Monthly Archives: January 2008

Big Gay Swing

Last summer at the University Street Fair, there was a live big band playing and I watched two kids emerge from the audience and start dancing like their feet were on fire. They were having an absolute blast. I watched them for three full songs, until the boy picked up his saxophone case, the girl tossed her backpack over one shoulder and they dissolved into the crowd of people drifting down The Ave. I wanted to go with them, wherever they were headed, to keep that joy alive. Their faces were flushed as they laughed and talked excitedly about the band. As they disappeared around the corner, I knew I wanted what they had. I must learn to dance.

The Century Ballroom in Capitol Hill offers a wide variety of classes. The new sessions started in the beginning of January, and I eagerly scanned the offerings. Swing, salsa, Lindy Hop, and tango, each with several levels. I read the descriptions and knew Intro to Swing was for me.

Now swing dancing, particularly Intro to swing dancing, is an efficient gathering of all my known Issues in one place. Let’s see, getting up in front of 25 people I don’t know and looking like a fool. Being touched — intimately — by strangers (!!!!). Generalized social anxiety. And arriving at a venue to which I’ve never been, to do something I have no knowledge of, without someone else to guide me. Screw therapy — this is baptism by fire. Sign me up.

I can blame 90% of these issues on genetics and social conditioning. You may remember 8th grade. (Try as I might, I shall never forget it.) It’s widely known that girls mature earlier than boys by a year or two. So imagine my delight when I started school that year, thirteen years old — and six feet tall. Being six feet tall as an adult is challenging enough. But with all the boys still a scrappy five feet, my height was downright freakish. And one of the first things we did in Phys Ed that year was ballroom dancing.

I don’t know why they wanted to torture us. In retrospect, it falls under cruel and unusual punishment, for everyone involved. While I was picked first for every basketball team, a desired dancing partner I was not. So as much as I loved to dance, and as urgently as I wanted to, dancing became a source of heart-crushing anxiety. Whichever small-fry was forced to be my partner made sure I knew just how unhappy he was, and just how abnormal I was.

It doesn’t help that in our culture, women are required to be smaller than men. Even our signage on roads (school crossing, for example) and bathroom doors tells us daily what size we are supposed to be. We should be slight, and feminine — and feminine means small, preferably weak. There hasn’t been a time in my life when I could have been accused of being slight, small or weak. I am long-limbed, athletic, and strong. I take up space. Lots of it. Were I living in the country of my heritage, I’d be hauling aspen trunks through the snow with my bare hands. With a grunt, my Nordic suitors would grab me enthusiastically by the waist: “Guh! Big. Strong. Woman!”

But alas, I was reared in the coastal Northeast, surrounded by a throng of Long Island Jews and their diminutive offspring.

I’ve learned to smile when someone says, “Gosh — I wish I were as tall as you.” I no longer bark, “You should try shopping with me sometime, bitch!” And I good-naturedly tolerate each person who says something brilliant and original, like, “How’s the weather up there?” as though it’s the first time I’ve heard it. I don’t mind being tall anymore, and I’m no longer bitter. So in response to, “What are you up to?” I often say, “Oh, about six one.” That’s something my mom used to say, and I loved her breezy way of dismissing her hulking German stature. But it’s a lot of pressure to be the first person everyone sees when they enter a room.

When my old roommate Peter threw a party and invited his slew of Danish friends, I realized I needed to relocate. The great Danes were all enormous — “strapping” comes to mind — seven feet tall, sturdy, broad-shouldered, blond. When they saw me, they swooped in on the dance floor, eager to spin around a girl who wouldn’t put a crick in their necks. I loved them. All of them. Intensely.

Back on the Swing circuit this winter, my anxiety began to mount when I imagined a descent back into eighth grade. As adults, the commentary on my altitude would be more cordial, borne from a perceived need to break the ice by addressing the obvious. I don’t recall any hurtful dialog in the past decade. But it’s tiresome to repeatedly entertain silly observations, and I already endure at least one daily. I knew in the Swing class that we’d rotate through partners, so as not to “develop any bad habits,” as it says on the web site. I wouldn’t have to submit to a line-up, and everyone would be forced to dance with me whether they wanted to or not, which I found oddly comforting. Still, I wished I could just avoid the issue altogether.

Then I saw the most brilliant offering ever: Queer Swing. Being a Capitol Hill establishment, Century Ballroom offers an array of classes for “our gay and lesbian friends, and their friends.” What better environment in which to be unconventional — in appearance or otherwise? People well-versed in shaking up gender roles! Gay boys unfazed that I tower over them! No pressure to be cute and a stunning dancer. Nobody there would be looking at me, that’s for sure. I imagined a roomful of gay men preening themselves and staring at one another’s butts, like they do while cruising Broadway. I feel invisible on Capitol Hill, where everyday is Pride Day. What better way to learn to dance than to be invisible on the dance floor?

