It is Dancing That I Fear

I was the best man at my cousin Louis’ wedding last summer.

Upon their arrival at the reception, the bride and groom began to spontaneously dance.  This was before the dinner.  This was tragic.

You see, I fear dancing like a normal person fears swimming with piranha.

I fear dancing because I am not good at dancing.  My dancing scares children.

So I had a plan.

When dancing began after dinner, I would disappear.  The reception was being held in the backyard of a large mansion and I was going to go inside and hide.  Like Richie Rich, I was going to get lost in rooms no one had known existed.

But this spontaneous dance, it ruined everything.

For one thing, all of us in the wedding party were surrounding the bride and groom on the dance floor.  Behind us were 400 guests all standing and clapping.  Had I known this was going to happen when we assembled on the dance floor for the introduction of the bride and groom, I would have dug a hole in the nearby lawn and crouched down in it.

Worse, the dance was some traditional Persian number.  Louis’ bride was Persian.  And the woman could dance.  Better than I had ever seen anyone dance in my life.

I had just one ace-in-the-hole.  His name was Louis.

Louis was lame.  Louis would suck.  Like me, he was Greek.  He didn’t know Persian dancing from Persian rugs.  So Louis would suck, and then I’d have to dance, and I’d suck, and everything would be fine.

But no.

Louis was phenomenal.  Louis was professional.

Louis had been tipped off.

You see, what looked like a spontaneous dance to everyone was nothing of the sort.  Everyone else knew it was coming.  Everyone else had received training.  This wasn’t a wedding.  It was “Dancing with the Stars.”

And that was just the beginning.  Done with their opening number, the bride and groom pulled the maid of honor onto the dance floor for the next Persian tune.  And she was better than both of them.  If Louis and his wife had been trained, this was their trainer.

And this was where the tragic turned cataclysmic.

Because this wasn’t just anyone dancing.

This was the woman with whom I had been paired throughout the wedding.

Yep.

If she was dancing, you-know-who was next.

It was as though the tornado I had been watching destroy the next town just took out my neighbor’s front porch.  The natural disaster that is dancing was now at my doorstep and I was trembling in the fetal position at the bottom of my bathroom tub.

And the guests could not have been happier.  They were ecstatic.  It was as though they were being treated to a Vegas show.  And they were.   They were being entertained by professionals, and each act was better than the last.   Had someone just dangled from a rope above stage, this would have been Persian Cirque du Soleil.

And then there was me.  Clapping like an angry monkey with a nervous disorder at the edge of the stage.

And then the inevitable happened.

The maid of honor turned her head to look for me.  Her dancing partner.  Someone the crowd would surely expect to have been trained like the previous three entertainers. Only better.

And suddenly, it was 1986.

Church hall.  Height of the break-dancing craze.  Crowd of onlookers encircling two of my cousins doing the “worm” across the center of the dance floor.  For those unversed in the phenomena that was break-dancing, the “worm” was a popular break-dancing move where a person lies face down on the dance floor and rolls their  body from their toes to the tip of their head, like a smooth wave is passing through their body.

And here I admit something about Stephan circa-1986 that I have never admitted to anyone.

I had been practicing this move in my bedroom.  For weeks.

This was my move.  I could do the worm.

And so, without given it a further thought, I spontaneously got down onto my stomach from where I stood at the edge of the dance circle.  And began to do the worm across the dance floor.

In my memory of this moment, the music stopped.   All anyone could hear was the awkward slapping of my stomach against the cold, tile dance floor as I tried desperately to get to the other side.

I don’t know exactly what I looked like at that moment, but from the reaction of the audience, I’m guessing it was as if a trout had fallen from the rafters and was trying to make its way to the front door.

Making it worse, I ran headlong into someone who was doing the worm well.  Mortified, I kept worming, as though the collision hadn’t happened.  But I knew that it had, because my head started bleeding.

My spontaneous dance had shocked, mortified and drawn blood.  And it would be the last spontaneous dance of my life.

Because as the maid of honor reached out her hand, I was not there to grab it.

I was upstairs, locked in a bathroom, peeking my head between the lace curtains of the small bathroom window.

For the well-being of everyone.

An Entertainment News Scoop That You Read Here First

Three weeks ago, I went to a taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

I sat in the third row.

