It has always been said that Parker McGilvry was a damn good dance teacher and even a better dancer. She was always younger than average
for her profession but she could expertly guide the rhythmically challenged and assured that the most pitiful retained their self-esteem. She began
early in life, teaching her older brothers how to dance well enough for proms and weddings and she was immediately effective at teaching the
unteachable. There was no patronizing Parker and the intelligent acquaintances recognized it early enough to take full advantage of it. Her
brothers have distinct recollections of her, even at the age of seven, taking her brotherís friends by the hand on the morning of a major dance
and giving each of them a personalized primer on how to dance. Hulking football players carefully being effortlessly led by a seven year old girl
was a sight to behold.
Parker could dance effortlessly to any music genre: salsa to swing from ballroom to mambo, it came to her effortlessly. Her abilities continued to transcend her age and she was confident she could take anyone and make them a passable dancer. She enjoyed dancing but she preferred teaching someone to love the beauty of dancing even more than just dancing for her own personal enjoyment. If she concentrated and sacrificed, Parker could have won major competitions but she did not want to specialize in one dance style at the expense of another so she quietly deferred offers to participate. The idea of dancing by rote and suffocated by judging requirements offended Parker. To dance was to love life and that purity had to be protected: she loved to dance and loved to teach and the combination of those two attributes kept her life simple.
Also, that conclusion was achieved by anyone who met her and anyone who doubted the claim would quickly retract that doubt once they met. She didnít overthink dancing and she did not see the steps or structure of established dances in her head when she danced; she just allowed the music to move her in whatever direction and it always worked. She was oblivious to everything except the music and her partner because that was the goal of dancing: to enjoy the adventure with someone else and not to look back. She always felt that arbitrary dance steps and types of dancing were just labels for the approximate feelings one received when hearing music so, for the sake of consistency, she used those labels but never cared for them. She danced how she danced when she heard music, allowed the music to transport her without reluctance to the place where art and movement melded. Every time the music began in every venue she danced, the downbeat of any song would start her heart to race; she could see her dancing and instinctively move without thinking to music both familiar and new.
She had a unique first name and she never got a satisfactory answer on why her parents decided to name her ďParkerĒ as there was no family friend or relative with a name remotely similar to Parker. The name also was not tied to a gender; in fact, it was more of a last name than a first name. She was the target of some smart remarks growing up but mainly from the cruel reality that focuses some children on mocking other childrenís names. There were always worse names to redirect the peer abuse but Parker stayed above the fray and didnít fixate on it. She also was the friend of every oversized athlete in the school thanks to her emergency dance lessons. Every football player and football playerís brother owed Parker favors going back ten years and thanks to her generosity in times of their panic, she was untouchable and any level of abuse was not tolerated. In fact, teenage boys learned not even to tease her in any way; even good natured, as immediate punishment would be delivered with chilly efficiency and impressive effectiveness.
Parker was oblivious to her invulnerability along with any affairs of the heart. Neither intrigued her, as she was preoccupied with the beauty of art of dancing. There were boys she liked and boys she dated but she never fell into the confusing and tortuous times of adolescent love. She knew that arena was completely without logic and she was mature enough to realize that trap and wisely steered clear of it. She was a completely normal teenager and had her share of heartache and success, but the cruelty of growing up, for the most part, was avoided through the insulation of the joy of dancing. She was a first glance, an attractive and popular teenage girl with good friends and a well-rounded life.
What separated her from everyone was her ability to dance like no other. It wasnít hip shaking and attention-getting gyrations to the latest songs, it was her pure talent to dance perfectly and balance the intent of the music and the rhythm of her partner. She made the slow-footed and the awkward nimble without them knowing it while they danced. Once the dance was over, a perennial wallflower would be flush with satisfaction and they would thank her sincerely for the experience. The desire to dance with Parker was not based in any romantic intent, due to the reality of Parkerís love of dancing was contagious. The newly initiated would understand her love for dancing and defend her to the ignorant, who foolishly chose not to make Parker their friend. Growing up, you learn everyone canít be your friend and people still exist today who regretted not getting to know her when she was there.