I was energized and inspired by my new discovery. It was the best plan I’d ever had, I was sure. I called JJ to tell her all about Swing classes. JJ was so excited about the dance class that she wanted in on it, too. She’s a lesbian, but she said she didn’t care whether or not we took the queer class. She thought I was suggesting it for her benefit. But this was all about me and my childhood scars. I signed us up — JJ as a “Lead” and me as a “Follow.”

Visions of gregarious, flamboyant queers in dance shoes filled my head as we made our way to the Century Ballroom. This was going to be the most fun I’d had in a long time. When we arrived at the ballroom, I was floored by the beauty of the space. It was absolutely decadent. The 20’s were perfectly preserved in burnished wood floors, red velvet curtains, the ornate mezzanine decorated with tiny lights. Breathtakingly beautiful. I wanted to dance, ASAP.

We were the last ones to arrive and when the instructor called us out onto the dance floor, my heart sank. I shook my head as though to clear my vision; I couldn’t believe what I saw before me. The dancers filed out onto the floor and lined up. I stared, mouth agape. There I stood in my perfectly orchestrated plan, immersed in a sea of twenty miniature dykes.

It wasn’t just all women. These were all little women. I have never seen such a strange convergence of short people in my life. The lesbians pooled around my waist and I walked through the crowd like an Amazon queen in a field of pygmies.

There was one man in attendance, and he stood on the edge of the dance floor, nervously wringing his hands. I felt a sudden kinship with him.

I didn’t have time to dwell on this state of affairs. The class began immediately, and moved fast. I had to concentrate or miss the steps. After five minutes of instruction, they threw on the music and sent us dancing — with partners.

When it came time to do turns, I knew I was doomed. Each woman tried desperately to allot me enough clearance so I could spin beneath her hand, but her arms were never long enough, and we entangled in an awkward limbo. I wanted to cry.

Some of the moves were simply impossible to do. I was supposed to keep my hand on their shoulder, elbow down, but my lanky arms were too long to hold that posture on a partner 5’2″ in cowboy boots. The butch Leads took my size as a threat to their image and let me know it. When I got to the one guy, my skyscraper beacon of hope, I skipped a couple rotations and kept him as my partner, giving my back a chance to stretch out.

I focused on the steps, on learning the steps, on doing the steps. That’s why I was there, I reasoned, to learn to dance. The partners were irrelevant. But with their forced witticisms, they were hard to ignore.

At the second class a week later, we were missing a few Leads, so the two instructors rotated through the Follows. I got to dance with the bite-sized, adorable instructor Ricki in pink Converse sneakers. After a minute, she said, “I know you’re trying to make it easier for me to turn you, but don’t compensate for your partner’s lack of height.” I loved the way she put that. Their lack of height. Not my excess. “What should I do, though? When I’m dancing with someone like you who’s a foot shorter?” She just smiled and said, “Let them worry about it. It’s not your problem. Own your height. Own it,” she said emphatically. I loved her. Intensely.

I got through the second class unscathed and managed to at least appear to be enjoying myself. I was relieved when it was over. It had been a successful class; I showed up, I learned stuff, I danced. That was the main point. I told JJ how badly my plan had failed and I laughed until tears came out of my eyes and I couldn’t breathe. Meanwhile, JJ had her own tales of woe. As a femme Lead, she got more flack than I did. The whole thing was hysterically, undeniably ironic.

The two of us headed home, a ridiculous pair — the six foot tall Follow and the lipstick lesbian Lead, denouncing the foolish gender boxes people try to squish us into.

And of course we’re going back tonight for round three. Who could resist?

Garage Rock

I had a bit of synchronicity this week. Since I live in an apartment building, a few days ago I was bemoaning my lack of grungy indoor workspace. I planned to get out the shop manuals and learn me some two-stroke fixin’. But I’ve got no place to pull parts off and get greasy, no cement floor on which to perform sanding and painting. No storage for tools, either. Unlike some of my friends in the Vespa Club, I can’t carry my You Know What upstairs to my apartment, in pieces or in its entirety. Those crazy kids just throw down a tarp and have at it, right in front of the television. I have new hardwood floors. And I’m not strong enough to carry cargo up three flights of stairs. Plus I could think of a dozen more reasons why I shouldn’t attempt tinkering with gasoline-fueled machinery indoors, white couch notwithstanding.

Continue reading Garage Rock

Coffee Shop Blues

I’m suffering from Victrola withdrawal. Every morning for the past 15 years I’ve been going to my cafe of choice and writing a dozen longhand pages of what I officially call “braindump”. It has become as necessary to my day as brushing my teeth, and when I miss a session or two I get cranky.

