DANCE BY THE LIGHT OF THE DOOM

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“And now we invite you all to come up and dance!” the emcee shouted into the mic. These were horrific words to me, though everyone else in the audience seemed to think this was a great idea. The dancers flailed their arms and started drawing people from the audience. Oh no, I thought. I looked for Maisie among the dancers and sure enough, she emerged waving her finger to go to her. She was an exotic beauty. I knew no one else like her. She was cerebral and athletic, with wild hair and hazel eyes. She was the embodiment of cool. To know her was to know Betty Rizzo or Ramona Flowers. I was there to support her charity, a something worth supporting.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me in to the drove. My stomach sank. Every man wants to hit this moment out of the park: take her out on to the dance floor and make her a star. I longed to do this, but I didn’t know how because I’m a derelict dancer.
Dancing wasn’t a thing that happened in my house. It was a foreign concept, a phenomenon I witnessed at other people’s houses. My neighbors were Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Dominican – those are some dancing-ass people and their parties are raucous.

In my house, the records played a diet of traditional Irish ballads or dour Mexican rancheras. I listened to radio rap. I’ve never had any musical vocabulary for dancing. At best, I’m very adept at nodding my head to the beat. I’m the John Travolta of nodding my head to the beat, but I can’t move my body to music without feeling like an oaf.

There have been those few dances that really worked out and were nice, but it mostly feels like I’m failing at something. I’m always thinking, I’m not pulling this off right now.3749192871_5d095e1acf_o

The earliest memory I have of dancing is the underwhelming night of my eighteenth birthday. Jovian invited me out to a club. I groaned at the idea, but his hedonistic descriptions of the place made me curious, so I agreed.

The place was dark and dirty. It was exactly what you think a big city club is: flashing lights, pumping bass and cattle-packed dancers. Pinwheel-eyed children of the nineties blew whistles and twirled flashlights. Naked women danced in cages suspended above the dance floor.

I took it all in, witnessed some things I’d certainly never witnessed before, and before I knew it, Jovian was in the middle of the dance floor. A circle of people had formed around him and they cheered him on as he danced and twirled his flashlights. Jovian wasn’t deterred by the dance inhibitions of an introvert–he’d always been a full-blown extrovert. I edged the circle and cheered him on. When the circle dispersed, I got pulled into a wave of dancers and did a casual go-with-the-flow dance. The music escalated, and when a persistent beat infected the room, some girl bumped up against me. I thought I bumped in to her, so I stepped aside. Then again, she bumped in to me. She decided I was going to dance with her. And she was right. She grinded into me and I thought this was a great idea, too.

We saw each other’s faces during the flashes of light. I liked what I saw. I liked what I felt. We improvised an intertwining of parts and rubbed at will. The grinding turned into bumping. Then the bumping turned into banging. What is happening right now, I wondered. Her moves became ape-like. Sometimes the right parts banged, other times I felt like I was getting hurt. Every time I negotiated a good grinding position, she aped into another bang. Jovian appeared and hooted at the sight of me dancing. “Yeah man go with it,” he screamed over the music. I wanted to go with it, but I couldn’t follow the chaos the Jane was choreographing. She had no grace at all and I started to feel her bones in the bumps. I began my away-dance and increased the distance between us. She followed me, bumping and banging way beyond any enjoyment. I creeped my way off the dance floor and wall-flower’ed it for the rest of the night. I looked at the heathen mass and concluded they weren’t my tribe.2886821041_e6dfb3f414_o

The worst dance I ever danced was at the closing night party of the Cannes film festival. It was the kind of party that people connived, extorted, campaigned, seduced and begged to attend. I did none of that. All I did was know Carole.

Carole was many things, but more than anything, she was the most resourceful person I’d ever met. She could get you invited to any event, through any door, to any party, up the red carpet, and on to whatever was happening after that. She was masterful at what she did. She took a liking to me because I reminded her of her little brother. I happily nurtured the brother-sister vibe. She was straight out of my fantasies: she was fun, sultry, magnetic. That Carole wanted to hang out with me in any context made me feel like Jacques Dorier if Jacques Dorier was an actual French idol I didn’t just make up.

Carole set it up so that I had invitations to the swanky closing-night party on the beach. Her goal was sisterly: to help me win the heart of Helene, my biggest-crush-ever-of-the-moment. And though, looking back, Helene may have been a mere blip on the radar of my love life, in that moment, there in those days, when I looked at Helene, I swooned.

She wore a baby-blue satin dress that rested on her like Dali’s clocks. Her hair was long and platinum. Her shadow curved and her gravity bent the air. She was a girl with options, and getting her to attend that party with me was a chest-pounding achievement—I was Jacques Dorier.

The circumstances that brought us together were cosmic. A hundred things had to happen for us to find ourselves in that moment, but the one-hundredth thing that happened was Carole, who coached me from nearby. She prodded me with her face. It said, dance with her, stupid. I decided to ignore her and trust the night would go just fine if I just relied on my impeccable conversation skills. Instead I talked us into a lull. The band cued a slow dance, and I could feel Carole’s gaze burning into me, dance with her! The look on Helene’s face read that I was losing her, so I held out my hand, and she took it.

3830767851_2b10fee003_oI led her through the crowd and onto a dance floor pieced together with wooden tiles in the sand.  The band was the kind you imagine when you think of the 1920’s: men in black and white suits playing brass instruments and a swinging conductor with loose elbows. Helene and I danced slowly, and closely. My hand drifted too far down her back and she course-corrected me. Of course, of course, my brain whispered. We swayed slowly, spun in slow motion circles. We danced poorly no doubt, but we danced poorly in sync—it was nice. I thought about how I’d pursued her like I’d never pursued anyone ever. Her effects on me were uncontrollable, like the effects of the full moon on a werewolf. I wanted her badly, deeply, chemically. I’d longed to solely have her attention and now that I had it, it was perfect. The band played on stage, the waves crashed on the shore, and I was shaken awake from my reverie by Helene’s gasp. It startled me.

Her face was the total opposite face I yearned to see. What could have just gone so wrong to warrant such a face?

