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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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CALL ME WHEN CHERYL BURKE IS DANCING

 

by Abe Aamidor

 

 

 

Meryl couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay in on Monday nights to watch Dancing with the Stars.

 

“My mother watches that show, Drew,” she called from the bedroom. I was in the adjoining bathroom showering. We had just come in from a nice bike ride on the Monon Trail, having stopped at an English pub with a big Union Jack in front for shepherd’s pie and Boddingtons, then we’d pedaled back to our apartment in downtown Indianapolis before it got too dark.

 

“It’s for the production values,” I shouted back.

 

“No it isn’t,” Meryl said. “Tell me, which dancer is it you really want to have sex with?”

 

The question, which seemed to suggest the legitimacy of my fantasizing about an attractive professional dancer 2,000 miles away from me on live television, immediately aroused me. Which girl–yes, that’s how I thought of the dancers–did I find most attractive?

 

The Russian dancers were cold, even threatening. Russian spies are always beautiful, aren’t they?

 

The short American girl, the one with thick thighs and a bad dye job? She looked like someone who lived in a trailer park and watched the show herself with her obese mother. No, that isn’t nice, I told myself, but it is what I thought.

 

In truth, both Meryl and I knew exactly who it was I wanted to do it with. I had known it the first time I saw her on the cover of National Enquirer and US magazine in the same week as Meryl and I stood in the checkout lane at Kroger. “Party girl misses rehearsal, seen out on the town at 3 a.m.: Cheryl Burke may be booted from ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” the headline proclaimed in brightly colored block letters. The words were stripped across a flash photo showing the dancer’s toned legs as she exited a Rolls-Royce outside a famous Hollywood nightclub.

 

“Yes, it’s Cheryl Burke,” I called out to Meryl.


I decided to count to five, but backwards, before Meryl would stomp into the bathroom and pull back the shower curtain. She arrived between “two” and “one” and snapped a large white towel at me, but not very hard.


In bed later that evening while watching the two-hour season premiere of the show–both of us naked and twisted as we moved from one position to another with our mouths and hands–I asked if it really was abnormal for me to like a show like this.


“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “I mean, I should be watching Tom Brady on Monday Night Football, right? Or you could be making me watch Independent Lens on PBS, something like that.”


Really, I was very lucky to have an attractive, confident and mellow partner like Meryl. Once in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day, the kind of bar with long wooden tables and the spirit of an old Beowulf castle populated by raucous heathen construction workers and degenerate bankruptcy attorneys, a middle-aged guy asked me how I got a girl like Meryl when he’d been trying all his life and had come up empty so far. Only a few bare-bulb lights dangling from rubber sheaths in the ceiling lit the place; cigarette smoke wafted in the air like morning mist in the mountains.


Though not unattractive, Meryl only seemed more beautiful when partnered with me. She had chestnut brown hair with the sheen of woven flax; skin the color of blanched almonds and the texture of ripe peach; lips like watermelon in season and a fleshiness all over her solid architecture like an Olympic swimmer, like the late actress Esther Williams. Like a woman who was born in the sea.


“I’ve been tryin’ all my life to get a girl like that,” the lawyer told me.


I don’t actually know that he was a lawyer. But he was about 40, somewhat overweight and he had loosened his tie at his throat like Frank Sinatra so maybe he thought he looked cool, but he looked like Norm on Cheers, one of the guys who sat at the bar all day and all night long.


“Maybe you try too hard,” I told him. Meryl was at my side at the time acting out in a jocular way with some other friends at the table and her boobs almost were falling out of the thin cotton camisole she wore that evening in spite of the weather.


The lawyer was amazed at what I said, really taken aback. He didn’t say anything, but I could read his mind. I mean, I really could. “You think maybe I’m trying too hard?” he was thinking.


I put my hand on Meryl’s thigh and tried to slip it under her dress but she pushed it down closer on her knee.


Meryl and I met at a ballroom dancing class at Butler University, a non-credit course offered in the evening that I had read about in NUVO, the local alternative press publication. The article was about better places to meet singles - there was single mingle night at St. Luke’s, patronized by young professionals and up and comers (it was a Presbyterian church); there was open mic night at Comedysportz downtown, which tended to attract people who had crappy temp jobs and knew it; and there was ballroom dancing, which attracted a wide age range and diverse backgrounds.


