Bright Lights, Big City

“Wednesday, August 11, 2004. 9:15am. We’ve already been to a casino, another state, and a police station today.”
The above is a quote from an email sent out yesterday by my friend Seamus. I’m not really sure where to begin, so I guess I’ll start with where the evening all went wrong.
Tuesday started out like any other Tuesday – 7:30pm, Seamus calls to say he’s going to pick me up for tap class. He arrives a little later than usual, and I immediately notice that Natasha is sitting in the front seat.
I remember thinking, “Huh. That’s odd. Seamus never picks up Natasha first.” It was clearly a sign of the topsy-turvy chain of events that would follow. Seamus seemed unusually chipper and talkative. I asked him if he had been drinking Red Bull, but he said no.
Then he smiled and said, “Today’s my last day of tap. I’m quitting.”
Natasha and I just sat there in stunned silence. I felt like someone had just hit me in the face with a frozen salmon. Once I had regained my senses, I grabbed his shoulder and said, “What in the name of Savion Glover are you talking about?”
“I’m quitting. I’m tired of getting frustrated every week, and feeling uncoordinated, and doing all this girly stuff all the time. I need to hang out with guys more, and do guy stuff like play poker and smoke. This class is holding me back from doing what I really need to do.”
Natasha and I really didn’t say much for the rest of the ride to class. I just kept thinking about what I was going to say to the teacher next week when she asked where Seamus was. Nat and I decided that we’d tell her that Seamus had severed his Achilles tendon in a freak farming accident. The truth would just hurt her too much.
So after a bittersweet class, Seamus suggested we go to a bar for a farewell beer. I should note here that Seamus only drinks non-alcoholic beer, since this will play an important role in the story later on. As Nat, Seamus, and I were nursing our drinks while watching the Cubs lose one more game, we somehow started talking about gambling. I jokingly asked when the three of us were finally going to go to the casino in Indiana, since we always talked about it.
Seamus took one last swig of his Sharp’s NA beer and said, “Let’s do it. Let’s go right now.”
Before I knew it, the Chicago skyline was a blurry memory behind us, and we were on our way to Gary, Indiana to hit the riverboat casinos. It was 11:30pm by the time we got there, and Natasha and Seamus both had to work the next morning, but they didn’t seem to care.
Seamus headed off for the manly Blackjack table where people were chain smoking, drinking, and swearing a lot, while Natasha and I stuck with the girly slot machines where people were… chain smoking, drinking, and swearing a lot.
At around 2:00am, we decided to call it quits, cash in our winnings and head back home to Chicago. As Seamus was zipping down Lake Shore Drive, we saw a police squad car on the side of the road, but unfortunately noticed him just a little too late. Within seconds, the blue glow of the police lights hit me, and we heard the officer over the loudspeaker, ordering us to pull over.
The officer asked Seamus for his license, and then asked if he had been drinking. Of course, Seamus said no, but the officer asked him to get out of the car just to be sure. This is where things took a bad turn. It was 2:30am, we were exhausted, we had been tap dancing for an hour and a half, and had just spent the past two hours in a smoke-filled casino. These are not the best conditions under which to take a sobriety test.
“Okay son, I’d like you to start out by saying the alphabet backwards for me.”
When I heard him ask Seamus to do this, I thought – are you nuts? I couldn’t do that on my best day if you let me write it out! Is this to determine if he’s drunk or if he’s dyslexic? This was ridiculous! Seamus doesn’t even drink alcohol, but he’s going to fail this test due to sheer fatigue and smoke inhalation!
Seamus got hung up somewhere around the letter U, at which point the officer decided to try another test.
“All right. Now I’d like you to stand on one leg, put your other leg straight out, and count to 30 like this: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, and so on. Okay, go.”
Natasha and I just watched helplessly through the rear windshield as Seamus struggled to maintain his balance. This was about the point where Nat started to freak out. I don’t know – maybe it was the $100 in quarters that was weighing down her pockets, maybe it was the sugar high from her dinner of Kit Kats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but she started to talk crazy.
She turned to me, clutched my hand tightly, pointed toward Lake Michigan and said, “Let’s just keep driving, Jenny. What if we just kept on driving?”
“You mean…?”
“Yeah, let’s just go. There’s nothing back there for us anyway!”
I threw the last of my Diet Coke in Nat’s face to snap her out of this and said, “Look – we can’t leave Seamus behind! Besides – neither of us knows how to drive stick!”
No, I knew that running wasn’t the answer. We’d been running from this for too long already.
“You know what we need to do, Nat, so let’s just do it.”
We both slid our tap shoes on and stepped out of the car, like two gunslingers at high noon. All you could hear were the waves of Lake Michigan gently lapping against the shore, and the steady click, click, clickety, click of our shoes on the pavement as we approached the officer.
Seamus was sweating as he valiantly tried to hold the swan pose and continue his countdown, but I could see in his eyes that he was a broken man.
Nat just started steadily snapping out a beat on her fingers, and I yelled, “Five – six. And five – six – seven – eight!
As Nat and I dove into the routine we had learned earlier today, Seamus slowly lifted his head, a look of fierce determination sweeping over him. He put his right leg down, turned to face the officer, and started to grin as I shouted, “Show me the Cincinnati, Seamus! Show me what you’ve got!”
The three of us pulled off the impossible: a flawless Cincinnati leading into the soft shoe essence with break, ending with a sugar combination. As Nat, Seamus, and I sidestepped and jazz-handed our way back to the car, the officer grabbed Seamus by the collar.
“Not so fast, son! I’m citing you for driving under the influence. Under the influence… of excessive rhythm! Ha ha ha! In all my years on the force… whew! That was really something. All right, all right. So you’re not drunk. But you were still going 15 miles over the speed limit, so you’ll have to follow me to the station to post your bond if you want to get your driver’s license back.”
So there we were: 2:45am. Sitting in a police station downtown waiting for Seamus’ paperwork to be completed so we could get back to some much needed sleep.
I’d like to have a happy ending to this story. I’d like to be able to say that Seamus saw the error of his ways, and realized that tap wasn’t holding him back, but in fact it was tap that had set him free. Unfortunately, as of this writing, he is still resolved to give up tap forever. I can only hang onto the thread of hope that he will realize that if he does that, he will regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of his life.

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