Dancing with Cougars

February 24, 2009

This story I lifted from my trip to San Francisco for the Obama Inauguration. I figured this bit would be more interesting then the whole story to most people, but you can always email me at citizenk.blog@gmail.com and I’ll happily send you the whole thing. Backstory: It’s January 20th, and I’m visiting my uncle in San Francisco.

TUESDAY: 4:45 right on the money, (not bad for a guy perpetually late) I walk back up to my uncle’s building on Fort Mason. I try to call him to get into the building, realize that my phone is completely dead, but he sees me through the window and lets me in anyway. Howard asks me what I did in the city, I give him the rough account, and then drink capri suns and stare out the window while he makes a few last-minute phone calls. My feet hurt and I’m broke, but I’m deliriously happy, possibly from the dehydration. After he’s done, we lock up and get ready for our inauguration ball across the bay.

We end up leaving a bit later then we had planned, so instead of heading home to change, we drive across the Golden Gate to Fort Baker, a base I had no idea even existed until then. It’s a pretty cool place, hidden just east of and below the bridge. The base is decommissioned, but the officer’s club is used as a bar for special events, and Howard and his coworkers have enough play with the Park Service to get it opened for the night. There’s a little turn off just after the bridge, and the road meanders down and around until it opens up onto a run-down little harbor, with a few 40’s looking buildings and warehouses. Fort Baker is not much to look at, but this trip seemed determined to teach me that looks can be deceiving.

The plan, as Howard told me while we were unloading his car, was for a few dozen people to get together, watch the inaugural speeches, talk about our hopes and dreams for the Obama administration, and knock a few back. Later in the night a band, the ‘Blues Disaster” would blow a few tunes, and people might dance. Truthfully, it didn’t sound all that amazing to me – my uncle and his friends are easily 30 years older than me, and I figured I would be out of place and under-dressed at a high-brow party. How very wrong I was.

Howard and I ended up being the first people to arrive aside from the bartender, Leo. We clear out a dance floor, set up chips and munchies, decorate, and pop open a few brews. A few more coworkers show up, people set up a projector, and Leo and I haul some kegs up from the basement. The building is fantastic – a bar upstairs, with a studio and warehouse below. I go exploring in the warehouse and find 70 years of debris and history: piles of old machines, tools older then my parents, and everything needed to run an old navy outpost 2 generations ago. It could have been a museum, and instead Leo got to run the bar so long as he made sure nobody stole things or wrecked the place up. I tell Leo how lucky he is to run the place, and he just laughs and agrees.

Carrying the kegs upstairs is thirsty work, and so Leo and I drink pints of Blue Moon while we watch the Park Service folks arrive and set up their decorations. I hang streamers and carry in speakers for the band and generally work my ass off, but I’m full of nervous energy and high spirits and the movement feels right. I overhear Howard and someone talking, and his lady-friend (not like that) is saying that the party has exploded from a few dozen people to a few hundred.

Just then Leo’s other bartender, Kristin, shows up, and she tells Leo that her friend isn’t going to be able to come in and bus tables for the night. Leo’s none to happy, and they argue for a while about how they’re going to avoid running out of cups during the party, which seems to be getting wilder by the minute. I watch bemusedly and sip my beer, until finally Leo turns to me and asks if I’m down to bus tables for free drinks. I’m broke beyond a joke, so I agree wholeheartedly, and the deal is struck – cleaning tables in exchange for everything I can drink – and what a dangerous deal it is.

The party itself kicks off probably around 7, and people start pouring in. The initial theme of celebrating Obama gets abandoned like a prom-night baby, and the whole place disintegrates into a wild dance party. No one minds. The band is fantastic – they’re playing jazz, rock, blues, funk, reggae, covering anything you’d want to dance to. Howard strands me at the ticket table and gets down on the floor; I’m laughing too hard to be mad. Hes pretty good though! People are paying 3-4 times the donation asked, and they keep coming. I lost count about 120, but I never started counting at an empty building. I keep jumping off to clear tables, stealing drinks people haven’t finished, leaping over chairs, cutting through the dancers in a wild effort to keep up with the drinkers. Leo and Kristen are raking in money hand over fist, moving with a frantic efficiency that just barely keeps the place hydrated. People are drinking to get fucked up – no other way to put it. I’m watching 60 year olds down drinks like it’s Mardi Gras, and people older then my parents take 2, 3 shots straight off. The party is phenomenal, one of those rare occurrences where everyone is just trying to shake off bad memories and celebrate a truly great day.

I’m another 6 pints of Blue Moon deep when Howard finally relieves me at the front door. He ribs me to go dance, and I really don’t need much prompting – I’m out on the floor dancing with women twice my age, having a blast, high and happy. I keep dancing until Leo yells at me that he’s out of glasses, and then Kristen and I run around frantic to grab armfuls of cups and glasses and clear tables. The party keeps growing, and the dance floor keeps gobbling up more of the room. People are pushing tables toward the walls, old couples are dirty dancing, and I’m running and bouncing through the middle of it all, looking for girls anywhere near my age.

