The Princeton ballet dancer

Bobby Gold was once a ballet dancer at Princeton. Do not think I am very much impressed by that, but it meant a lot to Bobby. He cared nothing for ballet dancing, in fact he disliked it, but he tried out for it as part of a freshman hazing prank for a fraternity that he then quit though he continued with the ballet company. He learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of brutishness and derision he had felt on being mocked as a rugby-playing Brit at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could perform a grand jeté, his legs at a 90 degree angle as he jumped the height of a small pony, knocking down any one who was snooty to him with a sharp blow to the chest, although, being rather gentle and a nice boy, he never destroyed someone’s liver except by accident. He was Christopher Fleming’s star pupil. Christopher Fleming taught all his students to plié, even if it destroyed their meniscus. Christopher promptly cast Cameron as the chicken in “Pelea de Gallo” and he was in mid-performance when he heard the audible click signifying he’d torn cartilage in his right knee but continued dancing. This increased Cameron’s distaste for ballet, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort that he could damage himself more greatly in ballet than in rugby and the ensuing limp gave him a certain je ne sais quoi with Princeton coeds. In his last year at Princeton he took to staying in his room and playing his guitar too much but that only added to his mystique.

I mistrust all Brits and attractive-looking people, especially when they know how to tell a good story, and I always had a suspicion that perhaps Bobby Gold had never been a ballet dancer and that a biking accident had caused the torn cartilage, or that maybe he had stumbled into a fire hydrant while drunk, but I finally had somebody verify the story with Christopher Fleming. Christopher Fleming not only remembered Bobby Gold. He had often wondered what had become of his poco pollo.

At the English school where Bobby Gold prepped for Princeton, and played a very good back on the rugby team, no one had made him conscious of his nationality as all the other lads were British as well. It was only when he went to Princeton that people began saying, “Oh, you’re from England then.” He was a nice boy, a friendly boy, and not at all shy but it made him bitter. He took it out in ballet, and he came out of Princeton with a faux-American accent and the damaged meniscus which he refused to have surgically repaired since it seemed to help him attract saucy chicks like a labrador puppy on the end of a leash in Central Park.

He had a certain reputation with the women at Princeton, not totally undeserved, so when he fell in love with an art history major two years his junior not even he was surprised that she failed to take him seriously. At a party, influenced by more than a little a gin, they made out together for the first time while their dates stumbled about in the darkness looking for them. After that they unceremoniously dumped their not-so-privileged amours and took up with each other fulltime.

Graduation soon followed for Bobby Gold and he went to New York City. In Manhattan he fell in with gay literary people and, as he refused more than a modest stipend from his father, took up bartending. His first night working he was derided for not being fast enough or quick enough and though he pointed out that his torn meniscus made it difficult to carry large trays full of drinks through the bumping-and-grinding crowd, he was sacked. He was sorry to give up his new profession.

By that time, though, he had other things to worry about. He had decided to be a songwriter-composer and needed to learn how to sing. He took up with a record producer who told him he might consider vocal lessons if he hoped to actually make a record. The vocal instructor was very forceful and taught him proper breathing and vibrato that strained his cords the way Christopher Fleming had strained his meniscus. Nevertheless his quirky style of singing attracted the attention of a certain number of young ladies, including the red-haired beauty from Princeton, the same one he’d made out with at a party while his date waited for him, coat in arm, at the frat house.

The lady, whose name was Francis, found towards the end of her second year at Princeton that her looks attracted boys, all of whom looked alike, like frozen peas attract coral fish, yet her feelings for the pale and rather haunted-looking Brit, Bobby Gold, only seemed to increase and she began to take a proprietary interest in his budding musical career, going so far as to be an occasional muse. In the summer after his graduation he and Francis became an item and after that I do not believe that Bobby Gold looked at another woman. He was fairly happy, except that, like many ex-pats living in New York, he would rather have been in London, and he had discovered music. He wrote several songs and put together a CD, though it was not really a very good CD as he had not yet learned the breathing and vibrato techniques from the voice teacher, but it was an okay CD. He read many books, played guitar, drank, and spent his weekends in the city with Francis.

I first met Francis at a party in London held for his mother’s birthday. It was a theme party and everyone was dressed as a sheik or a belly-dancer or a merchant from the souk. Francis was in a simple but elegant white dress, like a fashion designer’s version of a toga, and was introduced to me by Bobby who then disappeared to go for drinks. I told her I was a friend of the Gold family and vetted all love interests. She smiled and said, “Oh, really.” I asked her about her family and about art history and we discussed Damien Hirst’s sharks and tango dancing and the difference between Arab belly dancers and Indian belly dancers. I suggested she come to Cuba with me. My wife, at that point, dug an elbow into my rib.

“Oh, well,” I said, “perhaps Bobby would like to come as well.”

My wife hit me harder. Bobby came back with the drinks.

“I’ve just invited Francis to join your father and me in Cuba.” After an awkward pause, I added, “And you’re invited along as well.”

“That’s awfully good of you,” said Bobby, “but I’m rather busy at the moment trying to finish my CD.”

“Oh well. Perhaps Francis would still like to go.”

“I shouldn’t think so,” Bobby said.

“Well, let her think on it,” I said. I bowed to her. “See you on the dance floor?” I watched the two of them walk back to their table, he carrying both their glasses of Montrachet. I rather liked him and evidently she led him quite a life.

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