Before the show, the producer told everyone in the first three rows that when Jay walked out we needed to rush the stage and high-five Jay.  And we had to be enthusiastic about it.

I could not do it.  I could not act excited just because someone wanted me to act excited.  I would make a bad trained seal.

So when Jay came out, everyone from the first three rows rushed forward and high-fived him.

Except for me.

I was the only person in the first three rows who was still in his seat.  Which was fine.  Except for the fact that in choosing this to be my Rosa Parks moment, I hadn’t calculated how odd it would look for one guy to be sitting all by himself while everyone else was screaming enthusiastically in front of the stage.

I tried to clap, but it looked fraudulent.  If I liked the guy so much, why wasn’t I rushing the stage?  So I stopped clapping.

Then I looked really odd.

So I stood up and put my hands in my coat pockets.  But then I looked like an assassin.

So I took my hands out of my pockets and just stood there.  I looked up intently, like I was a maintenance man checking for leaks.

I stared at all the heavy lighting equipment that hung over my head.  I thought about how much it would hurt if one of those lights fell on my head.  I thought about whether someone could make one of the lights fall on a person’s head if that person was not rushing the stage enthusiastically.

Then I looked straight ahead.  I saw Jay high-fiving all of the enthusiastic people that used to be sitting around me.

And then Jay saw me.

At least I think he saw me.  The lone guy who refused to rush the stage.  The one person who was not as enthusiastic about him as everyone else.

One week later, Jay Leno quit the Tonight Show.

Attack of the Cheesewoman

My wife Staci made me go to a wedding last weekend.

Staci makes me go to everything.

If it weren’t for her, I’d be happy.  Like Howard Hughes, I’d be high on morphine rocking back and forth in the closet of a Las Vegas hotel room, but I’d be happy.

My resentment is what makes me buy her birthday cakes shaped like Menorahs with “to Stan” written across the top.

Then a family wedding rolls around, and she gets her vengeance.  She makes me attend.

The weddings themselves are survivable.  Survivable because in church, people talk less.  I can just sit there in silence and memorize the Canadian provinces, west to east, which is what I’m doing when I close my eyes in church.

But the receptions that follow are hell in a cheesebasket.  Hell because they include the vicious troika of dancing, relatives and speeches.  Cheesebasket because that is what I was staring at in the double-row buffet line as the large woman across from me tried to clasp a cheese cube with the only pair of tongs available.

And so I waited.

Patiently.

Because the woman could only clamp one cube of cheese at a time.

It was clear her woeful display was no doubt due to the way she was holding the tongs.  They were pressed between her fingers and palm.  It was as though she were the only member of the species to not receive the “opposable thumb” memo.

I should add that none of this was remotely fair.  I had skipped my table’s trip to the buffet and waited for every other table to have their trip to the buffet, so I could go absolutely last.  When there would be no people.   And no chance of conversation.

But no.  The same cruel irony that rendered the musically-gifted Beethoven deaf and the telescopically-gifted Galileo blind delivered unto the misanthropically-gifted Stephan the being known as Cheesewoman.

Seconds ticked by like hours.  It was all I could do to keep from helping.

And by “helping,” I mean grabbing a handful of cheese cubes and throwing them at her.

I thought about leaving cheese-less, but cheese is the one thing Staci had asked me to get for her when I got up to go to the buffet line.  Oh, the cruel master of vengeance that is Staci, gleefully sending me into Dante’s eighth circle of hell for some cheese.

And then Cheesewoman spoke.   And I slipped into Dante’s ninth circle.

At least I assumed it was Cheesewoman speaking.  It was hard to see her face over Mount Cheesamanjaro.

“My husband always has me get some for him,” she said, smiling.

I thought about not responding.  Divine retribution for her gluttonous one-woman Cheesapalooza.

But I did, marking my first kind act of June.  (Actually, my second, if you consider the fact that I refrained from tossing cheese at her.)

“Mine, too,” I replied.

And then she stopped smiling.

And I realized what she was thinking.

Stephan was gay.

Gay because “mine, too” meant I was getting cheese for my husband.

So I clarified my remark.

“For my wife.  I meant, for my wife.”

