke people’s partners in the face.

By the end of the evening, you have a tic in the side of your face and you wonder if it isn’t too late to become a hermit.

Seriously, though—while dress rehearsals do tend to be chaotic, this one was also really good! I was exhausted by the end of it, but also very happy. It’s going to be a good show. I love all my dancers.

Tomorrow, I have four shows, and somewhere in there I’ve got to find some time to make the show layouts for the twenty shows we have on Thursday. Cue hysterical laughter. This was the year I promised myself I wasn’t going to get behind like this. Yeah, right. : )

2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Day 6

My husband’s birthday is March 14, which is one of those little ironies that prove the universe has a sense of humor. It would be like someone with an April birthday marrying an accountant. There have been years where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has fallen on March 14, and there have been years where I’ve had so many performances on that day that we had to celebrate his birthday some other day.

This year, we only had a couple shows, and my sister was super nice and offered to lead them so I could take the day off. It was great. My husband took the day off, too, and we got some chores done, had lunch out, took a nap, and watched a movie. Now I feel rested and ready for the busy few days ahead.

My sister said her shows went well today, although she did have a couple funny stories:

The first one had to do with a dog at the nursing home they danced at this morning. A lot of nursing homes have dogs or cats to interact with the residents. Well, this one came around a corner unexpectedly right as our dancer Phil was dancing close to the doorway, and it got scared and started barking at Phil. That was a new one. I feel bad for Phil, because he seems to attract this kind of thing. Once, a resident with a walker took a dislike to him and hit him with her walker. That wasn’t a good show.

After their performance, the organizer came up and asked if the dancers would go visit one of the residents who was bedridden. They all went to his room and did a couple jig steps for him, and he seemed very appreciative. He said that he’d like to talk to the dancers for a minute. They came up close to his bedside, and he said, “Kids, I’m stuck in this dang bed because I didn’t pay close attention to my cholesterol. Don’t you make the same mistake! Always get your cholesterol checked.”

See? Shows are both fun AND educational.

2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Days 4 & 5

Originally published 3/13/2011.

Yesterday was the Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the US, and the organizers achieve that by opening it up to pretty much any group that applies and pays the entry fee. In the past, we’ve seen floats or marchers from a Hari Krishna temple, Shotgun Willie’s (a Denver strip club), and a group of people dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers, just to name a few examples.

Because the Parade is so big, and has gotten so much bigger since I first participated in 1987, staging it is an amazing spectacle in itself. Groups assemble in the giant parking lots at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, and they are divided up into four different divisions. The Honorary division, the first groups to go when the Parade starts at 10 a.m., start lining up in the parking lots at 8 a.m., and the other divisions get staggered assembly times to that not everyone is arriving all at the same time. Even so, traffic into the parking lots is sluggish, and as you walk to your assembly place, hundreds of people from various groups are walking with you.

This year, we decided to use the Parade to help advertise our annual March stage show. We’re doing an Irish dance version of the Nutcracker this year called the Jigcracker, and it features an Irish girl named Claire, an enchanted Prince (the Jigcracker), a villainous witch, and a friendly dragon. I thought we could have those characters march in the Parade, and along the way we could hand out flyers and business cards.

I’m playing the witch, so on Saturday morning I got up at 6 a.m. to start getting ready. I needed to eat and pack my lunch and things for the day, and also I needed to stretch, because I’m finding that if I don’t stretch twice a day while I’m dancing, I seize up like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz when he doesn’t get his oil. Once all that was done, I needed to put on my witch makeup, and (to tell the truth) THAT was the part that really scared me.

Even picking out foundation was a daunting task. I don’t usually wear any makeup, and I never really have, so my knowledge of cosmetics is about as sophisticated as a six-year-old’s. I knew enough to realize, however, that I should probably get some kind of foundation with sunscreen in it for the Parade. Without sunscreen, I was going to burn (yay, Irish skin!), but I didn’t figure that eyeshadow and blush were going to stick to my regular super-sweatproof 50+ sunscreen so well. I had heard legends of magical products that contained both sunscreen and foundation , and so I went to King Soopers to attempt to purchase some. In my mind, it was a heroic quest akin to that of Gilgamesh or Ulysses.