Throughout her education, Parker did fine at all school subjects and consistently demonstrated solid proficiencies in the technical sciences and mathematics. She had scored impressively high in standardized tests and was viewed as a very good student with a wide variety of academic options in front of her. She showed high promise in both math and geography but the two disciplines held no interest to her as she was content with her place in life and felt that after an appropriate amount of time, she would continue to give dance lessons. Under considerable family pressure, Parker had acquiesced and attended the University of Virginia to pursue a degree, major undecided.
She began school with no clear-cut plan of action and waded into the throngs of higher education as one of the thousands of undecided freshman. However, she hated to begin a journey with no direction and the status of an undecided freshman forced her to not have context in her decisions. She was not sure of the impacts of her decisions as she starting choosing classes and relying on the hypothetical was never one of Parkerís attributes. If she wasnít dancing, she hated moving without borders or directions. With music, she would use the notes and rhythms are her foundation before she took any chances with improvised steps. Being undecided was showing weakness, so after as she was safely enrolled in required freshman classes for her first semester, Parker decided to get her major in place. She agonized on her potential choices, and thanks to her grades, there were many.
To major in dance was completely incongruous to Parker as dancing transcended standard grading convention and the idea of someone else telling you what you accomplished during a dance was laughable. Dancing was pure energy and a celebration of spirit that did not and would not be confined some frustrated dance professorís momentary whims or preoccupations. She gravitated to the sciences and was determined to find a major that equally respected science and art. After an exhaustive study of the Universityís course catalogue, the only area that remained was the discipline of Architecture. The University had a great reputation of Architecture and Parkerís grades to date and references made her acceptance a forgone conclusion. She felt Architecture was as close to dance as she wished to venture.
She continued to dance and teach while at school and moved across campus elegantly and without a burden of books or dancing paraphernalia. Surrounded by hunkered-down students with backpacks jammed with books and other necessities, Parker was unburdened and moved easily amongst the weighed-down undergrads. She didnít carry a bag of any sort and whatever she was wearing would work just fine for dance. If she planned on teaching after her school day ended, Parker would go to class with a composition notebook and then walk over to the studio, toss down the notebook, and start. As the spontaneity of the music surrounded her, she realized her mental approach to dance was far more important that hauling rehearsal shoes and dancewear with her. If she was there and the music was on, she would instinctively gravitate to the dance floor and begin to do whatever crossed her mind.
When she was comfortable with a partner, she would dance a lot with her eyes closed. The partner always viewed that as a sign of confidence and that gave them the courage to stay out there a bit longer. Parker continued to dance and scouted out several promising dance leads in Richmond. She was always asked questions about her abilities and she always answered in the same way.
"Parker," someone would gush, "You are an incredible dancer. You should dance professionally."
"I do dance professionally," she would counter.
"No, that is not what I mean," the interchangeable voice would continue, "You should go to New York or somewhere and join a troupe or get on Broadway."
"I love to dance," said Parker, "and the quickest way to kill something you love is have other people tell you what you should be thinking and doing."
And that is how many conversations ended.
Her first two years were filled with pre-requisites that barely contained her interest and annoying pre-Architecture classes that were led by frustrated Teacherís Assistants and Instructors who would constantly giving up their souls for a shot at a tenure track. Evidentially in the world of Architecture, those who could build, built. And those would couldnít build anything viable, became Assistant Professors and those who couldnít do either, became Instructors whose only pleasure was brow-beating new students with their impressive recollection of great projects in which they had no part. Parker wisely kept her conclusions to herself and chose not to engage with any of the instructors who were frustrated with societyís inability to recognize their genius.