“Oh,” she said, “I wasn’t gonna say anything.  Because in this area, you never know.”

It was said with an unmistakable condescension and disdain, and coming from the Cheese Wizard, it was more than I could take.

So I said one more thing.

“I meant my husband.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Her name is Stan.”

They Call Me Mr. Pastis

My last name is pronounced “PASStiss.” It’s Greek. I don’t really care how people pronounce it, but most people who say it for the first time give it a French twist:   “pahSTEES.”

It’s not a problem, because few strangers try to pronounce my last name on a day-to-day basis.

Except my eternal nemesis:

The Safeway clerk.

For reasons unknown, someone at my grocery store has decided that when the clerk hands me my receipt, they should glance at the name on my Safeway card, and say, “Thank you, Mr. Pastis.”

Except it doesn’t come out that way.

Instead, it’s “Thank you, Mr. Uhhhhh” followed by a pause long enough for me to read all of the headlines on the front page of the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News.

And that’s when my stomach starts hurting.

Not because they’re about to make my name sound closer to “Pepe LePew” than “Pastis.”  But because I’m going to have to interact with another human.

You see, I’m a guy who will avoid sneezing in public to avoid the danger of some stranger around me saying, “Bless you.”

A few weeks ago, the exchange reached a new low.  Instead of the usual French-sounding “pahSTEES,” the Safeway clerk handing me the receipt gave my name an entirely new twist:

“Pasties.”

Yes, pasties.  For the innocent among you, take a few moments to “Google Image” that one.

Of course, I should have let it go at that.

But that would have been something normal people do.  And besides, I have a history with these Safeway clerks.

So I replied.

“It’s ‘PASStis.’  Not ‘pasties.’  ‘Pasties’ are something that strippers wear to cover their nipples.”

It’s here that I should tell you something you’d probably have no reason to otherwise know:

Safeways can get really quiet.

I believe I heard crickets as the clerk handed me the receipt and put the last bag in my grocery cart.

She did not ask if I needed help taking my groceries to the car.  She did not thank me for shopping at Safeway.

She just looked down as I shuffled out of that Safeway in shamed silence, the back wheel of my shopping cart squeaking all the way.  And all I could think was one thing:

My comedy is far ahead of its time.

A Confession That Does Not Cast Me in a Flattering Light

I fill out every contest form I can find.

I’m talking about the little index-card-size forms you see in magazines, at grocery store checkout stands, in gyms, at hotels, etc.  You enter for a chance to win a vacation, a car, spa treatments, money, etc.

Of course, no one ever wins these contests.  The only reason companies have you fill them out at all is so that they can put you on a junk mailing list that you will then stay on until long after you are dead.

You may say to yourself, why would somebody who hates all contact with the outside world do something like that?  That’s where I should mention the following:

It’s not my name and address I’m filling in on those little cards.

It’s my cousin Louis’.

I don’t know when I started this quaint little Louis tradition, but I know it goes back a number of years.  At least a dozen.  And now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling like that, I think it would be wrong of me to stop.  I feel pangs of guilt if I walk past one of those forms without putting Louis’ name on it.

The cards often ask for information regarding your income and career.  I always give Louis the highest income possible, as I think this increases his odds of getting more junk mail.  That’s always the goal.  If it’s a contest in a hunting magazine, and they ask how often you hunt, Louis hunts every day of the year.

Louis has tried to win trips from Sweden to Thailand to Nova Scotia.  Boy, has he tried.  He’s tried to win living room furnishings, a date with Pamela Anderson, a trip to the Oscars, a boatload of DVDs, soda for life, pedicures, boats, weightlifting sets, encyclopedias, tropical fish and spa treatments.  I can’t even count the number of trucks he’s tried to win.

And as far as I know, poor Louis has only won one thing.

A mailbox he can no longer close.

I know I should stop.  But I can’t.   I do not want to cut myself off from the joy I get from thinking of Louis’ face every time he gets to his mailbox and sees he signed himself up for another hunting and fishing catalog.

I’ve also never told Louis I do it.  But I plan to one day.

That day will be when Louis calls me to tell me he’s won a vacation to Hawaii in a contest he didn’t even enter.  And I will tell him for only one reason:  He will owe me half of that prize.

Hey.  I did all the work.