Friday, March 13, 2015

Consider the Source (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

I was thinking earlier this week about courage. The bravery it takes to stand up to a bully is a character-building exercise that we all face at some point in our lives, however much we are protected as children. 

Bullies are not always physically threatening, either. Sometimes, it is just as difficult to hold to a point of principle in a conversation with co-workers as it is to not back down to an threat of force.

For five years (a decade ago), my spouse and I were part of a unique community that met each week on Sunday afternoon at the Carnation Plaza in Disneyland. This is an open-walled, roofed dance floor where, until the late 90s, the Disneyland band played ballroom dance and swing music for four hours every Sunday that the park was open to the public. 

The coterie of regular dancers would begin to gather, staking out several tables at the pavilion, buying something to eat to claim a spot, about 30 minutes before the band began playing. The braver among us would get out on the floor to do warm-ups to the Muzak. By the time the band assembled, there would be ten to thirty couples ready to dance.

Many of the passers-by in the crowds of park-goers doubtless believed the dancers were park employees. (We weren't, but we did have name-tags made by one of the members of the group that looked something like park employee name-tags.) There were standouts among the dancers: Dub and Rose had been dancing at the park since the plaza opened. They had danced vaudeville before retiring, and now danced for the joy of it. Other couples were standouts for their skill, costumes or beauty, but Dub and Rose communicated the sheer pleasure of dancing with each other as no one else on the floor did.

As the band heated up, and the dance-floor filled, the passing crowds would pause, lean against the railing at the edge, and watch. They saw dancers with skill-levels that ranged from professional to "just dancing". As was the case with Disneyland then, the visitors were mostly genial, happy, and friendly. Occasionally we could draw someone onto the floor to take part.

But once when we were still new to the group of regulars, there was a cluster of observers who had been partying a little too hard, who had left their inhibitions (or manners) at the gate. Not content to move on and find something more to their liking, they parked at the railing near the entrance to the Plaza from Main Street, and voiced their general dissatisfaction with the music and the dancing. Loudly. 

It is only in retrospect that I have identified them as bullies, taking pleasure in forcing others to put up with their opinionsspoiling for a fight, perhaps, to add to their thrill of throwing their weight around in Disneyland.

And thus we come to the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge for this week:

March 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the bully mentality countered with a different, unexpected or kind action. Bullies can be known or incognito; Goliaths or small-minded; in-person or online. Think of ways to unplug a bully’s power. Show characters with strength and dignity and even humor.

Unplugging the power of these loud-mouths to ruin our dancing was exactly what Dub did in the true flash that follows:

Consider the Source

Each time around the park's dance-floor, passing the crowd of snickering guys standing outside the railed edge, my neck got redder. Whenever my partner and I passed one particularly loud heckler, he would holler, "You can't dance, fatty! Get off the floor!"

Dub and Rose, the eighty-something stars of the Disneyland dance floor, made a point of sitting with us when we finally left the floor, shoulders drooping. I have never forgotten his words:

"Keep one thing in mind when you hear criticism like that. YOU are dancing in public, enjoying yourself with a wonderful partner. THEY don't dare."

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