by Miles Rost
The day of reckoning had come.
In a gigantic building just off the main drag in downtown Portland, Oregon, nearly 700 people milled around the ground floor. On the 4th floor of the building, it was announced that there would be a major banquet occurring. The announcement of the 15 new dancers of the Portland Ballet would happen at the same time as the banquet.
For half of the dancers, this was a happy occasion for them. For the other half, it meant certain doom as they couldn’t even gain a pound. And for one man, it was an opportunity to not only get a chance at a possible paying gig, but a chance to eat. It would sure beat eating ramen and cream of mushroom soup every night.
Larry Burnell’s admission to the audition was a complete accident. A street person, he was not someone people would think as having any sort of talent. In fact, most people thought of him as a complete bum.
The day before the audition, he was walking from his claimed piece of a sidewalk down 1st Street close to the Morrison Bridge, walking towards the Union Gospel Mission to get a blanket. He saw a red envelope on the ground and looked at it carefully. The name on the envelope was close to his: Lawrence Burnett, and it was addressed to someone at Portland State University. He looked inside and saw his ticket.
He went back to his small camp and rummaged through his stuff, picking up a small harmonica case. He pulled the harmonica out and picked out two $100 bills. It was all he had left, and he was going to use it to try and take advantage of this situation. He went to the local YMCA and took a shower, cleaning himself really well. He even was able to use some floral shampoo that someone left in the showers. After changing into some semi-nice clothes that he used for interviews, he went to a barber to get a shave and a haircut.
He went into the shop looking like a bedraggled 45 year old, and came out looking like a university student. The most important part was complete. He took a dollar and made a call to his mother, who lived in North Portland. While they were estranged, he still had some stuff there at her place. He asked her if he could come up and pick up a couple items from his boxes. She agreed, and that evening, he had his dancing clothes in his hands and ready to go. He went back down to his pad, and had one of his neighbors watch his stuff for the night. He would return the next night.
He slept at a cheap motel that night, so he could have a great night’s rest. He knew that would be important.
He went to the information desk at the gigantic building that day, refreshed and looking nothing like his bedraggled self the night before.
“Can I help you?” the lady at the counter asked.
“Yes, I am here for the audition.”
“The envelope says Lawrence Burnett. I’m afraid that they got my name wrong.”
“What’s your actual name?”
After a little shifting, she gave him his numbers, and told him to go to the third floor to wait. He did as they said, and waited. He waited for nearly 3 hours, and his number was finally called.
“Come with me, please.”
He was led to a large ballroom and a long set of tables with 7 judges behind it.
“You are,” the head judge started to say, flipping his chart up, “Lawrence Burnell?”
“That is my name, yes.”
“What do you do for a living.”
“I am a man of the road, most times. I’m a student at this time, though.”
“I hope that I don’t have to repeat myself…”
The head judge just sighed, and put on his best air.
“Are you here for the food, by perchance?”
“Actually, I have been trained in the arts in prior years and I believe that I can do a great job with the Portland Ballet.”
“Well, before you can eat, you gotta dance like Fred Astaire.”
“Wouldn’t Mikhail Baryshnikov be more like what I’m going for?”
The other judges bust out laughing at the head judge for such a mixup.
“Can you dance?”
“Of course I can dance. You bet I can dance.”
The judges gave him the piece of music. It was one that Larry recognized very well, as he danced it in the 1980s with the Sydney Ballet in Australia. Dancing to the song “No Promises” by Icehouse, he did his moves. All of the members of the judging team were shocked that a man of the road would be so good at this.
He ended the performance, and the judges looked stunned. The head judge then cleared his throat.
“Alright, we’ll tally up the score and at the banquet, you’ll find out the results. Please go to the door on your left and proceed to the banquet hall.”
He did, and when he got to the banquet hall, he looked around at the food that was set up. Being one of the last dancers, he got there just as they opened things up. A young lady approached him and smiled.
“Admiring the food aren’t ya?”
“Is there water coming from my eyes?”
She laughed, and put out her hand.
He was so astonished by what he saw in the food, he didn’t pay much attention to Jenny.
“Oh my, they got ham. They have turkey. And…is that caviar?!?!”
Jenny seemed to be willing to finish his sentence for him.
“They also have long tall glasses of wine up to…YAR!”
She made a big motion with her hands.
He smiled, and asked her if he could join her for the evening’s proceedings. She agreed, and they both filled up on food and drink. They had a great time, while some others were worried about their figures. After a couple hours, the head judge from Larry’s tryout came up to the podium and cleared his throat again.
“We are going to announce the lucky people who will have a position with the Portland Ballet this year. When your name is called, please assemble in a line at the front of the podium.”
5 names were announced, and the winners went up to the front and waved.
“The 6th member of this year’s troupe is Jenny Carazzo.”
Jenny jumped up and gave a hoot. She gave Larry a hug and bolted up to the front. To say that she was happy would have been a great understatement.
8 more members were called, and Larry just kept eating and drinking.
‘The last name on our list is a surprise, as it was someone that we didn’t know had prior experience. We have a former member of the Sydney Ballet in our midst, and I’d like to welcome the last person who will dance for the Portland Ballet this year. Mr. Larry Burnell.”
Larry’s eyes popped out of his head at this, and after swallowing the food that he was eating, he wiped off his mouth and went to the front. He stood next to Jenny as he heard the applause.
Jenny looked at him in shock.
“You actually had to audition, when you were a member of a troupe before?”
“Jenny, that was almost 25 years ago. Another place, another time. I’ve been homeless since ’99. I’m just happy to be able to do this now, and rebuild my life.”
“Me too, Larry. Me too.”