Once upon a time I signed up on a freelance artist website called GigSalad. GigSalad works like a reverse Craigslist where potential clients send offers to be accepted or rejected at your discretion. It’s a solid system if you’re someone with excellent discretion.
I would occasionally receive leads on GigSalad, but none of them worked out until November 3, 2017.
The event was described as a “birthday party” in New Jersey during which the honoree wanted to film a small kickline of dancers for a video. I responded with my quote and was surprised when my price was accepted. I ended up in email communication with a woman named Olga, who identified herself as the nurse.
Ok; so this must be like a super rich house-ridden man who wants the party brought to him. That’s sweet.
Mark, the honoree, contacted GigSalad to get my phone number. When we finally connected I was surprised both at what a lively conversationalist Mark seemed to be and what a high-pitched voice he had.
He asked me to bring a couple other dancers with me, so I sheepishly approached two of my friends and asked if they wanted to come do whatever this was going to be with me. They both said yes. Sweet, beloved fools.
In our email communication, Olga asked if we could bring leotards and sneakers to wear. It was odd to me that she specified “no tights.”
Cool cool cool, but absolutely not. I love bare legs as much as the next guy, but no one is doing a kickline SANS TIGHTS in front of a camera on my watch. That’s how I end up as a corpse on a segment of “60 Minutes.”
I told the girls to bring tan tights and character heels. We were going to be like the Rockettes … if there were only three of them and they made house calls.
Mark and Olga let me pick the time of day for the shoot, so I picked 9:30am. I figured the odds of them murdering us were exponentially lower if we went to their house in the morning. People always get murdered at night. All the bad stories on the news always start with, “Last night…” It’s never, “He killed them at daybreak.” When I lived in Jackson, Mississippi, people always got shot at night. I didn’t have a gun, but I did get in the habit of carrying a pair of Self-Defense Scissors in the pocket of my sweatpants if I ever left the house after dark.
We took an Uber to Mark’s house from the train, and as we entered his neighborhood I saw lots of big, beautiful, carefully manicured houses.
Whew. I knew it. This is going to be fine.
And then the Uber driver started driving around in circles because he couldn’t find the correct house number. He kept pausing in front a small, dark brown, fenced-in, overgrown-with-bushes 1970’s crime scene.
“I think this is you guys.”
Noooooooo. What? Why!? Of course it is. Alright Ang. Stay positive for the sake of the kids. But also, be responsible. If they die this morning it is one hundred percent your fault.
So I casually told the girls I had no problem walking out if this turned out to be some sort of unsavory situation. Mark had told us to meet him at the back door “because of my mom,” so we walked through the large wooden gate and knocked on the back door. As I walked through the gate I started to doubt the validity of this whole situation. I don’t know a ton of stories that begin: “He told me to meet him at the back door because of his mom, and the rest of the day was totally normal.”
I knocked on the back door with a large amount of pretend confidence. The man who opened the door had shoulder-length white hair that was somehow simultaneously frizzy and stringy; he was missing some teeth; and he was wearing what my mom calls “birth control glasses.” You know, the ones that seem to be two inches thick.
This is how I die.
“Hi, I’m Mark! Thank you so so much for coming! Olga, come down here!”
This was a split-level house and upon looking up I could see the silhouette of an ancient woman sitting in a chair. Olga had just placed a tray of food in front of her before she walked down the stairs to shake our hands. She extended her right hand to me, still wearing one latex glove.
OMG NO THIS IS HOW I DIE!!
Time stood still as the reasons why someone wears ONE latex glove flashed through my mind. I had a silent meltdown.
WHY ISN’T SHE TAKING OFF THE GLOVE?
I shook her hand and vowed to boil mine as soon as possible.
Mark: “Here, follow me down to the basement!”
FOR SURE this is the kind of basement people die in.
Mark and Olga went back upstairs to let us get changed, and as I rummaged through my backpack I realized I left my Self-Defense Scissors at home.
Stay calm, Ang. We can improvise.
So I uncapped three pens and laid them ink-side-out on the piano, and nonchalantly said, “Hey guys if stuff starts to go down, grab a pen.”
Olga came down to check on us but freaked out when she saw our tan tights. “Oh no, no tights. We talked about this. Our agreement was no tights.”
Uh-huh but like FOR SURE we are wearing tights. Nobody’s interested in Cellulite: Up Close and Personal.
After quite a bit of back and forth, Mark came downstairs in basketball shorts ready to join us in the kickline and I began to understand the situation.
He didn’t want us wearing tights because he isn’t wearing tights and he wants us to look uniform.
Shame crept over me.
Way to be judgemental, Ang. This sweet old man is so excited for this little kickline, and here you are freaking out and laying Weapon Pens on his piano.
I’m not gonna lie to you; even with my enlightened eyes and softened heart, my soul cringed doing eye-high kicks in a leotard and no tights in this old man’s basement. I smiled out at the audience of wood paneling with my single remaining shred of dignity.
Take comfort, Ang. This has got to be the bottom of the barrel. Breathe and soak it in. Maybe Chita Rivera also danced in a stranger’s basement before she made it big. Yes, someday, when you’re interviewing on The Tonight Show, this will make an adorably relatable anecdote.