Monday, August 30, 2010

road trip, part one of two

America appears both innocent and sinister from the interstate.

Eleven hours out of New York and the difference is clear. The salad bars are full of canned beets and wilty lettuce, plastic ladles in assorted crocks, ubiquitous bacon. The everyday staples of city life: New York Times, coconut water, whole grain bread, are few and far between. Billboards don't advertise lifestyle living or hipster trends, but that largely unclassifiable "shit you need" factor—cheap places to sleep and all-you-can-eat-buffets—gas/food/lodging and cheap cigarettes.

It made me realize how simultaneously vital the city is, and yet—how ridiculous. We become accustomed to everything at our fingertips. We either grow into richer, more evolved consumers, or we become finicky yuppies who, when unleashed on the quote/unquote 'real world' are ill-prepared for reality. I mean, really, we have wasabi peas and hazelnut gelato available 24/7 in our convenience stores.

I suppose this month (and yes, that's the final timetable) will be a bit of an adventure in normalcy and my ability to adapt. After five years in New York, I've been thoroughly citified: acclimated to public solitude, multitasking and tuning out the background noise. Instinctively, I brace my face away from bus exhaust, I can apply eye makeup anywhere—in subway windows, on park benches, in transit and on the fly. I know the city by zones, train stops and restaurants. I can acquire almost anything in any neighborhood.

Like it or not, the land of shouting crazies and midnight falafel has become home to me. Maybe not the whole package 'home,' the fantasy of what that word is supposed to hold in four measly letters, but 'home' in the sense that I have built my life there. A life which transcends even the basics of job and apartment, the mechanics of waking up and hoarding food in winter. A life that works just as well–if not better—out of a suitcase.

For better or for worse, this is my city. I know, I know, last month I hated it here. This place is a beast. A sensory barrage. A swift kick in the everything—and that's all before breakfast. But, even so, it took trying to leave to make me finally feel at home. Or home enough.

Five years ago, I moved to New York with nothing but a backpack and a laptop, chasing some harebrained dream of being an actress. I survived infestations, shady plumbing, studio living and bar rot, among other things. I have conquered and been conquered. I've gone to galas at the Waldorf and I've eaten diner pancakes at three am. From the Met to the Manhattan Bridge, from squalorous dumps to slinky lounges and four star bars. It's all my city. A new world every block. And it's home. Or the closest I'm going to come to it for now.

At least when I wake up in New York, the world makes sense. The structure of the grid cast out like sonar, the x factor of travel time and train delays, and of course, the anonymity.

If traveling is mystery and newness, discovering the rules from the road, home should be where the rhythm makes most sense. And unfortunately, I picked a place that didn't entirely suit me. And now that's where I belong.

Maybe someday I'll get my herb garden and laundry lines, a herd of cherubic children in ladybug galoshes playing in the mud puddles. Or maybe I'll die in a cramped apartment lined to the rafters with leather bound tomes. Life has become one big choose-your-adventure storybook and I'm flipping back and forth like a madwoman, leaving a lot up to Fate and fancy, but feeling free.

So I've got a month. One month to get my shit together, to get good and ready to go back and hit the ground hard.

I guess woke up one morning this month and decided I wanted to keep doing things the hard way. But hey, that's just how I roll.

Friday, August 20, 2010

or are we dancer

Well, he kissed me.

After all that, an afterthought. For me, it was lost in the sea of a thousand bloodthirsty bandoneóns, tugging my heart down to the depths and Davy Jones.

I should probably talk about Baltimore. Because Baltimore changed everything.

I had worried I wouldn't be able to keep up, that my legs would quit from the hip joint down and I'd be left to bleed while the whole world turned around me. But I matched pace, class after class, milonga after milonga, for thirteen hours a day. I danced. I danced until it hurt to stop, until a piece of my own toe flesh came off in my hand. (I know, hardcore.)

