Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dancing, Dating, and Decisions: What A Man Wants

I knew it was a strange way to get a pedicure because he was filling a small pool or an oversized jacuzzi with a lot of water. A girl came in and told me to take my shoes and socks off. And then as I walked around the pool Linda came by pushing a mail cart and sporting a huge diamond engagement ring on her finger. That was when I knew it was time to wake up.

I hate to admit it, but I do sometimes feel like there are moments when I'm in a competition with Linda to see which us can replace the other in our hearts first. Does that go with the territory of breaking up? We're both stubbornly not calling each other, and I'm still obviously thinking about her. But in my defense, it's not like I don't run into many stimuli that remind me of her.

So, let me go back to Thursday. If anything happened earlier in the week that I haven't posted about here, it's forgotten until some strange moment where I'll be gently reminded of it. But Thursday set new forces into motion in my life. Some of them are only gentle pushes in interesting directions. For example, Dr. Jane Chance, whose books many Tolkien fans are familiar with, came to the Thursday dinner party for the Inklings Roundtable of Houston. Jane is a great lady with a wonderful sense of humor and insatiable child-like curiosity.

She has been wanting to learn how to Salsa dance. Her schedule has been pretty intense this year. College professors often juggle many eggs, and Jane not only continues her research and writing, she has made a few trips. But her academic year is over, so after Thursday's dinner she approached me about showing her some Salsa venues. I promised to put something together this coming weekend (May 19-20), although my calendar is looking full. Jane is happily married, so far as I know, so don't anyone get the wrong idea here. We're just friends.

Anyway, agreeing to go Salsa dancing with Jane Chance was just the capstone to an interesting evening. The real adventure actually started earlier in the day, before I arrived at the Black Labrador. You see, I do a terrible job of giving myself a manicure. I was out on a date about two-and-a-half years ago and my girlfriend (at the time) looked down at my hands and said, "You know, a man's manicure only costs about $10.00". Women are rarely that blunt and obvious, so I took the cue and started paying for occasional manicures to keep my fingers from looking like the dog tried to eat them along with my homework.

Well, come Thursday my hair was feeling a bit long and shaggy, so I decided to get a haircut. I drove down to the West Gray area of Houston and found a strip mall with a discount hair styling chain store. I'd been there once before last year and felt it was an okay place to go for a haircut, but I wasn't about to go out of my way to give them my business. So I walked in and one of the hair stylists asked if I wanted a hair cut. I said, "Can you take me now? I've got to be someplace in an hour."

She signed me up and took me back to her station. "Do you want scissors or electric?" she asked. Now, I've been asked this question before and I have never had a clue as to what the difference is. So I just shrugged.

"Just make it look good," I said. And then I caught myself. "No. I want it to look hot."

She smiled and said, "Scissors it is." She proceeded to give me a haircut that even I think is good. Normally, I don't pay much attention to how my hair is done as long as I don't look like someone put a bowl over my head and trimmed off the excess. But she did a great job, and when she finished I asked why there is a difference between scissors and electric.

"You have enough wave in your hair that scissors will work better for you," she explained. And then she added, "And you won't need to use a comb with this haircut for a while." She was dead on. I've barely needed to use a comb in the past few days. That's a big deal in the windy city of Houston, because normally a few minutes outside is all I need to look like a mad scientist who has stuck his finger in the wrong power socket once again.

As I exited the hair salon I passed one of the thousands of nail salons you'll find scattered around Houston. I'm pretty sure that Vietnamese nail salons are more common than Starbucks, although I don't have scientific data to back up that conclusion. There is a rumor that Houston lays out streets and neighborhoods on the basis of where all the Starbucks stores are situated. How Starbucks makes money is beyond me, because there is one on every corner. And right behind it is almost certainly a Vietnamese nail salon.

This one was kind of upscale. It looked expensive. I glanced in and saw some cute girls. Hm. Well, glancing at my hands, which I had been tending to for a few weeks, I figured it was time to try a new salon. I went back on Friday. I think the same cute girls were in there from the day before, but you have to understand that I only glanced in as I walked back to my car on Thursday. They were busy when I stopped in on Friday after work, and I had places to be, but the girl giving the pedicure was by far way too cute for any man to pass up.

I did not get a pedicure. I just let the oldest lady in the group (who was the only one free) give me a manicure. But the other girls checked me out and I checked them out, and the really cute one made sure she found many reasons to walk by me and glance my way in the mirror. The other girls knew the score because one of them eventually spanked her, but when I asked if that was because she gave bad pedicures they all said, "No, she give GREAT pedicures."

