Free Clinic

"I like your purse!" the girl at the counter realized, surprising herself. She probably wasn't used to admiring the fashion of the people on the other side of the counter, but I was sure we had more in common with each other than either of us did with the non-English-speaking family in line behind me. The free clinic wasn't exactly a place to dress to impress. The free clinic also offered free clothing piled messily on shelves, but rather than taking some for myself, I resisted the urge to organize them by color.

When it was my turn with the volunteer doctor, he marveled, "You're the first person I've seen who filled out this whole form correctly on the first try!" I'm glad my English degree finally came in handy. At least I know how to go bargain shopping for fancy accessories... and no one can take that from me.


Excuse me, Crotch-Man...

Before I went to Korea, I learned some Korean just by driving to work every day, thanks to a cd from my local library. The problem with other languages is that they're not English. My brain speaks English, so if you try to give it something else, it only hears English. So while I was supposedly learning how to communicate in Korea, I just learned how to be rude in my own culture.

I would be driving along Broad Street in Richmond because that's the only way I don't get lost, with my windows down because I had no A/C, and the volume way up so I could really hear the pronunciation. The lesson was very interactive, so I stopped at the stoplight, studiously repeating "crotch-man!" over and over, trying to remember its conjunctive properties and forget the image of some kind of porno superhero that kept popping up in my mind instead. After basic vocabulary was covered, the lesson progressed in a staged conversation between the Pimmsleur guy and myself, in a mix of English and Korean. So when Mr. Pimmsleur as the Cab Driver asked me, "Where do you want to go?" I obediently responded what I'm sure sounded to everyone in the lanes next to me like, "Hotel, asshole!" And "yo" finished every sentence, for politeness.

Ironically, my Korean friends later told me that the cd Korean was way too polite in their culture. Go figure.


The Mom Test

I was having a hard time on my own in Virginia, musing, There should be a group of people who all live together, and help each other out. I frowned, imagining myself joining a scary cult, before realizing that I had just invented... family. So instead of marrying the next man I saw, I joined that special demographic of adults who live with their parents. I moved in with my mom, and this woman's jurisdiction has more laws than California. I am choosing to study for the GRE to go to grad school to get a real job to afford my own place, rather than try to pass the impossible exam that is daily life here. At least the GRE adheres to a widely accepted standard. If you want to pass the Mom test, you are going to need some extra help. Here is a practice exam I put together:

1. The bathmat goes...
a) on the left side of the tub
b) on the right side of the tub
c) in the bathroom
(Hint: it's not c, contrary to common sense.)

2. To use the microwave...
a) push the buttons
b) cover the food with the glass lid
c) b + put the lid back on top of the microwave, but off the edge a little bit so air can get in

That's as far as I got. I have plenty more questions, but unfortunately they will not be of any use to you because I still do not know any of the answers.

Good luck!


Alcoholic Sports

We're all convinced our friend Glen is a closet alcoholic. This conclusion is mostly based on his sports of choice: golf, bowling, and pool. They all entail individually projecting a ball toward a target, and they are all easily accompanied by booze.

Glen took me out for my first time golfing. This is the most high-maintenance, leisurely "sport" ever. You rent a little car to drive around in, choose from an entire set of clubs just to hit one little ball, and drink. I even found some berries to pick when I got bored.

Bowling is pretty lazy too. When you're not actively participating, you eat nachos and Play Till You Win a stuffed bear from a machine. And doesn't it lose its appeal after you bowl 300, like a video game you've already beaten?

Don't forget pool, which hardly even pretends to be a sport as it is conveniently located in bars. ("Pool" may be used interchangeably with "darts" here.) Personally, if I'm going to play sports at a bar, I prefer to dance, which has about equal footing in the sports category yet boasts much better exercise.

Next time, I'll have to make Glen play soccer with me. I can just imagine him riding onto the field in his cart, then running into an old friend on the opposing team, shooting the breeze, and offering him some apricot brandy in exchange for cinnamon rolls, the referee passionately blowing his whistle all the while.


Happy Birthday

I am already at the Richmond airport when my mom calls. She wants to make sure I packed white shoes and my pink and green earrings. "I have a birthday present for you!"

I am heading to Oregon for my cousin's wedding. My mom has been talking for weeks about how she is going to make herself a dress out of some vintage fabric she got from Great Aunt Bess. On the plane, I start to put this information together: the pink and green fabric... the pink and green earrings... the late birthday present... oh nooo. Either my mom decided to make a dress for me instead, or... the other possibility was too terrible to consider.

