Tuesday, June 9, 2015

That time I went pole dancing in New York (and other stories)

Photo courtesy of Kenny Louie/Flickr

A while back one of my best friends from high school suggested a girl's weekend.

I figured I'd go down to Virginia where she lives for an overnight. We could go to a yoga class, grab dinner, chat until the wee hours about the past and the present and the future. 

My friend had other plans. 

She wanted to get away. 

"Is Puerto Rico too far?" she texted.

"Maybe somewhere a little closer?" I replied, not quite able to wrap my brain around flying to an island and leaving Brad and the girls behind.

We decided on New York City. She'd take the bus and I'd take the train.

It all felt very sophisticated and other worldly.

I feel very silly writing that. I grew up in the D.C. suburbs, so this wasn't exactly a country mouse in the city scenario. I frequented D.C. growing up and have visited New York, Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Denver and L.A.. 

But I've lived in York for more than 10 years. A little snow globe of farms and parks and factories and subdivisions and strip malls with a clump of "city" in the middle (considering I was planning a weekend in New York, I don't feel judgmental putting city in quotes).

I've gotten used to my unfussy, unpretentious town and its practical, homey people. 

I don't know, maybe I'm a little too comfortable here.

I was anxious about taking the train. Anxious about navigating the city on my own. Anxious about all the people. Anxious about feeling so plain and uncosmopolitan in the capital of cosmopolitan. 

My friend's request that I take a pole-dancing class with her didn't help matters. It also didn't help when she begged me to take a second pole-dancing class. (My friend has been taking pole dancing classes for fitness for more than a year. I went to her showcase back to November and based on her ripped abs and ... err ... acrobatic skills, I can attest to the fitness benefits.) 

And it wasn't the fitness I was averse to as much as the, you know, pole, but I agreed to go. To both classes. I'm probably more flexible than I give myself credit for.

So before I know it it's Friday. And I'm getting on a train that whisked me past the pastures and livestock and silos of Lancaster into the bowels of New York City. And I get off the train and got swept up into the current of people, seemingly all of humanity, shuffling through Penn Station at 10 o'clock on a Friday night. 

Baptized by the chaos of Penn Station I hauled myself up to the street overwhelmed and disoriented and was relieved to see the smiling face of my friend, who, in an act of supreme serendipity, just happened to be walking past the exit I chose at that exact moment.

I caught my breath. And together we dove into New York.

As it turns out, all of humanity wasn't in Penn Station. They were mostly in Time Square, taking photos of those giant video screens and the giant buildings and wearing giant plush costumes of various super heroes and Disney Characters, or, as was the case with a pair of blonde ladies and someone's grandma, wearing nothing at all!

Here goes nothing, I told myself.

I'll attempt to be uncharacteristically brief* while recapping the (approximately) 40 hours I spent in the city. 

The Food

I guess you can't go to New York and not mention food, right? 

On Saturday, we met up with Brad's cousin on the Upper East Side and she took us to Salvo's Pizzabar and ordered this divine Chicken Francese pizza (I feel like I should mention it was off menu, which made me feel infinitely more posh) with the perfect crispy/chewy crust and gooey cheese paired with garlic and zesty lemon chicken. I'm kind of pining for it now. 

Then we met up with my friend's aunt and cousin at The View Restaurant & Lounge in the Marriott Marquis (New York's only Revolving Rooftop Restaurant and Lounge – because it's New York and why the hell not have a restaurant on the 48th floor of a building that spins 360-degrees an hour?). The view was (obviously) impressive as were the prices. We settled on one cocktail a piece (any more would've increased the minor motion sickness I was already feeling) and otherwise filled up on great conversation.

Next, it was down to Chelsea where we wandered aimlessly for a while before turning to Yelp for assistance picking out a spot for dinner. We settled on Kobeyaki, which was like a Japanese Chipotle – delicious, affordable food fast. I got a grilled vegetable roll (think sushi) which had tempura sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, avocado, miso onion and kobeyaki (i.e.: awesome) sauce.  Endlessly yummy, I almost stopped back in on my way out of town to pick up another. And because you can't ever have enough tempura sweet potatoes, we got an order of tempura sweet potato fries to share, which were crispy on the outside, sweet and soft on the inside and tasty all around. 

We ended our Saturday night at Max Brenner in Union Square, where there was an almost two-hour wait for tables at 10:30 p.m. I opted for a to-go Pure Chocolate Granita (dark chocolate over ice) my friend opted for a glass of wine from the hotel bar. I feel I made the better choice, but then I'd pretty much do whatever evil bidding dark chocolate ever asked of me. Apparently, my soul is easily bought. 

