Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pennsylvania Avenue

I've been doing a lot of driving along Pennsylvania Avenue recently. It's the northernmost border of our neighborhood, and the old part of town. When I turn onto it, I go by the county fairgrounds, a development of shabby townhouses, a drive-thru mart, and, past the train tracks, the middle school and the orthodontist.

I don't drive past the orthodontist much, actually. It seems like I live there. Last week my 11-year-old started her second round of braces. Today my 7-year-old had spacers put in, to make room for the brackets in a week or so. God smiled upon us and finally allowed her snaggleteeth to fall out over this past weekend, which means that the money we save on having them extracted can be rolled right back into orthodontia. I feel we are minor royalty at the office, having contributed a fair amount to the salaries of everyone there.

But if I drive past the orthodontist, I make several turns and continue on a few miles to the YMCA, where our weekend play practices are held. Perhaps you are not aware that this post is written by an upstanding member of the chorus of Hairspray (also with a minor speaking role as the Gym Teacher). I sing, I act, I tap dance unwieldily, as befits one who was nine months pregnant 13 weeks ago. My oldest daughters are also in the cast, and audiences will take more aesthetic enjoyment from watching them trip the light fantastic. Fortunately Hairspray is a show that is based around teenagers dancing, so the oldsters like me can fade into the background and do what we love, which is singing harmony.

Coming to rehearsals with me is young Pog, who also came with me to auditions five months ago under the guise of my distended stomach. I wasn't planning to try out, because I didn't love Hairspray all that much, and anyway, I'm no great shakes at dancing most of the time, but especially not at seven months pregnant. But everyone was getting up on stage and singing out their auditions, and I started getting the itch that all theater people know: the urge to be up there in the thick of it, playing a role. Finally I could stand it no longer. I turned in my form, sang "Turn Back O Man" a cappella, and channeled my best Harvey Fierstein (not to be confused with Harvey Weinstein) in cold readings. And lo! I got a part, because community theater is the best that way.

As I say, Pog attends rehearsals. He is our mascot. Everyone loves him and takes turns holding him when I need to go on stage. Being the youngest of seven children, he's very mellow about being handed from person to person. He's such a good boy, and so considerate. Tonight he actually slept through the entire rehearsal, from 6:30 to 9:00. Of course, he was up smiling and cooing until 11:00 after that, but we have to make sacrifices for our art.

And I hope you will all come see our show, November 3, 4, and 5 in the Merchants' Building at the fairgrounds off Pennsylvania Avenue.

Since Pennsylvania Avenue is on our way to rehearsal, we've been picking up the young actor who plays Seaweed Stubbs. He's a fellow with a golden voice and a smooth way of moving, and we recognized him immediately when we saw him walking along the side of the road, trying to hitch a ride to rehearsal. His bike tire had gone flat. We picked him up (and on the way home, retrieved the bike), and have been going it together ever since. He lives in the townhouses off of Pennsylvania Avenue, but it's easiest for us to pick him up in the parking lot of the drive-thru mart on the other side of the road. And that's what we were doing on Saturday, turning into that parking lot as he walked toward the car, when I saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser pulling in behind me.

Our young black friend got in the car, sat very still, and, as the officer approached, held his hands in the air in plain sight.

The officer said he'd booked me going 37 in a 25 mph zone, which I had to take his word for, and asked how long it had been since I'd had a speeding ticket. I didn't know; years and years. If he checked and found that I had a clear record, he'd let me go with a written warning. As we waited, we chatted with our friend. He joked that he didn't know whether the policeman was coming for us or for him.

His hands were still in the air.

I got my written warning and we drove off.

"I'm sorry for putting you in that position," I said to Seaweed. "If he'd pulled me over before I pulled in here, you wouldn't have had to worry."

"Don't worry, it's cool," he said. But his hands had been in the air the whole time.

Later I got to wondering. I'd been driving Darwin's nice commuter car instead of the huge family van I usually take around. I wasn't the only one driving down Pennsylvania Avenue going an easy speed on a Sunday afternoon. But I was the one in a sleek silver car pulling over to pick up a black teenager in the parking lot of the drive-thru mart across the street from the shabby townhouses.

Next time we go to rehearsal at the YMCA, I'll take the two extra minutes to drive right to my friend's door and pick him up there. And I'll watch my speed. I don't ever want to be the cause again of a young man sitting rigid with his hands in air, wondering if today is the day.

This morning I drove home from the orthodontist with my 7-year-old daughter and my three sons, ages 9, 3, and three months. My boys are unlikely to ever feel that they need to keep their hands in the air when a policeman approaches the car. Like me, they'll probably be able to sigh and rummage for their license and registration, feeling no more than frustrated at the timing of it all. For them, flashing lights and sirens are merely fun. I listened to them chat as I drove down Pennsylvania Avenue past the fairgrounds at the speed of traffic. My speedometer told me that traffic was going 35. I slowed down.

Tonight we drove Seaweed home from rehearsal in the big van. We dropped him at his door and waited to make sure he got in safely. Safety first, on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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