Also, as her years at Virginia continued, Parker found sincere dance instructors who loved dance as much as she did but were woeful in comparison to her abilities. After a few minutes of discussion, people could tell that she was something special and wanted to give her all the room she needed. The ones that providing no boundaries or demands would see Parker on a regular basis and the ones that wanted to drain her of her talent by taking her time and attention would never see her again. She was again asked to become partners with individuals with the dubious goal of dancing professionally but she turned them down. To dance for other reasons than the love of dance was insulting and she always was careful not to overthink it.
She did not dance much on campus because of the fear of becoming a reluctant supernumerary in the chorus of a painful rendition of some musical. Or even worse fear, being forced to dance in a certain way for some harried and finite assistant dance director. She hated when the phrase "a certain way" appeared and it usually appeared after someone watched her dance one way and someone else wanted her to dance another way to prop up their own creative vision. That phrase kept her steering away from organized dance troupes as much as anything. When she heard a piece of music for the first time, she knew exactly how to dance it. She may have all the steps choreographed, but she had the confidence that she would do it correctly and she would then add transition steps as she went. When she danced, she didnít run a cost benefit of her actions. She danced within the music and took her partner with her because it was her belief that opinions when interpreting music and dance were dangerous and usually led the artist in the wrong direction.
She felt that dance lines, dance competitions and non-essential dancing troupes were troubling because the true dancing took a back seat to commercialism and profit at the expense of the art. As a conscious reaction to the dance industry, she loved teaching children and made every effort to work with them versus better paying adults. Their lack of fear and pure enjoyment reaffirmed her decision to remain above all earthly pursuits of dance by not selling out and contaminate the beauty and art of dancing. Children would gravitate to her much like a magician, with eyes full of wonderment and a desire to see and feel things that, up to this point, were invisible and new.
When she danced, she flew. She didnít know the names of many of the dance styles but when a certain type of music began, she instinctively moved with the music without knowing why. When she had traveled, she experienced many cultures from Latin to tap, to Urban, and she fit right in. If you showed her a step once, she had it nailed and if you were going to show her something new, you had to get on the dance floor with her. No stupid little foot printed forms or lame instructions telling her to move this foot and then that foot. "Shut up and dance," she thought numerous times.
While in Richmond, Parker dutifully completed her projects in her classes. Gluing and cutting hundreds of landforms and cardboard buildings was part of her senior assignments although it seemed foolish to assess the process instead of the final project. The ironic aspect of Architecture, Parker mused, was that "the only thing you didnít do in Architecture was build things." She was inspired by some architecture; the soaring spans above functional structures and the buildings that not only provided functional shelter for its inhabitants but also presented itself in a daring and thought-provoking manner. Some buildings were squat, boring boxes with traditional, dull presentations. Painfully safe attempts at creativity troubled Parker and she asked her advisor, a junior Professor who ignored the politics of publishing to concentrate on teaching, why people continually under achieve their goals.
"Great question, Parker." said the Professor, "I have always been saddened when I see some new and exciting young Architect play it safe. They start out with fresh ideas and the challenge of continually impressing the public becomes too much."
"So many structures are just tired variations on a theme," responded Parker, "and the original idea is great but becomes tired after the tenth iteration. Why donít they take a chance?"
"Once they have a reputation, they donít want to lose it," said the Professor. "They take their chances early and once they achieve notoriety, most of them fear not having another good idea and begin questioning their own talent. Instead of building new dreams, they fall into the trap of non-failure. And non-failure makes for boring Architecture."
"Arenít they aware that many of their works are just variations on a theme?" asked Parker.
"They all know that," sighed the Professor sarcastically, "They come visit me, we have a few drinks and they all lament that they are just playing it safe, making small variations on their only good idea. I see them shrink and turn inward like they are living a lie. I tell them to read The Fountainhead but I doubt if they even know what I am talking about."
