Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Mission Street // Wednesday, 11.02pm

I couldn't take any pictures, because it was too dark. I can tell you that the lady guitarist wore a black dress and a big red flower behind her ear. And the saxophonist ended up on the bar, walking across it as he played. (They asked us on our way out not to tell anyone.) And the pianist almost ended up paying for my drinks.I wasn't going to drink, but Vincent found out after ordering an old-fashioned that there was a $20 bar minimum. So I lean across the bar and say to the lone barman, who pauses with a harried but obliging smile, "That gentleman over there wants to buy me a drink." I point; I even specify the color of his shirt. But he still ends up putting it on the piano player's tab; we discover this later, when Vincent is settling up. Call it shallow--I do--but it does feel better to be looked at by good-looking men when they are men who live in San Francisco. And it also feels good that the barman would not bat an eye at the idea that the piano player would want to buy me a drink.

This place is perfect. It's small, so it feels crowded. The band is no prop act; they're really good, the lady guitarist is doing Jerry Lee Lewis stuff with her Les Paul, and what's more, they seem really to be enjoying themselves and the scene. You never realize how key that is, but it is; a bored or sullen band is like a balloon you blow up yourself, compared to the firm inflation of helium.

---

I'd forgotten...it had been so long...about that happiness of being touched, of responding like that to a person who's responding like that to you, of the sublime relaxation inside that makes you drunk without having to drink anything at all.

---

We went to school with a guy--I guess it's not sporting to say his real name, so I'll call him Dylan. He wasn't actually as cool as that name sounds, but he worked hard to give the impression that he was. It worked on me...after I figured it out, the damage had already been done.

Dylan Andrews, how about...because for some reason everyone always referred to him by first and last names. I suppose because any other Dylans on campus would not have appreciated being confused with him. I bring him up only because Vincent says he first learned to dance at St. John's after watching Dylan Andrews and me, and thinking, "I want to do that."

I have a hard time believing this; Vincent is a really good dancer, at least as good as Dylan Andrews was, and probably better. He does the judo flip trick that flings my knees up in the air, he knows how to respond to the music rather than work through a set of steps, he doesn't leave me alone for twenty minutes at a time and come back a keener Lothario and a sloppier drunk, and his face doesn't end up pressed against my sternum at the end of every 8-count.

I down the Macallan pretty quickly, definitely not giving the whiskey the respect it deserves, and we get up to dance again. I haven't danced drunk in a long, long time. Hell, I haven't danced at all in a long time, unless you count that awkward episode in Chicago. Which I won't; this is nothing like wedding dancing. We might not look like Fred and Ginger on amphetamines, but that's what I feel like. We might not actually be having more fun than anyone else in the room, but that's what we look like.

Which leads me to think that San Francisco dancers are pussies.

Which is helpful to recall when one of my partners, a florid man with overgroomed facial hair and a Hawaiian shirt, asks,

"So how long have you been dancing? Two years?"

Motherfucker, I think, so hard that I can't even speak for a moment.

"Less?" he continues to guess. And, after a beat, incredulously, "More?"

"Fifteen years, I think," I tell him.

"Oh."

His voice is airy, distantly pleasant.

"I should introduce you to my friend Igor. See him over there? He does all kinds of dancing--salsa, reggae, African. But he's never been swing-dancing before."

A couple other dances with other guys, while Vincent is drinking his second old-fashioned, confirm this for me: I am a sloppy dancer. I don't follow the "slot," I don't mince my steps, I sure as hell don't count my way through the measures. My turns might be tight or they might be wide, depending on the music.

It all depends on the music...isn't that the way it should be?

And it also depends on the partner--I like to be pushed around. If I want to follow a set of moves, I'll stay home with a Youtube tutorial. Don't they call them "leads" for a reason?

So yes, I'm a sloppy dancer, and damned if I don't think that's the right way to be.

---

So when I earn a few more dirty looks from injuring a few more dancers...one guy actually drops his hands to his knees and shoots a dagger-look at me...I feel actually good about it. I rack up a total of four on-floor injuries before the night is over. I also go home with a seriously tore-up toenail, so...you know, I can take it as well as give it.

---

One of my flying limbs hits Vincent in the face, and he shakes his head like he's concussed. We're both laughing, but I ask him, "Are you okay?""You don't hit that hard," he says. Apparently my face manifested some displeasure, because he starts laughing at me and says,

"Uh oh, did I just give you a challenge?"

I lower my chin at him. "Ask Dylan Andrews how hard I hit."

Whatever he said after that couldn't give me as much pleasure as that memory did. And does. It didn't feel good at the time, hitting that guy, but these days it's very good to remember.

---

We wait for the bus for a good while, before we're told by a vagrant that it's probably not coming. He offers to take us to where the bus is coming; when we decline, he starts to get mad. I hail a cab.Riding back to Alameda, I feel that warm thing dissipating. I remember that, from past years. It's a big reason why I stopped going out to dance: that cold, cold feeling, just like when sweat cools on your walk home.

We're sitting on either end of the back seat; occasionally, one of us says something. I feel like--and I don't know that he feels this way--we're saying these things so we don't make out. Because really, what else is there to do? That supremely melting warmth just wants something to plunge into. Dancing is the closest I've ever gotten to it, and now that's over. And I don't want it to be.

But we have to get up in the morning, at Jeff and Kathy's house. We have to drive together to Portland. And while I think we both know well enough that it would be, like dancing, simply the joy of being a woman to a man and the other way around, we both are probably more interested in the risk of waiting to see what happens. Like, if it's this good just dancing drunk together, what kinds of better might it be when it's with a person to whom not only your body, but especially your soul, says yes?

It's hard to imagine, and the risk of waiting might not prove worth it. But I'm just so curious. These days, waiting doesn't always come as a letdown. It's a perpetual leap from a cliff.