Jean P. Moore
Friday Night at the Olympia Theater
“See those women over there? They’re showgirls. I can tell by looking at them. Look how tall and graceful they are. They perform next door, at the theater where we’re going. See what they’re eating, steak and salad. That’s how they stay so thin.”
Mom looked over at Terry and me to see if her words had registered. “I’ll bet they’re
on the new low-cal diet,” she said, still watching the skinny girls eat. Mom had
recently learned about staying slender through her ladies’ magazines. “Spaghetti
and bread and cake make you fat,” she told us. “Plain yogurt—no sugar added—cottage
cheese and most fruits and vegetables don’t.” According to what she had discovered,
you had to watch all kinds of nuts, avocados, and honeydew melons, which, unlike cantaloupes, had lots of calories. Terry and I listened intently, sipping cold chocolate milk through our paper straws. I pulled mine away from time to time to look at the tip, making sure it had not yet begun to fall apart.
“When you get older your straw will last longer,” Terry told me. “You’re still little.
That’s why your straw gets all soggy. If you hold your lips like this, like you’re going
to kiss someone, and don’t mash it too hard, it won’t fall apart.” I took a breath and
tried to hold my lips like a kiss, but I couldn’t really suck the chocolate milk up
through the straw very well that way. Terry watched, shrugged her shoulders,
indicating I wasn’t yet old enough to execute the necessary maneuver, and turned
to look at the showgirls again. When she turned back to face Mom, who was
telling us about how chewing gum helped curb your appetite, Terry sat up a little
straighter, asking for a taste of Mom’s cantaloupe.
Tonight promised to be special. After dinner, we were going to see a show at the
Olympia Theater. There would be a live orchestra, and Bobby Van was going to sing.
He wasn’t Dad’s favorite singer—that was Mario Lanza—but Bobby Van would do.
It was a hot Miami night, and Mom was wearing her white halter top, the one that made her look
like Gina Lollobrigida, especially since Mom had cut her hair and now had little
fishhook curls all around her face. Terry and I had on summer dresses. Mine
was red dotted swiss with puffy elastic sleeves I could pull just off my shoulders.
I carried a little white linen bolero top, because the Olympia was air-conditioned. Terry had on a yellow cotton dress with cap sleeves. She didn’t want to wear a halter or an off the shoulder top because she was wearing her training bra and knew she couldn’t let the straps show.
Dad hurried us along, no dessert just yet. We’d get ice cream later, he said. He wanted us to get good seats, and so after he bought us four tickets, we walked down the aisle to the front row. Sitting beside Terry and Daddy, I put my hands on the armrests of the red velvet seat and began to wiggle back and forth until I was sitting as far back as I could, so I could see the stage better. Pressing my back against the chair left my legs jutting straight out, my feet flopping aimlessly over the edge of the seat.
I was pointing my toes, admiring my black patent Mary Janes, as the lights went down just a bit and the orchestra began playing softly. I could hear violins and the piano, but all I saw of the musicians, who were practically right in front of us, were the tops of their heads, some of which were bobbing enthusiastically, as the music grew louder.
Overhead I saw stars twinkling and puffy white clouds moving to the right. The first time I came to the theater, I thought there was no roof, but Daddy assured me the stars were blinking lights and that the clouds were make believe too. Just the same, it looked so real, like being out at night in some far-away land. All around were pink walls and pillars and orange tiled roofs and red and white flowers hanging out of windows. It was like a stage had been plopped down in the middle of a fairy-book town.
Then the lights went out, and a spotlight came on. The announcer appeared, wearing a black suit and a frilly white shirt. Everyone clapped as he turned and spread out his arm. The curtain opened wide.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome for the star of the evening, Mr. Bobby Van.”
Bobby smiled broadly and ran to the front of the stage, holding a microphone trailing a long black cord. Slim and not very tall, he looked like a boy not much older than Terry, with thick brown hair framing his face, his eyes glittering like jewels in the bright lights. He was wearing a blue suit, the color of the sky.
“From this moment on,” he sang, bowing to more applause when he finished and pointing to the orchestra, so they could be in the spotlight, too. Then he turned away from the audience, put on a black silk top hat, and twirled and danced across the stage. For one number, he wore a cap the color of his suit and pulled the brim down over one eye. He hunched his shoulders and sang words like bobba do abba, do-wat, do-wat, making full circles with his body by placing one foot over the other and just letting go into a spin like magic. For the finale, he sang “Because You’re Mine,” and while he was belting it out, as Daddy described it later, the announcer came back on stage and handed Bobby a red rose, which he took and held to his face for a moment. As he moved it away, he pulled the long cord of the microphone with him and walked down the stairs to where we were sitting.
He came and stood right in front of Terry, who looked around to see if he was waiting for someone else to appear. But the rose was for her. After she took it from his outstretched hand, he kissed her on the cheek. She was right in the middle of the spotlight. At first she just sat there, her mouth making a perfect letter O. Then she began to blush. After the kiss, she grew pale. She could have passed out, and I was a little scared for her, but I saw without doubt she was in love with Bobby Van. He lifted her hand to his lips and then slowly let it go as he made his way back to the stage just as he finished the song. He blew Terry a kiss, and the spotlight, now on him, went out. Terry held the rose to her chest and stared up at the dark space where he had been, oblivious to all the applause.
Afterwards, we stopped at Walgreen’s for dessert. I ordered a chocolate
ice cream soda, but Terry just had seltzer with a splash of cherry.
Mom said seltzer didn’t have any calories at all. I placed my hands on
the counter and twisted from side to side, twirling on my stool at the soda fountain.
If I pushed hard enough I could turn all the way around. “That’s enough, Jenny,” Dad said.
“You might fall and get hurt.” I stopped twirling and pulled my soda to me.
Before I started to drink, I swallowed hard, then sipped through my straw, took it out,
and looked at the tip. I did this several times, and after a while I noticed the
straw was starting to crumble. Still too young, I concluded. I looked over
at Terry, holding her sandy blonde hair back with one hand and her glass with the other.
She was sitting tall and still on her stool, sipping her seltzer without any trouble,
Bobby’s rose beside her on the counter.
I looked at my straw and pressed the sides together to make it pop open again. It
did, a little. Then I made my mouth into a kiss and took a sip.
©2009 by Jean P Moore