Friday, May 21, 2010

Falling For Henry

While a good girl crush can get the blood pumping and the inspiration sparkles all aflutter, for a straight woman in her 20s, there's nothing quite like a jaunt down the side street known as Crushed Out Boulevard. Now that the weather's nice and I've moved into my parent's place in Stratford, I'm seeing dudes all over the place. And you know what, Stratford men? You are not bringing your A-game.

I re-watched Everything Is Illuminated tonight, and while Alex - played by the incomparable Eugene Hutz - tries a little too hard and never takes off his track suit, there's something adorable about him. Most of the dudes who stuck around my hometown after graduation are not, shall we say, premium. One of the reasons I left was because I didn't want to drink myself to death in a fleabag apartment above a sewing machine repair shop; if I had stayed, that would have been my fate. I'm not even being melodramatic - this town will eat your dreams if you don't tread carefully. So I'm not surprised that, surveying the scene here, the guys on the street are a little, um, seedy. The general trend seems to be that most of the men who stay in this town straighten their lives out by their late twenties or early thirties, but the mid-twenties crowd is still about a year away from being scared straight. I'll be spending the summer trying to keep my nose clean.

In light of this unfortunate black hole, I think I'll be developing my literary and cinematic crushes. I mean, he's nothing special to look at, but William Carlos Williams, in addition to having a great name, writes some lovely poetry. "This Is Just To Say" is one of my all-time favourites; my pal Emily has made up about a thousand variants on that theme. Her subject matter has ranged from dive bars to sweatpants to illicit love affairs. WCW, your work is easy to adapt. My love of David Foster Wallace has been firmly established by now - I swear, I bring him up in conversations more often than I mention my family - and I bought his recently published biography to savour this summer. My crush remains unthwarted.

Celebrity crushes are empty, soulless and vacuous, but they do pass the time. No sweaty lover to rub against tonight? All right, well, get it done and watch yourself a movie. Preferably one starring Mos Def, who is scorching hot and nerdily cute (such a winning combo!) Do some situps and listen to Henry Rollins do some storytelling. I'm not interested in the Us Weekly, airbrushed, blond celebrities who show up on reality TV shows after they've been to rehab and married a former lingerie model. My crushes, both in real life and from afar, tend to be makers and doers, and the famous versions of frat boys are just not really my cup of Earl Gray.

Am I feeling particularly self-deceptive and foolish for even sharing the celebrity-crush-as-substitute-for-hometown-guys strategy? Oh, you betcha. But that's the thing about taking a breather for a summer. Investing in a Stratford guy would be investing in Stratford as a concept - and with the aforementioned dipsomaniacal death, I'm not so keen on that. Toronto is my future; this is just a resting place. Not a place to put down roots. It's a lilypad, one that I'll share with Dustin Hoffman and Dan Savage while I do situps and wait for the fall.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fancy Dance Parties

The first time I heard the phrase "dance party," my friend's then-boyfriend was telling the story of how dogs got tails. It was one of those "how the raven stole the sun"-type tales, the details of which I forget, but the words "dance party" leaped out at me. I was in love. I mean, it's an amazing turn of phrase - and I love great word usage - but it also just conjures up the best types of fun.

Back in 2003, my hipster pal Jackie took some of the girls on her residence floor to the Manhattan Club, which sounds like a totally fraudulent establishment - fake, or like one of the places TV teenagers go to engage in underaged drinking with Serious Consequences. It was a real place, filled with mirrors and a DJ that was playing The Rapture. It was hella fun, even without the ability to get a drink at the bar, since we were all seventeen or eighteen: it was just sweaty indie rock dancing. We were already tipsy, which is why, when we woke up the next morning and felt like we had just returned from Oz, we had no idea where the damned place had been. We eventually found it again, but when we returned, it was full of silent old mustachioed Portuguese men and no DJs. Weird.

Later, when we lived in the Annex, we used to go the incredibly cheesy and fun Dance Cave, where we would get to both dance and people watch: dudes in furry hats and PVC trenchcoats abound there. Saturday nights are free for students, and there's nothing quite like getting all liquored up at home and then dancing your face off at an establishment where your feet stick to the floor.

Not that alcohol is a necessary ingredient in the dance marathons. Because I was once a ten year old girl, I took dance lessons. Mandatory, you know? Anyway, I discovered two things: 1) even at ten, I was never going to have a dancer's build - you know, the lithe, lean, bony builds that look really awesome in tulle; and 2) I am not particularly coordinated. I made a pretty terrible dance student. I was no Elaine Benes, of course, but the rigid routines and performances in skintight costumes weren't my bag. Now, in my twenties, I like Nia dancing, with its emphasis on pleasure and movement, not strict regimens of moves or appearances. It also helps that the classes are full of women of all ages, shapes, sizes and dance levels, which can really underscore that whole dancing-for-fun thing.

Like most people, I didn't really publicly get down with my bad self for a number of years. All that changed once booze was introduced to the party scene. Suddenly, my pals and I could frequent the dancing Stratford...which are exactly as glam as you're imagining. But whatever: even though the shots were served in the plastic one-ounce cups that ketchup often comes in, and the music was generic top-40 hip-hop, it was a chance to have some fun. My friend Rachel and I used to dress up in matching chola outfits, split a mickey of vodka and then go to the Sunday night all-ages dance club. No word of a lie: once, we saw a seventeen year old girl wearing overalls strip down to her (white) bra and panties while dancing on the bar. Anyone who claims Stratford is an outpost of culture has never been to Classic's on a Sunday.

Dancing is fun! The chance to sing along, grind up on some strangers, shake your ass, dress up, drink some rum-based beverages, and howl at the moon is an awesome way to blow off some of that pent-up workaday energy. It's the same impulse that drives people to go camping, without the chance of having to interact with quite so many bears. (Unless that's your thing.) It's harmless fun; it's raucous and sexy, physical and sweaty, loud and funny. Communicating through dance moves becomes an art; conversation falls by the wayside as the music gets louder.

I'm not condoning the cheesy club-district dance clubs, where the girls wear kerchiefs as shirts and the guys wear their body weight in cologne. That's a lame scene, with its meat-market vibe and its generally shitty music. I've only been real clubbing a couple times, and it's a drag. A good rule of thumb is, if the venue looks like the back of a rented limousine, it's going to be a rough night. But the chance to dance - be it in a club, a nautical-looking bar, the comfort of your own living room, the street, the prison yard, or the gym - should not be met with a rolled eye and an ironic sigh. Hoist the flag and your drink - I'll see you on the dance floor.