It was that easy. Coffee, sweatpants, dance shoes. Run a brush through your hair. Class for seven hours, práctica. Stretch. Moan. Fall face down on the bed for five minutes, then roll off groaning to the shower. Cotton dress, eye makeup, splash of scent. Leave everything behind you but your heels and your wristband, pinned discretely to the hem of your dress. Walk unladen through hotel halls to the swirling eddy of bodies orbiting each other, a mass of man and woman turning back the hands of a giant clock. Dance, and time submits. Dance until dawn turns the giant windows cobalt blue. Pry your throbbing, soggy feet from the straps of your shoes and plod barefoot down the marble floors. Sigh in the elevator, insert a key card, let the heavy hotel room door click shut behind you. Don't bother with the light. Let the dress slip to the floor. Brush teeth hastily, find a t-shirt and curl into bed. Sleep if you can. Wake to the bleating of a bland alarm and repeat.

You see, there wasn't hardly time to play "he loves me, he loves me not." We managed only a few stolen kisses between workshops and dance halls, between rock hard sleep and morning reveille. A hand in my hair as I slept, an arm around my waist in the dark. An electric glance across a class.

We hardly even danced together. I trolled the edges of the floor, avoiding mouth breathers and back-breaking old men, waiting for dances, enjoying the echo of di Sarli in the gothic Ballroom, down my legs and through the floor. And he did the same. If I saw him standing there, I changed my course. Avert the eyes, scan the crowd. Make him wonder. It was my own dance, my counter cabeceo.

Never be caught staring longingly at a leader, begging for tandas. If that means fewer dances, it gives those dances dignity. I learned that in Baltimore—one of a million half-baked epiphanies that still hover in my ether, ready to spring.

Did I find tango, or did tango find me? It's been little more than a year since a New Years' resolution brought me to a snowy SoHo studio, since I started shifting weight on the subway platform, tracing tiny patterns with my toes. And here I am in the ocean of it, buoyant and baptized by the salt.

I've had lonely moments in this world none of my friends can quite comprehend, getting dolled up at midnight and leaving parties early. Walking home alone at 2, 3 and 4 am, shoe bag in hand, feeling the quiet ascend from the pavement. I've had to fight my worst insecurities, wait to be asked to dance by strangers, overcome my own perfectionism, learn to let go. I've forced myself to smile and start conversations where I otherwise might have bolted. By a slow pace, I forged friendships, made connections. I created a world for myself where, on any given night, I'll know someone out there on the dance floor. That recognition, that "Where have you been?" Like the man at the bodega in the cop shows who notices something's fishy when the girl hasn't been seen scrounging for Häagen Dazs three nights running. I remember when I first moved to this city; my mother told me to find a neighborhood bar. Well, ma, I found it.

What I take away from Baltimore, besides a flutter in my heart (akin to ostrich wings) and a dozen or so revelations about body mechanics and torsion and artistry, is simply that. Tango Element was the summer camp I never went to, the clique I never felt a part of, the peace of knowing in one moment that I am exactly where I ought to be. What I witnessed on that floor, in those classrooms, in myself . . . I lack the words.

I belong here.

From the girl who was always on the outside, this means everything. I know now this is not just some group of creepies who like to rub up against each other's cheeks and walk in step around a room counterclockwise. We are in this together—for one reason, for a million reasons, for the communal lack of reason, with a capital R. We are a family of students, learning from masters. Arch-tired and dancing anyway. A delicate hierarchy from Ludites to legends.

Ordo ab chao.

So forgive me for not having a list of moments to report. For thirteen hours a day, my eyes were closed. I was feeling with my feet. And everything else went away.

We finally danced on Sunday, ending the night and the festival with two tandas of utter transcendence. We drove home straight from the milonga, through the middle of the night, running on moments and kisses and turbo charged coffee. At seven am, he dropped me at my door. And reality returned.

Or maybe it didn't. The week has been a blur of dancing, tying off loose ends and falling flat on my fantastic face. I hesitate to jinx this by overworking the details, so I leave you, winking, on the threshold. I'm sure there'll be something to say when I land. For now, know that I fight the forces of vertigo, staring down the void beneath me as I cut chord after chord. I hear the steel snap behind me, the weightlessness encroaching. These are my last few days in New York for at least a month. I am leaving. Skis on at the top of the mountain, feet poised on the edge. But even as I do this, even as I squat in the eye of the self-created storm, I'm living a bit of a private fairy tale, dancing in a penthouse on the park.

He walked me home, he kissed me on the eyes.

Friday, August 6, 2010

only in nyc

We are all doing our best.