"Mom, did you make us matching dresses?" I demand to know immediately after greeting her.

"No!" she insists so adamantly that I almost believe her. She disappears into the bedroom and returns holding a hanger in each hand, and flowing from the hangers are two dresses. White with pink and green flowers. Identical. It is at this moment that she has the nerve to burst out, "Happy birthday!"

"LIAR!" I roar.

"I'm not a liar!" she insists smugly. "Heidi made them." My mom and I would be the pie servers at the reception, and she thought it would be fun if we matched. Her idea of fun also includes taking the light rail to the end of the line and back for no reason, an activity I refused to participate in. The dress should be rejected, no question. But this situation was a little more complicated.

The guilt: Grandpa just died. I'm living on the wrong coast. Heidi already did the work.

On the other hand: The dresses look the same.

I mentally try to accept the dress like I mentally tried to accept white supremacy one time, just to see if I could. In both cases, I couldn't. Showing up in the same dress as someone else on accident would be a nightmare; grown women matching on purpose was just wrong.

So I don't know how to explain how I end up wearing the dress. I guess I belong to a special race after all: white floral.

It's an outdoor wedding, and as my mom, brother and I approach the site where other guests are trailing in, I feel as though I am the only one in costume at a party. I make sure my brother sits between us, and as we are sitting in rows, no one seems to notice. For a short time I am distracted by the ceremony, although horrified to find that even the bridesmaids' dresses don't match. How do I get myself into these situations?

The reception is more awkward. I take my place next to my mother behind the dessert table and concentrate on using my knife as a tool rather than a weapon. I note that the banquet servers are all wearing black pants with white shirts, and this information serves as a source of tranquility. Still, I can read the question on the faces of everyone I meet, as my mother is proudly announcing at every introduction, "...and this is my daughter!"

It's one of my most embarrassing moments, but in the end, I am proud of myself. I didn't have a nervous breakdown, I didn't try to commit suicide, and I most certainly did not abuse the gift-giving occasion for my own sick purposes.

When the day is done, the dress slides right off and the zipper doesn't even get stuck, as though it shared my discomfort with the situation. It never fit right, anyway.



I like to be festive, so when my friend and I went on a cross-country hippie road trip one summer, I got rid of my nicer clothes, keeping old, worn-out clothes and shoes.

After two months, we were sick of living out of the car, so Sky (formerly known as Ashley) took a bus back home and I began looking for a job in Richmond, Virginia. Armed with a yellow folder of resumes, a worthless degree, and the ever-present need to pay for it, I applied to restaurants, temp agencies, manual labor, and even a volunteer program that paid a living stipend. Anything that would pay the bills.

In my experience over the years, I have observed that the lower the pay, the more absurd the interview. Once, for a fast food joint, I was questioned for no fewer than thirty minutes about my strengths and weaknesses, what I would do in hypothetical situations, and how others would describe me. I speak English, I graduated middle school, and I can tie my own non-skid shoes. What more do you need?

My theory was confirmed true at the volunteer interview in Richmond. I wore the best outfit I could muster at the time, which was a tank top, cutoff denim skirt, and flip-flops. I flip-flopped into the room, thinking this would be a breeze. So I wasn't prepared when they threw this question at me out of nowhere, like a snowball in July: "What is your greatest accomplishment?" My greatest accomplishment? I stalled for time, going through the archives of my existence. My mind landed on field day in third grade, when we had a contest to see who could kick our shoes off our feet the farthest. I got second place. My greatest accomplishment is withstanding this cruel interrogation, you sicko terrorist!

Never before had I been faced with that question. What had I accomplished, anyway? As I mentally skimmed through my life, nothing much stood out. I haven't climbed any mountains because I've spent most of my life just trying to make it to sea level. Doesn't that count for anything? What were they expecting me to say -- that I saved a tree, or a whale, or an orphan? I feel accomplished when I save my receipt!

I ended up BSing my answer, and I didn't get the position. Rejected for a volunteer job, I lamented. I wondered what the greatest accomplishments were of the people who were selected. Maybe they raised money for hurricane victims. Maybe they invented a new medical device. Maybe they wore shoes to the interview.