There were DOZENS of different kinds of foundation with sunscreen at King Soopers. Not only different brands, but different lines within the different brands, and some of them had dozens of different shades: “Ivory Blush,” “Fairest Porcelain,” “Cream Rose.” I looked for “Fish Belly White,” but I couldn’t find any. Lacking guidance, I blindly picked up the lightest shade of each kind I found and read the back, hoping that I’d find some clue there about whether this was a good brand that would A) prevent the sun from frying me like a hamburger and B) not make my sensitive skin break out in giant red pimples right before St. Patrick’s Day.

None of the bottles mentioned hamburgers or pimples. They did, however, mention that their scientifically-formulated skin-balancing formulas would nourish my pores while restoring that youthful glow. They would moisturize dry skin while evening out oily patches, producing a toned, beautiful look. Wow. I wondered how that worked, exactly. Maybe the formula really was magic, redistributing the oil from the oily patches to the dry parts like irrigation. In that case, I was probably in trouble, because my skin is as dry as a salt flat all over.

Reading the ingredient lists didn’t help, either. Most of the ingredients were chemicals I’d never heard of, which alarmed me somewhat. Did I really want to smear my face with a bunch of unknown chemicals? Knowing that millions of other women happily smeared every day didn’t really help, because I knew about some of the beauty treatments that other cultures have tried over the course of human history (camel dung lip gloss, cones of wax scented with myrrh melting on your head, etc).

In the end, I picked up a tube of Almay Smart Shade, Smart Balance, because it had some writing on the tube that I understood:
1. SPF 15 (OK—that means that I PROBABLY won’t fry)
2. 2.0% Zinc Oxide (Zinc Oxide. Yeah. They use that in sport sunblock. OK).
3. Hypoallergenic. Won’t clog pores. Dermatologist tested. (so I PROBABLY won’t break out in giant red pimples)

It also came in a tube that looked reassuringly like a bottle of sunscreen. Maybe that’s a stupid reason to pick one kind of makeup over another, but at that point I was so lost, anything familiar seemed good.

All that was on Wednesday. Now it was Saturday, and I was ready to get dolled up in my witch’s costume. I couldn’t remember what order I was supposed to do things in. Costume first, then makeup, or the other way around? I finally decided on costume first.

The witch’s costume is kind of a goth fairy thing, since instead of having the Rat King and the mice for our Jigcracker villains, we were going with evil fairies. First, I had a pair of black leggings with holes in them. Over that, I had a black leotard with a high lace neck and lace sleeves. Over that, I had a black velvet dress with a tutu-like skirt made of layers of purple chiffon, and some strips of matching purple at the shoulders.

Once I had all that on, I started on my makeup. The Almay foundation stuff turned out to be really easy to use, just like I’d hoped. I put it on like sunscreen and rubbed it in, and it looked pretty good. The Almay came in three different shades, and I’d picked “Light,” which apparently is “Pale” in French, according to the label. As I put it on, I discovered two things: first, I am paler than “Pale,” which I guess I knew already, and second, regular pale people must have skin that is much more orangey than mine, because where my real skin color and the Almay color showed next to each other on my neck, it looked like I’d been powdering with paprika.

Okay, step one hadn’t gone too badly. Step two: eye liner. I took out a bottle of liquid eyeliner from the all-purpose makeup bag we use for the stage shows every year, and, bracing my right hand with my left to try to stop the nervous tremors, I drew a line under my right eye. Hmm. Not too bad. The line was pretty straight and the right thickness. Okay. I tried the top eyelid. My eye kept twitching as the muscles in my eyelid tried valiantly to fight off my hand, but somehow the line went on decently straight and met up with the bottom line at the corner of my eye.

Encouraged, I moved on to my left eye. This makeup thing wasn’t too hard after all. But then, in my cockiness, I went too fast and made a giant black blob right under my eye. Oops. I wiped it off with a piece of toilet paper, but that took off the Almay as well. Crap. So I reapplied the Almay and tried again. The second time went better. So then I did my top lid. My top eyelid was jumping so much that my hand slipped and somehow the eyeliner ended up, not along the lash line, but below that, on the skin right next to the eyeball. I didn’t think that was going to be good for my eye. Very carefully, I wiped it off with a corner of the toilet paper, and managed to fix it without taking off any of my other makeup. Then, with a deep breath, I redid the eyeliner on the top. It was way thicker than the right eye, but by that point I didn’t care. I had about ten minutes before I had to leave, and I figured that anybody who got close enough to see my shoddy makeup job was also close enough that I could punch them if they said anything about it.

