The line between love and hate is thin.
These eight words completely describe all the relations between man and woman since Adam was introduced to Eve and they had their first dance in the middle of the Garden of Eden.
Oh, what a dance it must have been. This is, at last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, Adam said poetically to Eve when they were introduced. We can well imagine Eve batting her perfect eyelashes in that first come hither. We know what Adam was thinking:
Hot damn. Finally, I’m getting laid.
But the glow of that first love didn’t last long. It never does still. Adam and Eve’s ended when he did something stupid to try to please his woman after she listened to a seductively lying snake intent on breaking up her happy home. Their perfect love story went to a cold, cold hell, and war was thence declared between the sexes.
Those of you who have been reading my columns and feature stories all these years will know that contained in this book are but a few of the dispatches from the most recent battle of The Dance Floor Wars.
Yes, from the battlefield and the trenches of the dance floor because it is there, and only there, battles are waged and decisively won or lost within three-and-a-half minutes, six minutes if it is the club version of a song.
Yet the volunteers sign up for the next campaign, and the next, and the next as they praise their conscription and mobilize, gaily marching off to war.
Familiar weapons of choice are flattery and feigned interest, sincerity and artifice, hiding and seeking, wine and song, and sometimes the promises of pleasure and maybe a little bit of pain if you big for it pretty please. Reasons for re-upping are as varied as there are conscripts.
There has never been a truce in this war. There never will be — no matter what the experts say, no matter what the preachers preach, no matter what the people pray for. This writer must admit as white flags are waved and injustice decried, an end to this war occasionally wavers on the horizon as an oasis shimmers in the desert heat, and hopes raise.
But though women may march in the streets for peace from, as they call them, those sons of bitches, and demand an equality that can never exist; though men may cower and only talk big when their women are not around; though they seek through law and legislation to right the wrongs done to them, no man nor any woman has the power to change nature.
It is impossible. To think otherwise is insanity because thus God made them.
Two separate species destined forever to duke it out and then make nice for a small while when they come together and bring forth the next generation of new combatants who think they have discovered something unknown to their boring old parents.
Foolish little children. Their turn will come and they will be on the front, furiously dancing, energetically smiling, privately worrying. Wondering if they will find love, true love. Not the love of their parents. Never the love of their parents. Please, God, never that, they pray fervently to the god of their choice.
In this book there is nothing new here. There are only the stories you’ve never heard. I have changed all names and have attempted to leave out as many identifying details as possible of both people and places — except for one woman very dear to me and who broke my heart. You may ask why no real names, and I’ll tell you why. These details do not matter. This war correspondent, embedded thirty years at the front, is tired; tired and, yes, jaded, and truth be told, shell shocked.
Lay back, it’s all been done before goes the line sung so well by Canadian singer Avril Lavigne, and yet completely summing up my reason for being and for writing this book.
Damped down against the cold night of a life I thought to be out, the fire in my soul rose with vigor, strength, and a warmth I had never known through one encounter with a human being so alive that in the midst of the Dance Floor Wars — a long and bitter battle raging from there to here to eternity and back — I found hope and a reason to live after the war even as the pain of rememberence keeps me company.
And thus on such randomness as this hinges the fate of humankind.
I claim no special knowledge. I have only a true writer’s willingness: To bare all in self, truthfully and clearly witness the vagaries of mankind, accept one’s place in the process, and tell the story well.
Make them laugh.
Make them cry.
Make them mad.
Make them sad.
Make them think.
Make them act.
Gordon Wesley Asbury, Journalist
Reporting from the front of the Dance Floor Wars in this the 6,045th year of the eternal war between the sexes
Your comments are always appreciated: GordonUnplugged@outlook.com
Chapter 1: Planning a Campaign
This reporter met Lucinda at a coffee shop. Quite by accident we ended up sharing a table. The place was packed and the only available seat was with her. I didn’t want to take my coffee and go. I needed to be around people living ordinary lives. My paper had sent me on a week-long R&R because, as my editor told me in an email, I was getting too close to the action on the front and needed to take a break. I reluctantly agreed and therefore found myself in this coffee shop sitting with, of all things, one of the main combatants in this war, even if neither of us knew it at the time.
Lucinda, reading a book, barely acknowledged my question by a shake of the head as I asked if the seat was taken. She kept reading. But I found myself drawn to her. There was something about her I couldn’t put my finger on, and the reporter in me, always able to sniff out a story, said there had to be one here.
