When I was twelve years old, I fancied myself a serviceable breakdancer. This was before the existence of the Alfonso Ribeiro’s “Breaking & Popping” video with accompanying breakdance board. Oh fuck it, why lie? I knew I was terrible. My signature move was the knee spin for Christ’s sake. My younger brother, two years my junior, was my constant breaking companion. He sucked too.
Our Mom, always one to encourage her boys’ “artistic expression” bought us those nylon pants with tons of extraneous zippers all over the place. I believe the official name was “zipper pants.” She even sprung for breakdance lessons, in an attempt to help us not to suck (and up our street cred). In spite of Mom’s encouragement, we were hopeless. I couldn’t even make a full turn in the most basic of breakdancing moves, “the backspin.”
All this effort wasn’t for naught. Around this same age, my sense of irony and sarcasm began to develop as well.
As teenagers and products of a broken home, we stayed at our father’s house every other weekend. He lived in downtown Boston and, restless as we were, we enjoyed ditching the suburbs for a couple of days. We rarely had much money though, or at least that’s the way I remember it. Fortunately, my pops lived on Newbury Street, the main upscale shopping thoroughfare for the city. On weekends it was crowded with ridiculous people; rich people wearing furs, euro-dorks of every stripe, hicks from neighboring New England states and moneyed students from all over the globe. If you liked fancy crap and lived in the Boston area, Newbury Street was the place to go on weekends. The point being, there were plenty of idiots to fuck with when we got bored.
Thus Newbury Street became the stage for my greatest breakdancing triumph. It was a sunny fall afternoon when my bro and I found a large piece of a cardboard in an alley and dragged it to the front of a busy Japanese restaurant. Most of the restaurants on Newbury Street had outdoor seating and/or big windows through which tourists and diners could people watch. Genji was no exception. That day, about twenty diners inside the restaurant faced the sidewalk through a huge plate glass window.
Dropping my brother’s Greek fisherman’s cap down on the sidewalk, we began our act. I started with a stupid robot move, moonwalked across the cardboard and pretended to “tag” my bro. He reciprocated with an Indian step for 20 or 30 seconds and lay down in the position of a backspin (without the spinning part). We took turns fakedancing for 5 minutes or so as a small crowd of people gathered around to watch. It didn’t hurt that they we were blocking the sidewalk and that people couldn’t get around us. Without accompanying music – alongside the sheer lameness of our dance moves – we struggled to keep straight faces. A few people were amused, some took us seriously, while others dared to put spare change in the hat.
“Thank you for your generosity everyone! We appreciate the support for our art!” I shouted to the small crowd. I started clapping as if I were keeping time to music that only my brother and I could hear. No one else joined in except for one slack-jawed eight year old with a Red-Sox cap standing in front of his father. He was, apparently, in tune with us. Poor kid must have been developmentally disabled.
My brother and I tried to out-stupid each other. I failed miserably at the “worm,” but that didn’t stop me from convulsing across the board for 30 seconds. While my brother attempted to perform, I’d imitate the DJ scratch noises, “wicky, wicky, wick!” I think I did the thoroughly unimpressive “knee-spin” move three or four times.
After ten minutes the crowd dispersed. In the hat we had collected near two dollars and fifty cents. In keeping with my new punk rock ethos I gobbed a luggie onto the restaurant window (to the diner’s horror) and my brother and I laughed all the way to the arcade to spend our ill-gotten gains. My breakdance career had reached its apex. From then on my extremely poor skills lay dormant, only to be revived in an occasional drunken revelry. And while I never mastered the art of the breakdance, it’s a handy skill to have. I would counsel any youngster to take lessons, because you never know when you’ll need to breakdance for your life (or some spare change).