An aside here: women under 30 or so are no fun when it comes to dancing. Older women love to dance, and will enthusiastically take you up on any offer, but the younger ones are either too shy or too haughty to accept. I really dig partner dancing, and I can teach ANYONE to dance if they’re willing, but I asked every young girl I could find to dance, and got turned down by all of them. I really don’t care – I just got out on the floor with the older women and had a blast, but it was downright depressing to see every girl I had a chance with sitting at a table watching bemused while the rest of us had a blast.

After a few hours, I end up outside on the balcony with a beautiful Japanese woman only a couple years my senior, talking world travel and the Peace Corps and smoking Camel lights. She’s digging my Obama shirt and hair, and I’m digging her eyes and her laugh. We click in a big way, or at least drunk me thought so. Just when it starts getting good, one of the Park Service guys comes up to me and asks me to help carry some shit down to the cars, and so I promise the girl I’ll be back as fast as I can. I am, but she’s gone, never to be seen again. I smoked those Camels for nothing!

Kicking myself, I wander back inside, do the rounds, clear some tables, drink another beer, and work my way back to the floor. By this point, the dancers are clearing out a bit just from fatigue and heat and I head straight to the middle of the floor and just start feeling the beat. It’s not something I’m particularly good at, but so long as I don’t think about how stupid I must look, I can usually pull off cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way. Within a couple minutes I luck out big time, and this gorgeous blonde dancing nearby looks over at me and bursts out laughing. I pull a couple moves, she kinda throws em back, and for the first time all night, I’m dancing with someone who couldn’t be my mother. At the end of a song, I grab her by the hands, pull her in close, and ask her if she’d like to really dance.

“What do you mean?” She asks a fair question.

“I can teach you to ballroom dance if you’re willing to follow.”

“I’ve always wanted to learn.” she smiles at me, and I know I’m in for something special.

I lead her through a country 2-step, something easy to learn, and a confidence-builder. She picks up on it fast, and within a few minutes we’re spinning around the room, laughing and narrowly dodging the few other dancers left. We foxtrot, run through the basics of swing, and also rumba. She’s great at following, and that’s really all you need if the guy can lead. The party is definitely dying down by now, and after a few more dances, the floor is pretty much clear aside from us. I catch Leo giving me a thumbs up over her shoulder, and I couldn’t agree more. This is pretty much exactly what I was after.  The band plays their last song, we do a slow waltz, and when the music dies we keep dancing to our own beat as the party falls apart.

“So what now?” Her question surprises me – I was just thinking that it was a shame I had nowhere else for us to go, and she’s caught me off guard.

“I don’t know, really. I’m here visiting, so I don’t know where else we can go.”

“If you want to keep dancing, I know there’s an inaugural ball up in Marin. We could go crash that.”

“With you, I’d go anywhere.” It sounded less completely corny in person, I promise.

We bail as soon as we can say our goodbyes – or really, as soon as I can; I notice she really doesn’t know anyone there. I say goodbye to Leo and thank him for the job, he tells me to wrap it up, and I find Howard near the door, bidding the guests farewell.  “Howard, we’re going to head up to another ball in Marin. I’ll call you if I need a ride or anything.”  “Alright,” he says, “you kids are crazy – I’m about ready to hit the sack, and you’re going out to dance the night away.” He laughs, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” I zing back, “what does that leave out?” and we step out laughing into the cold damp night.

Walking toward the parking lot, I notice my dance partner is shaking with silent laughter. I ask her what the joke is, and she says “that guy, Howard, he called us ‘you kids.’” I must have looked clueless, because she keeps laughing and asks, “how old do you think I am?” I guess 28, and she almost falls apart giggling. “Sweetheart,” she gasps between fits of laughter, “I’m 42.”

“Really?” I’m floored.

“Really.” “Well, I never would have guessed it.”

And we keep on walking to her car.

Passenger seat, 90’s Volvo – We’re driving north into the unknown, or at least, into somewhere I haven’t the foggiest, a woman 20 years older then me driving, and me coming off a whole lot of drunk beside her. I can’t keep myself from staring; she’s gorgeous, and I still haven’t reconciled her age with her looks. However, I’m not a damned fool, so we talk about dancing and politics and the human spirit. She turns out to be one of those super new-agey chicks you find floating around the bay area, deep into energy and acupuncture and chi and all of the rest. I can’t quite believe what is going on around me, and I distinctly remember my subconscious bubbling up at one point and asking me “is this real life?” Still, we’ve gone this far and I’m not turning back, so onward we speed into the night.

