About a week ago I finished Christine Fletcher’s Ten Cents a Dance, which tells the story of Ruby Jacinski, a plucky girl from Chicago’s Back of the Yards in the early 1940s. After her mother’s arthritis forces her to quit her job, Ruby drops out of school and begins working in the meat-packing plant to bring in money for her family. Then the handsome neighborhood bad boy tells her of a gig where she could make $50 a week teaching men to dance at the Starlight Academy. Ruby jumps at the chance to leave the plant, and starts working at the Academy right away. Only, it’s not a dance school, it’s a taxi dance hall where the girls are “rented” for dances, like taxis, as the owner describes it. Many patrons have their favorite girls—showering them with gifts and dinners in exchange for their company and sometimes more… Soon Ruby is sucked farther into the seedy, and sometimes exciting and oft’ times dangerous, side of prewar Chicago filled with jazz, alcohol and powerful people.
Fletcher’s narrative drew me in and kept me on the edge of my seat. I’m pretty sure I skipped multiple paragraphs at the end because I was too impatient. I just had to know what happened to Ruby! But, one thing kept drawing me out of the book—Ruby’s relationship with Paulie. Don’t get me wrong, Fletcher wrote Ruby’s relationship with the mysterious tough guy beautifully, I just kept coming back to my own experiences with “bad boys” and wondering why women keep turning to them.
Now, my bad boy isn’t really a bad boy. He isn’t a mobster like Paulie or any other kind of criminal. He doesn’t ride a motorcycle or wear black. I guess he’s more of a bad-for-me-boy than a bad boy. For purposes of pseudo-anonymity, let’s call him Assisi. I met Assisi second semester of my junior year of college, after getting back from a semester abroad. We swam together and hung out at swim team gatherings while I crushed hard from afar. Eventually we became good friends and he had a standing reservation on my house’s couch every Thursday night. That summer we spent lots of time together and the friendship continued into my senior year.
Blah blah blah this is all really boring, I know.
You’re probably wondering, he doesn’t sound bad… what’s up Indigo? Well, as it turns out, he’s a complete ass-hat. He’d be totally attentive one minute and M.I.A. the next and sometimes his jokes kind of stung. Later, I found out he had weekly heavy petting sessions with one of my roommates on those Thursday nights, despite his awareness of my feelings (and her awareness too but that’s another story). Yet, he’d smile at me or make me laugh and I forgave him. Every time I tried to ignore him or turn my attention to another guy he’d do something sweet or charming and I’d be hooked again. I can’t explain why.
I really think we need to get Sheldon from Big Bang theory to make a “getting over boys chart” similar to his friendship algorithm. A nifty little plan like this could save lots of women a lot of trouble.
So although Assisi isn’t bad in the same way Paulie is (hello abusive boyfriend), I can sort of understand Ruby’s thoughts and actions. It’s a testament to Fletcher’s writing that this complicated and abusive relationship doesn’t come off as ridiculous and melodramatic. Instead we root for and empathize with Ruby—the confused, lonely girl in a tumultuous situation.