Parker took the insights to heart and vowed, as best she could, not to fall into the same trap. She knew that it was easier said than done because dreams, in the beginning, are always pure within and once they are presented to the world, all kinds of pressures are applied to them. So, she accepted the lesson from her advisor and left for a nearby studio. Parker viewed dancing as a treat and after a particularly arduous examination or challenging project deadline; she would head off to one of a friendly studio and just dance. By this time, she never had to seek permission to dance, she would walk in, wave at the attendees and find an open studio and begin. If there were no open studios, she would join a class and help out an instructor without asking for partial credit. She never undermined or corrected instructions but would jump into a group and just make things better. She would make slight adjustments in peopleís footwork but taking a passive lead. She felt that success on the dance floor had to be owned by the individual and she made every effort to allow for the epiphanies to occur without her credit. If the individual felt excited, they would continue dancing. She would not gain any satisfaction by telling someone that her efforts were the reason they were having fun. Instructors loved seeing Parker in their group because they knew their students were all going to leave happy and feeling great about the lesson and not really sure why it was so wonderful.
After awhile, once the joy subsided into happiness, Parker would pick up her stuff and leave the studio as quietly as she came in. A wave to the group and she would leave to go study and get something to eat. Parker was a thinker and the Professorís insights hit home with her. She knew that she couldnít just dance for the rest of her life; leg and back injuries and the lack of real income would eventually slow her down but she knew she could use her dancing to become a great architect.
As her graduation approached, she started thinking about her career but not from the perspective of needing a job but from the need to finding the right job. She would do what was expected of her but the thought of designing cookie-cutter strip mall shells or pre-fabricated government housing made her want to puke. She wanted to work somewhere innovation was the rule but not at the expense of functionality. She enjoyed architects that left their own personal mark on a project but an influence or attribute that complimented the overall structure without diminishing its purpose. There were several young architects that were hot right now but she remembered the Professorís advice that their "hotness" was likely just momentary and they would eventually cool off and play it safe. There were established firms that produced their share of innovation but only innovation that was planned. Also, the prospect of spending five years as a large firm clerical monkey was mind-numbing and she feared if she was part of the world, whatever inherent creativity would be sucked out, with a chance of it never returning. Both choices had their obvious traps and Parker concluded there had to be a better way.
She scoured the trade journals and looked for a firm that didnít purposely market itself but rather placed the project in front of their name. A firm that the smart people knew about but didnít make the unctuous top ten lists that seemed to be more of an advertising strategy to place classified ads than anything. But architecture was not immune to logrolling and self-aggrandizement was the usual order of the day. There had to be someone or some company that had already figured it out. One Washington D.C.firm, Moser Architects, kept coming up in her research but there was almost nothing tangible she could find out about it. Urban legend had it headed by a young hotshot who refused to give up control on projects.
The legend stated that clients were constantly pleading the firm to take on a project and would immediately acquiesce to whatever the founder, Martin Moser wanted. Clients would tell Moser in general terms where the project had to be located and a few simple details and that was about it. If the firm wanted Moser to take the gig, they would drop a serious amount of money up front and let Moser do what they did well: build perfect buildings.
Moser felt that the building was the true client, as it would stand the test of time. Companies are continually merging and acquiring so corporation identities were transient at best. The buildings would be the center of attention and the current inhabitantís needs would be considered but they would not dictate anything specific or take priority over the overall needs of all people or the environment. Some companies would agree just for the status of Moser doing one of their buildings. But they would try to change their tune, a nonplussed Moser would warn the meddling company once and that was it.
Legend had it, once an obnoxious billionaire kept pushing his agenda down Martin Moserís throat and ignored all agreements that were contingent on Moser taking the project. As the start of business one morning, an express shipment showed up at the Chairmanís office. Inside the large box was the entire project: estimates, sketches, AutoCAD software, CDís, zip drives, files and everything else that was generated to date. On the top of the pile was a note, in red, from Martin Moser that said, "Kiss my ass. Ė MM." One more thing, the overnight package was the size of a washing machine and the package was charged to the Companyís account.