Helene stepped back and looked down at my pants. What she saw was the evidence of my affection for her. I was equally shocked. She made a face that read as, “oh for fuck’s sake” and turned to go. “No no no,” I pleaded. I needed her to understand that this wasn’t a deliberate thing I did. I didn’t go through all this forethought just to stab her with a secret boner in front of a hundred well-to-do’s! She turned and disappeared behind a fog of dancers. I motioned to follow her, but I couldn’t follow her out with all that obvious affection.9586401500_df8e5c7f7f_o

I wanted to drop into the sand and sink my way into legend, disappear like a ghost through a wall. But instead I was still there on the dance floor, as the band played, and the waves crashed, trying to think away a hard-on. I had no exit for such a situation, no contingency plan for being abandoned on the dance floor due to biology gone wild. But I had Carole.

She appeared out of the fog of dancers like a soldier coming through the trees. She grabbed my hand and swung it around her waist. She didn’t say a word. There was no judgment, no lesson, no questions. She pulled me and led the dance, making it look like I was leading her. When the band stopped playing, everyone applauded, except Carole. She looked sad and explained she had to leave at that very moment. She said goodbye, kissed me on the lips, turned around, and for the second time during that one song, I watched someone walk away forever. Carole forever left a mark on me. I never got to say it, but “nice save, Carole.”
That night secured my fear of dancing, but I did learn that if you’re planning on publicly humiliating yourself, the live band experience is the way to go. The energy a live band outputs is infectious and easily transmitted. There’s an analog pleasure to dancing to a live band. The way the air shakes and the floor trembles is candy to the nerves. I’d argue that these vibrations are best felt leaning against the back wall of the venue, but my wallflowering skill set has always been very under-valued. It was from a wall that I first saw Maisie dance.

8558445558_e610fb52d8_oThe waves of a live salsa band and the tremors of a thousand feet tapping the dance floor shook the walls for sure that night. Maisie was a lion. Her hips swung like a Caribbean wedding night and her ease was enviable. Her invitation to go watch her dance at a charity show was easy to accept.

When the show wrapped up, the dancers pulled people from the audience to join in the dancing, and Maisie made a beeline for me. The smirk on her face indicated she clearly understood how mortifying this was going to be for me. But Maisie was a generous dancer. I followed her lead and surely I blushed. Meregue isn’t that difficult. The moment was sexy, and fun. The event churned and the room buzzed with celebration. If this is what dancing is, I thought, then maybe it isn’t so bad.

But that sentiment had a short life.

 

Know the Difference Between a Horse and an Ass

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I recently saw a Buzzfeed article titled, “13 Reasons Why New Jersey is the East Coast’s Best-Kept Secret.” I’m from New Jersey, so naturally I snatched the click-bait. Some reasons rang nostalgically true: “the diners are legendary”, “the malls are top notch.” Some were dubious: “the music scene actually rocks, the beaches are breathtaking.” Both the music scene and the beaches are not bad.

But most suspicious of all was #5 on the list, titled “This is Horse Country.”

As a son of New Jersey, I’m qualified to react with, “Horse Country, my ass!”

The only horses I ever saw growing up were dragging carriages around Central Park. Sometimes we’d catch a glimpse of horses loitering in some field somewhere as we drove by, and it was always a big deal. It was like seeing a troupe of bigfoots. No matter what the mood in the car was, everybody was on board a good horse sighting. Interaction with horses was used as currency in my family. My behaviors were swayed by promises of horses. Horses were part of a bizarro-world so far outside my urban world that I longed to be near them, as if they were a beacon to the other side. They were strangely a sign of success to my kid-brain. I even told a girl I liked – she conveniently walked by my building every day as I conveniently pretended to read books on my stoop – that my family owned a horse we kept in a stable in the Meadowlands. This was a humongous lie, of course, and every once in a while I needed to mention the horse thing or she might suspect something fishy. Perhaps it was the bits and pieces I’d learned from my mother that helped me perpetuate the illusion that my family would have a horse. My mother often told of her childhood neighbor, a red-haired girl with curly locks, who rode her horse with panache. My mother admired her and, although her immediate world neither valued nor encouraged such achievements, she wished to ride like her. I was convinced I could live out my mother’s lost equestrian moment of glory for her. And I suspect she thought she could make up for someone else’s broken promise.

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Abadiano, Mexico – age 9

I didn’t want to go to Mexico. From a nine-year-old’s perspective, going to Mexico was akin to going to Mars. But one of my father’s selling points was that there’d be horses for me to ride. What? Horses? That sounded awesome! Count me in! My mind had been fogged by all the “Mexico” and “cousins” talk. I didn’t want any part of all of that. It all sounded like a social nightmare to me. But talk of horses cleared up the fog. This was my language. This was a word that lived in the vocabulary of my attention: horses. I could swear I heard a movie reel as my imagination projected scenes from The Lone Ranger. Then it remembered I was going to Mexico so it changed reels to Zorro, enough for me to imagine myself cantering across the Mexican countryside with the wind zipping through my hair and probably a whip because Indiana Jones had one so why not. This could happen, I thought to myself.

When my father and I pulled up to the dusty Michoacana village where his parents lived, my uncle rode his horse down the road to greet us. Things looked immediately promising. He wore a cowboy hat and blue jeans, and his horse kicked up clouds of dirt. The chances of living my dream – of cantering across the Mexican countryside like the Lone Ranger – looked promising. But like REALLY promising

A week passed and neither my uncle nor my father seemed very dedicated to the horse thing. That week was full of many firsts.

I milked a cow. All kinds of things click in a boy’s mind, things come together like solved puzzles, that bring clarity to the subjects of milk and cows. The cold milk I poured onto my Frosted Flakes back home looked nothing like what floated in the cruddy tin cup I was handed. My father urged me to drink it. That it was warm grossed me out; I wasn’t sold. More remarkable than milking a cow was seeing a cow run. Have you seen cows run? It’s instant happiness.

Click here if you’ve never seen cows running!