I added blue eyeshadow all the way up to my eyebrows, and then added another layer to make sure it showed. Then I added blush. I’d read somewhere that you’re supposed to highlight your cheekbones with blush, so I tried that, and it worked okay on one side but came out really crooked on the other. Apparently, the witch’s left cheekbone was deformed. Too bad. Then I added some really bright magenta lipstick and headed out the door, right at 7:30 when I had to leave. There was a guy sitting in the car beside mine in the parking lot, and he stared at me as I jumped in and drove off. I think I forgot to mention that I’d gotten my hair ready for the long purple and black wig I was going to wear, so my hair was in three ponytails sticking out at weird angles from my head. I’d be interested in finding out what my neighbor thought I was up to.

I got about two blocks away and realized that I’d forgotten my sound system, which we were going to pull in front of the dancers so they had some music. I couldn’t use any other sound system, since that one was the only battery-powered one we had, so I turned around and went home again.

When I got to the studio where some of us were meeting to carpool, father-daughter dancers Doug and Morgan were already there. They got out of the car, and when Doug saw me, he stopped and said, “Wow.” And it wasn’t “Wow, you look so beautiful,” but more, “Wow, you look so weird that I don’t know what to say that won’t make you hit me.”

Great. Well, I was supposed to be an evil, creepy witch, so maybe that was coming across.

My sister and some of our other dancers arrived shortly, and we started packing up the cars with the things we were going to need for the parade. One of the things we were taking was the friendly dragon from our show, which is a 7-person Chinese parade dragon on bamboo poles that the dancers nicknamed Charlie. Getting Charlie into the back of my sister’s car while leaving room for three people to ride was kind of like a 3-D puzzle, but we figured it out, and by 8:20 or so we were squished into two cars and headed downtown.

We reached the performers’ parking area at Coors’ field right at 9 and walked to our assembly area. The dancers in the carpool carried Charlie, and a lot of heads turned to watch us as we walked by. People were probably wondering what kind of entry we were: adult dancers Doug, Phil, Natalie, and Krystal were all dressed in black to be the dragon-handlers; I was wearing my witch outfit, complete with the long black-and-purple wig that I’d put on in the car, plus a crystal tiara, and kid dancers Morgan and Emma were dressed as the Jigcracker and Claire, respectively. Neither of them is actually playing that part in the show, but since the real actors couldn’t be there Saturday morning, Morgan and Emma were nice enough to dress up as the parts.

Morgan was wearing all black with the Jigcracker mask, which my cousin Brendon (who will actually be playing the part) made out of an old fencing mask, some googly eyes, and a yellow feather boa which he cut into the eyebrows and mustache. It also has some great teeth, and it looks kind of like a Muppet version of the Nutcracker. Emma was wearing a frilly pink party dress and carrying the small Nutcracker doll. She looked great, but she hates pink and kept saying so until we told her that she could pretend to be an evil fairy who was just dressing up as Claire to fool people. That made her feel better about it.

We got to the space reserved for our entry and met up with some more of our dancers, most of whom were dressed in our school’s dance costumes. Then came the best part of the Parade: waiting! The Parade itself didn’t start until 10 a.m., and since were in the second division and 73 entries back even in that division, we didn’t actually get to start marching in the Parade until after 11. So there was a lot of time to kill. Luckily, there were a lot of interesting entries all around us (including the Good Times Hamburgers and Frozen Custard truck, which delighted the dancers by handing out free frozen custard), and between that and practicing what we would do when we finally got to start the parade, the waiting wasn’t too bad.

When my sister and I thought we might be starting in the next twenty minutes, we told the kids they should use the portapotty before we went, because it would be their last chance. It seemed to be good advice, so I went, too. Then I discovered an unfortunate thing about the witch outfit. I was wearing leggings and a leotard under the dress, and there was no way to go to the bathroom without taking all of it off. In the tiny confines of the portapotty, where I didn’t really want any of my costume touching anything anyway, that was kind of a challenge. Fortunately (?), I’ve had many years of experience changing in portapotties at various Irish festivals, so my costume and I emerged unscathed.

