Diary of a (New) Traveling Friend

The author and the object of her affection on a work trip in Brussels

Welcome my second guest blogger, my good friend (and travel buddy to Oktoberfest) Carla. After sharing this flamenco story with me via email, I felt like it needed to be shared with the rest of the world as well. So without further adu, here’s to Carla…

I’m currently sitting in my hotel room in Seville, setting of the famed opera Carmen.  This, one of the most famous operas of all time, centers on a feisty young woman whose name also begins with “C-A-R”.  There are slight differences between Carmen and me, as she works in a cigar factory, is known for her loose morals, and quite notably, stabbed her coworker in the face (actually, let that be a lesson…).

Anyway, aside from Carmen (and its famous barber, to cite another opera), the city is renowned for its flamenco.  So, I made sure to take in a flamenco show last evening, as it was my final night in the city.

But as I watched the dancers, my mind wandered back to New York City and back to a certain man, Stuart.

Like a gay Southern tornado, Stuart blew into my life one fateful October day in 2009, and my life has never been the same since.

How does one explain Stuart?  He’s so many things, so many qualities, so many people all at once.  (Not quite a Cybil phenomenon, at least, not yet.) But still he seems to be so many archetypes, rolled into one person.

He’s that annoying coworker (he constantly sings out loud, and during the workday he actually watches/listens to airline safety videos on YouTube out loud because – get this – in earnestness, he just “loves the airline industry.” (Perhaps because he was a flight attendant in his younger days, which is an entirely different story in itself.)

He’s the affable Southerner, telling me when something is “fine as frogs’ hair”.  I didn’t even realize that was a real saying, or that frogs actually have hair.

He’s the overbearing mother who fears having an adult, unmarried daughter, a la Mrs. Bennett:  “Now, Carla, tomorrow we’re having lunch with a rep from the Hyatt.  I’m certain that he’s gay, but Tricia thinks he could be straight, so just in case, you should put on some extra makeup, and maybe wear some heels for once.”

And he’s that weight-obsessed friend, the one who always weighs less, eats less, and makes you feel generally uncomfortable to eat around if you’re consuming anything with more than 20 calories.  (Though apparently, he went through a bad phase a few years ago in which he put on a fair number of pounds, caused in part by the animal reality show “Meerkat Manor.” The untimely death of its meerkat matriarch, Flower, caused Stuart to plunge into a downward spiral fueled by tears and Haagen Daaz.)  Now he’s recovered from Flower’s death and is again super slim (I don’t think I could fit his skinny jeans over my hips, and I’m not even that big.)  Of course, he is diligently focused on maintaining his weight; perhaps worryingly so, as he once told me that he admired Karen Carpenter for her discipline.  He has a picture of a gaunt Christian Bale during his extreme weight loss for his role in *The Machinist* taped above his computer for “thinspiration”.

As you might imagine, this commitment to being thin has its own perils:

“Carla, my doctor just told me he thinks I might have early onset Parkinson’s disease, because I showed him how my hands won’t stop shaking.”

“Stuart, did you tell him that a) you didn’t eat anything yet today, b) you’ve had probably 5 cups of coffee already, and c) you’re taking those crazy diet pills that smell horrific and probably have even worse consequences?”


“Well, you’ve got a problem, but at least the Parkinson’s pre-diagnosis can probably be ruled out.”

Lastly but perhaps most fundamentally, he’s unabashedly (and perhaps obviously) homosexual.  (Arriving to work one rainy New York morning, he gushed, “As I waiting for the light to change, I looked up at my magenta umbrella, down at my perfectly coordinated magenta sweater, checked the time on my iPhone in its hot pink, jewel-encrusted case and realized, ‘I’m sooooo gay’.”)

To have all of these dynamic personalities rolled into one actual person could be disastrous.   But Stuart is delightfully quirky, almost always hilarious, and as a cubicle neighbor at work, one of the most entertaining ways to help the work day glide by.  I like to think that we genuinely entertain our coworkers with our back-and-forth banter, it’s like a morning talk show that helps you ease into your day.  Like Regis and Kelly…only…more like Kelly and Kelly.  Or maybe I’m just the Regis.

