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Dancing With Barbara

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He’d always been a Barbara Streisand fan. When he was young in the car he’d burst into the characterized bellow of a belt whenever the radio happened to play one of her many iconized hits. He had perfected every moment of every song, with designated gestures and small dances to enhance the performance.

“QUIET!” had come his father’s voice as he tried to circumvent an obnoxiously slow driver, his son’s piercing cry overtaking all within earshot.

“HAPPY DAYS. Are! Here! At LAAAAA-”

“PLEASE,” his mother pleaded as they pulled into the driveway, “I AM GOING TO HAVE A HEART ATTACK IF YOU DON’T STOP THIS.”

On his tenth birthday his parents decided that they were unable to maintain their sanity with eight performances a week of their son’s Barbara repertoire (On saturdays he always privileged them with a matinee) dominating the block. His sister, an angst-ridden teenager had already committed suicide, unable to hear herself recite her gothic poetry over the blaring sound of Funny Girl in the room next to hers, and they couldn’t bear losing the cat who appeared to be sinking slowly into a psychotic state, scratching the walls and shrieking before falling into fits of writhing and foaming at the mouth in periodic intervals. So at his party, which featured a pinata shaped like the musical queen herself and about three friends, all girls and all of whom attended for the cake, Jeremy opened his present: an mp3 player with all of Barbara Streisand’s records uploaded already, along with a single Led Zeppelin album lest, his father argued, he miraculously took a turn for a less interactive genre of music with fewer dance breaks and climactic finishes.

Jeremy turned the small device on that night, and a new career of lip synching came to fruition. Instead of using the cumbersome CD player and having to sing along with the tracks in order to feel overwhelmed by the sound, he could turn the volume all the way up, place the headphones into his ears and escape into a world in which the only inhabitants were he and Barbara, a famous duo. They performed in every large venue on every major continent: Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, Buckingham palace for the queen, selling thousands of tickets and receiving standing ovations every night.

He was absolutely comatose with joy. Every day after a the tedious engagement that was school he bounded into the living room, tripping over the obese cat and racing through the living room to the stairs, taken three at a time much to the chagrin of his mother. He slammed his door shut, occasionally crushing the small dog that his parents had recently adopted who had made it a habit of placing himself in front of Jeremy’s door in the hopes that a swift death would consume him and free him from the touch of Jeremy’s love-starved parents. He grabbed his mp3 player, now worn with excessive use, and slipped into a glamorous nightclub, where the audience welcomed him with thunderous applause.

“People,” he started, “People who need people.” His lips formed each vowel and consonant to match the tone exactly, his arms decorating every flourish of the brass with a liquid grace and impeccable skill. “Are the luckiest people in the world.”

“Jeremy!” called his mother, “Can you take out the garbage?” as she tied the stark white trash bag with a triple knot and carried it through the house.

“Where children-”

“Jeremy!”

“Needing other children-”

“JEREMY!”

Nights would progress like this until his mother, hoarse from yelling and refusing to take further action for fear of breaking the parent philosophy they had adopted from a very poignant book: Modern Parenting: The Art of Raising Your Child Without Causing Any Emotional Distress for Anyone Involved, would continue her ardent cleaning, disinfecting every surface and crevice until the entire house smelled of Swiffer.

“And NOBODY, no, NOBODY, is GONNA RAIN ON MY PAAAAAARRAAAAAAAADE”

On Jeremy’s twelfth birthday, he was granted permission to take his mp3 player to school, where he would sneak off during breaks into an abandoned classroom and perform his invisible numbers. His continued indulgence in his privatized pleasure drew a rather large divide between him and his classmates; he didn’t really have any friends, but it was just as well for they would only act as distractions from his work. The only times the other children saw Jeremy was in the actual classes, during which he would generally stare vacantly off into space, contemplating the next number he should learn, and on the walk home in the afternoons. Jeremy lived close to school, so he would walk every morning and afternoon, offering everyone a glimpse into his world. His peculiar appearance made this world all the more intriguing to the school body: he was unusually tall for his age, with a slightly crooked nose, sandy blonde hair, and piercingly blue eyes that seemed to act as headlights for his lanky frame. He wore bright colors and stripes that his mother thought were obscene but he insisted upon because he liked the sight of the patterns dancing in his mirror. This visual: Jeremy walking along in his wardrobe and lip synching to his musical set made him a hot topic of conversation at his school and swiftly an object of ridicule.

Jeremy was unaware of this social development, however, and continued his ostracized existence happily, adding numbers to his repertoire periodically and continuing to neglect the occasional chore, which left his mother with rapidly greying hair, ardently refusing to disobey her parenting book and resigning herself instead to relatively frequent fits of hysteria upon discovering various points of decay within the house. Jeremy’s father worked very late and was consequentially unaware and unaffected by his son’s musical habits, only noticing that in their rare conversations his words often sounded as if they had been lifted from a ballad or obscure song and that his Brooklyn dialect was a tad unusual for Northern California.

Despite his parents’ complaisance with his passion, as Jeremy entered the later grades of his schooling his fellow students became less and less welcoming to his behavior. In tenth grade, when Jeremy was 15, he had acquired a unique fan club, dedicated to pelting him with empty milk cartons. Jeremy paid little mind, imagining the small carriers of dairy to be roses and other validations of his great gift. In eleventh grade the crowd became more hostile and took to calling him crude names that he, in his Streisand haze, had been unable to become acquainted with on the playground.