I bided my time and finally found an opportunity to speak. I was right about her. She was fascinating. I couldn’t help thinking of a movie featuring live and animated characters. I did not remember the name of the animated character, but she had Barbie Doll-proportions blown into bombshell curves. Her famous line went something like, “I’m not bad; I’m only drawn that way.”
That described Lucinda, but not physically, though tall and with legs that didn’t quit, but even that wasn’t what was fascinating. There are a multitude of gorgeous women on this planet, and Lucinda wasn’t the most gorgeous at all.
For the purposes of telling a story honestly, I must admit there were other seats to be had at the coffee shop, but I was drawn to the one at her table as if it were the only one. It was as if a beacon of light pointed at the chair and a neon sign said Take This One, Stupid. I couldn’t explain it then and I can’t explain it now. All I can tell you is this: I had to sit at her table.
So I did.
Eventually, with my ability to get a conversation going anywhere, I got her to talking and found out she came there every day for one cup of coffee and a gentle read. I showed up the next day, early, and waited. There she came. She saw me and said hello like we were old friends from way back. I felt welcomed. I was famous for never hugging anyone, but I stood up and hugged her. There wasn’t one false note to her, yet she was mysterious; she was transparent, yet deep. She went to a table and I followed, as if it were the thing to do. We had a wonderful visit and I felt alive in her presence. She occupied a large corner of my mind unlike any other woman had done before or since.
She was naturally engaging, witty, and funny as hell. I could not remember a time when I had laughed so much at the human condition and felt hopeful about it. But with her, I did. She was brutally honest about her life. Only every now and then did I catch a glimpse of bitterness. I thought this woman wouldn’t mind me asking about the bitterness.
So I asked.
It was simple, she said. She had believed that if she did all that was asked of her — by society, religion, family, and husband — she’d have her life turn out a certain way. But come to find out, they all had lied and she, sometimes only briefly, felt like a goodly portion of her life had been wasted. She smiled. Here she was, out and about, quickly making up for lost time as she tried to figure it all out.
At this confession, she noticed my face and asked me what my expression meant. As a trained reporter, intent on not inserting myself into a story, I had not thought any particular expression showed from me; I asked her to describe what it is she thought she saw. I must admit to you here, now, I was dismayed that I was such an open book. She began:
Gordon, she said, you seem sad. As if you have had no good thing in your life, ever, and no hope of any. As if you have seen the horrors of war over and over, yet you must remain above it all so you can report these things to the citizens back home with a clear-eyed view. It is as if you know you will never see peace in your lifetime…are you okay, Gordon?
I couldn’t speak, but finally managed to find my voice. I asked how she knew. How do I know what, she asked. How did she know I was a reporter, embedded all these many years on the front of the Dance Floor Wars?
The expression on her face fills me with joy even to this day. Words cannot describe the gentleness of her eyes and the softening of the line of her lips as she laid her hand on mine and patted it. She said she did not know what I did, but it was obvious to her what I had been through.
I asked, a touch of disbelief in my voice, how it is she could smile in the face of the lies from every facet of civilized society and still be kind to a stranger. Oh, that is easy, she said; she seemed to have a high tolerance for pain and besides, she had always planned for the worst and it seemed her imaginings of what worst was wasn’t as bad as her reality, so it’s all good.
I think back on my time of knowing her and following her as she went out and about. I think of this woman who could draw different people toward her without even trying. And I thought of her ex-husband, the one she fondly called the son of a bitch, and I thought he was in over his head from the beginning and did what a lot of people do when they are in over their heads: They panic, make all the wrong moves, and drown.
The ex had no idea how to handle this woman who only wanted to be happy and surrounded by happiness. This woman, so simple were her desires, she seemed more complicated than any other. This woman, so sincere in her intentions toward him, he thought she was scheming him harm.
The poor, deluded, shallow man. So he did what he thought best to protect himself: He kept her under his thumb. He insulted her. He frowned at her constantly. He never gave her a compliment that didn’t involve a backhanded insult.
And I thought of her long, lonely existence, for long and lonely it was and is. But that part of the story will come later; I am getting ahead of myself.
We met every day that week, and the stories she told me and the people she introduced me to — many of which you will read about in this book — have helped me to give this in-depth treatment on the Dance Floor Wars.
The days at the coffee shop passed quickly and, on what I thought would be my last day of R&R, she made an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Why don’t you, seeing as how you are a reporter and all, follow me around as an observer when I go dancing?
She thought it would be fun to get my impressions of what she saw and experienced. She also thought it would be a blast to hear what men and women said about her when she wasn’t there. Wouldn’t it be fun, she said, for me to know you and you to know me and we both pretend we don’t know each other and you can go around asking about me and listening or finding out about others, and then we can meet at the coffee shop and you can tell me all about it?