Food Porn

It's crazy what your subconscious will try to get away with when you're not looking. One weekend, I caught it red-handed. I was visiting a friend out of town and briefly used her laptop while we were watching TV one evening. I had finished checking my email and was zoning out, vaguely wondering if there was anything else I needed to do on the computer before I handed it back to Autumn. The next thing I knew, Autumn was looking over my shoulder in shock and horror. "Abra! What are you doing!?" she demanded, laughing. I tuned back in to reality to be accosted by a screen full of pancakes, numerous thumbnail images of them -- tall stacks of pancakes, with blueberries, or dripping with hot maple syrup. Apparently my subconscious was craving a specific breakfast item, and settled for lusting over its pixelated likeness. So this is my true self. What is it that I'm really all about, my heart's deepest desire? Johnnycakes. (And I'm not talking about you-know-who.)


Poison Oak and Other Dangers

“Do you have a thing for Jesse?”  I have been mentally preparing my answer to this question, should my boyfriend ever ask it.  I’ve settled on: “Of course!  Don’t you?”  This is foolproof; he does.  We all do.

But Brian won’t ask it because he is a logical man, and this query can be answered using logic:

Jesse McHatton, the most eligible bachelor in town


I, a young maiden


Of course I have a crush on Jesse – science demands it!

I have a crush on Jesse the way married women bond over Twilight characters.  He is in the same category as Brad Pitt and Monopoly money – pretty, but it’s not going to work in real life.  Still, I avoid him for a year out of loyalty to Brian: Don’t talk to him, don’t look at him, don’t even think about him.  I mostly succeed, although when Brian takes me to have dinner with Jesse one evening, where I get a glimpse of Jesse's inner life (which is decorated much more tastefully than Brian's rented room in the ghetto), I must remind myself, You are on a date with Brian to go visit Jesse.  You are not on a date with Jesse.  You are not on a date with Jesse…

It doesn't help that Brian greatly admires and talks a lot about his taller, darker, handsomer best friend, always trying to find a woman worthy of the most eligible bachelor in town.  “Anita?” I suggest, secretly relishing this process of elimination.  They would be terrible together.

"She's too uppity," Brian confirms.  "Jesse wants someone more down-to-earth."


"Too silly.  Jesse’s not silly."

Me? I want to ask.  What about me and Jesse?  Too uncouth, probably.  Jesse's got class.  Also, I'm not single enough; too… whatever the adjective is for "dating his best friend".

When Brian tells me Jesse met his "date with destiny" in a girl named Bridgitte from North Carolina, I feel vaguely disappointed.  Well, there goes Jesse.  It was bound to happen.  Life goes on.

Months later, Brian and I break up, and suddenly Jesse is not off-limits (at least, not the self-imposed ones).  I haven't heard any updates about this Carolina girl in awhile.  Could I have a chance?

Let me explain why Jesse is the most eligible bachelor that I know.  He has a stable job, yet he's a rock star by night – an incredibly talented drummer.  He is good-looking, good-natured, well-dressed, and well-mannered.  On top of that, he manages to be humble about it all.  He's so balanced!  I have yet to find a flaw in him.

Here, I must recap:

Jesse, a Rock Star


I, hopelessly nerdy


Never going to happen!

One day, Jesse casually says, "We should go to karaoke sometime!"  I whole-heartedly agree, then hang up the phone and squeal like a twelve-year-old girl.  JESSE MCHATTON JUST ASKED ME OUT!  But then my rational side pipes up, No, nobody goes to karaoke on a date!  He meant "we," as in we, the people of the united friends of Abra and Jesse.  Actually, he probably didn't even mean it, the way people don't mean, "Let's do lunch; I'll call you."  Besides, isn't he dating that girl from out of state?  The twelve-year-old girl pays no attention.  All my repressed feelings from the last year are released.  I don't want to get my hopes up, but now my Jesse-radar is on.

A few days later at a party, Jesse is being super nice to me and repeats his karaoke invitation, to which I again agree.  Then, as I am leaving, he follows me to the porch and awkwardly mentions it again!  What does he want me to respond?!  Maybe I've finally found his one flaw.  Guys these days don't seem to know how to properly ask a woman out.  I've been reading Jane Austen and have become a bit uppity myself.  What would Anne Elliot do?  First of all, she would consider Jesse "tolerable," not "hot."  (Extremely tolerable, if you ask me.)  But he was so nervous, at least now I could be convinced that he's interested in me!  It is at this point that wishful thinking becomes a break with reality.  Jesse's behavior has an adverse reaction to my crush on him.

From this point on, my thoughts revolve around Jesse.  Sensoring myself around him is a lot harder than it is at the dentist.  One day, Jesse is looking especially tolerable in his gray blazer, dark sunglasses, and chocolate skin.  He greets me, "Hi Abra! How are you?"  Anne Elliot was nowhere to be found.