During the rest of that first week, I played soccer, rode in the back of a pick-up truck, and drank coffee. What I didn’t do was any horseback riding.

Another week of firsts passed. I ascended a mountain. I hung out with a group of girls I met at a carnival. I caught the flu and had death dreams. Some horseback riding would’ve really hit the spot that week, but it didn’t happen.

A third week of firsts raised the stakes on my childhood. I got robbed by my cousins. I witnessed a cow get slaughtered. I gambled under a bridge! I was extremely homesick and things were getting intense, so I mouthed the nine-year-old equivalent of, “So where the fuck is this horse ride you promised me?”

As I watched my uncle ride his horse up the lane toward me, I knew the arrangement had finally been brokered. Today was my day. I was going to get on that horse and gallop my way to infamy.

I struggled to mount. My uncle lifted me up and I resented the help.

I was surprised by how high up I was. I could see the end of the lane ahead, where it intersected the main road. I envisioned myself saying, “Alright, well, see you guys later, then!” I’d trot the horse to the end of the lane, make the right and gallop my way out of that dusty town. Maybe I’d visit my cousins up on the mountain and wouldn’t they be surprised to see me. I wondered, “How do I start this thing?”

“Tap him with your foot,” my uncle instructed. So I did, and the horse began to move. This was my first horse ride, and it was awesome. I’d never understood the strength of the horse. I was a nothing on its back. I held onto the saddle horn with one hand and reached with the other for my uncle to hand me the reigns. But he didn’t hand them over. I gestured my hand to signal, “Okay I’m ready now hand me the reigns.”

The horse walked fifteen feet and came to a stop. The elation hadn’t even settled in yet when my uncle praised me and gestured for me to come down. This didn’t make sense to my brain. I hadn’t gone anywhere yet.

I looked back and my family rooted me on, expecting me to reciprocate the fake-joy they were acting out. I was helped down off the horse and as I looked at my Mexican family, I thought, “What a bunch of assholes.”

The Poconos, Pennsylvania – age 11

It’d rained the night before and the ground was muddy, but nothing was going to deter me from cashing in on the horse ride my mother promised me. It was her first summer as a single mother and she dedicated every weekend to distracting me from the absence that’d befallen us. One weekend we’d explore some far-away flea market or gem show; the next we’d just point to a town on the map and trek over to see what was there. This weekend promised a chance to fulfill a destiny that had slipped through my hands years earlier: a glorious horseback canter.

There was no pavement and our feet got muddy just walking to the reception. We lifted our feet and walked awkwardly like there was any way to avoid the mud. Before we arrived at the reception, a guide walked out to greet us. My heart sank into my stomach. My eyebrows rose to the top of my forehead. 18138421228_c3ac1be82b_oParts of my body were waking up that had been asleep since whatever last episode of I Dream of Jeannie. She wore riding boots and frayed, faded jeans. Her hips and arms swayed when she walked and her blond hair covered her face. She pulled her hair back and I felt a pang of pain at how pretty she was. Who was this?

She strode toward us, unbothered by the mud. She had a tall posture and when she stopped, hands on her hips, she towered over me.

“Not a lot of people out today because of the mud. You guys are brave.” Her voice was womanly, and that made me shyer than usual. My mother explained that it would only be me going out for the ride. The guide looked at me keenly in the eyes and smiled. “Just me and you, huh. Maybe we’ll go off trail, then.” Her words opened a door to my imagination and out came a pornographic fantasia of ways she might try to seduce me. What else could she have possibly meant by that?
Perhaps well in to the ride, I would’ve realized what a foolish child I’d been for having such thoughts. I was at the threshold of that goofy phase of youth and who could understand the primitive mechanisms that drive boys to act like apes. But in that moment, I believed seduction was a plausible scenario. I suppose strictly it would’ve been molestation, but I wasn’t concerned by that technicality.

She asked me if I had any experience with horses. I recalled my fifteen-foot horse ride in Mexico and I confidently answered, “Yes.”

“So you’re comfortable if we take her up to a canter, then?” I’d never heard the word canter before but I understood it as ‘gallop’ and suddenly I couldn’t stop using the word.

“Yeah let’s take it up to a canter.” “I’m really comfortable in a canter.” “Hey look at those horses cantering!” There was nothing cool about me.

My guide walked my horse to me. “You all set?”

“Let’s do this,” I replied. I turned around and my mother waved and smiled. I waved and smiled back, probably thinking, “I leave a boy; I come back a man.”9436829393_8e8c855dd5_o

As this silly thought trotted in my head, I saw a girl and her mother waving from the muddy parking area. My guide strode over to see what these intrusive people wanted. I watched in horror as this thoughtless mom negotiated a ride for her daughter. I stuttered to myself as the guide escorted the girl over to me, “But no. What about…”

The girl was about the same age as me, and I instantly disliked her. She wore riding boots and brought her own helmet and gloves. She explained that her family owned horses and that she competed in equestrian competitions. I thought to myself that she sounded snobby, but she and the guide talked horse-talk back and forth like two M&Ms in my pocket. I felt out of place, below their station. The girl agreed that going off trail sounded like a great idea, so the guide walked out another horse.

The girl mounted her horse and demonstrated she was in her comfort zone. I decided I needed to show competence and the best way to do this was to mount the horse as quickly as possible. However, the more haste I put into this effort, the less speed I gained. The guide ended my painfully embarrassing fight with gravity by showing me the mechanics of mounting properly. I was sure not knowing how to mount gave away my game, but once the guide was on her horse, we were on our way – no further instructions or last-minute check-ins. She tapped her heel against her horse, the girl did the same, so I followed suit and trailed behind them.

My horse kept stopping to munch leaves off trees, leaving me behind on the trail. “Stop it. Hey! Horse. Stop that.” I didn’t know how to stop my horse from eating, but I didn’t want to further inform anyone of how inexperienced I was.