Of course, the billionaire went nuts and called in his entire staff of lawyers. He ranted and fumed and threatened everything he could think of at the moment. He made it clear to the entire group of suits that he wanted Martin Moser on his knees, begging forgiveness. After a review of the contracts, the senior counsel went to see the Chairman with a simple message: Moser was untouchable and was completely within his rights. The package remained in the Chairmanís office for about two months because no one wanted to take this mountain of critical documentation too far away because the entire effort for the building was in there, representing several million dollars of investment to date.
To lose the contents would be to set back the project another six months. In the meantime, the Chairman had to communicate to the entire company that due to his own actions; the desperately needed building would be unavoidably delayed, with no new date available to be communicated. Eventually, the Chairman called Martin Moser and pleaded to give the company one more chance. Martin listened and said he would consider it in about two months, as the resources initially assigned to the Billionaireís building would be returning from other projects. Well, the Chairman popped another bolt and screamed at Martin. Martin was unapologetic and politely said goodbye. That night, hoping for some leverage, the Chairman ordered the package sent back (collect) to Moser Architects, to attention of Martin Moser. The box was picked up and the Chairman was pleased until the next morning when the package returned yet again to his office. The overnight company let it be known that they refused to send the package back as they were in the final negotiations with Moser for a new corporate headquarters and did not want to alienate him. The boxís travels, as a final straw, were again charged to the billionaire.
The moral of the story was to play it straight with Moser and let them do their job. They would do it perfectly, compromise on nothing and bring in the project on time and on budget. As people departed the billionaireís company, and turnover was always well above industry standard, the story of the egotistical billionaire chairman was spread throughout all industries and legend status was achieved. To his credit, Martin Moser never talked about the issue, even to his closest friends, as he viewed client relationships (even bad ones) as confidential. His silence only perpetuated his myth as the creator and builder of worlds.
When Parker heard this story, she was andrenilized. Finally, she had heard something that made her excited about what she wanted to do. Moser seemed like the perfect place to work and she set that as her goal. Unfortunately, the billionaire/Moser story had to be partial fiction and caused hundreds of young and idealistic architects to declare Moser their top employment goal. The crowds were made worse by one more fact: Moser was never officially hiring and it was standard practice that all unsolicited correspondence and portfolios were returned unopened with a brief but polite letter stating that no employment opportunities existed. There was no vague open-ended comment about if things got busier or a name would be kept somewhere on file, it was a firm and complete "no thank you." On the bright side, they paid for the return postage.
Undaunted, Parker had her goal in sight. As graduation approached, she did not sign up for on-campus interviews but she began her campaign to work for Martin Moser. She continued to do research and teach dance to supplement her income but she felt that finally, her goal was identified. She wanted to work with a pure and creative collection of architectural professionals who put the project ahead of all things common and compromised. She also did not rely on the urban legends but called everyone she knew for additional insights on Moser; from her Professor to any friend she could contact. The Professor had been used as a potential source of information before, by many students prior to Parker, but he felt her motivation was pure and said he would try to help. Many of her friends from Richmond also said they would try and the sheer multitude of them made Parker feel optimistic. Over the years, her dance students spanned every conceivable type of industry and service. There were occupations of all sorts ranging from professional athletes, politicians from both parties and basic captains of industry.
Parker was always polite and had never asked for anything in return so when she reached out to an old friend, the act of the favor got everyoneís attention. They would ask her why she wanted this so bad because most of them didnít know why she ever studied architecture in the first place. She told all who asked, that she needed to redirect her energies into a place that nurtured beauty and architecture was very similar to dance in that regard. Without giving in to the earthly influences, whether it gravity or someoneís opinion, the beauty of something perfect would continue to fly above the ground. Once hearing that, everyone promised they would do what they could, call someone else but to a person, everyone wanted to help and that was all Parker could ask.
