The most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen go down was at an elementary school talent show in 1985. This new kid had moved to Ohio from Vermont or somewhere, some lakefront town where people wore turtleneck sweaters all year and nobody watched TV. He was eleven, young for his grade, and homeschooled, or at least had that vibe: shoulder-length hair; scarves knit by people he knew; way too proper elocution; an earnest and overly strong desire for friendship that made making friends impossible; thick-rimmed glasses. You can guess how that went, in 1985. Wasn’t long before he went home wedgied and welted and with all dreams for friendship dashed out of him. He soon found a quiet, tucked-in-the-corner desk to sit in, to prepare for similar desks he’d occupy in middle school, high school, however long it took to grow a beard thick enough to hide behind. That year we picked on him until forgetting about him became the cooler thing. Then we bothered him just enough to remind him he wasn’t being left alone.
And so when the day came when Mrs. Clayborn asked who in the class was performing in the talent show, and this forlorn weirdo shot his mittened hand right up, we were real surprised.
What are you performing? she said.
I’m going to do the moonwalk.
Like Michael Jackson?
Something like that, he said, slyly.
Confusion ensued. Wasn’t anything cool unknown and unknowable to him? Didn’t his smiley, bespectacled parents coop him up from the world like time in Jim Croce’s bottle.
The hell you know about Moonwalking, dweeb? someone asked.
But dweeb-o just grinned.
Midway through the talent show, the new kid came onstage dressed like the King of Pop: sequined jacket, slacks, black fedora, one glittering glove, sunglasses, dress shoes, damn near everything but the hair. It seemed homemade, but he looked good. When he put his hand on his hat, stood in profile, bent his left knee forward, and raised the heel of his right foot behind him, he looked like he might land the moves, slide into a better social station for himself.
There was light clapping. There was, briefly, hope. Then the music started.
It wasn’t “Billie Jean,” but something lighter, sleepier, jazzy. For a few seconds it sounded like some MJ B-side we didn’t know, and these moments marked the last chance the kid had at an endurable youth. Because when the voice came on, it wasn’t Michael singing; it was an Irish voice, gravelly, thick. His song was an old song, older than we were. It was a parent’s song, an uncool song, and though I know now that the singer recorded it at the same age Jackson cut Thriller, you couldn’t have convinced me of it then.
Well it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance
with the stars up above in your eyes…
I would say the situation deteriorated slowly, except it felt like watching it in slow motion. The kid tried some sliding backwards steps but couldn’t land them. He combined interpretive dance gyrations with the circlings of some small plump bachelor ballroom dancing alone. He snapped his fingers. He twisted his hat with his hand. He did hula moves that visibly tore his slacks. Halfway through the four minute and forty second song, someone offstage—his mom or that aide who visited him—tossed him a beach ball plastered and papier-mâchéd up to look like the moon. He caught the moon and danced with the moon. He hugged the moon. He twirled the moon on one finger. And when the Irish voice started yowling about that Daa—aaah-aahnce magic that boy kissed that fucking moon; some claimed there was moon licking, but blurred with the cruelest tears my ducts will ever shed, how could these eyes have caught everything?
Tragically, the new kid didn’t know he was bombing. He’d found his flow in the act, entered that zone performers find. He completed moves smiling. Only when he bowed at the end did the enormity of his embarrassment show, did his face monumentalize as the face of one who knew he would be the one who infamously did that Moondance thing. He started crying. The principal took the mic and said, now that was magic.
After that, Moondance couldn’t drink water or use the bathroom without some kid jumping out of class and hollering at him about the Daaaa-aaah-ahnce magic. He got musical jokes, moon jokes, Irish jokes. Couldn’t run a lap in PE without somebody yelling: “Gimme your gold, you duncey Irish Stewbum.” When acne struck him, we cracked wise about craters on the lunar surface. When he got eating-disorder thin, we mentioned the potato famine. And, of course, he was mooned, often. All kinds of butts, rain or shine.
Everyone kept thinking he’d move away, or that Child Protective Services would mercifully intervene, ship him to military school or a monastery. But no: “Moondance” stuck around to live out his sentence. Moondance graduated with us. Dance magicked his ass across the podium and grabbed his diploma.
I hear he’s working a few counties over. If he’s drinking his sorrows away, he doesn’t do it around here.
My friends, the other townies, they’ll say what happened to Moondance wasn’t as embarrassing as what happened to T., the linebacker. T. had a mean-ass mom who one day walked on the field and told his coach and his teammates her son wouldn’t be showing up for practice anymore because she’d busted into his room and found him fucking the family dog and now he needed “lots of therapy.” The family moved away that week. The dog, I’ve heard, was an Akita.
But I still give Moondance the crown of embarrassment. Because nobody saw T. fuck the dog. Nobody heard the dog getting fucked. Nobody gathered in a multi-purpose room to watch a boy fuck a dog for four minutes and forty seconds, with the stars up above in his eyes, on a magic night.
Samuel J Adams lives in northern California, where he works as a junk hauler. His fiction appears or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Ruminate, Yemassee, Elm Leaves Journal, Moon City Review, DIAGRAM,and the longlist for Wigleaf’s Top 50 very short fictions (2019). More stories available for reading at https://neutralspaces.co/samuel_j_adams, and follow him on Twitter at @ghostwithajob.