Eventually, the groups in front of us started to move, and we were on our way. Three parents holding our banner went in front, followed by a parent pulling our wheeled, battery-operated sound system, followed by the three of us dressed as characters, followed by 27 dancers dressed in their school uniforms. We were divided up into groups of three, with the taller and older dancers in the middle, holding hands with a smaller, younger dancer on each side. At the back, 7 people carried Charlie the dragon, while another 5 or 6 people waited to step in as subs in case the dragon handlers got tired and needed a break. Alongside, other parents handed out show flyers and business cards.

It went great. The dancers would do some simple 3’s and 7’s for half a block or so, and then Charlie would run alongside and entertain everyone while the dancers slowed to a walk for a rest. Doug and Phil, who alternately took Charlie’s head, were very funny, and both of them would pick out kids in the crowd and swoop down on them, pretending to eat them. Kids LOVED Charlie. A bunch of times, I looked back and saw Charlie delayed behind us so people could take pictures with him.

Do you know the other person who got some requests for pictures? Me. I’ve been doing the Parade on and off since 1987, and I’ve never had anyone but my dancers want to take my picture before.

The first time, I was walking alongside the line of my dancers, yelling over the crowd noise what we were going to do next. A very large, very drunk man touched my arm and said, “Excuse me—can I get a picture with you?”

“Uh, sure,” I said.

“Thanks!” Then he turned to his friends on the side. “Hey! Quick—get a picture of me and Lady Gaga!”

Lady Gaga?

But, as we walked and danced the mile-and-a-half Parade route, I heard a bunch of people shout that they loved Lady Gaga, and I posed for two more pictures with people. Good grief. I hope that people at the stage show realize that I’m a goth witch and not Lady Gaga, or that could get kind of confusing. (“Mommy? Why are Lady Gaga and her backup dancers trying to kill the Nutcracker?”)

The only two other things that were a problem were the Jigcracker mask, which was too big and rubbed a raw spot on Morgan’s chin until we padded it with a pair of gloves, and the sound system. The sound system has an iPod dock on top, and it works very well usually, but it didn’t like trying to play while it was bumping up and down on the road. Every couple minutes, the iPod would jar lose and stop playing over the amp, but luckily we’ve got some very creative parents who managed to wedge it in place with a phone cover.

The kids were real troopers. They walked and danced the whole way without complaint, smiling and waving every time they marched, and some of the kids were only 7. That’s a long way for little legs. But they were great, and I hope everybody had a good time. I sure did.

Well, until I got back to the studio for our afternoon Jigcracker rehearsal and my shop assistant looked at me and said, “Wow. You look…wow.”

Yeah. Thanks.

We had a great afternoon rehearsal (the show is going to be really good), and then several of us ran different shows in the evening. Everything apparently went OK, except for when my sister showed up at her show and found out it was a gated community, with a locked gate and no attendant to let them in. They finally found a back way in, fortunately.

Today was pretty quiet, with only one show, and Phil very nicely ran it so that my sister and I could take the day off (thanks, Phil!). I really appreciated the day off, because after the whirlwind week we’d had, I was exhausted. It’s nice to have a little breather before diving into next week.

More tomorrow!

2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Day 3

Originally written 3/11/2011.

Wow. I really thought, as I was writing my Day 1 post (http://nerdseye.com/2016/01/07/2011-st-patricks-day-season-day-1/), that nothing this St. Pat’s season could top my screw-up on Wednesday. Honestly, I thought that nothing in the next five to ten St. Pat’s seasons could top my screw-up on Wednesday. I figured people would be talking about “the great screw-up of ‘11” with their grandchildren around the campfire, right along with the time when the old lady hit our dancer Phil with her walker (remind me to tell you about that one sometime).

But no. I had to go and top it two days later.

My sister and I performaned a show this morning at a retirement community in Denver, and it was a great show. The community had an auditorium with an actual stage and dressing rooms, which was a treat. Most of the time, we’re dancing on our plywood boards in a rec room or a dining room. This time, we were on a huge wooden stage four feet off the ground. The kids did a good job, including four of them who were doing their first or second show in public, and the audience just loved them. Afterwards, the kids went out and talked to people, and the organizer gave them cookies. The kids were so happy. How can you top free cookies?

The show was very close to our store and office, so my sister and I went back there to have lunch and catch up on office work. We both had shows in the evening, my sister in Boulder and me in Denver, so we figured we’d get a bunch of stuff done, including some planning for next week’s shows, and then we could leave around 5 to get to our next performances. It felt good to actually be ahead for once.