Time went on and the return calls became rare as people tried to figure out a way into the impregnable company of Moser Architects. Parker, needed money, began teaching full-time at a local dance studio and was happy with doing something she loved while she waited. In the evenings, Parker continued to sketch projects, read professional journals and volunteer her time but the thought of Moser made all other opportunities seem underwhelming. Her students continued to experience epiphanies, from little children to married couples stuck with a swing dance coupon; the summer was busy and fulfilling. One evening, when returning home, she noticed her answering machine blinking with several messages. The Moser calls were a distant memory but anytime she saw the light, she hoped some news would be waiting. There were six messages and each one seemed to yammer on for maximum time: telemarketer, a co-worker wanting Parker to pick up a class, a few hang-ups and this one:
"Hello, Parker McGilvry? My name is Martin Moser and I wish to speak to you." A phone number was left and a polite good-bye and the answering machine fell silent. Parker almost fell over. Her mind began to race: was it a joke? Was she dreaming? She replayed it over and over again and was convinced, by the tone and manner of the voice, that it indeed was Martin Moser although she had no idea how he sounded. She had no clue how he got her phone number nor did she have any idea who was responsible for making the contact but at this time, it didnít matter.
She called the number the next morning and Martin Moser picked up and said hello. She composed herself and said, "Hello, Mr. Moser. My name is Parker McGilvry and I am returned your call."
"Hello, Parker," said the voice, "I wish to talk to you about working here. I hear you are a great talent."
To hear a legend like Moser say that made Parker blush. She thanked him and made an appointment for that afternoon. She walked into a nondescript but elegant office building and studied the layout. Everything made sense and the colors and structure complimented each other. The building was bright and was filled with natural light and workable space. She walked to the receptionist desk and asked for Martin Moser. The receptionist looked at her, smiled and said to go to the third floor. As she walked towards the glass elevator, she was surprised that it was that easy considered the impregnability that had seemed to surround this company. No one seemed impressed that she had a face to face with a legitimate legend, everyone appeared seemed preoccupied with other things.
She got in the elevator with her portfolio, punched three and waited. In a moment, the doors did open to a light-colored foyer with a large M almost invisible within the wall. As she walked towards the M, she noticed a medium-sized man sitting on a desk in a polite conversation with someone with a large roll of drawings.
He was animated but not manic and their conversational tone implied a conciliatory and thoughtful discussion. As she approached, he looked at her with bright eyes, and said, "Parker?"
"Yes, I am," said Parker, "nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you as well," said the bright-eyed man.
He hopped off the desk, via an unconscious and unknowning jÍte, and landed effortlessly and perfectly.
He said, "I am working with this talented and pleasant individual and we are arguing some of the merits of this project."
He introduced Parker to a pleasant looking young man and continued.
"This building should work but it doesnít. The plans meet all our objectives, it is a solid, well thought out plan but something is missing. And we continue to argue."
"You continue to argue," said the pleasant looking young man.
"You, we," said Moser, "same thing."
"Well, I agree there are problems," said the pleasant looking young man, "what do you think?"
Parker couldnít believe the question was being asked of her. She thought this was going to be a standard interview and all of a sudden, two individuals with apparently great architectural talents, were asking her opinions. She tossed her portfolio and handbag on the floor, took off her coat, and looked at the plans.
"Tell me about the surrounding land," requested Parker, "Do you have air and surface pictures?"
A box of pictures were handed to her, she quickly put them in two piles and kept going. The rhythms of the building were coming to her and she moved elegantly around the table from the blueprints, to the mock-ups and then back to the pictures. The conversation between the three of them was building, ideas tossed out, challenges and rhetorical questions were bounced off each other. Time went on and all of a sudden, Parker was eating lunch that had appeared from nowhere. After three hours, she said, "I know what is bugging me about this building."
Simultaneously, Moser and the pleasant-looking young man said, "What is it?"
"The building isnít beautiful, it has to be beautiful" concluded Parker. "It has everything it needs: it compliments the local environment, it works for the employee as well as the passerby but it isnít as beautiful as it should be."
"I agree," said the pleasant looking young man.
"So, do I" said Martin Moser, "keep working on it." And he elegantly walked away.
"It sounds like I got the job," said Parker.
Martin just smiled and gave a thumbs up and disappeared around a corner.
Back to Short Stories