Papa Was a Rodeo

Photograph by Jose Padua
In those days when I was still a consumer
of other people’s hours, I watched as a dancer
in a strip joint held onto the pole, in the pale
yellow light of the stage, and started singing
wildly off key to “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers.

It was, perhaps, not kind of song you’d usually
hear at a strip joint. More often or not it would
be some raunchy rock and roll tune that you
couldn’t help but grunt to, like “You Shook
Me All Night Long,” and the smoothest

thing you’d ever hear would be along the lines of
“This feelin’s funk, that’s what it is, let it get
into you” from “Funkin’ for Jamaica.” So
to hear this Bill Withers tune that nearly
always picked me up from a bad sort of

funk, in the sleaziest strip joint downtown,
confused me more than a dozen watered down
cocktails could. I sat there several feet away
from the stage, watching the dancer, listening
to her horrible singing, and when she got

toward the end of the song where Bill Withers
sings the word “day” and holds the note for
what feels like half a minute, she held the note
just as long as Bill Withers did, her pitch
even more off than before and painful, too.

But like Columbus searching for a passage
to the East Indies and reaching America instead,
and bringing disease and enslaving its native
peoples, there’s something to be said about
a person’s mistakes and failures, and some-

times none of it’s good, and though I always
went downtown, rain or shine, I never went
to that dive strip joint again, though for the
dancer I’m sure it wasn’t so simple a choice,
and though she had opportunities to leave,

she had less than me, and more to lose. And
I’m trying to use my own hours now, and use
them wisely, as I stand up straight, stretch and
spin between old gray buildings and older
green mountains, seeking a sense of balance.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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