What Happened To The Tango?

There are places where it’s illegal for teenagers to have sex because the authorities are worried it might lead kids to the tango.  The tango is Adults Only, any way you slice it.  It takes sophistication and patience to understand the sensual rhythm of two people moving with each other when they’re barely touching.  Exotic?  Erotic?  All of the above?  Unfortunately, in our time, we don’t tango all that much.  We let the professionals do it and watch, as if it were pornography.  Why?  I blame the “relationship.”  This nasty euphemism has not only ruined the tango for ordinary people; it’s responsible for most of what’s wrong with love in the 21st century.  Here’s the deal:

1 – What the hell does “relationship” even mean?  Unlike love, there’s nothing special about a relationship.  We all have relationships with any number of people, from our colleagues to the kid who delivers the pizza.  Push comes to shove, I have a relationship with my houseplants: they’re beautiful, and I water them.  If I don’t, they’ll crisp up and croak; then we both lose.  Personally, I think using the same word to describe what’s going on with the love of your life and your $19.00 bougainvillea is just a bit dismissive.

2 – People are always talking about taking their “relationship” to another level.  Look, (nudge/nudge, wink/wink) we all know this means sex.  Folks, love is not a video game with orgasms.  You don’t collect points for getting the dinner reservations right or remembering an anniversary, then cash them in some rainy night when you’re feeling lonely.  That’s not how it works.  Trying to figure out sex is difficult enough.  Turning it into a Reward Challenge is just sick!

3 – “Relationship” words all suck.  I want to “be with him.”  I have “feelings for her.”  Who are these people talking about — their grandmas?  You can’t sterilize passion.  Once you do, it isn’t passion anymore.

4 – People are always working at their “relationships” as if they were some kind of emotional salt mine.  Honestly, if it’s that difficult, why bother? After all, love is supposed to be fun.

5 – And finally, being “in a relationship” sounds like you’re bunking in for the weekend (or maybe slightly longer.)  The extraordinary connotation of the “relationship” is it’s temporary.  It has a definite beginning, a middle and an end.  I’ll grant you, few of us mate for life anymore, but I, for one, think love is valuable enough to at least give it a try.

People fall in love.  We can’t help it.  It’s marvelous and messy, but we shouldn’t try to institutionalize the romance out of it.  When we do, we lose beautiful things like the tango.  We don’t tango anymore because we’re too busy working on our “relationships.”   We haven’t got time to see the person right in front of us and realize they’re hearing the music, too.

Autumn — Part 2

Photo – Carolyn Bourcier

Somewhere in a slate grey morning, fog-deep in the quilts and pillows, they decided to be friends.  It was in the middle of her Vonnegut years, (so there was that) but mostly it was a hedge against the growing November darkness.  She secretly vowed to learn how to cook (but didn’t mean it) and he considered writing poetry (but didn’t do it.)  Mostly, it was buttoned-up coats and kicking leaves, and once, they got lost in their own town when they went walking without watching.  Sometimes, they dreamed of dusty old bookshops full of dusty old books with finger-worn pages and faded covers, and they wondered how romantic that would be.  But she had a library card, and it was three stops on the bus, so they spent their Saturdays curled in the bedroom, reading books they didn’t have to search for.  There was an old-fashioned restaurant, though, with bow-tied waiters and empty tables, that turned the lights on in the late afternoon.  It was on the way home, so they would stop there and have hot soup or old world meat pies.  Sometimes, they would bring their own candles and would order one dessert with two forks and drank wine — so they could explain things to each other.  And that was romantic enough for them.  Along the way, he taught her French (because that’s what he did) and she taught him numbers (because that’s what she loved.)  After a while, they decided they liked walking in the rain and, forever after, looked forward to cloudy days.  Once she went home for her brother’s wedding, and the sun shone large and cold every day, and he missed her and slept on her side of the bed.  She brought him back a piece of the cake with a squashed red rose on it.  She said she was sorry for squashing the rose, so he ate it to be polite.  One Sunday, they decided to go to church (just in case) and one night, for no reason they could remember, they ended up listening to French jazz in a damp basement club.  Occasionally, they would have other adventures as well, but they both knew they mostly preferred buttoned-up coats and walking in the rain – so that’s what they mostly did.  Even after she got over Kurt Vonnegut and got a job teaching mathematics; even after they moved to a bigger apartment; even after they were married and had children and bought a car and had to cut the grass and had regular vacations; even after the years scattered behind them like autumn leaves in the November breeze.  Even after all that, the thing they loved the most was buttoned-up coats and walking in the rain — because one slate grey morning, fog-deep in the quilts and pillows, they decided to be friends.

Autumn — Part 1

Photo — Carolyn Bourcier

Yesterday, I felt the smell of autumn in the air — like an unexpected someone from the past with time on her hands and memories to tell.  Because we remember autumn, she and I — fresh days and school books and sacred secrets so tender you could cut them with a glance.  Long afternoons dark with broken hearts and lingering poetry no one will ever read.  And she and autumn spoke as though the years were stored in cardboard boxes, dusty, glue-dried and sagging.  Then, at the end, she said she’d missed me and kissed me on the cheek in the glove-cold street of the autumn afternoon, because …

Autumn is the long notes of the last jazz piano when the café is closed and only the serious remain, sitting like abandoned angels unable to fly.  And there, somewhere in the final tales of lingering whiskey, they wonder if second-hand love could possibly redeem them.

Autumn is a park bench moist with morning, waiting like a reluctant traveller who’s been left behind.  And there’s a puddle, quiet with reflection and a footprint and floating leaves leftover from the wind.  And the worn letter plaque tells no one but the sky that Arthur Wilson liked to walk his dog.

Autumn is stone empty streets slanted with light from the windows of strangers.  But you keep walking because you don’t know if they’re warm with conversations, or silent with despair.

Autumn is a movie, old and familiar, when the outside night is bony and brittle and full of the dark.  So you pour the wine in the kitchen and break the chocolate onto a plate.  And you cozy into your one-light twilight and wait for the melancholy.

And autumn is a black-and-white San Fran foggy night, heavy with crime.  He’s turned his collar high so only his eyes can see her, standing in the silhouette shadows, sinister with deceit.  And he knows (because he always knows) that she will walk away, and the sound of her footsteps will be his only souvenir.