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Tao of Boom | 2009 | Waiting for the Path

07.09.09 1:11 p.m.

And it's been a long time since before I've been touched
Now I'm getting touched all the time
And it's only a matter of who
And it's only a matter of when

An addiction to hands and feet
There's a meat market down the street
The boys and girls watch each other eat
When they really just wanna watch each other sleep

-Regina Spektor


Dance Anthem of the 80s

I grant this is a bad picture, but she made me feel uncomfortable...

It kills me that it can't be innocent. I can't dance with a stranger without their wanting it to mean something more. This momentary interaction, this rhythmic gyration within feet of another person, is enough for me. But not, it seems, for them.

I am backed into the same corner as last week, buffeting between my two groups of friends, Jacki's by the bar and Jess's in the smoking area, but not presently occupied by either. "Footloose" is playing, a song so hokey that one almost has to dance. Soon enough, without the obligatory eye contact of consent, a woman starts dancing with me. I can't see her clearly in the dark with only flashes of light, but she seems in her late thirties. I smile awkwardly, because it seems like rather a funny situation and I don't want to offend her with my disinterest, though I do hate the song for its stubborn insistence in continuing after the fiftieth iteration of the title. She keeps trying to execute grinding moves against me, but I am in mimic mode. Ever time she turns her back to try (and, again, let me reiterate, to "Footloose", where there is no melodic cause for grinding), I turned as well. Then, when Kevin Bacon finally hears my prayers and kills the music, she goes in for the kiss. Not the "that was fun" peck on the cheek I might be willing to allow her as a stranger, but the "I am going to grab your head with both hands and only your sweatiness and my drunkenness are going to save you from tasting my tongue with your tonsils" kiss that I twist out of as though she were venomous.

"What's your name?" she shouts as the next song begins. "I'm Catie!"

I shout my name, slightly shocked, and she uses my proximity to kiss me as intensely as she can when only offered the side of my face. How could I have fallen for that trick?

I run off in a sadly literal way to convey to my friends what just happened. Jess and Rosemary concur that people will kiss you or more if they feel you are leading them on by dancing with them. However, I have seen both of them dance far more closely with men who didn't even warrant a handshake after the fact. And I danced without physical contact to "Footloose". I'm not positive there is enough alcohol in the building to make that seem like a come-on. Jacki, when I point out the cougar that pounced on me, informs me of the woman's full name (the sort only existing in stories about winning the title of Little Miss Hog Farmer), her alcoholism, and that she is likely younger than Jacki.
Xen, looking uncomfortable, and a cougar  
Wow, that is a pained smile I have. It hurts me to look at this.

Catie walks past toward the stage and beckons me to join her. I shake my head and visibly cling to Jacki and Joann, making clear I am with them and am not to be molested. However, Jacki and Joann don't understand that nervous laughter is one of the ways I cope with my discomfort and push me toward her. I dance through part of the song and then, when Catie turns to talk to the DJ, I jump off the stage and tried to hide in the crowd.

I return to photographing Jacki and Joann dancing, find my comfort again. When Catie wanders by, I covertly try to snap a photo of her to convey here. She sees me and motions for me to take a MySpace-type photo with her. When I am distracted and setting up the shot, thinking I have misjudged her, she tries to kiss me again, landing another one on my cheek when I turn. I forget about tact - she has shown me none, so deserves none - and just walk in a direction that does not include her, does not make me feel like an idiot for getting fooled twice. And maybe, I know, this was harmless from Catie's perspective, but it registers as an invasion to me.

Earlier in the night, in comparison with a mutual associate we don't like, Joann said that I am twenty-eight going on thirty-three, but with the heart of a twelve-year-old. The implication being that, while I can manage to keep my life in order like an adult, I'm still this innocent, doe-eyed Hummel figurine, fragile and precious. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, screw around with near-strangers, so what the hell business do I have patronizing a bar? (That interpretation is mine, not hers.) I hate feeling "less than" because I have decided not to allow certain vices into my life. I don't disparage people for doing so, though I do admit to feeling disappointed when they occupy too much of their mental faculties.
Dancing on the head of a pin

I hate to think I can only dance with those of my friends who I have prescreened for mutual respect. Dancing shouldn't have to be flirtation or invitation for more. I hate more than I am in the wrong here, that it is common knowledge that dancing is supposed to be suggestive of more carnal activities.

I ask Jess whether her friend Rachel ever comes out dancing and am told that she used to, but stopped when a jerk wouldn't take no for an answer. The jerk, it should be noted, was in attendance this night because 80s Night offers a paradigm that reinforces the wrong behavior.

I really cannot see 80s Night becoming something permanent in my life. I do not want what most are seeking. Joann is right, I have the heart of a twelve-year-old and I want to keep it innocent. I cannot pretend at aloofness, pretend I don't cringe. I am not meat for the market. Even were I single, this is not how I would choose to meet potential partners.

Every time I leave Cabaloosa, I feel a patina of grime on me. I remove my earplug like they were a prophylactic to this experience, like I can pretend there is a way to do this safely. For me, there is no safe, there is no level of exposure that isn't going to leave a little mark, that isn't going to let through some psychic pathogen I will spend the weekend fighting off. I don't know that my emotional immune system can take regular exposure. I don't care if that makes me weak to some.

Rosie says I could write a series of stories about 80s Night but, after tonight, I know this is not my story to write. They need a Henry Miller, content to dwell in the gutters of humanity, and I too busy trying to forget I am not dancing among angels.

Soon in Xenology: Job hunting. Rollerskating.

last watched: The Invisible
reading: Henry and June
listening: Garfunkel and Oates

Tao of Boom | 2009 | Waiting for the Path

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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