Chief amongst his many dissenters was Karl and his group of minions. They hated Jeremy and everything he stood for, if that was anything. They would watch him walking home every day after school, dancing along to his music, flailing his arms uselessly like some invalid. They hated his stripes, hated his colors, hated his music, whatever it was he listened to. Karl’s group was made up of seniors in Jeremy’s high school, and they were considerably feared by everyone but Jeremy, who spent too much time with his headphones on to bother learning the complicated caste system of Franklin High. Karl himself was short, with bushy eyebrows and large white shirts that fell like sinister dresses over his baggy jeans. He had an uneven temperament, to say the least, and was easily upset by colorful boys of Jeremy’s stature with endearing obsessions with musical theatre icons. But he didn’t pay the harassers any mind. He had his music.

“IN ALL OF THE WORLD SO FAR, I AM THE GREATEST,” he flourished his hand to hit the accent in the orchestra, “GREATEST,” he prepared his hands for the finish, shaping his mouth to fit the first two letters-his arms rose with the tremendous note: “STAAAAAAAAAR.” He laughed triumphantly as he fell into the final position, on his knees with his hands raised in victorious fists above his face. He had finally fallen into the pose correctly and at the right time, the final chord of the show-stopper coinciding perfectly with his landing. He’d been trying for weeks, but his slight illness and achy foot had prevented him from success. Now he could move to the next song. It was as if he was the center of the world. All anyone could hear was the bellowing scoop of his voice, all they could see was his perfect turns and gyrations, and all tey could know was his incredible talent, the sole fuel of the Earth’s gravitational pull, keeping the stars and planets in line and insuring that everything in the universe ran smoothly. If his batteries ran out or if he was ill or unable to perform without vomiting between each number, everything seemed to run much less smoothly than usual. It was as if he were appointed to some divine position of entertainment and the heavens relied on him and his Barbara to keep the world going. He examined his foot as he rested for a moment, making sure that his nails were presentable to his audience and that he hadn’t unwittingly acquired any injuries. No, and now back to the show. He faced once more the tiny mirror on his wall that made up his world and tapped his feet as the strings came in.

That next Tuesday Jeremy decided to take the long way home, feeling that he needed to add “The Way We Were” to his afternoon set list and began to sing along, feeling that he needed some extra power in his performance for impact. He was, after all, performing at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and his vocalizations needed to move the nation.

He passed a lawn blanketed with flowers, picking up the occasional daisy to integrate into his act. He turned the corner and passed an elementary school, grasping the chain link fence of the schoolyard to emphasize his nostalgia for his fictional past and a few children stared in bewilderment. He didn’t see Karl and his gang of testosterone turning the same corner but seeing him instead of the daisies. He kept walking as the final chords of his song began blaring.

“HAPPY TIMES,” stomp stomp stomp, “HAPPY NIGHTS,” he added an extra turn for affect, “HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AT LAAAAA-”


He felt a shove from behind, and his note halted. The music had stopped. Something ripped out his headphones and he yelled. Another shove. He fell to the ground and turned around to see a hand smack his arm. He reached for his headphones, eager to escape whatever this was and get back to his set. He saw a boy he recognized by face but didn’t know by name and pleaded for them to stop. Another smack. The names he had so long ignored poured out at him and meant something without the cooing sounds of Barbara’s voice to mask their hate.

“Fairy!”

“F*****!”

“Q****!”

A punch, some blood, a kick. They were done and gone, his mp3 player lying on the floor next to him, slightly cracked. His headphones were there too, a mess of tangled wires. He tried to get up, but his tears stopped him. He could hear the roaring sounds of a truck, a siren blaring in the distance as if echoing his belt, mocking his dance, hating his music. His music. He needed his music. He clutched his player and his headphones and got up. He couldn’t keep the public waiting. But his right earphone was broken now and even with the fragmented sounds of the familiar voice he could still hear the world, loudly forcing its way into his right ear and stealing him from what he loved. He ran home, hoping to find some spare headphones. Racing through the door and past the cat he was successful. They had been on the ears of his mother, who had been watching a cooking program on her computer, but they were easily removed, her cries at the sight of a black eye and a scratched face easily ignored, his room easily reached with a few glorious bounds. He couldn’t let it bother him, their jealousy. Who wouldn’t envy his talent? He stood up tall, put his new ears on, and selected a number.

“Don’t tell me not to live, just sit and putter,” he yelled to his own face in the mirror, “life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter,” he began to dance, feeling once again the music pour through his arms, his face, his ears. He was here, in his world, and the world was listening. He started a turn but the wire of the new headphones caught onto his pants and the heavy device flew off his head, smacking his lip and and throwing him to the floor, his balance lost. He lay for a single moment, the headphones lying in a corner across his room still blaring the song, but away from his ears it was no louder than a distant yell, barely audible over the sound of his mother’s vacuuming. He stared up at the ceiling, tears welling in his eyes, blood trickling from his hurt lip, no one noticing that he had fallen in front of thousands of people. The world hadn’t been listening after all.





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