Names changed to protect the human
GENTLE READER, please sit down and join me in a glass of wine. If you smoke, now is a good time to light up a Gauloise and take a good drag. Now, on cue, let's all shrug our shoulders together, and say....
“C'est la vie.”
Good! Now—after I refill this glass—here's what happened last night.
After a good bit of begging, I got the chance to go to 1935, the best milonga in the Bay Area. I was still thinking I wasn't going to go out any more, rather I would save my going-out money for my trip to Buenos Aires. But what had been a firm conscious decision was quickly crumbling into an unhappy little whimper, to the tune of, “I love going out, going out is my home, going out is where I belong, but it's just too painful to spend all that money to sit there suffering from sciatica and also suffering from the acute awareness that the men I want to dance with will never ask me because they like a different kind of woman. Wail.”
Perhaps one more splash of wine.
Ok. —Lately I've been under enough emotional stress to want to do the milonguera version of movie stars hiding behind their Ray-Bans. And yes, if milongas were even 1% more brightly lit, I would be wearing Ray-Bans. But they're not, so I've been hiding behind as much clothing as possible. Fishnets. Lots and lots of fishnets. A costume change is just what the doctor ordered when your heart is feeling fragile. Nobody will recognize me if I wear this different thing. I'll be somebody else. We'll call her Arabella.
So Arabella, afraid of getting chased through Civic Centre once again, caught an incredibly expensive taxi to Oakland and hoped for the best.
I danced one tanda with a friend and cabeceo'd many, many men who turned down my cabeceos. Come to think of it, some of them were so American they may not have known what I was doing, although surely this most basic of elements of tango could not be alien to them. Right? Wrong? —I spent most of the night standing around, turning down men, and keeping a game face on. I chatted a bit with Dorothy at the front, but could tell I wouldn't do right by her conversationally in my frame of mood.
And then there was Rafael! Words could not express how much I did not want to see him. After yesterday morning, I had sent him an email asking What the Fuck Is Up, what's going on here, what's the deal. And also a tiny item of business.
He sent back one terse sentence in English, which he only does when he's feeling as distant as possible, addressing the tiny item of business. Besos, Rafael, punto. (So like him. He loves talking, but he never speaks. He'll fill the air with words to hide behind and maybe you'll be so distracted you'll never notice how he hasn't shared anything at all of himself, ever.) ….And now here he was, swaggering around, dancing the tanda right behind me, getting a drink with his cronies, delicately brushing past me without so much as a hello....
And there was Nena. Since I used to be Nena, I had to laud her grasp of protocol. She came and laid offerings of obsequious yet respectful submissiveness at my feet, exactly as I had done to the Knish when it was my turn. She struck exactly the right note of humble appeal, and, when she could tell her audience with the Queen was up, she withdrew. That's right, missy.
She basked in her two tandas with Rafael. As I watched the second one I thought, “yep, that's all you're getting, because a third would acknowledge you publicly, and God knows, he's not going to do that.” I watched her warm happy face. I know that face. I've made that face. And I realized, he liked me a lot better when I was still Nena, a baby dancer who thought he was this big amazing wonderful man. When I was awestruck by his awesome dancing abilities, he felt good about himself. Hence a regular stream of little surprises, songs, and trinkets. When I was new and fresh, he felt new and fresh. Hence the particular softness and happiness in him. When I gave him a trusting and unwounded heart, he felt loved and secure. Etc. ….Well, fuck! Let's all go get a nice fresh baby!
I danced with him. But there was a crack in his generally impenetrable oleaginous veneer. What a surprise to see you here. I did not bother to embrace him with softness. I paused and put my hand on his back as a New England school-marm would put a freshly-clapped chalkboard eraser back in its trough. That's all you get, buster. You're lucky I said yes at all...which I did because if I stop dancing with you there will be no one to dance with ever again in the whole Bay Area. And because you are very, very good at it.