At 2:00, the phone rang.

Me: Hello?
Voice on the other end: Hi, I’m calling because we’re supposed to be having dancers this afternoon, and the letter we got said people would arrive at 1:45 to set up. It’s 2, and no one’s here yet.
Me: Thanks for letting me know. Give me one moment and I’ll check on that for you.

A strange, deep calm came over me. I think it was shock setting in. I opened up the Excel spreadsheet which has all our show information in it, and I looked at the shows for 3/11/11. Yep, sure enough, we were booked for a show in Commerce City from 2:30-3:00 p.m. I even remembered sending out the contract, since the activities director for the facility had an unusual name. Too bad I hadn’t remembered before then.

My brain seized up. I had no idea what to do next. Luckily (I guess), my mouth just kept right on talking.

Me: Well, it looks like there was some kind of administrative mix-up about the time of your show on our end. We’ll be there as quickly as we can, and I apologize if we’re a few minutes late.

The activities director didn’t sound too thrilled as she said OK and hung up, and I couldn’t blame her. If our situations were reversed, I would be absolutely furious.

My brain still wasn’t working, but my mouth shouted to my sister that we had a show I’d forgotten about, and we probably needed to leave right then. My sister, bless her, said (after first making sure she’d heard be right), “Okay, let me pack our dresses back up.” Less than two minutes later, we were in the car and headed north towards Commerce City as quickly as traffic would let us.

One of the great things about my relationship with my sister is that we rarely freak out at the same time. Usually, one of us freaks out while the other one is rational and compassionate. My sister was a rock all the way up to the show, and I don’t know what I would have done without her. She assured me that:
A) I wasn’t going prematurely senile
B) I hadn’t “lost my mojo,” as I insisted on putting it, and
C) Everything was going to work out okay

After I calmed down, we spent the rest of the drive alternately planning the show and trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Here (in case you’re interested) is what happened:

When we get a booking, we enter the show on the Excel spreadsheet, make a performance contract and letter, and then print out a sign-up sheet. The contract and letter go to the show organizer, and the sign-up sheet goes in our show notebook so that dancers can sign up to be in that particular show. There are three of us who work in the office, and any of us can make contracts.

We can’t remember which of us made this particular contract, but whoever it was must have been interrupted before they printed out the sign-up sheet. The show was on the spreadsheet, and we made the contract, but no sign-up sheet ever got made.

This was a big problem for two reasons. The first was that my sister and I both often use the sign-up sheets to remind ourselves about upcoming shows, and both of us had looked at the sign-up sheets instead of the spreadsheet while we were sending making our calendars. Since the spreadsheet and the show notebook are supposed to be the same, it hadn’t seemed like a big deal. That was why I had forgotten about the show.

The second reason it was a BIG problem was that, without a sign-up sheet, no one had signed up for the show, because they didn’t know it was happening. This time, it wasn’t just a case of me getting my times mixed up and being late while everyone else was already there. This time, there wasn’t anyone else. Not only were we late, but my sister and I were going to have to do the whole 30-minute performance by ourselves.

It was about 2:40 when we finally reached the nursing home. My sister started unloading the boards and sound system while I ran inside. We’d performed at this facility before, so I knew where to go. Inside the dining room, which had been converted into an open space for the show, there were about twenty-five residents, all sitting and facing the very empty spot in the middle. There was a woman standing near the empty spot, looking expectantly and disappointedly at me as I came in, and since she looked like she was in charge, I went up to her and groveled shamelessly. There had been an administrative error…I was very, very sorry this had happened…we pride ourselves on timeliness…we would perform for free as an apology….

The woman, who had a thin, disapproving face, looked at me stonily, and after a moment she said, “That’s nice, but you’ll have to repeat all that to the activities director.”

So, she got the activities director, a much younger, friendly-looking woman, and I groveled shamelessly all over again. Administrative error…very sorry…timeliness…free show….

She was great. She said, “Hey, these things happen, and don’t worry about it. Go ahead and set up your stage, and when you’re ready, I’ll show you where to change.”

So my sister and I set up the stage while the disapproving woman (who was, thank God, an employee and not a random resident) asked the residents some trivia questions about ad slogans. We got dressed, and at 3:00 we were ready to do our show.