I was almost tempted to go find out today, except my legs were so sore I could barely walk. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Just let it suffice to say that if you start to read about Pedicure Girl in the future, you know where I met her. She is, I am almost positive, NOT a traditional Viet girl. At least, she spoke with relatively little accent. The other two young girls both sported body tattoos and maybe some piercings. I'm not thrilled with tattoos on women. In fact, I don't really like them at all. Why spoil a natural beauty with something that doesn't compare even closely?

Well, enough with Pedicure Girl. Now I have to talk about Friday evening. My friend Maggie has been trying to fix me up with a friend of hers since last year. Almost since I started seeing Linda seriously. Maggie met Linda and while she said the usual approving things that good friends say about your new "someone", I always sensed some reservation from Maggie about Linda. And as the months rolled by Maggie became even more reserved. I'll admit that she probably had more to do with my breakup than any other reason. But Maggie is one of those people who reads others well. And, besides, I know there were times when I wished my friends would listen to me about guys or girls they were seeing, and they didn't. So, this time I listened to a close friend.

But I would not have stopped seeing Linda if things hadn't begun to tank anyway. My interest began dying somewhere in January, I guess. By then, Maggie had arranged two evenings for me to meet her friend Sylvie. Sylvie is very sweet, very attractve, and very Viet. By that I mean she grew up in Vietnam and is conservative and traditional. You have to be extremely patient with conservative Asian girls. They don't give their hearts away very easily. They like to know a guy for a few years before they'll consider him potential boyfriend material (which means marriage is a real possibility). My Asian friends were amazed I got as far as I did with Linda, though some of them (who have not met her) remained skeptical.

So, when Maggie began mentioning her friend last year, I couldn't help but think, "Well, I don't know if I want to spend another two years just saying 'hello'." That's unfair to Vietnamese girls, but sometimes it just feels so frustrating to try and get to know someone who draws very strict lines. When I was in college I tried to date someone whose family opposed our relationship. After about six months of sneaking around behind Daddy's back I decided to press her for a decision on whether we were going to become an open couple. All our friends knew we were on to each other. But she was a conservative American girl and she ultimately chose not to go against her family's wishes. So far as I know, she has never married, but I lost touch with her years ago. I don't know what her story is.

If a conservative American family can prevent one of its daughters from marrying a guy who is too something, multiply that tenfold for a Vietnamese family. That is what you're up against when you're an American man of non-Asian descent trying to win the heart (and hand) of a very traditional Asian girl. Linda warned me when we first met that I would have to invest a lot of time in such a relationship. At the time, I was actually trying to date a friend of hers. It really took a long time for me to look at Linda in that way. But as long as that took, it would have taken even longer for her to commit to me -- if she ever would have.

Maggie (who is Chinese but married an American man) tried to explain all this to me. Other Asian friends did their best to explain it to me, too. But once Linda caught my attention, there was no turning back. When I left Houston a couple of years ago, I moved back to Florida to be near my brother and his family. After a few months, I knew I wanted to come back to see if something would happen with Linda. My oldest niece told me many months later that I had said something to her about "going after Asian girls". I don't remember that remark, but it shows how much Linda had crept into my thoughts.

Well, Friday evening I had asked another friend of mine to go dancing with me. She and I have occasionally gone dancing together, most of the time with a group. I'll admit I was testing the waters to see if there might be some potential there. She is not Asian, but she is fun to talk to and dance with. So, she had an after-work function Friday evening but agreed to meet me at Plaza 59 as soon as it was over. She called me Friday afternoon and said she had just heard the dinner thing would go on for several hours. Once again, I had no backup plan. I have to quit doing that.

So I stopped by Maggie's work and talked to her a little after getting my manicure. I mentioned that my evening was looking like it might fall apart. "You aren't seeing Linda again, are you?" she asked in a very disapproving voice. Haven't talked to her, I swear. "You should see Sylvie," she said, satisfied I wasn't sneaking around behind her back.

Sylvie is quite beautiful and I'm sure many men would love to get to know her. But the problem with Sylvie is that I've only met her at ballroom dance socials. She's been dancing for several years. I've reluctantly let Maggie invite me to a couple of ballroom events a year. When Gloria Jones started teaching Ballroom Dancing Classes again this year, I offered to be a warm body for the Beginner Ballroom class. She occasionally needs extra men. And now I'm starting to spend some time in the Intermediate Ballroom class, although I'm a bit behind the curve compared to the regular students.

So, every time Maggie and I talk about Sylvie, I quite honestly tell her I think I've made all the impression on Sylvie that a dead slug does. I mean, I can barely dance with her and trying to chat up someone with loud music blaring in the background is a waste of time. So Maggie has been trying to figure out a way to get me and Sylvie together where we'll have something in common other than dancing, but which won't be crossing the lines of conservative Asian propriety.