“When he turns his head toward the tree, pull on the reigns, keep him looking forward,” my guide yelled back at me. I kicked my horse to catch up and suddenly he took off like National Velvet. It startled me and my body started bouncing around. My testicles crashed hard into the saddle and I saw planets and galaxies. Testicle pain is unique; it shoots back into the kidneys, causing an instant stomach ache and a carnival of referred pains throughout the lower abdomen. The girls must have taken it as a cue as their horses took off into a canter. I wanted to stop. I felt in over my head, but the urge to continue my charade egged me on so I persisted. There wasn’t a lot of room to navigate, which is a dubious word considering my horse just basically followed the other horses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The horse’s height had me up in the trees and the branches smacked me in the face. I closed my eyes to protect them from the branches, and every time I opened them again I got smacked by the next branch. I kept wondering if this was normal. Were my guide and the girl getting smacked in the face with branches too? And if so, why were they letting this happen?

“Lean forward!” my guide instructed. Her advice was sound. I leaned in, tucked myself down, and the forest world stopped kicking my ass.

We reached a clearing and the girls’ horses really took off. I kicked my horse and the Earth under my horse surely quaked. Things got serious. I squeezed my legs together to keep from bouncing. Keeping hold of the reigns became grueling. They were tight in my hands and pinched the skin at the base of my index fingers to the point the skin ripped off on both hands. I continued to grip the reigns, trying to remain stable. When we settled back to a walk, I twisted the reigns around my hands to keep them from touching the raw strips. At the other side of the clearing, we went deep into the trees until we reached a descent. It looked awfully steep, yet the two ahead of me descended down the rocky hill. Starting the descent down felt like going over the bump on a roller coaster. My horse immediately started slipping. My chest pounded and my eleven year-old mouth uttered, “Ohshit ohshit.” I received one instruction: don’t lean forward. I leaned back, but my horse kept slipping down the rocks. I leaned as far back as I could, my head nearly laying on the horse’s ass. My horse struggled, slipped some more, eventually finding his groove and making it to a brook below. My stomach churned and pain shot from my fingers and groin, but crossing the brook seemed to lower the voltage. The horses stepped carefully on the underwater rocks. Water crashed up against their legs and my horse stopped to take a long drink; I let him. It was one of those moments of quiet in which the sounds of water and forest massaged the senses. I was no where near home, and no amount of embarrassment and pain could wash away how lucky I felt. I knew this wasn’t the glorious ride my mother wished for herself as a child, but she succeeded at making up for someone else’s promise.

Thinking of YouI was a muddy mess by the time we got back to the reception. I was wrong when I thought I’d be leaving a child, coming back a man, but I was humbled by the experience and after all, what’s adulthood but the culmination of countless lessons. It would be ten years before I would get on a horse again. And when that guide asked me if I had any experience with horses, I wisely answered, “This is my first time.”

The guide responded with, “Then let’s start with the basics.”

 

 

Lose Your Virginity

In the spirit of embarrassing moments that haunt our minds forever – those which we keep secret from the world surrounding us – check out the following entry sent to me from an anonymous blogger. Why should I be the only one mortified by my past, after all?

Do you have an embarrassing story of utter failure and shame you want to share with the world? Then by all means, SHARE IT WITH US! I want to read every excruciating, sweat-inducing detail. Send it to dbogut89@gmail.com. I want to say I’ll keep it between us, but as the following blog post suggests, that won’t be true.  

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SENT TO ME June 29, 2015 by ANONYMOUS

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8476998_a8f0b2cc41_oI can remember feeling utter horror, staring at the dark red stain on the dusty bed sheets and being stricken, halfway dead with misery. I instantly mourned the loss of my hymen. I physically felt wrong and different, as if my body was sending up flares into the sky, ‘Here I am! Something’s changed!’

And yes, it hurt. Not afterwards but during. It hurt like a scab coming off, something I wanted to happen but should’ve left alone and unpicked. The foreign pressure forced my body into weird shapes, my mouth contorted. Such a heavy feeling of being crushed, all my molecules zinging around between enjoyment and pain.

I don’t have the date. Somewhere around 17, a young 17. I had been with my boyfriend for 8 months. We used the spare bedroom at his parent’s house. They were so slovenly, there was dust on everything and piles of old magazines stacked up from the floor. The room had a yellow cast from the light through the faded cotton blinds.

I kneeled at the side of the bed, wailing, pushing my face down into the musty sheets while he hovered, anxious, just outside the door. ‘Are you OK?’

‘Yes, it’s fine. It’s…I just need to do this,’ I said to him. I just needed to witness what I’d done for a moment longer, really embed it into my mind because I knew it was momentous and I would want it for later. I have often been like that, slightly to one side of a full experience.

I must’ve risen eventually, knees imprinted and stinging from the carpet. I don’t remember any of that, the showering, the washing of bedding. The next day at school I felt I was holding in a great secret and walked around, wondering who else had one too and if they could see mine, tethered like a balloon drifting behind me.

Get Arrested

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The police lights made a disco out of the shadows. Jovian stood to one side of the police car, I stood to the other. We were being interviewed and those wily cops separated us to compare our stories. What reason could two downtown punks have to be cruising around posh Englewood Cliffs other than marauding? Jovian and I had this covered.

I recited my half of the script to my cop. “His girlfriend broke up with him tonight. They were together for years and he was really upset. We had nowhere to go.”

Jovian recited his half of the script to his cop. “We had nowhere to go. We were just cruising and he was consoling me. This is the worst night of my life.”

“I’ve never seen him this way.” Getting arrested was my nightmare, and maybe this story was weak, but having any plan at all gave me some hope.

“I called him and I guess I said some crazy stuff,” Jovian no doubt continued. He was comfortable getting into trouble, so he no doubt delivered his words possessed with mischief.

My delivery aimed to be clean-cut and articulate. “He said some concerning things over the phone, so I picked him up. The pot wasn’t his.”

“It was mine,'” Jovian likely concluded. Because that was the script we’d previously agreed on for nights just like that night: cruising around aimlessly just to have somewhere to get high and listen to music, finding ourselves inadvertently in the wrong neighborhood.

