At the end of each summer, my father leaves febrile Florida to visit the multifaceted marketplace of Santa Fe. While he’s here, he acts like a crazy culture addict, catching the 6 am shuttle to Indian Market in the morning, power walking through the Folk Art Museum in the afternoon and humming along with Turandot at the opera until midnight. If we show any remote interest in these jet-setting jaunts, he drags us along. On the night we were scheduled to attend the Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco performance at the former-Sheraton-currently-Radisson-future-The-Lodge-at-Santa-Fe-hotel, Poppy decided to switch on the TV to kill time before we left. She knew that with her grandfather, long silences trigger his inner political child to emerge and draw parallels between the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps at our border and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
“Oh, I love this show,” Poppy said at the sight of So You Think You Can Dance, Fox’s low-rent version of American Idol. Everything about this suckstravaganza screamed “terrible” to me. Contestants with names straight out of American Gladiator (Snow, Jonnis, Melody, Ashle) quivered and convulsed across the stage, drumbeats accentuating each thrust and air hump.
“Whatever happened to normal names?” my dad asked no one in particular. “And why in God’s name are we watching this dreck?”
“Because it’s cool and fun,” Poppy said, wanting to someday be part of this rhythm nation. Her brother London was on the floor playing with his Bionicles, a post-apocalyptic skeleton version of Legos. Because we try to keep our family rule as democratic as possible, my father and I had viewed 75 minutes of a Bionicle movie, causing us more pain than Madonna falling off 10 horses.
“Dad,” I called to my father who was tearing the newspaper in anguish. “Would you rather watch this or the Bionicle movie again?”
He frowned. “Is there a third choice?”
On the television, a speed freak of an MC introduced the panel of so-called celebrity judges. Each talking (and color-rinsed) head was less recognizable than the last. The level of stardom on that panel was about equal to the fame of Rodney Allen Rippy’s former house cleaner’s dog.
“That guy’s so gone,” Lala said as Jonnis-the-hippie-freestyler missed a vital move in his mambo challenge. I tried to fool myself into believing that watching this crapfest was a warm-up for the flamenco show, but my dad’s moaning convinced me otherwise.
“I’ve got moves.” London nodded to our familial panel.
“Well, show us,” I said, encouraging him like a rival gang member in a preschool production of West Side Story. London dropped a brown figure whose name Rahaga Pouks is about as difficult to pronounce as the bloody things are to put together. He looked down at his feet, and then performed a series of leaps, kicks and turns like a crab ballerina break-dancing on hot coals. Even my father couldn’t keep his eyes off his grandson bustin’ a move. London’s choreography became so complex that he tripped over his feet and fell back into the battalion of waiting Bionicles.
“Sorry,” London said to us. “I’m a little rusty.”
“Rusty?” I mouthed to Lala. “From what?”
She shrugged and smiled, not wanting to interrupt her son’s hustle and flow.
London continued with his routine, using the hip-hop music from the TV to accompany him. An hour later I’d be sitting in front of the best flamenco dancers in the world, but I couldn’t see how anything could be more enjoyable than the show from my own little Savion Glover. By the next commercial, London stopped abruptly then flicked the sleeve of hair out of his face.
“Are you okay?” Lala asked. “Is anything wrong?”
London held one grubby finger in the air as he panted. “I just need to take some air. I’ll be right back.” Then he vogued off to his room backstage while we judges compiled our scores.