Inspiration struck Maggie Friday. She mentioned that Sylvie might want to go dancing this weekend. So she insisted on calling Sylvie, who mentioned a USABDA function was being held Saturday at the dance studio where Gloria teaches. I occasionally hear about these events but rarely go because I don't dance ballroom (except Cha Cha -- I'm socially acceptable at Cha Cha now). So, as Maggie negotiated with Sylvie (who knows the score -- Maggie has been upfront with her about trying to set us up), Sylvie suggested she wanted to go dancing that night (Friday).

Well, here I had planned to spend the evening with someone else, and now I was about to meet up with Sylvie, our self-appointed chaperone, and make it an interesting foursome. My heart said, "Give it a shot." After all, my other friend and I are just friends. She hasn't really indicated that she wants to date me.

So, there I was later in the evening at Plaza 59, trying to figure out how much dancing I could do with three women before graciously saying "Good evening, I have four dance classes tomorrow." Eddie Lopez had a huge class but as often happens he was a little light on men, so after he finished teaching the basic step he invited me to join the group. I partnered with several ladies and along the way noticed my friend Trent (we celebrated his birthday a few weeks ago) standing by. After the class, I invited Trent to join me, as the ladies do not enjoy waiting to take turns dancing with me.

Two guys and three girls is not a great mix, but there are usually other men who will come circle my group like hungry vultures waiting for the old lion to miss a trick. I figured this would work. Trent agreed to hang around for awhile, but 45 minutes later when I went to get a drink, he cut out on me. 5 minutes after Trent left my three ladies came in the door. And to cap off a challenging evening, Lan was also there (she often dances at Plaza 59 on Fridays). All I have room to say about Lan is that she is another person who is in a different place in her life than what I'm looking for. She has nonetheless made her interest known to me, and I've been sorely tempted a few times to take a shot. She is one of those raven-haired (Vietnamese) beauties who seldom has fewer than six men chasing her. I, of course, am the one who won't chase her. I suppose that is part of what makes me interesting.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Lan let me know in class Saturday morning that she did not appreciate my refusal to ask her to dance Friday night. Of course, I had a legitimate excuse. Unfortunately, being with 3 other women is the one excuse no woman will accept. Enough about Lan.

After Salmerum finished playing their first set, Maggie and Sylvie said good-night and left the club. I was going to hang with my friend a while longer and try to salvage the evening, but suddenly Sylvie came back in and invited us to go get something to eat. I instantly recognized Maggie's hand in the invitation and knew I had to accept. I made as gracious a choice as possible, but I managed to snub my second woman for the evening (technically, three if you count the club hostess, whom I've been flirting with occasionally -- but I think she just enjoys the flirting).

So Maggie, Sylvie, and I went off to a Chinese restaurant that serves Vietnamese dishes. This is actually a sort of ritual with Maggie. She seldom gets a chance to eat dinner before she goes dancing, so she eats afterward. Sylvie knows this. I know this. Nonetheless, we all understood this was to be my and Sylvie's first chance to spend some time together outside a dance venue.

The meal was fine. Sylvie and I talked and I think I made a better impression on her than that of a dead slug. She opened up a little and seemed genuinely interested in the conversation. Of course, I had to say something stupid like Com Ga Chi instead of Com On (I said something like "you're welcome" instead of "thank you"). It does make a good impression on the Vietnamese people if you try to learn their language, but I was always careful to do some homework before writing a little note for Linda. Winging it with Vietnamese, where the same word can have six different meanings depending on how it sounds, is about as advisable as walking over molten glass in your bare feet.

We tentatively agreed to meet up at the dance studio for the USABDA event. Maggie said she would call Sylvie and coordinate. I should have known right then and there I would need a Plan B. But I was tired and needed to get some sleep.

So, Saturday morning came and I got up early to do four loads of laundry. I only mention that because I lost 1 sock each from 3 pairs I had just bought a couple of weeks ago. I no longer buy cheap socks. So my day started off with a minor fashion faux pas. No big deal, I guess, as I have other socks to wear. But these three pairs all have unique patterns. There is no hope of making them spares.

Well, Gloria mentioned she was expecting some new students to join the Beginner Salsa class, so I ducked out early to wait for them. An absolutely gorgeous (non-Asian) woman was waiting to sign up. I suppose I shouldn't say much as I foolishly gave her my card. Why did I do that? I don't know. Men do dumb things around beautiful women. I guess they get used to it. So, anyway, she'll probably read this blog, assume I'm just another jerk player, and move on. That's okay. Things are getting worse by the hour.

I went home and collapsed into bed for a few hours. I don't normally go dancing on Friday evenings when I know I have four classes on Saturday AND an evening of dancing. But I went and did it anyway.