Nena passed by me on her way out the door precisely ten minutes after Rafael's departure. She made sure I felt liked. I made sure she felt like an accepted Beta female. She held a brown fedora perilously similar to Rafael's brown hat. “Nice hat,” I said. I watched her disappear down the hall. Couldn't possibly have just taken her with you instead of waiting outside, I thought. Why the secrecy? Nobody puts Nena in the corner, buddy!
And then a small pack of women came up to me with bright eyes and smiles. I didn't think I was selling Girl Scout cookies. They were looking at me intently. They extended their hands to shake. They wanted to know my name. “We wanted to tell you that you are the BEST DANCER HERE,” they said, shining at me. “We loved watching your footwork when you were dancing with Rafael! Wow! It was so beautiful!”
I am not making this shit up.
I fought my natural inclination, which was to gesture at the floor and say, “well, that's because there are not many good female dancers here tonight. Li Jiang the dj, she's much better than I am, but our personalities are completely different; she has a composed and beatific dance. And whatserfuck dancing with David the American who lived in BA, she's also better than I am, but kind of nuevo.” I also fought my second natural inclination, which was to say, “seriously? If you think that was good, you should see how we dance when I'm not pissed off at him for acting like a dick!” Instead I summoned my Mars in Leo and accepted their compliments graciously. And remembered something important: in their minds, they were speaking the truth. And that's what matters.
Then el Milagro happened.
Amadeo asked me to dance.
There are multiple kings of our little kingdom, and fortunately they're generally not all in town at once. There is Rafael, the Poet King, who is in town most. There are Alejandro and Francisco, who tie for the rôle of Visiting Really Hot King. And if Adán were ever in town, he would be the Refreshing King, but he's always on tour. And we have our Godfather, who takes care of everyone but is too old and knee-surgeried to dance much.
But Amadeo is universally respected as the Emperor. The éminence grise. He is our greatest milonguero. There's nothing like forty or fifty years of constant practice to really make you internalize something, after all. When Amadeo dances, he's just being, everything superfluous has been worn away by time and what's left is what's natural and real. There is no woman alive who doesn't yearn to dance with Amadeo. He pours his whole heart-and-soul into a volcanic laser beam of energy, straight into the woman. He is completely present in the moment, simple, humble, entirely powerful, human, and pouring love, tenderness, and passion into the woman's whole being. The long lifetime's worth of life he's had makes his dance deep, rich, and full. I have never once danced with him and not had an orgasm.
I used to have these orgasms every week, sometimes twice a week. They gave me pink cheeks and a Duchennes smile unlike any other, which made me immensely appealing to everyone else. I was happy and proud and considered myself incredibly fortunate for a baby dancer.
And then one day he dropped me altogether. I didn't understand. I had done nothing wrong. And he was still happy to see me and we always kissed and chatted and piropoed. But for a whole year...nothing. And I slaved away at becoming better, and kept thinking, “ah, now I am Better, now he will dance with me.” And no. And I cabeceo'd him, and no. And I made it possible for him to cabeceo me, and no. And I sat around with him, and no. No, no no. For a year.
And then last night the year was over and I had my orgasm again and he had his and everybody was happy. Who knows why the frost, who knows why the thaw. But I do know that now I must keep going to the milongas. Because now I once again have the hope that Amadeo may dance with me! And one single song with Amadeo makes everything else irrelevant. Who gives a $#!& about anyone else? For dancing, give me a chain-smoking guy in his sixties with smoker's teeth and a bit of a belly, and everyone else can go to hell.
A friend gave me a ride back. “You know Amadeo is practically blind,” she said. I did not know. He only wore his glasses at the ends of milongas, after all. She said she had on occasion been a foot away from him trying to flag him down and he hadn't known it was she, and had later said, “I was looking for you, where were you?” So perhaps those many, many cabeceos of mine were not turned down so much as...literally not seen. It is a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.
I suppose my trip to Buenos Aires will have to wait a little bit longer, while the piggy bank slowly fills up with loose change. In the meantime, if you need me, I shall be at the milongas.