Over sushi the other day I was explaining to a friend (who had barely seen the show), why The Office was so special. Among other reasons, I insisted that Michael Scott (the lead played by Steve Carell) was one of the greatest characters ever created for TV. He makes you laugh, he makes you cry, and most episodes he makes you feel so awkward you’ll want to roll into a ball and crawl into a corner.
Late in Season 5, there’s an episode called ‘Café Disco’ in which Michael tries without any success to get his employees to come dance in a makeshift club he’s set up in an empty storage space below them. The entire episode is filled with plenty of hilarity—laughs from top to bottom. At the end though, when everyone actually has made their way down to the storage room and is boogying to YMCA, they pan to a shot of Michael’s face, taking it all in. Then he glances at the camera and without any words says to us, “How great is this?”
They capture that face of his quite a bit and frankly, it makes my heart melt. It is why I love Michael Scott. Despite his ridiculousness and frequent inability to read social cues, he has this off and on yet keen awareness of life’s simple but priceless moments.
Watching ‘Café Disco’ reminded me of one of my own dance parties, one from my childhood. It was a Friday or Saturday evening in the summer. I can’t imagine I was more than than 7 or 8 since my older sister was still hanging out with us on a weekend night. We were having a hula-hoop party—my sister, my two brothers, my mom, and I. A hula-hoop party was when we blasted oldies from the 60’s and my mom timed us as we spun a purple and white plastic circle around our waist, neck, and arms. It was a competition. (But not really. By the time I got the hang of hula-hooping, I whooped em’ all—always.)
I remember my dad coming home from work that night. He was a doctor in the ER so he always worked long shifts, at least 12 hours. When he came home everything usually shut down. He wanted his chair, and the remote, and relative quiet so he could watch his program. We were always thrilled to have him back even though it often meant a sort of subduing of the environment.
As my older brother O.D. skillfully twirled the hula-hoop around his arm, I could see my dad in his plaid bathrobe, approaching our sunken living room. I remember just a moment of feeling disappointed, knowing the fun we were having was about to end. I felt especially bummed because ‘Rockin’ Robin’ by Bobby Day had just come on—I loved that song. I looked at my brother and whispered loudly over the music, “Dad’s here.” He slowed the hoop on his arm and let it rest, dangling over his shoulder.
Then something amazing happened. We all expected my mom to get up, to move towards the CD player and turn off the music. She’d tell me to move the ottoman back in front of my dad’s chair, and maybe tell everyone else to go put their pajamas on. Instead, she stayed where she was and my dad, in his bathrobe, glided across the brown shag carpet towards us. With Bobby Day’s sweet voice still filling the room, he grabbed the hula-hoop from my brother and tossed it over his head. He danced—if you could call it dancing. (To my 7 yr old self’s dismay I seemed to have been born to the only black man in the world without rhythm—a fact my now 36 year old self finds completely endearing.) My dad wiggled his hips and with all of his might, tried to keep the hula-hoop above his waist. Time and time again, it fell over the velour navy and maroon squares covering his bum, and slid to the floor. My siblings and I stood in a circle around him, swinging to the music and laughing so hard we could barely stand.
I remember my little brother falling to the ground, slapping the brown shag with delight. Once the hoop fell for the fourth or fifth time, the timekeeper—my mom, stepped in to help my dad out. She brought the hoop up and over their heads and around their waists and then tried her best to sway her hips enough for the both of them. As the purple and white striped circle slipped down to the floor once again, my dad flung his arm around my mom’s waist and pulled her in to dance. He led both their hands up above his head to take her for a spin, and just as she began to twirl, time stood still. I could see every face of my family of six—we were beaming. The room was full of light. Even our 120 lb Newfoundland, Dynamite, in the corner of the room seemed to be grinning from ear to ear. I remember looking at my brothers and my sister, and then at my parents and thinking, “Wow. How great is this?”
This happened all the time as a young kid—my heart so full of love and joy for something I was experiencing that it felt like it might just burst out of my chest. These moments stopped when I was about 14, right around the time my parents got divorced.
I held two thoughts about divorce and life at that time that I only now realize contradict each other:
1. Divorce is not a big deal. Almost everyone’s parents get divorced so I can’t be all sad about it. Our situation is not unique.
2. It was time to close my heart. I knew the reason I found my parent’s divorce so painful was because my heart had experienced so much joy with my family together. Closing up would mean less joy—but I also believed it would mean no pain—so at 14, that sounded like a plan.
Last weekend my hubs and I were getting off the subway in our neighborhood. I can’t remember the whole conversation clearly—all I can tell you was that there was talk of Michael Scott, and my husbands not completely crafted retelling of him mixing up the words gazpacho and Gestapo. I laughed so hard I grabbed his arm for balance.
You’ll have to ask him to be sure, but I would bet there’s not much he loves more in the world than making me laugh like that. My uproarious laughter sent him into a fit. And just like that, time stood still, again. Him there in his grey hoodie—so funny, so nerdy. I reached out and rubbed my fingers over his bald head—in affection, but also to confirm the moment was real—that life was really that good.
It was. It is. My heart opened up again at the age of 25 and has been completely exposed ever since. Lots of joy. Lots of pain. And a whole lot of glances to the camera (or the Universe) and saying with my eyes, “Wow, how great is this?”