The show went surprisingly well. My sister and I took turns dancing, doing 1 or 2 steps at a time with the various pieces of music we’d prepared for our regular shows. Between each dance, one of us would take the mic and talk about the dancing and the culture. After we’d done all four soft shoe dances, I talked about the costumes and walked around the room showing everybody the embroidery on my team costume while my sister changed her shoes. Then I changed my shoes while she did the next dance. We’ve danced together for so long that we didn’t need to communicate much about what we were going to do, and I think all the dances looked fine. We did have a couple comedy moments in the last number because we hadn’t decided beforehand who was going first, but we hammed it up and the audience laughed and it was all good.

Anyway, I was dripping with sweat by the time we finished and my face looked exactly like a ripe tomato, but I felt like we’d given the audience a good performance. I also felt better about my fitness. If I could get through a 2-person show and still be able to talk between the numbers, maybe I was in better shape than I thought. Guess we’ll find out for sure tomorrow morning.

Fortunately for us, both our shows in the evening were fantastic. Both of us were performing for special needs groups, and those are some of the best shows we do all year. The audiences are enthusiastic, appreciative, and excited to do the audience participation numbers we throw in for them, and afterwards they want to take pictures of us and get our autographs. They make us feel like rock stars. One year, they chanted for us to do an encore until we came back after the show was over, and this year they gave us a standing ovation at the end.

That’s why we do this—to make audiences happy. All the preparation and practice and long days are 100% worth it when we can brighten someone’s day. At the end of our 2-person show in the middle of the day, one of the residents stayed in the dining room to watch us as we took up the floor and packed up, because she didn’t want it to be over just yet.

And somehow, that moment made everything that had happened feel all right.

2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Day 2

Originally written 3/10/11.

Today went better.

I wasn’t sure it was going to when I got out of bed. Everything felt stiff and sore, despite the fact that I’d stretched for twenty minutes before going to bed the night before. So I stretched for another twenty minutes after breakfast. I tried not to think about what getting out of bed during St. Patrick’s season was going to feel like in another five years, if I was this sore at thirty-five. Ugh. Then again, in another five years I might be in better shape than I am now.

I carefully double-checked the times of all my shows before leaving the house. Too bad I didn’t do that yesterday.

As I walked down the stairs of my third-floor condo to where my car was parked, I was carrying everything that I needed to do my two shows:
1. My purse
2. My lunch bag, which today was really my lunch/dinner/snack bag
3. My shoe bag, with my hard shoes and soft shoes
4. My dress bag, with my dress, flashpants, cape, and headband
5. Another bag with a change of clothes and all the paperwork I needed for the day, like directions
6. The accessory bag for the sound system, which holds a power strip, extension cord, microphone, microphone cord, amp power cord, iPod, business cards, pens, and the all-important duct tape
7. And last, but not least, the sound system itself.

We need boards to dance on, too, but I’d left those in the car overnight. Anybody desperate enough to break into my car to steal some beat-up 2’ x 2’ squares of plywood was obviously beyond my help.

I carried the sound system in my hands (luckily, it’s got handles), and everything else hung in bags from my shoulders. By the time I’d reached my car, most of the shoulder straps were hanging around my elbows and cutting off my circulation, and I was doing a kind of limbo dance trying to keep them from sliding down to my wrists. It actually gave me a great idea for money on the side—I could make an “Irish Dance Teacher St. Patrick’s Season Exercise Video.” Workout one: fill six sandbags, attach shoulder straps, pick up the 20-pound dumbbells, and walk down the stairs…

We did two shows today. The first was at a hotel, where we danced for a group of seniors attending a sales pitch for a retirement home. We’re actually dancing at that particular retirement home next week, and I can’t wait to see it. The show organizers were really wining and dining the potential residents. I’m interested to find out if the facility lives up to the hype.

The second show was at a very, very nice retirement home. We’ve danced there every St. Pat’s season for the last several years, and I always look forward to it. It’s got pleasant carpet and décor, the staff is professional and friendly, and it smells nice—which, let me tell you, is a factor I hope you take into account when you’re choosing a nursing home. We’ve danced at plenty of places that did NOT smell nice. The best thing about this particular facility, though, is that the residents seem happy there. That, sadly, is not always the case.