Jovian and I sat our red-eyed asses back in the car and gave each other looks that acknowledged we’d played our parts. We waited for our fates to be decided. The waiting was unpleasant. Jovian tried to reassure me with, “Don’t worry. It’s gonna work out.” His words didn’t ease my worries. He kept nodding his head, which made me think he was trying to convince himself his words were true. But we got caught. I was worried about how an arrest would affect my life. What would my family think?

The cop returned from his car with the joint he’d found hidden in Jovian’s bag of cassettes. He held out his hand to showcase the tool of doom he had in his power. “You boys are probably in college. I’m not going to ruin your lives for a joint.” He ripped the joint apart and emptied its contents onto the road. I’ve no doubt Jovian’s equally ungrateful heart sank into his stomach like mine did with the thought, “No! That’s all we have left!” But we understood the larger implication. Once that joint disappeared from the cop’s hands, we were off the hook. Relief sedated me into my seat. The cop ended with, “Don’t let me catch you in Englewood Cliffs again.”

Maybe if the officer had known how high we still were, he would’ve ethically been more obliged to not send us off on our merry way. But for some reason, we weren’t worth arresting. Maybe I deserved to get arrested that night – I broke the law – but that wasn’t the time I got arrested.5557917771_7169877a22_o

“I am so drunk, right now,” I thought to myself. “I shouldn’t be driving.” It was the night I learned what a Long Island Iced Tea was. I wasn’t a drinker, but that night, Cassandra was at the bar. And the thing is, Cassandra was at the bar and she was a goddess. She was trip-and-drop-your-tray beautiful and my eighteen year-old eyes couldn’t stop looking at her. I often thought that someone that looked like her wouldn’t look back, but she did. She liked me. Not romantically, or lustfully, but she liked talking to me. And she spoke candidly.

“I met a guy last night. A doctor. I thought he was going to tear me in half.”

Cassandra’s words had the ability to leave me jaw-dropped. Her face was that of a siren, but her brain had no editor and the things she chose to say to me were things I wouldn’t hear again until the advent of free internet porn. “I went home with him, and can you believe he lived on the same block as my boyfriend!”

Her boyfriend was a New Jersey mobster. Cassandra’s inability to make good decisions dumbfounded me because she was older than me. Everybody at the night club was older than me. Jovian had told the managers that we were twenty-one and they were so desperate for waiters, they chose to believe it. I’d never been to a nightclub, yet now found myself immersed in the inner workings of one. It was a Gomorahan world littered with seedy characters. But Cassandra was one of the good people.

After a grueling shift one night, my manager invited me to stay and hang out. “Have a drink, on me.” No one had ever said that to me before. More surprising was that my manager was acting like he actually believed I was twenty-one. He walked me over to the bar and instructed the bartender to give me a drink. Cassandra was at the bar. I sat down and her face beamed. I’d never interacted with her outside the moments in which she was making my customers’ drinks. Her and I cherished those spare moments at the service bar and if we could exchange fifteen seconds of rants and chats, we would. But now I was a customer. Her voice melted me. “What can I get you?”

I didn’t know, so I said, “I don’t know.” She smiled. I suspected she found my youth endearing. I watched as she took pleasure in making my drink. She smiled coyly with every step. She moved for me to see her move. She intimidated me. I was embarrassed by my youth and frustrated by my inexperience, but damnit I was going to drink her drink. I sipped through a straw and she watched for my reaction. It was delicious! Of course it was. She took delight in my genuine buzzedness, so she mixed me another. And another. We laughed and kidded. She revelled in how smitten I was with her. In time, the bar picked up and I lost Cassandra’s attention. The drinks had me feeling great and I knew it was time to go.

During the drive home, I learned about alcohol delay. I was a lot drunker than I’d thought I could get, so I decided to park the car and rest a while. I saw a vacant spot and pulled up to parallel park. I promised myself I would never drink and drive again if I got home okay. The spot was a little tight, and I wasn’t the best parallel parker, but I could do this.

In front of me was an intersection where a graveyard-shift cop pulled up to the red light. My eyebrows raised. My heart palpitated. I put the car in reverse and did the parallel-parker’s L-shape, one hand on the wheel, the other behind the passenger seat. My forehead beaded. All I had to do was park. All that light had to do was turn green and send him on his way. The universe could have easily accommodated me.

But instead I knocked down the fence that surrounded the curb-side tree. The cop pulled up next to me and shone a spotlight into my car. I was fucked. I told him I’d had one drink. He made me walk the line. He did the follow-the-light thing. He pulled the ol’ touch-your-nose. I failed it all. The cop grunted, “You’re underage and driving drunk. You’re in deep shit, son.” I was disappointed in myself. I thought about how disappointed my family would be. I thought about the spell Cassandra had me under and I felt foolish.

“Give me your keys,” the cop barked at me. I handed them over. Then I watched as he got in my car and parked it. He handed back my keys and my license before instructing, “Walk home!”

Wow! A lot goes through a boy’s mind when he’s walking home drunk after a close call like that. I was that irresponsible person none of us have any lenience for. I was a danger on the road and destroyed someone’s property. I got caught sloppily red-handed. But once again, a cop had me in his clutches and dropped me on a soft patch of grass. This time I clearly deserved to get arrested, but I wasn’t.

6711234961_a6d9c006b7_oThis is the time I got arrested:

“Sir, please step out of the vehicle.”

Are you serious?! My mind exploded. Am I seriously under arrest, right now? How can this be? The universe must be shitting me.

“I’m placing the cuffs on loosely because I don’t think you’re a risk.” That’s the same as if the cop had said, “You’re clearly a pussy, but this is protocol.”

He opened the back door of the police car and I slid in. The second I sat down, the cuffs pinched between my back and the seat. They ate at my wrists as the cop transported me from one town to another. He spoke on his cell phone the entire time. “Are you going tonight? Why not? Everyone’s going! Yeah, Cloddy’s gonna be there. Even Johnny D.” During his asinine, illegal phone call, all I could think was, “Goddamn pound cake.”