I got to the dance studio in time for the 8:00 PM Waltz class (that was actually a FoxTrot class taught by Tonya from Johnny Walden's West Side Dance Centre). A USABDA function is one of the rare events where all the dance teachers can come together, socialize, and mention each other's studios with some professional courtesy and the understanding from everyone that students are off limits. No preying on the competition's students, although it's inevitable that the students ask each other who their teachers are.

Some day, I may blog about the dramas of a dance teacher's life, as seen through the eyes of a student. But I digress more than usual.

There was a cute Asian girl in in the Foxtrot class. Her name was Yen (or something like that). She seemed to be with an American man, who may have been her boyfriend, her wannabe-boyfriend, her husband, her classmate from another studio, or her teacher. I couldn't tell anything except that they knew other pretty well. Nonetheless, Yen indicated some flirtatious interest in me when I expressed some in her. I made a mental note to keep an eye on her in case my Slug personality showed itself to Sylvie during the evening.

There was another cute Asian girl, Lily, in the Foxtrot class. I detected no signs of interest from her durng the class, but she didn't seem to be with anyone. Trent was there along with his dance partner. Trent latched onto Lily after one of the breaks and our friendship almost tumbled right there. He's single. He knows the score.

Well, I called Maggie at some early point in the class and left her a voice mail saying I was in the back part of the studio taking the class. She called me back a little later to say she was really tired from working and was just going home. She offered to call Sylvie to tell her another lady she knew was there, but we both knew the evening was shot. So, I sighed deeply and debated whether I should call MCR and say, "Please come back. I've been a fool."

The class ended with me being partnerless (too many men again) and I went off to find a seat. My friends invited me to join them at their table. Lily just happened to be wandering around looking for a seat, and she asked if she could join us.

Well, this is getting long. Several people whom I know came in to enjoy the evening. I danced with Lily for the better part of an hour. She was impressed with my Cha Cha and tolerated my FoxTrot and Rumba. Where I think I scored points was when the Viennese Waltz started playing. I can do a basic Waltz (1-2-3, 1-2-3) and maybe turn my partner, but Viennese Waltz is something else. Lily has been learning International style Ballroom and I've been learning American style. She impressed the major differences upon me at one point by hugging me closely to her chest as we blazed away across the floor. I forget what I was trying to dance with her.

So the Viennese Waltz started and Lily asked in her least confident voice, "Do you know Viennese Waltz?"

By this point in the evening we had gotten used to saying to each other, "No, please show me."

Well, I figured, what have I got to lose? The most distinctive feature of the Viennese Waltz (that an untutored non-dancer may notice) is the basic has a quick double-step in the middle. So I just grabbed the girl and went winging my way around the room like the dance scene in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast". I almost got away with it. There's just one thing I didn't know about Viennese Waltz: you have to change direction every few spins or your partner gets dizzy.

I know enough about closed dance positioning to keep my eyes on my partner's eyes. That's not only a mesmerizing experience, you don't pay attention to the room whirling around you. You can go much, much longer without getting dizzy. Okay, I've been dancing 3-1/2 years. Lily has only been dancing 6 months. Even though I'm a total klutz when it comes to International Ballroom Dancing, I still know far more about dancing in general than she does. I was so blown away by being with someone who knew steps I didn't know that I forgot there were still disaparities in my favor (and that underlies my confidence -- I know I can learn any dance step, given enough time). It helps that I have perfect peripheral vision, and a lot of experience at avoiding other couples in clubs. I did a pretty good jb of avoiding collisions, for the most part (and the only one wasn't my fault).

Lily had to ask me to stop long enough so she could explain about the change in direction. I couldn't figure out how to do it gracefully, so she finally just said, "Dance," and we went whirling around the ballroom, spinning in one direction, our gazes locked upon each other's eyes (she picked that trick up from me, I guess). That is the first Viennese Waltz I have ever tried to dance, and it was magical, no matter how badly it must have looked to all those teachers whirling and dipping so gracefully around us. I didn't care. I was just glad I could get the basic step down right.

And Lily has really beautiful eyes.

Well, all good things come to an end. As I had friends who were showing up (not my regular dance group, but other people I've met through dancing), so she had friends who started to appear. Lily retreated in typical conservative Asian fashion to the far side of the dance hall with a group of other Asians. One guy in particular sat close to her but I was pretty sure, after observing them during the evening's showcase (yes, I watched the dancers, too), that he is not (yet) her boyfriend. Lily eventually came back to retrieve her street shoes and purse (like she was so overjoyed to see her friends that she forgot about her personal stuff and left it with complete strangers -- riiight).

I thanked her for dancing with me and mentioned I'd like to dance with her again. Not that I get out to these ballroom things on a regular basis, but she dropped some hints about where to look for her in the future. Problem is, my calendar is looking very full for the next few weeks. I might as well mention here I'll be having some minor surgery over the Memorial Day weekend.


Post a Comment

<< Home