Both shows went beautifully. The dancers, who ranged in age from seven to twenty-seven, did their steps well, showed up on stage in the right place and at the right time, and really looked like they were having a ball. When shows go well like that, it creates a wonderful cycle: the dancer’s energy infects the audience, who clap and smile, and then the audience’s energy gets reflected back to the dancers, making them dance even better. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. I was so proud of my dancers.

Of course, no show in the history of performance has ever gone foible-free, so there were a couple funny moments, but only a couple:

At the first show, we had another instance of Impeded Access to the Stage. We were dancing in a hotel conference room, and the organizers had cleared a space in the middle of the room for us to dance. The rest of the space was taken up with round tables that had chairs all around them. There wasn’t any space in the room itself for the dancers to stand when they weren’t actually dancing, so we decided to put our backstage area outside in the hall.

I mentioned to the organizers that we would do this, and I told them that one of the tables was standing pretty much right between the door and the stage. I said that we needed a pathway to the stage, and they said they’d move the table a little.

When we came into the room to start our show, the table was still there, and now it had people sitting around it, completely blocking the pathway to the stage. I asked the organizers what we could do, and they asked if we could walk around the other side of the table, which is what we ended up doing. However, right then a group of waiters came in with a drink cart and parked it right on the other side of the table, so the dancers got to dodge both table and waiters. It was like a live-action, Irish dance Frogger game (and the dancers handled it perfectly—better than the waiters, who kept bumping into each other).

At the second show, we had another instance of Changing in Strange Places. The friendly organizer of the second show had remembered that we needed a place to change, and had arranged for us to have the facility’s chapel to ourselves. She even put paper over the window so no one could see in. It was warm, private, and spacious, but I felt odd, getting changed in front of the picture of Jesus at the front of the room. That was a new one for me.

Now I’m off to stretch and go to bed. My sister and I have a show together tomorrow morning, and then each of us has a separate show tomorrow night. I hope the weather is as nice tomorrow as it was today. It was warm and sunny today, like a preview of spring.

More tomorrow!

2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Day 1

Originally written 3/9/11.

St. Patrick’s Day, for anyone reading this who is not involved with Irish dancing, is the busiest season of the year for stepdancers. Our small school usually performs 50 times or more during the month. It’s crazy–and produces a lot of fodder for blog posts.

Today was the real start of our St. Patrick’s Day madness. For the next eleven days, we’ve got at least one performance every day, building up to March 17th itself, when we’ve got five groups that will perform 4-5 shows each. Then, on March 19 & 20, we’ll be doing our big annual stage show.

I spent the morning frantically trying to do everything that had to get done for the day, feeling like I was answering emails with one hand and taking phone messages with the other. One of the phone calls was from someone who wanted to book a show for “anytime next week.” Cue hysterical laughter.

I left at 1 p.m. for the first of the day’s three shows. The first two shows were back-to-back 45-minuters at a nice nursing home. One of the benefits (?) of this job is that we get a great tour of the different retirement options available to us in the future. This particular facility is great, and the residents seem well cared for. Some of the other places we’ll be dancing this season are not as nice.

Note to self: be better about putting money in the retirement fund.

The first two shows went very well. The dancers did a good job, and the audiences seemed to enjoy them.

Only a few minor foibles: despite the letter we send to venues reminding them that we need a place to change before the show, the activities coordinator forgot to set anything up, and the girls ended up changing in a private dining room with an uncovered window opening onto the main dining room. We tried to squeeze into the corners away from the window and then prayed no one walked by. The boys got to change in the restroom, but since nursing home restrooms tend to be single-occupant, they had to change one at a time.

We also remind the venues in advance that we need a place to stand during the show with unimpeded access to the stage. We send out this reminder because of unfortunate occurrences in the past. At this show, I didn’t communicate very well with the coordinator beforehand, and right when we were getting ready to walk out on stage for our first number, I found out that the door between our chosen backstage and the stage itself was now blocked by residents in wheelchairs. Oops! Luckily, most of our dancers are flexible from long experience, so we just moved our “backstage” area to a hallway on the other side of the stage.

Sadly, in moving to our new backstage area, I dropped the brand-spanking-new microphone that had come with our brand-spanking-new amp with iPod dock, and I broke it. I’ve broken mics in the past, but this was the first one that actually broke. In half. It was impressive. Maybe we can duct tape it together…?