I was looking to get laid but Meryl really supported diversity and, as she was to tell me later, she wanted to get away from the jocks and motorcycle boy racers she had dated in the past.


About 30 people came out the first night of classes in the small women’s gym on the Butler campus, not the industrial age Hinkle Fieldhouse with its iron girders and vaulted ceiling. The teacher, dressed in navy Danskins and leather-bottomed shoes, asked everyone to mingle whether they had come as part of a couple or alone. Meryl got stuck with a retired gent who had a bad comb-over and a loud plaid sports jacket and it was she who approached me that night.


“You really like ballroom dancing?” she asked as we tried a fox trot.


“I’m just here trying to meet nice girls,” I replied.


She smiled. “Will I do?” she asked.


I almost died right there.


I later learned Meryl had contracted I don’t know how many STD’s as a promiscuous teen. She was so open about the matter I felt I could ask her by the time of our second date exactly how that happened. She explained that she never liked it when a guy used rubbers – I almost died a second time when I heard her say that – but she added that she was now repentant and remorseful over her wanton youth. She was only 23 at the time. “I’d never let my daughter have sex without protection,” she said.


I thought it was an unusual thing for a 23-year-old bank teller to tell a guy on a second date, I mean, the STDs, the attitude toward prophylactics, what she would one day say to her daughter. In practical terms, though, only the STD’s mattered to me.


“I’m completely cured,” she told me over a cup of lemon ice cream we had for dessert on the date. I had taken her to a “Pops” concert in an old Rococo-inspired movie house on Monument Circle. Meryl sucked on a tiny silver spoon she used to dip into the ice cream from the little glass dish the waiter had brought her and she looked straight into my eyes as she licked the ice cream. It was killing me.


Meryl and I did fun, wholesome things the first few months we dated, things like going to Minor League Baseball games at Victory Field.


“Who’s playing?” she asked me when I suggested we go there the first time.


I looked at her in amazement. “You couldn’t possibly care who’s playing, could you?” I challenged her. “It’s Minor League Baseball.”


“Oh, but I do,” she said brightly. “I want to think about the small towns baseball players always come from and how they travel on converted Greyhound buses and sleep in discount motels, two to a room, all hoping to get called up to the Bigs one day or at least get laid by some waitress in Cedar Rapids or Jackson, Tennessee.”


                Meryl was originally from Cedar Rapids and I thought it was a curious reference for her to make, but she explained that one of the first boys she ever did it with was a ballplayer from the Kernels, the Minor League team there. “He played center field,” she said. “He was from Guatemala. But I was shallow then.”


I had never met anyone who could speak so casually about sex yet do so in such an utterly egalitarian way. I wanted to go buy a souvenir Indianapolis Indians jersey at the Fan Shop under the awnings right then and there. This was all before we had moved in together or even had sex ourselves, mind you.


Once, that first year seeing each other, I asked Meryl why she was seeing me. She is an extremely handsome woman if not beautiful per se and I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment. Joan Crawford was an extremely handsome and alluring woman, at least when she was younger. She started her career as a professional dancer, in fact, even though everyone now remembers her as the craggy, stone-faced dowager in in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?


Meryl, too, had heavy eyebrows she didn’t tweeze, at least not that I could tell, and strong cheekbones behind her clear, taut skin. Hers is the kind of classic, even stoic female archetype that artists and intellectuals love, not counting Arthur Miller. I like to think of myself as an artist and intellectual, too. I’m the stage manager at a local but well-regarded community theater and I’ve written many plays and scripts. I substitute teach days.


Meryl and I finally did it after a communal Seder for young singles at a Reform Jewish temple on the Northside. It was her idea, not mine – the Seder, that is – which surprised me because she’s not Jewish. “My grandfather went to Yale,” she explained. “They were huge anti-Semites before World War II, you know.” Most of the people at the Passover Seder either came from mixed marriages or they were people who just wanted to be ecumenical. A few were evangelical Christians who only wanted to talk about the Last Supper.


Meryl and I had been dating for 13 months at the time and I had almost given up hope that we would ever have sex, that capstone to every relationship, so I was surprised when we went back to her place after the Seder and she just disrobed in the middle of her living room.


“You like?” she asked with her hands up in the air and palms turned up coquettishly.


“I want to ravage you right there,” I said.


