When I was in 6th grade we lived in Park Ridge, NJ. The town was so small it had only one high school and it was 6th-12th grade. It was pretty cool actually. There were no buses. There was a lunch service but it was tiny and most kids ate at Pop’s, the lunch counter/diner next door. We could go get sandwiches and malted and stuff. I’m not even kidding. It’s like a holdover from 1953.
I remember my science teacher as being one of my favorite people. She taught me how to photograph snowflakes. She also taught me the value of the metric system. She was a great lady.
Another favorite was my English teacher. She was super nice. She always had exciting stories to tell us about her brother, Bobby. He was an actor, and she would light up the room with wild tales of his from Hollywood. Of course none of us had ever heard of him but she talked about him like he was a super star and that was enough to convince us.
I met Bobby once. He came to our school performance of Oliver! To him, I was probably just another 6th-grade orphan, covered in mud and fake Cockney accent. But to me, he had this magical aura around him for he was Bobby, Ms Leonard’s brother.
Soon after that we moved away from Park Ridge back to Washington state. I went back to being a left-coast teen ager, probably more annoying than most. The summer before I started 9th grade, my mom and step-dad took us to see the new Oscar-bait movie with Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society.
I had no idea Bobby was short for Robert.
Anyway, let’s skip ahead 5 years. Robert Sean Leonard is a now movie star. He’s not a SUPER star but you can sort of tell he’s heading there and I thought that was Rad. I mean, how can that not be cool? I made it a point to watch the movies he was in (solidarity, yo’) and I made my friends watch his movies too. Some of them weren’t the best, but I wasn’t the best judge of movies so everything was fine.
Until Swing Kids.
I’d never walked out of a movie in my life until that day. Hell, I didn’t know you were allowed to walk out of a movie so it never would have occurred to me. But red flags were all over that joint, right from the start: the stony-eyed look of the ticket seller, the empty theater, the fact that there was only one showing on the schedule—and that was the late show. Like a fool, I ignored all these signs.
I tried to like it. I really did. When they started dancing, I thought it was a mistake. I believe my exact thought was,
“Are they really doing that?”
But then the huge dance number came on where all the kids punch the air and shout Swing Heil! and I realized that, yes, they were really doing that.
That’s when I ran. I would have abandoned my friends to their fate had it not been for the fact that they were there, shoving me out of the way to get to the door first.
We never spoke of that night again.
Of course Robert Sean Leonard went on to become a huge star. I still like him too, even after Swing Kids. Hell, it’s actually because of Swing Kids that I like him. He taught the world a valuable lesson.
No matter how good your actors are, without a good writer you’re just swing dancing in Nazi Germany.
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