It had been over a year since Ariadne and I went our separate ways, but I’d maintained a deep love for her family. Even though we divorce our partners’ families when we break up, her grandfather had recently been in the hospital, so I decided to visit the fella. Any visit to the hospital that ends in being sent home is an occasion to be celebrated. I don’t like to show up empty-handed, so I made a pound cake. Maybe a butter-laden pound cake wasn’t what the doctor ordered for a ninety year-old man after a heart scare, but it served its purpose. I hesitated on my way out the door. Maybe this isn’t a good idea, I thought. What if everything’s awkward and weird? Do I even have a right to go? Fuck it, I thought, of course I have the right to visit him. Poundcake in hand, I closed the door behind me. I left my phone and money behind, the fella was only minutes away and I’d be right back, after all.

I was greeted with a sincere welcome. I shook the old man’s hand firmly and kissed his wife. We sat in the kitchen. Although we exchanged some platitudes, I knew the old man was sincerely happy to have a visitor. “I thought I was a goner,” he confessed to me. It broke my heart. I felt guilt for having brought the butter-laden pound cake; we may as well have been drinking melted butter. I didn’t overstay my welcome. Soon enough, we shook hands, and I was off.

I was happy to have visited him. However, that was done and now it was time to move on. I felt overwhelmed with emotion during the drive home; proud of myself for having found the courage to knock on that door, and relieved that I’d been welcomed so warmly. But the flame of happiness flickered briefly and was doused by a flood of noise behind me: police sirens. Why is this guy pulling me over? I pulled over in the county park.

“I have to impound the car, but they probably won’t make me bring you in,” the cop consoled at first. He spoke into a walkie-talkie dangling from his shoulder and called in for instructions. A million years passed while we waited for a response. I thought of ways I could resolve this situation without involving my family. I looked out into the park. Joggers glanced at me and dog-walkers took long hard stares. Families barbecued and kids played basketball on the courts. A response came in through the radio, ‘Bring him in.”

I was instructed to place my hands on the car. Traffic was heavy and I was mortified by the idea that somebody I knew might see me. A family strolled by and the mother pointed me out to her kids. I couldn’t hear what she said, but it no doubt ended with, “… or you’ll end up like him.”

A single cop was stationed in the holding room. He sat at a desk and did nothing. He didn’t do paper work, or type on a computer; he did nothing at all. Adjacent to the bench, to which my ankle was cuffed, were two secure detention rooms. “So who goes in the padded room?” I asked. Every answer the cop gave me was delivered politely, but the faces he made gave away that he couldn’t care less. I needed to call someone to get me out of there. I leaned against the wall in perfect jail-phone-call stance and, as I hovered my fingers over the dial pad of a wall-mount phone, I realized I’d hit the “call” key of my cell phone enough times that the numbers disappeared from my head. Anyone on my people-to-call-in-a-situation-like-this list were either not local or simply had phone numbers with no residence in my memory bank. All I knew anymore was that when I touched some button, someone’s phone rung on the other end. There was only one number I knew by heart. “Nope!” my internal voice exclaimed. This situation already sucked as it was without having to involve family.

I closed my eyes and tried to see familiar digits, but all I got were visions of my hands dialing defunct numbers. I tightened my eyes as hard as I could and covered them with my palm, but it turned out that technique was ineffective for remembering things I’d never known to begin with. My mind was flooded with all kinds of needless thoughts. I damned some people for having moved away. I cursed everyone that had changed their phone numbers within the past year. I wondered if would Ariadne would pick up the phone if I called her; I concluded probably not and it jumpstarted an ill-timed thread of thoughts. The taskless cop grew impatient. “Hey buddy, you gonna call someone or not?”

I convinced myself I could remember my sister’s new number. I dialed the area code. I dialed the first three digits. But what were the next four numbers?

Five.

One, definitely.

Eight, almost sure of it.

And four!

“The number you have dialed is not in service. Please hang up and try again.”

Fuck! I begged my memory. There had to be just one other number I could remember. But there wasn’t. Know your numbers, or you too may know the humiliation of being bailed out of an adulthood arrest by your mother.

Maybe it depends what you get arrested for – protesting inequality vs public masturbation – but overall, getting arrested is an embarrassing rite. During the ride from the police station, I thought about how much worse it would’ve been if I’d been arrested for something less benign. Little did I know that, when I stepped out my front door one February morning and found that slip of paper tucked under my windshield wiper – a fine for not displaying a residential parking permit – that the results could get so out of control.

11537998903_fed623cbb5_oPerhaps I owed the universe one for the times I was only grazed by the fingertips of justice. Maybe the universe simply knew that Jovian and I returned often to Englewood Cliffs for more mischief. If so, does the universe know what Cassandra’s up to nowadays?

Have a Good Fetish

4261543558_5bf8f8bd70_oWhen I was kid, I had a babysitter who would bring me into the bathroom when she had to pee, presumably because it was the best way to be sure I didn’t get into any mischief while she was gone. She likely thought the naivete of youth shielded me from any influence, but she was wrong. The sight of panties around her ankles infatuated me. They were nothing like what I wore. Their components seemed to accommodate different anatomy, and the very idea that I was in the presence of this anatomy was very exciting to me. I was hooked. I couldn’t wait until the next time she had to pee. If you picture me reliably emptying the water pitcher into her glass, it wouldn’t be inaccurate. This went on several times a day, with each new day offering a glimpse of a new pair of panties. There was a certain fascination with watching her pee – the mechanics of it interested me because I’d never realized how many more steps were involved when girls peed – but it was the panties that turned on the sexuality switch.

Years later, when I was twelve, my sister moved out of the house and into an apartment with her best friend, Minah. She was six years older than me. An eighteen year old girl to a twelve year old boy is like a calf to a vampire. She was gorgeous, voluptuous, and unlike any other of my sister’s friends, she was sisterly to me. But the best part about Minah was her love of video games. It was like God pulled my fantasy out of my head six years too early. And for some unexplainable, divinely generous reason, every once in a blue moon, out of sisterly devotion, Minah would call me. “What’re you doing tonight?”

“Um… nothing,” twelve year-old me would stutter.

“Come over, then. And bring the Playstation.”