Everything else went well. We had our share of frankensteps, which is what we call it when dancers change their choreography on the fly (usually because they’ve completely forgotten what they’re actually supposed to be doing). My favorite frankenstep of the day was when 7-year-old James (doing his third show ever! Yay!) apparently tried to do a step he’d taught himself by watching his twin sister. I guess he must have known it wasn’t going well, since he was looking over his shoulder at me the whole time.

Despite being out of shape and rusty, I made it through my numbers without any major gaffes, although I hope the two moms taking videos of me never let anyone else see them. I swear I used to be better at this.

We finished the show at 4:15, and even after packing up I figured that I had time to run some errands before heading to the west side of town for our show at 7:00 p.m. We needed a bunch of duct tape and some new plywood boards (that’s what we make our portable stage with. It’s low tech, but it’s cheap and it works).

So I headed to Home Depot. On the way there, my coolant light came on. No problem—I knew how to refill the coolant. I even had some in my trunk. So when I got to Home Depot, I pulled it out while I cleared some space in the trunk for the new boards.

Ever notice how much weird stuff accumulates in the trunk? Mine is especially bad. It was ESPECIALLY bad this time, since our 1995 Saturn recently went to the big parking lot in the sky, and all the junk from ITS trunk was still in the 2002 Saturn. So I had two snow shovels, a pair of dirty tube socks, a feather duster, and all these random pieces of plastic.

Okay, after St. Pat’s, I have GOT to clean this out.

Anyway, I made space and picked up the coolant. That was before I noticed it was leaking all down the front of my jacket. Dang it. And the one thing that wasn’t in my trunk was paper towels. I wiped off what I could with a piece of Kleenex and then carried the coolant well away from my body as I walked around to the hood. I opened the hood and looked at the coolant tank. It said, in big letters, DO NOT OPEN WHEN HOT. Hmm. Maybe I should get the floor and then do the coolant when I came back.

So I went to buy my duct tape and boards. The guy in the lumber area, a big man named Joe who seemed kind of disillusioned with life, helped me get the boards down. The boards were each 8’ x 4’ and I needed them 2’ x 2’, so Joe cut them for me. I stood and watched, since I like watching the cool upright saw and frame they use at Home Depot. Joe was standing right under the safety sign that told employees to wear eye protection and not wear gloves, and I couldn’t help but notice that he had gotten those two reversed. I didn’t think Joe would appreciate me pointing it out, though.

As I pushed my cart full of boards back to the front, I noticed that the sawdust from cutting the wood was sticking to the wet spot of coolant on the front of my jacket. Dang it. I got back to the car, put my boards in the trunk, made a lame attempt to clean off the sawdust/coolant mixture, and then opened the hood again.

Just then, my phone rang. It was the mom of one of my dancers.

Mom: Hey, are you okay?
Me: (puzzled) Um, yeah. Why do you ask?
Mom: Because you’re not at the show.
Me: Um, the show’s at 7 and it’s only 5:45.
Mom: The show’s at 6.
Me: Uh…

Somehow, I had gotten my times mixed up. I don’t think that’s ever happened before (although I have made plenty of other stupid mistakes with shows—ask me sometime about the time I sent everybody to the corner of University & Arapahoe in Denver instead of the corner of University & Arapahoe in Boulder, and hour’s drive away). I slammed the hood, jumped in the car, and drove off like a Nascar wannabe up I-25. While I was weaving in and out of traffic at 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, I was still talking on the phone (DON’T DO THIS AT HOME, KIDS). The problem was that I had our sound system and iPod, and no one else had a backup. Also, because of the numbers and levels of the dancers we had, we couldn’t do the show without everybody. Like, for instance, me. So I asked the mom to talk to the show organizer and find out what she wanted to do, and in the meantime get the dancers dressed and ready to dance so I could jump out of the car and into the show the minute I got there.

Which would have been ugly, what with my sawdust/coolant jacket and my hair flying everywhere. Did I mention it had been really windy in the Home Depot parking lot?

Fortunately, the show organizer was lovely and understanding and just rearranged the order of the evening so we were at the end of the dinner program we were dancing for instead of in the middle. I got there at 6:15 (the exact time I’d planned to be there for the show I thought was at 7), and we went on at 6:45. It was not our most polished show, but, considering everything, I thought it went fine.

Thank goodness for all our fabulous moms and dancers. I promise I will double check all the showtimes for the rest of the season. And I will cross my fingers that this is the worst thing that happens to us in the next eleven days.

More tomorrow!