When I was living in Somerville, my mornings were spent at the now-defunct Someday Cafe. Four year’s worth of notebooks were filled at my window table. I had a crush on the cute barista with the shaggy hair and bright eyes. He never charged me for coffee. I picked wildflowers from the library lawn and put them in his tip jar. The Rasta guy who worked alongside him told me that my smile lit the place up every morning and if I failed to come in, it was like the sun hadn’t risen. When I’d slyly put a dollar in the tip jar, he’d return it to me with a reprimanding glance.

In New Haven I had the Daily Caffe — the Original Coffeehouse as far as I’m concerned. Tall black booths, unbelievable Granitas, and you could smoke. A lot. The head barista there gave me Stevie Ray Vaughan mix tapes, a black Rickenbacker guitar, and taught me how to play.

Last year, when I lived on Queen Anne, Caffe Ladro became my hangout. The front of the cafe had shop windows with round tables on elevated platforms, and I liked to perch up there and gaze down onto the sidewalk. Gus was my barista, and he’s the one that got me hooked on quad iced americanos. I still drink them now, even in winter. One morning he said, “I bet you could use a bonus shot today.” I nodded, and promptly deepened my caffeine addiction. I’d stumble in pre-dawn and he’d hold up a clear plastic cup and four fingers, eyebrows raised. I’d nod. Gus had an endless wardrobe of indie label shirts. Sub Pop, Barsuk, Loveless, Saddle Creek. He alternated them with local band shirts — The Long Winters, Death Cab, Thee Emergency. His daily goal was to get me to take off my chunky headphones and listen to whatever CD he’d put on in the cafe. The challenge started one morning when I was writing in the window, and in between songs on my walkman I heard a familiar violin filled with longing. I pulled my headphones off to listen and he looked up from the espresso machine he was scrubbing with a white rag. “You are not playing DevotchKa right now!” I called out in disbelief. He smiled and continued cleaning. “You approve?”

And so when Meadowlands or Burn the Maps failed to get a similar response, he dug out the bootlegs of the Frames playing at the Iron Horse, or an unreleased EP the Wrens had put together in college. We chattered excitedly about the monthly Neumo’s line-up. Then I moved to Capitol Hill and Gus moved to Italy.

For me, it was back to the mothership — Victrola. My first day in Seattle I sat outside Victrola in the June sunshine drinking iced coffee. The girls to the right of me were detailing the previous night’s band showcase at the Crocodile, and the boys to the left were debating the validity of various John Vanderslice side projects. I was giddy. This was why I’d moved 3,000 miles.

That year I spent mornings at Victrola in the huge open windows with the sun splattered across my quickly-filling lined pages, submerged in the heart of this city. I didn’t need headphones. When they ran out of perfect CDs, they put on John in the Morning on KEXP. I’d gush excitedly — “It’s John in the Morning — in the morning! In the cafe! In Seattle! I live here!”

The newness has barely lost its luster as I find myself at the same cafe three years later. Upon hearing the rumble of my scooter as I arrive, the barista has my quad iced americano — extra ice — waiting for me. I stumble in, soaking wet, shaking water from my feet like a cat in the rain. But I am smiling; it’s my favorite part of the day. A luxurious hour or two imbedded on the page, at my little wooden table with the cool slate top. There’s a couple that comes each morning and ties their Labrador outside the window and I watch him, shiny eyed and glossy, wait attentively for their return. At 8:00 the barista takes his morning break with his beautiful blond girlfriend, and they share secrets quietly on the red velvet couch. By the end of the second album, I’m sucking the last drops of espresso from between the ice cubes and it’s time to wrap up whatever I’m writing. The rhythm is soothing. It holds me together.

This week I’m back on foot again, and Victrola is 8 blocks from my apartment, uphill in the opposite direction of work. Going there would add half an hour to my already aggravating commute. So I’ve been going to Grand Central Baking Company, which is on the way. GCBCo has free refills going for it, but in the winter it’s drafty and loud and feels like a factory. This morning some suit was having a business meeting in there, talking so loudly that I couldn’t even drown him out with my music. I moved to get away from him but found myself sitting by the door, which opened frequently, letting in blasts of damp, icy air.

Having my morning routine usurped makes me crabby. I felt like an actual crab, gnashing my claws and scurrying about, looking for someone to pinch. I still wrote, but had a similarly irritating experience yesterday morning. Looking forward to repeat performances of this variety does not coax me out of bed at 6 AM on these cold, dark mornings.

It wasn’t this cold last year, was it? I don’t remember it being this cold. Maybe that’s because I had a car. I must admit that it’s infuriating to bundle up for the freezing rain and leave for work to see the car that is no longer mine parked in front of my apartment. Boy Former now lives a few blocks away and often stations the Golf on my street. My clownfish still on the dashboard, my PAWS sticker still in the window, the keys no longer in my pocket. It’s maddening and makes me bitter.

