No Man’s Land

Add dancing to the long list of things that I’m scared of.

Or at least things that I have an aversion to.

Sitting at my pre-assigned table, I was assaulted by a cadre of high-school girls, 30-somethings, a best friend and acquaintances all exhorting me to shake my rump–something I was keen on not doing.

For one thing, dancing only something I do when rather drunk impuslively to the beat of a song.

For another, I was in Elmira, New York at the wedding of someone I had known for a grand total of approximately seven hours beforehand.

So I wasn’t exactly comfortable.

The wedding, the first I had attended of someone my own age, was the wedding of Mark and Kim, college-friends-both of my best-friend Frank.

It was the sort of thing I usually wouldn’t be invited to, except that at last minute, Frank’s girlfriend turned out to be a whore.

So rather than Frank going conspicuously plus one/minus one, I was drafted to go out.

Going out turned out to be an affair in itself as Elmira, New York proved exceptionally difficult to get to, mostly for the reason that no one in their right fucking mind would ever want to go to Elmira, New York.

Known for its two prisons, a 1972 flood after which no one returned, and its small ignomious liberal-arts college, Elmira was the sort of upstate New York town that one might think time forgot, meandering down its streets before being ceremoniously mugged for money for meth.

As we arrived at the Port Authority in Manhattan, a place hellish in its own right, Frank summed it up this way:

“There was a train that went to Elmira. Then the place went to shit. Now, no more train.”

You’d think a round-trip ticket to a place like that wouldn’t cost an arm-and-a-leg, but it actually did ($116.00), since the bus company must have figured out that they have a monopoly on anyone stuck going there.

“There’s a Denny’s. And a Wal-Mart.” Frank described to me on the ride up. “But man you have to see that Wal-Mart. It’s one of the super wal-marts. It’s amazing, dude. You can your haircut there for 15 dollars. Hint. Hint.”

Frank, along with Mark and Kim, had all gone to Elmira for college and since that’s where their friends were it’s where they decided to stage the wedding.

I said before that I had known Mark and Kim for a total of seven hours, but even though that might not have been an exaggeration, it was enough time to be able to understand why they were getting married.

Normally I wince at such affairs, youngsters my age getting married. When I think of my own uncertain future (or simply the amount of time I spend daily playing video games), it seems difficult to imagine that level of maturity or responsibility as something I could undertake, but Mark and Kim were different.

Both from a small town in Pensylvannia, they’d been dating for years and had come to Elmira together. Mark was a comissioned second-lieutenant in the army, and came to his wedding in regalis, who had worked out with the ROTC at Elmira and gotten his college education paid for. Kim was a sweet girl from a working-class family, shy, a valedictorian of their school who wanted to be a Physician’s Assistant.

They were both responsibleand by all appearances, deeply sensible people to whom their marriage must have seemed a continuation of that: Mark was going off to Iraq after a few months recruiting at his Alma Mater while Kim was going to enter her master’s program. They’d be missing each other for a few years, but knew from the years they’d spent together enough that they loved one another and were ready for commitment. So before a temporary goodbye, they sealed the deal.

And in all truth the wedding was a nice, low-key affair, held at the college with some friends and family in attendance. The couple were modest and wore traditional clothing. The kiss Mark gave his bride was a short but tender one. The song they had their first dance as man and wife to was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” by the Righteous Brothers. They took pictures and Mark’s brother-in-law made a funny and appropriately inappropriate speech.

I had worried about Frank coming here. I knew that the girl I had come in place of had rather dramatically stomped on his heart and I didn’t know what it would do to him to see two of his friends have such a nice wedding. It certainly awakened some loneliness, expressed by a barrage of drunken text-messaging the night before the ceremony, revelling in the one quality of Elmira, New York: $1.50 for a pint of LaBatt Blue.

But Frank had a good time, dancing up a storm upon the dance floor, before trying to get me to come to.

“Come on man, I got no idea what I’m doing!” He’d tell me pointing out crazed-out gelly asian-hair and the tux shirt, he’d sweated through, but I’d shake my head and get back to my Nintendo DS, a gaming device that boredom and reclusiveness had demanded the use of and won out in the face of a paltry amount of modesty and decorum.

What I wanted to tell Frank, was what I had observed watching my friend Rob Malone: That good dancing on the floor often has nothing to do with technique or ability, only with the willingness to look very very silly and not sweat it. In this sense, Frank was dancing up a storm, popular with the ladies around him and doing well. I was even trying to set him up with one girl he described as an “Asian-fetisher”–a decent rebound for a guy with a broken heart–but the way she was dancing next to him, it seemed like that job even was out of my hands.

I was going back tomorrow, Sunday, back to New York.

My life had become such that I saw “JURY DUTY” in my calendar and was excited at the prospect of something to do.

As I contemplated my surroundings, the Denny’s, the Wal-Mart, the Mall we were supposed to go to tonight and the wedding I had just seen, I realized this was a world I was not a part of, again and I retreated into technology and, within it, childhood.

“Am I ever getting a birthday present?” I asked my father via text-message, thinking of celebrations and missed opportunities.

“Yes,” he told me.

And then:

“A week in Elmira.”


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