I asked if she wasn’t worried about hearing negative stuff about herself. She said she didn’t care, and I believed her because she was brutally honest about herself. Besides, she said, it would give her the information she needed to know if she was making the right conclusions about the people she met.
I laughed out loud and she slapped my hand and asked what was funny. I told her I didn’t think she was coming to too many wrong conclusions, if any. I thought she’d like the compliment to her abilities of deduction. The smile stayed on her face, but her eyes went dead and she simply said, “Yes, well…”
Yes, well, said a lot. Now it was my turn to pat her hand and I did. “Lucinda,” I said gently. “It must be very difficult to have such knowledge.”
She merely nodded as the smile left her face. To cheer her up, I said I’d call my editor and see if he thought it’d make a good story. Her eyes lit up and she said to let her know.
And that is how I came to follow Lucinda around and have all these other stories to tell.
Chapter 2: Undercover Reporter
My editor got busy planning a series in the paper and ad space sold on the strength of these stories. I had a reputation and, unlike many who were starving in the writing game, I was doing okay. But my niche was difficult to work in. The Dance Floor Wars wasn’t a beat most wanted to cover. Personally, I felt I got the gig by default. Nobody else stayed around as long. In that way, I was like Lucinda: High tolerance of pain and unique ability to smell bullshit.
Lucinda said she wasn’t going to tell me how to do my job, I was simply to interact with those who interacted with her. We’d meet Sunday morning for breakfast and I’d tell her all about it. This was the first assignment in years that got my creative juices flowing.
Saturday night came. I went to her favorite battlefield, a decently upscale joint out by the airport. The battlefield was lower than the surrounding floor on which high-top tables ringed the railing and afforded many an unobstructed view of the action. The DJ sat in a little booth off to the side, tip jar handy if you wanted a request.
Lucinda by now was considered a regular. She had her spot at the bar, her purse hanging on a hook under it, and her glass of wine holding her spot because she was dancing. I found an empty chair at the end of the bar.
The bartender held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Mike. What’s your name?”
I shook his hand. “Gordon. What you got on tap?”
“I got an IPA and a Stella and —”
I interrupted him. “Stella.”
“Coming right up, Gordon. First time here? I’ve never seen you before.”
“Yeah. Somebody told me this was a nice place. Mike, right?”
“How long you been working here?”
“Oh, man…fourteen years now? Something like that.”
Mike set the Stella down in front of me and we chatted briefly until he was called away by other patrons. A girl behind the bar furiously mixed drinks for the wait staff in the rest of the joint. This was a happening place. The disco ball glittered, the DJ pounded out an eclectic mix of music that kept the floor jumping, and there was my girl, Lucinda, dancing like a whirling dervish. The song ended; she came to her seat. She knew I was there, but we never acknowledged each other.
“Lucinda, honey?” asked Mike. “You want a diet cola to go with the wine?”
“Yeah, thanks, Mike. With limes.”
“Of course. I haven’t forgotten.” Mike set the Coke in front of her and she squeezed the limes into it. He smiled at her. She smiled back and asked how they were doing and did they think it was going to be a good night for tips and they said probably not because a meet-up group of creepy single people was coming later and they were always cheap. They laughed, Lucinda took a sip of her Coke, and ran back out to the dance floor. I watched her dance alone, completely engrossed in the song. She knew every word and her moves, I swear, seemed choreographed. I wanted to watch her and had to drag my eyes away. After all, I was there to report on other people, too.
I took a slow visual circuit of the room, surprised at what I saw. Men and women watched Lucinda dance. She wasn’t the only dancer on the floor and she wasn’t the only woman dancing alone. But she was the one everybody watched with regularity. I went back around the room, this time noticing the expressions on their faces. Half the men and women were smiling. The other half were frowning. Why the smiles and why the frowns was something I’d have to find out.
That song ended and a slow, couples dance began. Lucinda was heading off the dance floor when a man took her hand and led her back. He pulled her close to him and they danced. I surprised myself with a feeling of swiftly rising jealousy. I watched as their bodies moved as one. I saw him slide his hand around the small of her back and pull her even closer. I saw his tempo change and her follow as if they had done this before. I saw her arm slide around his shoulders and their hands entwine — and I was going crazy.
When the dance ended, he kissed her cheek, she stepped back, smiled big and said something as she shook his hand, and he glowed. I swear. He glowed. Then he nodded and they went to their own seats. I made a mental note to ask her about him. He was probably a regular, maybe a guy she had history with. I’d find out tomorrow morning at breakfast and talk to him another night. My mistake. I should have gone around and chatted him up that evening. But live and learn.