This morning, a friend of mine told me about this author who floundered around for years before her first book was published and she became a successful author. Reflecting back on the fruitless experiences and struggles of her youth, she no longer viewed them as frustrations, but as research. As many a writer will echo, “It’s all copy.”

Here’s to a stockpiling a lifetime of writing fodder.

Speaking Too Soon

I’d like to rescind my previous statement about being slowed down but not stopped. Apparently there is a limit, and I’ve reached it.

To preserve my own sanity, I am abstaining from any further writing about the Frankenstella, or even mentioning her name. From now on she will be like one of those ex-boyfriends so cursed that no one dares utter his name, lest the devil appear. Should I mistakenly refer to her again, I shall spit upon the floor.

This means I won’t try and figure out what karmic cloud has descended on me that someone would push my poor injured scooter over into the street while she was awaiting repair in Fremont, finishing off what was left of her cosmetic appeal. It means I have had enough. There is a point of no return and I have crossed it.

So instead of sniffling on about how unfair life is, I will post two pretty pictures I took today on the Bainbridge Ferry.

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ferry1.jpg

It was unbelievably bright and sunny today. When JJ called to talk me out of stabbing myself in the eyeball with a blunt household object, she decided to get us on a boat and get out of town. We ran around Paulsbo and ate at an overpriced Italian joint, visited the Nordic bakery and stared at the golden mountains at sunset. It’s refreshing to get out of the city, even just for the afternoon. It puts things like voodoo scooters into perspective.

Now where’d I put that meat tenderizer…

NEVER SURRENDER.

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My AAA membership is the best $60 I ever spent.
{ Broad & Denny, earlier today }

Dear Universe,

I know subtlety is not your strong suit. But I can take a hint.

I understand that you have much in common with my parents and do not want me in possession of a two-wheeled vehicle. Particularly a 2003 cream and seafoam green Genuine Stella scooter. I am here to say:

Too. Stinking. Bad.

Yes, Universe, you may slow me down. But I will NOT be stopped. I’m like one of those cockroaches that just get really pissed off when you hit them with the blow torch. I will ride again, oh yes. Frankenstella and I will persevere. My cry of victory over the mechanics of the two-stroke will echo through the mountains and reverberate into the sky, accompanied by the unholy grumble of my invincible scooter.

You may slow us down, but you won’t stop us.

We WILL ride again.

Deal with it.

Sincerely,

Katt, Minister of Sparkles

It’s Ski to Work Day!

Can I just rant for a minute?

Oh yeah — this is my site. I can do whatever the sam hill I want.

Seattle claims to want to reduce car usage — or at least single occupancy vehicles. Now I can’t offer a rundown as to who is standing in as “Seattle” in this case — I imagine it’s a combination of law makers, developers, politicians and voters. I can include myself in that lump. In fact, I’d like to totally eliminate single occupancy vehicles — at least the ones with four wheels. I think we should close off Broadway and Denny to cars and make it a pedestrian free-for-all, like Downtown Crossing in Boston. But I’d settle for a handful of improvements to the existing structures.

It snowed last night. Capitol Hill got roughly an inch or two, but it was mixed with rain. Then the temperature plummeted, leaving the whole area a penguin’s dream-come-true. Were I able to flop on my belly and slide to work, my commute would have been fast and fun.

Continue reading It’s Ski to Work Day!

No More Pencils, No More Books

I have my second class tonight in the program I started last week at UW. My instructor looks like Elvis Costello and has an engaging, wry sense of humor. He gets as sparkly talking about Flash as I do about fonts and CSS. I knew we were likeminded creatures when he outlawed the use of Comic Sans.

It’s a weird feeling to be in class for something I’m genuinely excited about. Seeking out education you desire engenders a different experience than, say, being forced into a Practical and Marketable University Program at age eighteen. I had different ideas about how I wanted to do things the first time around in college, but being eighteen, the freedom to decide my future was not mine.

Continue reading No More Pencils, No More Books

Biliverdin

I have a morbid fascination with the colors my body is capable of churning out recently. I want to do a time-lapse photography project of an injury soon. (It’s probably not wise to wish that upon myself. ) I’m quite sad that I neglected to maintain consistent photo installments of this gorgeous piece of artwork on my left knee after Tuesday’s crash — who knew it would result in such fireworks? Yesterday it was bright green and today it’s advanced into yellow with this beautiful royal blue. Frameworthy, don’t you think?

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Body by Stella®

I did a really cool time-lapse photo project of a rotting pumpkin a few years back that I turned into a flipbook. I took one photo each day for a month and a half until the jack o’lantern was transformed into an oozing puddle of green goo on my front porch. Nature is amazing.

Handsome

reflectingjasper

Jasper now has access to a full-length mirror where he likes to sit for long stretches of time, gazing in adoration at his own reflection. I wish I possessed such feline confidence.