Saturday, 31 October 2009

Those Seen Dancing (excerpt)

The dance floor is packed with dilated hipsters doing their best two-foot-diameter shuffles and shakes, trying not to dislodge the vintage threads draped carefully over their shoulders. I notice a guy with a Dali moustache and a digital clock on a chain around his neck having a sort of minimalist seizure inside a ring of girls wearing children’s sunglasses. I notice a plastic-clad androgyne with six-inch-tall bleached hair dancing only with his/her mouth, sending a smile rippling across it like a Mexican wave in time to the music. The lights superimpose cycles of colour and shape on the human mass with martial regularity, giving the impression of three or four different dance floors winking in and out of existence in second-long bursts. Like I’m channel-hopping through a succession of club-themed movies, screened on a wall-length TV in the discomfort of my own home.

Then I see it. Somehow, despite the constant motion, the visual white-noise, I see it: a tawdry slice of black polyester, defaced with thin diagonal bands of blue, yellow, red.

Unforgettable.

But I have to get closer; I have to be sure.

I push off the bar and dive into the crowd of bodies, my arms outstretched and palms sealed as in prayer. There’s no risk of losing my target—none of the dancers here will travel more than a couple of metres all night; they move like gyroscopes—but I press ahead at speed, compelled by an imperative that I’m afraid to scrutinise in case it turns out to be bunk. Standing still for too long in a place like this is wearying; it’s like your senses convince you that you’re the pivot for the whole shebang, the evening’s designated Atlas. You have to find an excuse to set yourself in motion, or you’ll cede whatever energy you came in with to the people around you, to the lights and the sound and the fury.

I reach my objective within seconds. What do I say? I say “Hey!” She turns her head in my direction, but I can tell that it’s involuntary; her faculties are clearly allocated elsewhere.

“That tie!” I shout, pointing at her chest.

She mouths something in response: “Yeah?” or “What?” or “Huh?” I can’t tell because she doesn’t deign to raise her voice over the ambient noise.

“That’s my school tie!” I grab the tie and flap it in front of her face for emphasis. “I wore this to school for five years!”

Her eyes fix on the polyester monstrosity, now rippling before her like a Chinese dragon on parade, and her brow creases; it seems as though she can’t figure out how this piece of couture is moving about on its own. I let go and it falls back into position between her breasts.

“Where did you get that?”

“Huh?” she says, for maybe the second time. I lean in closer.

“Where did you get a Bramhall High School tie?”

A hand comes down on my shoulder, and then a tall guy with muscles and dreadlocks draws abreast of me. He smiles in an apologetic way, like an executioner sympathising with the condemned before raising his axe.

“Hey man,” he says, somehow making himself heard without seeming to exert the slightest effort, “I don’t think she’s interested.”

“Oh no,” I reply, shaking my head vigorously. “It’s the tie.”

“What?”

“The tie!” I grab it again, but he plucks it out of my hand and slides between the girl and me.

“Sorry, man. Why don’t you go have a drink?”

For a moment, I’m undecided. On any other day I’d take his advice, but this is a special occasion: I’m in New York City, 3,500 miles from home, and this girl’s wearing my school tie. What sort of a person am I if I can’t make a connection here? If I can’t summon up the spark of heat needed to fuse these two touching wires together? On the other hand, I don’t want to cause any trouble; what if this guy breaks a knuckle on my face and has to drop out of tomorrow’s big cage-fighting contest? Who’s going to feed his family?

“Okay, man,” I say, adopting his preferred mode of address. I raise my hands, palms towards him, in the universal gesture of abject surrender. He smiles again as I back away; a little friendlier this time. The further we are from one another, the closer we get.

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