The Show

Saturday night, inspired by my spirit mother (she probably wouldn't call herself that because she has no idea who I am and would probably think I'm a super creeper, but it's Amy Poehler), we saw Goat, an improv show, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea. It was awesome, even when it was awkward – maybe especially when it was awkward. You could see the adrenaline pumping through the actors as they had to figure out what to do in the scene and watch the their eyes glow when they figured out their next move. Like a schizophrenic game of chess. I wanted to tag in.

The Pole Dancing

I saucy (well attempted to saucy) walked well out of my comfort zone at those two pole-dancing classes (one at S Factor and one at Body & Pole). This will surprise no one who has ever seen me dance, but I won't be quitting my night job. The sad irony was that while I could've benefitted from the saucier aspects of pole dance (booty shaking, hair flipping, felinesque crawling, pole humping, etc.), as a weary stay-at-home mom I could just not get into a mindset where I didn't feel fraudulent and ridiculous attempting these moves. 

Jovie has a major pooping-on-the-potty hurdle to overcome in our quest toward carefree underwear wearing, which means for the past couple weeks I've had actual human feces on my fingers at least every other day. And then there was Friday's mailbox ant infestation, which had me frantically trying to paper towel then dust buster ants and their eggs out of my mailbox as they frantically crawled up my arm. Neither a three-hour train ride nor the bright lights of the city were enough to remove me from the gross realities of motherhood. In my mind, I was just a sweaty, hairy, ant-and-poo covered mom in pole dancer's clothing (well, at least in exer-shorts and a tank top). Even the loud, sultry music couldn't drown out the "Doc McStuffins" theme song in my head.

And it wasn't awesome awkward like UCB improv. It was just sad awkward, like clumsy-stay-at-home-mom-takes-pole-dancing-lessons awkward. Which, as it turns out, would probably make a super awesome start for an improv show.

My problems with the pole are just symbolic of my problems in life in general. Overthinking where my feet needed to be instead of just letting them fall where gravity was going to take them anyway. Telling myself I was incapable of mastering even basic steps – my neurosis always tripping my instinct for no good reason. Who knew my trouble with savasana would also be my trouble with sexy fitness? 

The People

So many people. Seriously, all the people it seemed, in such a small area. But instead of looking at all the people as just a big old faceless sea of humanity, I tried to spot individuals. 

A few caught my eye. 

Like the little boy who stopped to help a street vendor pick up change from a tip cup that had spilled all over the sidewalk on a super-crowded section of 7th Avenue right off Time Square. His dad was pulling him away from his act of kindness – probably like any parent, worried about where to be next or terrified of losing his kid in the hoard.

There was another boy – a little older, like 9 or 10 – standing in front of a store practicing imaginary free throws while watching his reflection in the window. He was absorbed in his world, unaware of all the people walking by, confident in his ability to make shot after shot after shot. I wish I had that bravado.

And then on the subway platform this tiny, elegant woman, probably in her mid-50s, wearing a pretty A-line skirt cut at the knees and sweet little heeled shoes swaying to the blues riffs of a guy playing guitar. Her face was relaxed and smiling and she seemed completely at home and in the moment and happy to be alive. The music was good, and when the music is good, you dance whether that's at a party on on a subway platform.

The pictures

I took five pictures. Total. Two blurry shots of the view from my hotel window. The rest, I'm ashamed to admit, make it look as if my phone had been hijacked by a 13-year-old boy.

Case in point: 

So, this was the light in our hotel lobby. One might say they look like under-filled water balloons.
Others might say they're reminiscent of distended man bits.
But in my defense, Jovie kind of primed me for this sort of thinking by asking me
if she could wear her "over-balls" earlier that same day. So. I'm not totally pervy.

Here's what the mannequin at one of the pole dancing studios was wearing.
I felt it needed to be documented.
I also don't feel like I need to explain why.
*snort* That's what she said *snort*
(Side note, the door at Kobeyaki is, like, the heaviest door ever.)

The end

So, and I'm probably gonna get major eye rolls from the New York obsessed among you, but before this weekend, I was kind of in an "I can take it or leave it" sort of space when it came to the city.

You know, Meh.

But I think I get it now. Maybe just a little bit.

It's that opportunity to witness life – young, old, loud, dirty, pristine, glamorous, degenerate, beautiful, weary, frantic, racing, meandering, exciting, overwhelming, excessive, ridiculous, sweet, simple – all of it – ALL of it – every day.

This crazy-diverse grab-bag of existence packed into a little island teetering at the edge of an ocean and the edge of sanity. 

I can see why people love it so much. And I like it a little more, too.

But it's still good to be home.

*I failed.

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