Havelock Series Part 1: Like Strawberry James

CONFESSION:
I was in North Carolina; Havelock, North Carolina to be exact. It’s a very small town located about an hour’s drive from the coast. I was there working for free as a dancer and a choreographer. My friend Beth and I had this crazy idea of starting a pick-up dance company based out of this very small place. It occurred after a couple of years of appearing as guest artists in the local production of The Nutcracker. After that, we brainstormed for months and finally got an “in” for our first performance as Coastal Arts Project (Ballet Rejects of America didn’t seem too appropriate other than as a comedic phrase.). We were to be the headlining performers of (get ready for this):

Red, White & Ballet: A Fourth of July Spectacular

I must admit that the name was my idea. We needed something to really entice the Chamber of Commerce and it just came to me. The campiness of the name was squelched by the accurate, but overly romanticized description of our show that I managed to weave together, much to Beth’s surprise.

“I wanna see this show!” she exclaimed over the phone. “It sounds amazing!”

Taking this statement as validation of a job well done, the grant proposal (to pay for the numerous expenses of production) was turned in. Much to my surprise, a little while later we received confirmation…Red, White & Ballet was funded!

But, I’ve digressed somewhat from what this confession is really about, so I’ll return to it.

It was a hot July day and we were rehearsing on the outdoor stage we’d be performing on in the center of town. The group of dancers consisted of Beth and myself, my best friend Jessica, former partner and friend Amy, our friend Jessie and a seventeen-year-old boy named James. We ended up finding James after being unlucky with our male dancer friends whom might be available and, most importantly, would work in our first show for free. James was a pretty good dancer and had no problems with my choreography. Plus, he was from Moorehead City, a mere thirty minute drive from Havelock. Now, for those of you Readers whom think that the thirty minute drive is crazy, I have only one thing to say: Havelock itself possessed no Walmart. To go to Walmart, you drove thirty minutes away…to Moorehead City.

We rehearsed for half the morning and then vacated the stage for the other performers (musicians, vocalists, student dancers) that had signed on to be a part of the performance. This, my dear Readers, is where the shit hit the proverbial fan.

My best friend, Jessica, had decided to challenge me. She wanted to see whether James would hit on me or her first. In essence, she wanted to know if he was gay without asking the sometimes awkward question. I agreed to her challenge and we both went into whore-mode and changed out of our baggy rehearsal clothes into the tightest and smallest outfits we could muster without getting arrested or propositioned as prostitutes. It’s important to note that neither one of us was interested in James; this was merely a competition.

The days before the performance dragged on and Jessica and I seemed to not get any closer to knowing which one of us had won our little race. It became so frustrating that Jessica’s attentions strayed, with the help of Jessie, so that they were reported to be hitting on a minister on the side of the main street as he tried to sell them fireworks. In their defense, this report came from Big Al, the owner of the fireworks store and the gentleman with whom they were supposedly flirting is his son. Still, it was worth mentioning, not only because Big Al’s son seemed to be white-knuckling remaining a holy man whenever we saw him after that, but also because it’s just plain old funny.

The day before our dress rehearsal, James came over to get a final costume fitting. I, being one-half of the costume construction team, had taken on all of the male costumes. The other half, Beth, was busy trimming skirts on the pool table that served as our makeshift costume rack. That afternoon, I was fitting James for a tunic, styled in the typical red and gold drum-major manner. For those of you Readers whom have never had the opportunity to see a tunic worn by male dancers, I’ll just say that it’s often Scarlett O’Hara’s revenge- the equivalent of a corset in fit. I was working my way through the many hook and eye closures along the back when I reached a stopping point. I couldn’t continue to close his costume because he was wearing street-clothes, as we call them. His jeans were bulkier than the form-fitting pants he’d be wearing to perform in. Not wanting him to go and change completely, I informed him that I wouldn’t continue with his hooks and eyes due to his jeans. What he did next propelled me to the forefront and the race between Jessica and me.

James pulled down the back of his jeans until half of his ass was exposed into view. Now, with dancers, shyness isn’t normally a personality trait that is seen often. But, I must admit, this took me by surprise. It took Beth by surprise too. Not wanting to show it, I finished hooking his tunic and continued with the fitting, almost bursting with the anticipation of telling Jessica.

It was they day of our performance and we decided to take the morning off from rehearsal in order to finish last-minute details and prepare for the after performance barbeque Beth’s dad had insisted on hosting. We all piled into the car- Amy, Jessie, Jessica, myself and Beth behind the wheel- for another daily Walmart trip and hit the road. Beth’s radio seemed to only be able to pick up country stations, so for the past five days that was all we’d listened to. It kind of grew on us in a weird sort of way and we’d gotten used to it. As we approached the turn onto the main road, I was talking with Jessica about our race and my evident lead.

“It doesn’t mean anything!” Jessica protested. “He was at a costume fitting and that doesn’t count!”

“Well, it’s still a little bit…ya’ know,” Amy said in her usual understated tones. “I think it technically does put Curtis in the lead. But, why are you two even doing this?”

“Because it’s fun!” I exclaimed in response. “Neither of us want anything from him, we just want a little friendly competition. We’ll never go as far as to lead him on or anything.”

At that point Deana Carter came on the radio singing her hit song Strawberry Wine. Knowing it was one of Jessie and Beth’s favorite songs (and slowly becoming one of mine), Amy turned up the volume on the radio, despite the fact that we’d heard it everyday for the past five days at least twice a day. While listening to the lyrics yet again, I had an epiphany and decided to sing along with the chorus, only with my own words.

“Like Strawberry James,” I began. “Seventeen, the hot July moon saw everything. My first taste of love, ooooh bittersweet, but green on the vine; like strawberry James.”

The laughter in the car was uncontrollable and I was afraid Beth would crash into the median, piss in her pants or both. It seemed to be one of those moments when a song just seemed to perfectly fit a situation and needed only minimal alterations. I just changed wine to James and we had the theme song of our summer adventure.

Jessica and I never truly found out whether or not James was gay. It was decided I’d won our competition after James picked me up like a baby and tried to put me into the crib Beth slept in as a baby (don’t ask). In the end, it really didn’t matter to us at all. I guess we were searching for some form of excitement in Havelock. In the end we realized that the excitement we thought we were getting from our stupid little competition was really coming from just being around fun people. The excitement was in drinking beer in the “shop” with Beth’s dad, seeing our pictures in the local newspaper and sneaking cigarettes at the gazebo on the stream in the backyard, desperately trying to avoid the watchful eyes of Mama B (Beth’s mom). It was all about the simple life- the excitement of staying in a small town. At the performance, I realized this as I pulled out my lighter to light the sparklers for the big finale. Well, the Star-Spangled Banner must have sparklers, right? Big Al had come through for us with some extra long-lasting variety and as I looked out upon the smiling and cheering faces of the very large crowd gathered, I realized that Havelock had also come through for me.

LESSON:

Sometimes the best things are found in the most unexpected places. I had no desire to really spend any length of time in Havelock, NC, but after taking the chip off my shoulder and opening my mind, it had given me some of the best memories and stories I have in my collection. It has become a sort of back-woods, small-town second-home for me and I love it! Truly, without Havelock, there would be no Alpha Files; and without the Alpha Files, what would you do with yourself?

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