Awkward Situations and the Actor

A couple weeks back I was in New Orleans to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. I love New Orleans. It’s vibrant and musical and full of mystery. It also has this crazy energy to it that makes me feel like I’m in college again, so I drink like I’m twenty-one even though my family is with me and get drunker than I ever have been and don’t really remember that I’m 43 until the plane ride home and then I wish I was dead.

But that’s neither here nor there.

It was a wonderful weekend to be sure, and really there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell if it wasn’t for this one particular event. (Because, you see, if everything goes swimmingly then there is no dramatic tension. That’s why when people show you slide shows of their perfect trips you get bored despite the wonderful photography. If everything goes well, it really isn’t entertaining.) So my friend Annie invited me to go see her busker friends performing in the French Quarter. (Yes, I had to look the word “busker” up, too.) This was a very nice thing to do. I got to hang out with local musicians and get a real feel for what it’s like to live in such a cool and completely individual city. Annie’s friends were amazing musicians, and I spent hours sitting on the curb and listening while Annie attracted the attention of tourists dancing to the music.

The crowd around the band kept growing. People were smiling and tapping their toes and really enjoying not just the music, but Annie’s spirited boogie. I felt like I was witnessing something very special, art and audience joining in the purest way, for the sake of it, commerce be damned. But then things got a little weird.

A teenaged boy with Down Syndrome, accompanied by two people I assume were his parents, was taken with Annie and her moves. Initially, he was standing across the street and wiggling his fingers in her direction, but then he danced over to Annie and the band and started to move with her. Annie, being one of the sweeter people you could meet, took his hands and danced with him. It seemed a rather nice moment, really. This boy was quite happy. I was smiling, too.

When the song ended, he hugged her. He hung on for quite some time. It was a mildly uncomfortable moment, to be sure, but we all laughed it off as he let go of Annie and headed back across the street. The band started their next number, Annie started grooving, and before you know it this teen with Down Syndrome was back with Annie and his dancing was becoming rather aggressive. Now, I don’t know quite how to describe this, but at a certain point he pressed his face to her cheek. I thought he was going in for a quick peck, but he actually latched onto her. Like a pilot fish to a shark or something.

I am ashamed of my reaction, but what I did was completely freeze up. I later talked to the band’s sax player and he said he felt the same way. If this boy had not been someone with Down Syndrome, we both would have immediately pulled him away. Can you imagine a man latching onto a woman’s cheek in the middle of the street in broad daylight? She’d start screaming and people would of course come to her rescue. But our own political correctness and hyper sensitivity kept us in a place of just watching, hoping the boy’s parents would intervene. They did eventually, but it had already gone on too long. Annie laughed it off and kept dancing (again, she’s a sweetheart.) The whole event threw me for a loop, however. I am not a fan of being in a place of having no idea what to do.

Now, my wife assures me this was entirely on his parents. But why didn’t I get up and at least demand that they take care of it? Because I was so frozen with the terror of doing something politically incorrect in regard to this boy with a mental challenge that I did nothing. And Annie is my friend. I failed her in that moment.

Sorry, Annie.

Great dancing, though, and thanks for having me along.

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