Don’t Shake Hands on the Bandstand
My name is Joy Spring Schwartzman and no, I’m not over it yet. Don’t even start on those bike license plates that spell out children’s names. They went straight from Joanne to Joyce – that was, if you could make it past the avalanche of Janes and Jens and Jennys.
My mother had a binder with all the family trees, names and dates they were b. or m. or d. In my teens, I pored over those names, wishing for “Rachel” or “Sarah”, I pined for “Rebecca”, and yearned for “Ann.” I was rapturous over Ann: with or without the e, I would have been a very content little Annie Schwartzman.
How I got stuck with Joy Spring was, my dad used to play tenor saxophone in a combo called the Ray Hightower Five. My dad’s name is not Ray Hightower, so maybe Dad had his name issues too. He and my mom swear this is how they met: she and her girlfriends went into the club, ordered drinks their parents liked – martinis and old-fashioneds – and she caught an eyeful of the guy blowing tenor. Every Thursday-through-Sunday night, between “Cherokee” and “Night in Tunisia”, they played this tune, “Joy Spring”. My dad had a long solo; so did the bassist. (Ray Hightower, on piano, did not).
Mom went back to that club every night for a month until she finally met the sax player, the man who made her heart poom-poom. I guess maybe I’m not selling this scene, but I’ve never been able to picture it myself. See, as soon as Dad finished at the B-school, he traded his handmade cane reeds for a flannel suit and briefcase. So I’m a reminder of something the two of them lost, some energy or wanderlust or jazz they had between them. Always, insistently “Joy Spring” when the music had long since faded, when really they were “Sarah” people in Weejuns and an all-wheel-drive Subaru.
I have tried to explain this to Mateo: the supreme and awful importance of names. He smiles like he gets it, but he doesn’t. “Babe,” he says, “a rose by any other name, and all that.”
I knew a girl at college named Negroni, because her mother was sipping one the night she met her father, but the dad turned out to be a raging alcoholic with a thunderous temper, and Negroni and her mom ended up sort of off drinking. But here’s Groni with this gin-and-Campari name she’s stuck with, a party-girl’s name, a sour sipping drink for the redhead working the pool table. She had to fight hard not to become that girl. And even still, she’s got a name that leaves a bad taste in her own mother’s mouth.
I can see that talking about gin was a bad idea, because I’m craving it now and I can’t have any for three more months. One T-and-T or a sloe gin fizz, and my little kumquat may have stunted growth or trouble with long division.
“Joy Spring” is a lot of pressure; it makes black moods and crying jags harder to pull off. Someone is always bending down and saying, “Joy, you’re not so joyful today!” in a voice you’d use with a kindergartner who’d peed herself, and was still standing out near the tetherball pole with one leg warmer than the other, trembling but relieved.
Anyway, Mateo thinks we shouldn’t have the name picked out ahead of time, this time.
“Think how much love we have to give now,” he says sometimes. “To whoever it’s going to be.” He’ll gesture toward the baby name book on the coffee table, the book I had promised not to daydream over this time. Naming them makes them real, you know. Suddenly they’re people – you can see Rebecca in her soccer uniform, chasing along with the pack, calling for a pass.
The thing is, I’ve got so much love and hope right now, it almost feels like I’m betraying her. I guess my mom might have felt that way, too, when she fell asleep next to a businessman and dreamt about a sax player. Not that she would admit it. He and his horn were out of sight, out of mind, just like our unspoken Rebecca. You can’t talk about how much you miss someone whose name you’ve never called, singsong, the way mothers do.
Lately Mom’s got this phrase she’s hit on, “I can’t wait to meet the little one.” It bugs me, a little. I think because of something my dad used to say: “You never shake hands on the bandstand.”
This was, Dad said, about building the crowd’s confidence. How else would they trust the piano player to comp behind a soloist, or a drummer and bassist to lay down a foundation strong enough for the rest of the players to stand on, but supple and expansive as salt water taffy?
“You got to look like you’ve played together before,” he said, my dad the philosopher-king.
So I’m trying to feel like I already know her, even though she isn’t Becky. I want her to trust me. I’ll just give her a nod, when she walks onstage. We’ll find our way to a groove together. I exhale, and my breath is fast and loud.
Soon, it will be time for dinner; Mateo will call up Moon Palace for some mu shu. It will please him that the woman recognizes his voice, that we are regulars. I’ll put a stack of napkins on the coffee table; we’ll laugh along with TV grown-ups with unjustly spacious apartments; Mateo will have one pale light beer and I will drink my milk. We’ll read stories and sing songs into my stomach, our voices bright with hope, describing Harold and his purple crayon, and the Little Wheel a-Turning in My Heart. I am glad for the words to the songs.
Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s fiction has appeared recently in failbetter, Night Train, and Tahoma Literary Review, and is forthcoming in Literary Orphans. She is a professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. She throws right, bats left.
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(Picture derived from image by Voros)