Thursday, May 10, 2012

Amherst: Drum & Dance

When I get to Amherst (Only 2.5 hours into my trip) my friend Jesse and I walk from her house to Mount Sugarloaf. We hike up the steep trail, then back down the easier one. Jesse has a horse and tries to ride as often as she can. We hike about 7 miles.

Then we go to Drum & Dance, which I've only ever heard of. It's at the Munson Memorial Library on the first Friday of every month. This library is tiny, but the upstairs has a large enough hall for the purposes of the activity.

I enter the library and there is a hall of shoes lined along the wall, a guy collecting the $5 charge at the door. <

Behind him is the entrance to the dance hall, a room with a high ceiling and a stage. Before the stage a number of chairs has been set up, and in those chairs sit a number of people--20 or 30 sometimes--banging on drums and tamburines. Jesse isn't sure I should record the music, so I don't. In front of the stage there's a dance floor, where many people dance. They dance like reggae, like swimming, like jump-roping, running, jungle-making. One girl bends her knees deep and throws her head 'round and 'round, tossing her hair over her face, and grabbing at it with both hands--her fanaticism is strange and exciting at the same time.

It takes a while for me to find a beat among the fast-paced different sounds. Some are at different speeds, no voice, no morphing beat, no electronica. But here and there, I hear it, and I let it move me the way I've always moved--feet around the floor, eyes watching them, forward, back, hesitation; arms sometimes moving into the air when I'm really into it, preening it like a cat on someone's pillow. The room is hot sticky jungle, the dancers crazed animals pounding the floor with bare feet, drummers keeping a steady, concentrated beat which slows down and speeds up whenever they choose. I find one stream and follow it, until another, more tantalizing one seeps into my steps; a tamburine, say, or a more liquid sound.

Some women wear belly dancing skirts, long and bright colored with gold coins at the waist to chime with each hip movement. One woman has on a bedraggled skirt made of what looks like an old sweatshirt, pockets and all, a bandana over her dreadlocked hair. "I used to live in Texas," she tells me, "I moved up here to raise my son." Her son is downstairs near the snack table, sticking earplugs in his nostrils and dumping water on the floor.

I see a guy wearing a hat--a fedora?--with a hawk or falcon feather sticking out of the top. I like him. He is blonde underneath the hat. But he's dancing near this girl, and I think they're together, so I keep to myself.

An old man circles a younger woman, his fingertips running along her back, her shoulders, her front. And he walks away, and she is turned away. I can feel the secret smile she hides.

Later it is ice cream social time. "I'll go find strangers to invite," I tell Jesse, and run upstairs to play cheerleader. I find feather-boy quickly, much by accident. His hat is gone. His lip is bloody, and he's got scratches on his face. He looks tired but satisfied, and there's an energy emanating from him. "Want to come get ice cream with us?" I ask, and he says yes. The girl is not a girlfriend, just someone he's been chasing all night long.

Tyler is here with his friend Tyler. I don't consider whether it's a lie--why should I care? "We're biking to Guatamala for the International Rainbow Festival," he tells me, as he gets into my car. I promise to bring him back to his bike later. "We're from Worcester." Worcester is an hour's drive southeast, I think to myself. "We've been here for a week." They'll never make it, I decide. The cuts are from a bike accident days ago.

We share a banana split: bananas covered by mounds of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, chocolate syrup on the surface like oil. Tyler and Wren talk Humans vs. Zombies. I listen on, mostly. I miss Wren, I forgot how cool he is. "I used superglue," Tyler tells us, pointing to the wound on his lip, "That's what it was invented for."

I want to ask Tyler questions and record our conversation, so I drive us to the gas station convenience store near ACTV and buy batteries for my recorder. When we get back in the car, Tyler hands me a package of batteries.

"I got these for you," He said.

"I must have left these on the counter," I said, taking them.

"No, I took them for you," He said. I searched my bag and found the ones I'd just bought.

I looked at him. "Why did you do that? Why wouldn't you tell me not to buy batteries if you were going to steal some anyway?" Then, realizing the pointlessness of my attempt at making him understand logic, I said, "How am I supposed to trust you when I just watched you steal from someone else?"

"I only steal from stores," he said, "not people." To which I rolled my eyes.

Why is it that people who steal always feel that they have a good reason to? Sadly, I never got a picture of this strange guy. I guess that's good for him.

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