One fateful day last spring, I opened up my email to find my latest Groupon deal waiting for me (Groupon is a wonderful daily online deal of various natures – sometimes there are restaurant offers, sometimes spa deals – and that day, there was a bargain offer for 10 dance lessons at the 92nd Street Y.)  Purchasers of the deal could take any of the dance classes offered by the center – ballet, hip hop, and etcetera – but Stuart and I decided to take tap dancing on Saturday mornings in the summer and in doing so, fulfill a mutual lifelong dream.

Sadly our dreams did not match up to reality and we were not instantly a dynamic dancing duo, like Fred and Ginger, or Paula Abdul and the cartoon cat in the “Opposites Attract” video.

Stuart and I instantly stood out in the first class, because we were the only ones without tap dancing shoes.  (We had both decided to try out one class before committing to buying them.)  Stuart was the only guy, besides the teacher, but took it pretty well.  I guess he had low expectations for the class.

We were also probably the least serious ones in the group – especially in comparison with crazy Susan, who practiced her dance moves when the music was off and any time there was a pause in instruction.  (You just know she was “that” kid while growing up…total brownnoser.)  However, once Susan noticed my shoes, inquired my shoe size, and informed me that she had a new pair of shoes that would fit me and she’d sell them to me for a low price, I reevaluated my view of her to be more favorable.

However, Susan didn’t show up the next week, so I was stuck wearing sneakers again.  Stuart, to his credit, had actually done his homework and purchased a spiffy new pair of tap shoes that week.

Our second lesson passed without any trouble, and I looked forward to the next one.  Sadly, though, life took its own twists and turns and Stuart and I kept having to cancel our next lessons.  Neither of us wanted to go to tap dancing without the other – what fun would that be?  Anyway, as it was the hottest summer in NYC on record (and I had no AC in my apartment), I took every opportunity to get out of the city when I could.  Then the weekends on which I was still around, Stuart fled town for his own various
reasons.  Between friends’ weddings, business trip, grandparents’ birthdays, etc, Stuart and I never returned to our dance class after that second lesson, and our tapping dreams never materialized into actual skills.

So, back to modern day – watching the flamenco dancers in Seville.  It was an amazing performance, but viewing the dancers also broke my heart and (slightly) shattered my dreams.

The stars of the show, aside from a guitar player who had very strange facial expressions, were a very effeminate young man and a sassy young lady.  The male was particularly interesting to watch, because he was so contradictory…with his tiny waist, flare leg black pants, and heeled shoes, he looked like a woman – but from the waist up, with bulging biceps and a mustache, it was obviously male.  It was truly bizarre to watch.

Anyway, as I watched them captivating the crowd with their passionate dance moves and obvious lack of sexual chemistry, all I could think was, “This should be Stuart and me.”  But alas, this could never be realized, calling to mind similiar tragedies like Romeo and Juliet and the original ending of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  (As opposed to the highly sanitized Disney version, in the original, she neither marries the prince nor returns to her underwater family.)  Either way, from a feminist perspective, the Little Mermaid sets a horrible example for young girls across the world, essentially instructing them that if they want any chance of getting the man of their dreams, they have to totally change their bodies and completely disregard their families.

Anyway, I digress.  Be it love or dancing careers, some things just don’t work out in the end, and Stuart’s and my future as dance partners who could entice visitors from far and away to come see us tap dance (or flamenco-ing) will never be realized.  Although we have some of the essential components – Stuart does now own a pair of male tap shoes, and I very much enjoy stomping and clapping my hands emphatically, we lacked some other key needs:  Stuart had no attention span, and I had no proper tap shoes (primarily because it turned out that tramp Susan had decided to skip town to visit her elderly mother instead of coming to our second and final class and giving me the shoes she promised to sell me.)

For us, this is a sad ending, but perhaps, the only one possible.  I guess I know that deep down, I can never be a lead dancer…I don’t really like being the center of attention on the dance floor.  My own shot at dance stardom ended after kindergarten (particularly, my ballet class’s final recital, in which I was a canary/child in yellow leotard with feathers on my head band.)

And while I do like stomping emphatically, even as a child that wasn’t my strongest tantrum-throwing technique; instead, I was partial to holding my breath until I passed out on the living room carpet (John McCain allegedly did the same as a child).

So, I must accept that Stuart and I will never be flamenco stars, in reality or metaphorically, and I must resign myself to passing out on the living room floors of life.

The one consolidation is that I realize that I am fortunate to have such close colleagues and confidantes with whom such a dream could even be thought of in the first place.  And, luckily for Stuart, we do not work in a cigar factory.

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