The venue itself is like stepping back in time. It opened in 1929 and not a lot has changed. Numbered booths with wooden benches line both sides of the dance hall and there are tables covered in white cloths sprinkled around the floor. The bathrooms are painted in turqoise and have shell-shaped sinks. Yes, shell-shaped!
Once inside, I realized I would undoubtedly be one of the few there under the age of 60. But I didn't care.. In fact, I felt completely at home. I've always fared better with the older generations (which is probably why I gravitate to history and specifically, World War II history). I count my 91-year-old grandmother among my best friends.
About five minutes after I arrived, I grabbed a drink (diet soda, of course) and headed for an open spot which wasn't easy as many places were reserved. I found a booth and was just about to deposit my coat on the bench when the man in the booth next to me said, "You here alone? Need a dance partner?"
Little did I know that this simple question would spark a conversation that would last the majority of the night. The gentleman, who was in his 70s, introduced himself as Myron and immediately asked if I could help him find women to dance with. And even date. So I proceeded to ask him what he liked. And of course, he told me.
- Can't sit around the house all day
- Has a job
- Likes to dance (of course!)
- Not too heavy
- Likes to go places
- Must be younger than him
The band was late that night - bus trouble, I believe - so Myron and I had plenty of time to talk. I learned a great deal about him and what he'd done in his life, and believe me, there was never a shortage of things to discuss. Once in awhile he'd stop his conversation and point out another woman. "What about her? Do you think she'd dance with me?" Then there were times he "went cruising", as he called it. He'd walk around the dance hall, see if any women sparked his interest, and if so, he'd ask if they'd like to dance once the band got there. He even asked me if I wanted to dance, but I politely refused. I was there to listen to the music and that's it.
At one point, he gave me his card and said, "If you can find dates for me, I'll pay you $100 per date." Now I'm slightly broke, but still, the idea of finding women to go on dates with Myron didn't exactly appeal to me.
When the band finally arrived, Myron did his thing and went looking to cash in on those "saved dances." But soon enough, he'd come back and start regaling me with how good (or bad) his dance partner was. At one point, I encouraged him to ask a woman sitting across from us to dance. He said, "She looks too old." (Apparently, Myron wanted someone in her 60s that still had pep in her step). But I said, "She looks nice. I bet she'll dance with you." And lo and behold, he asked her and they went out to the dance floor. He even came back to her table with her and they chatted for awhile.
But alas, it did not last. Myron ended up back in the booth beside mine and lamented that this woman was "too bitter," undoubtedly the result of an ex-husband (or two or three). Once again, with the band playing in the background, he launched into tales of his daughter and his son, of the Australian fellow he met in New Orleans, of his childhood on the farm growing potatoes, of the ex-wife he was married to for 13 years that apparently was 13 years too long. He thought Frank Sinatra was too pompous and preferred Dean Martin. Cary Grant was okay by him, and he agreed that North By Northwest was a good movie. Music, however, was his passion. He loved to listen to it, loved how it moved people's souls.
"You know, you are delightful," Myron told me. "You're just delightful to talk to."
I thanked him, thinking that he was rather delightful, too.
Myron ended up leaving early because the music was too loud and it bothered his ears. He said, "I was serious about you finding me dates. Call me!"
I smiled, said goodbye, and watched as he made his way toward the door, stopping at a few tables and trying to get one more dance. He looked up at me and blew kisses my way. I waved, shaking my head in amusement.
I spent the remainder of the night listening to the band, watching the people around me, and realizing that this night had been illuminating in a lot of ways.
We tend to think that the elderly are "done" with life, content to just let the days pass. Nothing could be further from the truth. Beneath the bravado, Myron was deeply lonely. He wanted someone to share his days with. He wasn't yet done experiencing life. And all around me, I saw more of the same. Older couples dancing, holding hands, dressed in their best, smiling, laughing, living.
And they encouraged me to do the same.
I hope in the coming months and years, I will push myself more out of my comfort zone. I, too, want to experience more and live more. This world is full of beauty and awe, and it can be found everywhere: across town, across the state, across the country, or even across the world.
So thanks, Myron, for reminding me of how wonderful this life really is.