“You may,” she said.


After about two years of dating–lots of walks in the old military reservation at Fort Benjamin Harrison or along the ragged shore of the Eagle Creek Reservoir, long rides on the second-hand bicycles we had purchased from a church on 34th Street that helped inner city kids learn job skills, and occasional meetings of her social justice group at the Christian Theological Seminary–I began to think of marriage. This is how I brought it up.


“Do you think we should be thinking about marriage?” I asked her one evening. Yes, we were watching Dancing with the Stars on ABC-TV, but I hadn’t fallen for Cheryl Burke, the half-Filipino beauty with mahogany hair and Cocker Spaniel eyes, quite yet.


Meryl turned her head to me. We were lying on the bed at the time, but both fully clothed. “Are you thinking about marriage?” she asked.


I shrugged. “Well, I don’t know,” I answered. “I mean, we get along pretty well.”


“Hmm, is that what marriage is about?”


“Long-lasting marriages, I’d say,” I replied.


She looked away as if deep in thought. “That’s very perceptive,” she said. “I hadn’t thought about that. The passion can’t last forever. But why do people get married in the first place?”


“You mean, do I love you?” I asked. She paused, then gave a considered response.


“Yes, I think that is what I mean.” I had to think about that, too. In truth, I didn’t know what love was. People got married either because it was expected or, worse, they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. But we really got along. Yes, it would be like marrying a roommate, or friends with benefits. But that was the zeitgeist of the age. It wasn’t my doing.


“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know if I love you or not,” I told her. “I just want to marry you.” I turned to her on the bed, resting on my elbow and leaned in to try to kiss her on the cheek, but she gently pushed me away.


“Well, why do you want to get married, then?” she asked.


I fell back on the bed, my head resting on the pillow. “You are a romantic, then,” I said. “You think people should only get married for love.”


Meryl sat up and punched me in my upper arm. “I’m the romantic?” she challenged me. “But you’re the one proposing marriage.”


“Yes,” I said while staring at the ceiling. “But I’m not doing it for love.”


We didn’t have sex for several weeks after that, but I did start playing with myself at night while we lay in bed together.


“Do you have to do that?” she demanded one night.


“It would help if you touched it,” I replied. It was a warm evening and we had the bedroom windows open and the ceiling fan on low; neither of us liked air conditioning. A thin sheet covered us.


“’It?’” she said. “Is that what you call your penis?”


It didn’t help that we both slept in the nude.


We were married in City Hall with just a few friends present. It was a weekday so some had to work while others thought it was so funny we’d have a civil ceremony that they didn’t believe they had to come. But a few came.


“Do you need money?” one of Meryl’s girlfriends asked her.


“Are you pregnant?” asked another. “This means you’re going to keep the baby, right?”


We were just making our relationship legal, that’s all. Some of our friends “got it,” but not many. It was clear to me we didn’t have to marry for love, though.


“Are we just settling, Drew?” Meryl asked in our little honeymoon suite at McCormick Creek State Park in Monroe County. That was my idea – a state park inn with a family friendly lounge and table tennis games, a community campfire, even trail rides. This is how a solid middle-class American couple would have celebrated their marriage in generations past and that was good enough for me. It was good enough for Meryl, too.


“I mean, I wasn’t waiting for anyone better to come along,” Meryl continued. “At least I don’t think I was.”


It was fall in Indiana with all the red and yellow and mottled brown leaves you’d expect, an autumn so dry the leaves crunched crisply underfoot. We went on little hikes along the marked trails in the park just so we could hold hands like children and kick up the leaves.


In the evening we stood on the balcony outside our room looking at the Hunter’s Moon rising big over the denuded trees to the East. It was a Monday evening and Dancing with the Stars was about to air. In fact, the Inn’s staff had promoted the show with a large placard in the lobby downstairs and they’d invited people to dress up and watch the show on a big screen TV as if they were part of the studio audience. That we passed on, but I’m sure lots of people did go.


“I’m going in to shower and watch a little TV,” Meryl said. “Do you want to watch Dancing with the Stars in the room?”


“I’m going to stay out and look at the sky a bit longer,” I said. “But call me when Cheryl Burke is dancing.”


Meryl stepped back on the balcony and lightly punched me in the balls, and I reached for the smooth skin on her sculpted jaw and gently stroked her with my hand there.