The bus ride uptown stressed me out. I thought everyone knew there was a Playstation in my backpack and if it got stolen, my entire world would implode. But the possibilities presented by hanging out with Minah were promising enough to risk it. She’d make us some dinner and always had soda for us to drink. She was competitive and we’d game all night. One time, she was intensely maneuvering her controller and asked me to go into her room to fetch her cigarettes. I obliged, rooting her on as she pummeled her way through the board. I was pumped by the intensity of the game, jacked from all the sugar and high on lust. But the world was black and white, and the colorful world of Oz was just behind her bedroom door. I walked in briskly, going to the exact spot she directed me, but something in my path slowed my gait: panties!

It was a wonderland of panties of all kinds. There were pink panties, lace panties, ribboned panties; it was like a land where used panties went to die and they were draped everywhere like Dali’s clocks. I could hear Minah tapping furiously on her controller. “Did you find my cigarettes?” she asked. My mouth stuttered. I needed to act fast. I found her cigarettes, turned around, grabbed the nearest panties on the floor and stuffed them into my pocket. When I came out of Minah’s room, I felt like a prison spotlight was shining on me. I held my composure and watched Minah smoke 14535886466_b6d22c1b86_oa cigarette as I battled bad guys with aplomb.

The bus ride home seemed to take forever. I couldn’t believe what a prize I’d scored. When I got home, I practiced the usual platitudes until I could be alone. Then when the night finally settled, I pulled out my trophy. They were red lace. “Great pick,” I thought. The very feel of them filled my mind with lustful thoughts. The anticipation of pulling someone’s panties off one day, and that they too might be red lace panties, tested my maturity. I couldn’t wait. I had the panties, so I needed to simulate the moment. I was an artistic kid, after all. I could produce a Robert-Evans-quality production of this distantly forthcoming occasion. All I needed was a prop.

My eyes scanned the room for something to slip the panties onto, so then I could enact the panty-removal ceremony. My book bag was too wide. My bed pillow kinda worked, but didn’t. What about a stuffed animal? “No, that’s weird,” I reasoned. The idea simmered in my head all night until I fell asleep. I’m sure I dreamed of Minah’s wonderland of panties.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of the front door slamming. The house was empty and I had the summer day all to myself. From the moment I opened my eyes, my mind was back to the red-lace panties under my pillow. I pulled them out and studied them in the light. My senses were in overdrive. I’d never held an object that emanated such power over me. My whole body was alert. But wait – I needed to make sure I was indeed alone. I walked out into the living room and there I saw it: a red, velvety bolster cushion. It was perfect, it was meant to be. The bolster – an elongated cylinder cushion – was already kind of sexy and could easily stand in for Twin-Peaks-era Sherilyn Fenn. The panties slipped on beautifully.  I slipped them off, then on again. Slipping them off to no reward underneath was lame, so I consequently found slipping the panties onto the bolster way more fun. The bolster looked kinda hot in Minah’s panties, but other than slipping them on and off all morning, I didn’t quite know what to do with the Fenn-kenstein that I’d created. I sat on the couch with my red-lace-pantied friend and felt the novelty wear off. And once the drunkenness of lust subsided, the debauchery of the situation dawned on me. I thought about how I stole from Minah, even though she was so cool with me. I felt shame. I went to the bathroom and washed my hands. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if I should return the panties – opening her door and throwing them back in, that is – or just keep them. Who did I want to be, after all?

4260786457_710abee4c6_oIt only took one sound to slap me out of my morality mirror-stare: the front door. I watched my face go from boy-in-dilemma to oh-fuck-NO! My inner dialogue screamed the instruction, “Get those damn panties off the cushion before it’s too late!” My feet moved quickly but my eyes saw everything in slow motion. I burst into the living room to find my mother – her face a study in confusion and horror – holding the panty-laden bolster up to eye level. Now my mother knew what a depraved, degenerate child I was. Now every time she left the house, she’d be wondering what decrepit things I might be doing to her furniture.We locked eyes and I wanted to disappear into thin air; I wanted to ninja-smokebomb my way out; I wanted to rocket right out through the ceiling and burn up in the atmosphere. But I couldn’t do any of that. So I fessed up. I wasn’t talented enough to lie my way out of this one. What else besides the truth could possibly explain this? Looking back, her reaction was extremely generous. Maybe she recognized the embarrassment from her own childhood follies. Maybe it was an unsettling view into a twelve year-old boy’s world. Either way, she let the incident be forgotten easily and we never revisited the event. I’m sure she kept my secret safe because, every once in a while, Minah would still invite me over to play video games with her. I always loved Minah like a sister. But she wasn’t, so stealing more of her panties that summer wasn’t exactly out of the question, and so began my panty fetish.

Have a Ticking Clock

I was making out with my high-school girlfriend in the backseat of my big-sister’s borrowed Honda Accord. It was a moment I’d waited all of high-school for: finding myself in the backseat with a horny blond who wanted to wrap tongues to The Cure’s best hits. I could see my house from Cloud Nine and through the fog of euphoria, I started to hear what the muse had been trying to ask me. “What time is it?”547435C351

I responded, “Huh who what why? Kiss me you fool!”

She insisted, “No seriously, what time is it?” She had to be home by ten o’clock, which meant we needed to leave now. I wanted her to be a brand of bad girl who defied curfews and fought with her parents about why she should be able to stay out later, but she wasn’t that girl. She earned her fool-around time with good performance. She played her parents’ game and she played it well. So I took her home so she could be free to wrap tongues another time.

And we did. In the fire stairs of her building, she pulled my hands off her thighs. “Is it five o’clock, yet?”

Things got hot and bothered on my mother’s living room sofa. “Hold on, what time does your mom get home?”

Pressed up against the wall of some stranger’s driveway once, she interrupted, “Wait, what time you have?”

We made out on the Hudson Palisades overlooking Yonkers. Lips locked in a romantic embrace, she didn’t even bother to pull away from my lips when she uttered, “I need to know what time it is?”