To this day I have no idea where we drove, but a bit after midnight we end up at some hotel, resort, ballroom, something on a hill overlooking the city. We park her car and walk past rows of BMWs, Mercedes, and a few valets far better dressed then myself. Walking inside, our path is blocked by a very large bouncer, who, after a moment to consider a pair of disheveled dancers in jeans, lets us in at no cost. I tell him he won’t regret it, and we walk in to the dance party.

Inside, its all tuxedos and evening gowns and fancy coats and jewelry. I’m wearing an Obama T so worn out you can barely read it, shoes with holes, and jeans I’ve worn since San Diego. My dance partner is better by half, (at least she’s in a dress) but together we’re the worst-dressed pair in there: people actually stare and step back as we move into the room. We can’t stop laughing, and I drag her into the middle of the floor, shouting salsa steps over the hip-hop beats as we push into the mass of bodies.

Once there, we get down; salsa, west coast swing, rumba, two-step. I can’t believe how well this woman can follow! She’s picking up everything I’m laying down, and we’re lighting up the floor. Not meaning to brag, but you know you’re dancing well when people step back from what they’re doing to watch you. Either that or we stepped on too many toes and feet and legs and pissed everyone off! We spin and twirl and twist and flirt, dancing dirtier then I’ve ever dreamed with a woman twice my age.  After an hour or so, we stumble off the floor and grab a couple waters, gasping for air and talking about how they ought to play something we could tango to. Too hot inside, can’t hardly think, so we make our way out onto the balcony.

Outside the view is gorgeous. The balcony overlooks all of the bay – the glittering lights of San Francisco, the bridges illuminated in twinkling yellow and white. Overhead, the heavens stretch eternal, and I say that to her as we lean out over the balcony. She laughs, tells me I’m going to be heartbroken my whole life if I don’t stop being such a damned romantic. “Love who you are, not who you would like to be,” I say, ripping off the Lawrence Arms as I slip an arm around her. She shrugs me off, gives me a knowing smile, and asks me to teach her how to tango. I turn wordlessly, grab her in the dance position, and let myself slide into the rhythm of the dance. I don’t know why or how, but I’ve lost this one, and the night just doesn’t feel the same after that.

After we dance a while on the balcony, she asks me if I’m ready to leave. I’m coming down off the drinks and the dancing, and my dogs are dragging; I’m happy to leave. We make our exit through the thinning crowd of fancy suits and gowns and walk out into the chill of night. She offers me her couch; I accept readily – there’s no real alternative. Dead phone, flat broke, far from home, and alone. We drive home talking about spirituality and faith, and the crime that is religion corrupting the human spirit. I doubt we made much sense, but we talked in that vein, excited, intellectual, honest, like good friends but not lovers, all the way to her house. We stumble in, she tosses me a few blankets, and I pass out dreamless on the couch. Thus ends my first fling with an older woman, wildly successful in every way except in bed.

WEDNESDAY: Early Wednesday morning I wake up smelly, sticky, and sore, not to mention thirsty as all hell. My lips are sticking together, so I stumble into the kitchen looking for a drink. Once again, I thank whatever instinct I have that wakes me up early in the morning after drinking just in time to get water. I can’t even count how many hangovers I’ve dodged this way. After a couple glasses of tap water, I wrap myself back up on the couch and snooze and stare at the crazy patterns on her ceiling, while I wait for her to wake up.

A few hours later, she’s awake and in the kitchen. I make a show of getting up, stretching, wasting time while I think of what the hell I’m going to say to this woman. As it turns out, she and I get along fine, laughing about the insanity of the previous night. She offers me a ride into the city, I happily accept, and so after I wash up a bit in the bathroom, I bum a ride back home. Somewhere along the way, between stories and comparing families, I look at her and say something I know to be true. “You’re in love with love, aren’t you?” That kills it. She looks at me, quiet, with something deep in her eye telling me I’ve cut too deep this time. She looks out the window, and I drop my gaze. She never answers, and we drive across the bridge and into the city in silence.

Mercifully I have to give her directions soon, and the rest of our ride is spent in calling out turns and trying to orient myself around town. “I hate this place,” she tells me. “When I moved here, I used to love it, but I realized that the city has no soul, no heart. It’s all noise and crowds.” I tell her I love to come visit, and she smiles and tells me that’s because I’m young, and the world hasn’t beaten me up yet. Finally we get to my uncle’s house, and I thank her for the ride. I kiss her on the cheek, tell her to keep dancing, and she wishes me good luck in the Peace Corps. We run through a few minutes of small talk banter to avoid saying the obvious “goodbye forever” that we ought to.

Getting out of her car, I briefly hesitate, thinking I ought to ask her her name before we’re separated by eternity. “Fuck it” I think, “it makes the story better.” I slam the door closed and don’t look back as she drives away out of my life forever.

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9 Responses to “Dancing with Cougars”

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    I´m 24 and would never say no to a dance, even though I might not be the best dancer(which I think I am after a few drinks:-))


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