Thursday, July 16, 2009

The E Street Shuffle

I’m a white girl, yes. But that fact alone gives you no sense of how uncomfortable I look when I’m dancing. Let’s just take dancing out of the equation for a second. At ease, my posture resembles an overturned folding chair. During parties I have to avoid the front door so people won’t hang their coats over my head. Basically, I wander this world looking like a dying plant.
So you can imagine how a body that wants to collapse into itself doesn’t really “do” dance. But it hasn’t always been that way! When I was fifteen in Argentina, where babies can shake their butts before they wipe them, my girlfriends used to drill me to whatever was on the radio. I can remember stumbling around Jesica Fernandez’ bedroom to “Laura, se te ve la tanga” (“Laura, I can see your thong”), her Hanson and Spice Girls posters flashing their condescending smirks as I struggled.
But I practiced enough to master a kind of exaggerated hip swirl, like I was hula hooping without the hoop. And with that one move in my armory, I could relax enough to show my face at the disco. I stopped responding, “I don’t speak Spanish” when anyone asked me to dance.
Comfort atrophies. It’s been seven years since I left Argentina and I can only really lose it on the dance floor when I’m more than a couple drinks in. Yesterday at the gym, I watched the same episode of “Dance Your Ass Off” twice, (why did Oxygen run the same episode twice in a row?) and somewhere during the second screening I got to envying those fatties. (Awful awful awful. I don’t know why I called them that.) But really! How unburdened these contestants were by the distance between a typical dancer’s bodies and theirs! I watched them, and then I watched them again, flaunting how there was just more of them to shake, more of them to groove. Their dance came from a hot little bulb deep in the heart. Do we all have that bulb? Can I turn it on if I find the switch?
Chubby arms and legs still lurched about my brain as I left work last night. And perhaps that’s why he meant so much to me. Passing the glass-for-walls of the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio on 55th and 9th, I stopped to watch students of an Afro-Brazilian class in full sweat. Young, toned, beautiful black women ducked and stomped powerfully across glossy wood. And among them, there he was. This small Jewish-looking man somewhere over sixty. He work black tights and a black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He stomped on the wrong beat, thrust his arms left as the rest of the group went right. He furrowed his brow in deep concentration. And when he reached one end of the dance floor, he turned around to do it again.
There’s nothing more stunning than effortless courage.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Remember the time

I am a kid, and my elbows are dirty because all of me is dirty and all of me is dirty because I am a kid! Right now I am in the sunroom leaning over the back of the couch, my brown joints smudging the white windowsill where they rest. I’m looking out at the backyard, which is where I acquire most of my filth.
The backyard is a memorial to the projects my family had only energy enough to begin. There’s the dog run to whose gate we never bothered to close. We dreamed so big for that dog run! Installed an electric wire along the top to keep the dogs from escaping. Planted a grape vine to weave within its chain links. Built a doghouse to replace our puppies’ quantity of space for quality. But the trees blocked the sun the grape vine needed to survive, and the carpet in the doghouse molded once it rained, and one day I grabbed onto the electric wire for no reason and opened my eyes to two concerned dogs trying to lick me back into consciousness.
There’s the pear tree that never grew pears because we didn’t planted another to pollinate it.
There are the thirsty patches of earth we fertilized only once in May to try to coax the grass that once grew back into existence.
That knot of branches was a rose bush my dad bought my mom for their anniversary. Dog pee is not good for rose bushes.
The sunroom is different. If the backyard is a place to transpose ideas into objects (dog runs, pear trees, roses) then the sunroom is where thoughts haven’t developed fingers enough to count as ideas. They are zygotes of ideas. They are dreams.
I want to tell you what I do in the sunroom, because I have never told anyone:
1) I play Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”. I think I’d like to be a tragic specimen of Americana. I fantasize about the melancholy of feeling close to my trunk.
2) I put on my dad’s oversized earphones and pretend I’m an operator for the Great Western Sugar Company. I tell whoever’s on the line about allowing my children only a deck of cards to play with. I’d wager money on any of them in a hand of gin rummy.
3) I take an egg cup from the kitchen, place it on the windowsill, and pretend I’m a drunk getting loaded at a dive bar. I take deep swigs of the empty egg cup and yell clumsy-tongued, “Hit me another, Skip!”
4) I listen to the “We Are the World” record I plucked from my parents’ collection for its cartoon jacket. It makes me cry.
And so this is why I think of the sunroom. Because when it comes to alumni of those bright afternoons, Michael Jackson was my only surviving companion. Willie Loman drank himself into an early grave. The Great Western Sugar Company went broke in the '80s. And Skip just disappeared. I hope he went back to college. He was so much more than that skeezy windowsill he tended. Oh MJ, whatever you were, you kept me company when I had nothing but the particles of dust caught in sunbeams to stare at. For your companionship, for your moonwalk, for rounding up me, Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Dionne Warwick, and so many more in the sunroom to feed those hungry Ethiopians, I am grateful.