The evening passed and I saw Lucinda dance: alone; with several different men; with groups of women; and occasionally with the same man, a little fellow – and boy, could they swing dance. I’d ask about him, too. I saw her nurse her one glass of wine, drink several Cokes with lime, chat with a rotating cast of non-dancing characters at the bar, twice shake her head in a definitive no, and once give some sort of business card to a guy who came straight from the floor and swung by her seat on his way out the door.
The DJ gave the last call; one more song played. By midnight the place would be closed. But Lucinda wasn’t there for the last dance; she had already paid her tab and put it into the wind. I know because she texted me: See you at 9:00. I’m gone. Bye.
I paid up, said goodnight to Mike, who wished me Godspeed and a hope-to-see-you-again, and I was out the door, too, with a cursory backward glance at the last sloppy drunks on the dance floor hoping to score; those who believe a 2 at 10:00 is a 10 at 2:00.
I slowly drove home, thinking about what I saw this evening. For all I had been on the front of the Dance Floor Wars all these years, I was always at a bird’s-eye view. So determined was I to report the big story, I had totally lost sight of the cause of it. I knew enough to understand that war was a dirty business. I was seeing the front lines for the first time, up close, personal. It had gotten a little bit crazy, but I had not seen any real casualties, a flesh wound or two, maybe. Time would tell the depth of this story. I was patient; but would I be able to handle the reality when I saw it?
That question kept me in a fitful state, fighting sleeplessness. I awoke with the alarm at 8:00. My head pounded and not because of a hangover. I opened a bottle of aspirin, poured out four, and swallowed them with a water chaser. I was out the door twenty minutes later and at the restaurant by eight-fifty. Lucinda sat on a bench out front waiting on me. She looked up from her book and smiled and stood.
I hugged her and we went inside. We ordered. After sipping coffee I asked how her evening went. She said it was a good dancing night. Nothing too weird happened, and the DJ rocked it with some really fun stuff.
“Tell me,” she said eagerly. “What did you see?”
“You are a great dancer.”
“Thank you. What else?” she prodded.
“Everybody watches you.”
“Uh, huh. And what else?”
“I saw some things I want to ask you about, so I can follow up on them later.”
“Okay. What?” She said this as our breakfast plates arrived. I waited until the food was settled in front of us and the waitress gone.
I felt the jealousy from last night flash and then stuffed it down. “I noticed you only did one slow dance. He was a little bit taller than you. Good looking fella. Dark hair. Not fat, definitely muscular. You danced like you knew each other well…”
I trailed off because Lucinda was thinking. She had a way of cocking her head to the left and looking up at a corner of the ceiling while pulling her lips to one side. It took her a minute, but she finally said, “Oh. You mean Dallas.”
“That his name? Dallas?”
“It’s what I’m calling him because he’s from Dallas. I don’t know his name.”
The surprise must have shown on my face because she then said, “Oh. You thought because we danced slow so nicely we had history or something, right?”
I nodded. She only laughed and stated matter-of-factly, “No. Never seen him before. Probably never see him again.”
She kept on eating. I took another bite and slowly chewed. “But,” I said after I swallowed, “I mean…you two looked like you were an item.”
She explained stuff like that happened all the time to her. “I got to tell you, Gordon, there are some men out there who know how to dance. Gosh almighty. And they all say the same thing to me. They say Wow, you are…you can dance beautifully. But, see Gordon, I think I can follow them so well because they are leading that good. And I tell them so, and they say they don’t dance like that with their wife or girlfriend or other women, and I say I’m sorry and I shake their hand and thank them for a wonderful dance, and they go away.”
She took another bite. I stared, then spluttered. “What? Are you kidding me? You never see them again?”
“I won’t be able to talk to him next Saturday?”
“Doubtful. He said he’s here on business and flying back today.”
“Better strike while the iron is hot, Gordon.”
“I’ll remember. How about the little fella you danced with several times doing a swing thing?”
She laughed out loud. “You mean Hey-Sailor?”
“Plaid shirt, khaki pants?”
“Yeah. Hey-Sailor. He taught me how to swing dance; he always requests fast swing dance songs and we put on a fun show for everybody. He’s great.”
“What do you know about him?”
“Know about him? Why, nothing much really; just the usual. Why don’t you find out and tell me?”
“Okay,” I said, laughing at her hint. “I’ll do my job.”
And I did.
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