I tried to convince her to break her curfew, but her argument that it just lessened the chances of there being a make-out session tomorrow night was just too convincing. I decided to take the parkway home to ensure we’d get her back home in time to clock in with compliance.

Ten minutes later she had a new question, “Why are we on the George Washington Bridge?” She was frustrated by my lack of navigational prowess and clearly had no admiration for my attempt to get her home on time. Her stress was contagious and when she dropped her face into her hands, I knew that wasn’t good for me. The tone of her voice made me shudder with panic. “I can’t believe you’re taking me across the bridge right now!”

I defended myself, “I don’t want to be on this bridge! I don’t know how we got on this bridge, but this is happening right now and we’re just one u-turn away from being back on track.” She got home an hour late, wiser about Bronx geography, and grounded.

I stopped wearing a watch. She bought herself one. Our lives headed in different directions. I unstrapped myself from the constraint of time and adopted a care-free attitude about punctuality. I look back at my high-school muse’s unshakable concern about time and I wonder how she did with the commodity. My current life finds me in a living room, still yearning for horny blonds and make-out sessions. On the wall are two cuckoo clocks – I didn’t put them there. They cuckoo once on the half hour and again on the hour, once each at one o’clock, twelve times each at midnight. They both tick loudly and the ticking is inescapable. Sometimes, just like back then, I tune time out and free myself from the measurement. Other times, I expressly tune in to the ticking and wonder how many ticks I let go by uninvested, playing the wrong game. Every tick that goes by is a question, “What time is it?”

Go Ahead, Keep Talking

The workplace crush is an inevitability. When enough cavemen cross paths with enough cave-ladies, the Universe ensures that eventually sparks will fly. We don’t want to believe that the people we love are at work looking at other people, but it’s super likely that they are. You know you are.

Stop sign in Wynwood I was frustrated that my part-time workplace crush got barely put on the work schedule, so when I arrived to finally see her name on it, I decided to exploit the luck. I did that thing where I see her go for her coat, so I go for my coat; then she gets side-tracked by something, so I make sure I get side-tracked by something of near-equivalent side-track duration. I stared at the work schedule as if I was confused by it, then as she passed behind me to exit, I found false-clarity in my false-confusion and made sure we walked out of work together. I pulled the ol’, “Want to grab a quick bite?” She agreed, and of all the options, she chose pizza: the most noncommittal of all food-hunts.

On the short walk to the pizzeria, I asked her some questions. I thought about Jovian – my guide for all things ‘woman’ – and about what he would say: “She’s the one on the interview, you be the interviewer.”

I asked things like, “Where’d you go to school?” and “So what’s your full-time job?” She was no doubt impressed by my sass interviewing technique.

At the pizza counter, we both opted for plain slices and awkwardly danced around each other at the beverage cooler. I went with fizzy, she went with flat. Then she dropped this on me: “So what do you want to do with your life?” My brain blew up in my head and smoke came out my ears. Maybe not, but it felt like it. I tried to untangle myself from the question by being jokingly elusive and mysterious. She didn’t let that happen. She ate her slice at the table and pushed the question.

My brain asked, “What would Jovian do?” But my mouth didn’t share my brain’s curiosity and began to eject a thread of unedited rambles that ranged from past women and business failures to why I hate her boyfriend-that-I’ve-never-met to how I haven’t read a book in two years. As my mouth rambled and my ears listened in horror, my eyes watched her adorable face contort and react to my words. It was like witnessing someone watch a snake eat a mouse for the first time.

I could hear Jovian’s frustrated voice yell, “Stop,” but I didn’t. I tried to course-correct and swing the conversation back into I’m-a-mystery territory. Instead I secured the sentiment of hoping her schedule never coincided with mine again. To see her again would be to remind myself what an inadvertent boor I’d been.

As I munched on my last bites of pizza, a silence hit the air. I’d wanted to sit at a table, look across and see her pretty face looking back at me. I wanted to know what she sounded like when she laughed. I wanted to see her blush. I wanted her to know that I was smitten by her and that she should get to know me.  I got what I wanted. The adorable-faced, part-time workplace crush got to know me, alright. I got to know something about myself, too – I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

Cheer on the Inside

Think of war back in the day when we fought with large rocks tied to big branches. Food was scarce and your clan got pumped to avenge the slaying of one of your clan members by a rival clan over a deer claim or something caveman like that. Both clans meet up in whatever was the 10,000 BC version of the schoolyard and your clan puts the hbaby-219683_1280-2urt on real good. When it’s all said and done and the last rival has fallen, everyone in your clan looks around, raises their stone-branch weapons and they roar in victory. Except one guy, he keeps his caveman bullshit to himself and in his calm sees figures over the far hill and cries out, “Look out! More assholes!” Your clan is alerted, they catch the other clan with higher ground, and the clash is over. The quiet man saves the day. Where is this archetype today?

I attempted to caveman out at a concert once. I was well accompanied by a beautiful Spaniard girl who’d been my bartender the week before. All week long I admired my own prowess. I made faces in the mirror that gorillas make when they pound their chest. On date night I picked her up in my mother’s car. When the lights of the arena dimmed and the main act was hitting the stage, the crowd buzzed. Whistles and claps and stomps filled the air and the atmosphere was thick for cave-manning. I clapped my hands and the cave-manning erupting all around me signaled me to clap harder. Intro music pumped from the speakers and psyched everyone up. When the band appeared, it was a jungle. I did something that was that moment’s stone-branch-thing in the air: I cupped my hands and I roared like a beast. My lungs filled the air of that arena and it was cathartic. I turned to the darling Spaniard. I wanted her to follow suit with a cave-woman grunt. I wanted to grunt back and pound my chest to let other males know that the darling Spaniard was with me. Instead, she offered, ‘You scream like a girl.’ What face do gorillas make when they don’t get the girl? That’s the face I no doubt made for the rest of that night.

Caveman types need to be admired; they sing our songs, they play our sports, they dance to our occasions. But next time you’re at a concert, and the guy in front of you isn’t clapping along or waving his cellphone light with the rest of the hive, leave him alone. He’s got your flank.