Hi Jesse McHotness, I am in a rather state right now on all becount of you are looking so "fine, thanks!  Good to see you!"  Better to touch you.  I didn't just use the speaking-words, did I?  Where is Anne Elliot when I need her?!

One day the phone rings.  Jesse McHatton!  Wait for the third ring.  Breathe slowly.  "I have a question for you," he says.  This is it!  Yes, Jesse, go ahead, I'm listening!  Ask your question.  "Do you know what Brian's favorite dessert is?"  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  After I get over my rage, I'm just happy that he found any excuse to call me.

Still, why won't he just come out and say he's interested in me?  It must be because he is close friends with Brian!  It's a catch-22: If he talks to Brian before he talks to me, and I'm not interested, then he hurts his friend in vain.  But if he talks to me before he talks to Brian, then he's betraying his friend.  Well, I am going to go crazier if I don't tell somebody!  I can't risk talking to anyone in Richmond, so I call my friend Laney who is safely three time zones away.  Unfortunately, this action does not produce the desired result.

"Abra!  Guess what!  I got poison oak and I had to take steroids and now I'm really hyper…!"  I can't get a word in edgewise.  I try back a few days later and leave a voicemail.  I receive one in return that says: "Abra.  We.  Don't.  Have.  Time.  Declare the name of your God.  Jesus is coming back.  You and Brian need to get married.  We don't have time!"  Here I will say that Laney is already a little "out there."  Once she left me a five-minute message detailing different kinds of animal feces for no apparent reason.  Also, she is a major Jesus freak.  Still, this was extreme even for her.

I call back but only reach voicemail again.  "Lane?  Are you okay?  You sound really weird.  You know Brian and I broke up, right?  I hope you're okay!"  I don't hear from her for a few days… until I do.

Laney had gotten a bad case of poison oak, and her doctor had prescribed her way too high a dosage of medication.  For two weeks, the steroids made her increasingly intense versions of her regular self – turning her from a mere Jesus freak into an end-times preacher, questioning grocery shoppers and shouting through the streets.  She was so crazy, she was sent home from work to rest.  Later, a coworker came by with some "natural medicine" from her garden to help calm Laney down.  High as a kite and far from calm, Laney started hallucinating and chased the well-meaning "demon" out of the house, throwing water in her face, slapping her and hitting her (quickly exiting) car for good measure.  Another coworker had the sense to tell Laney's husband Mark what was going on.  He came home from work to Laney screaming at him that he was the devil and she wasn't married to him anymore.  He called the cops when she started talking about killing him.  The police came and took Laney, who refused to clothe herself because she was in the Garden of Eden, to the hospital.  Laney lives in a very small town, so she is acquainted with all those who saw her naked, including the neighbors, the cop who pulled her over last month, and the FedEx guy.  She spent five days in the psych ward, and was still feeling abnormally energetic, but was back in her right mind.  I'm so caught up in the story of her psychotic episode that I completely forget to consult her about my own delusion.

Next weekend is the Irish Festival, and Brian and Jesse's band is playing.  At one point, the three of us meet up to get food, and Brian excuses himself to the restroom.  Over corned beef and hash, Jesse takes the opportunity to say, "Abra, have I ever showed you a picture of the girl I'm pursuing?"  Now there's a silly question.  We haven't hardly hung out all year, Jesse.  Have you ever even told me about the girl you're pursuing?  Have you ever showed me a picture at all?  Have you ever awoken from a strange and wonderful dream to someone throwing cold water in your face?  Because you must have learned it somewhere.

I am slow to wake, and for a moment I can't understand why Jesse would try to make me jealous by showing me pictures of a pretend girl.  Then, in Part 2 of Stage 1 (Denial), I wonder when Jesse is going to realize he likes me – just like Brian futilely wonders when I'm going to come around again.  I play it cool like I knew about her all along – which I did, kind of.  "So when are we going to meet this girl?" I ask without missing a beat.

"When she feels comfortable," Jesse replies.  "We're not officially dating," he explains.  "But I'm definitely pursuing her," he emphasizes a little too slowly.

Gradually it sinks in and I realize more and more the depth of my break with reality.  There were logical, non-romantic explanations for everything.  I had found one scrap of "evidence" to support my wishful thinking, and twisted the bounty of evidence to the contrary in favor of my predetermination.  I felt like Tyler Durden at the end of Fight Club: The nervousness on Jesse's porch wasn't in his behavior… it was in mine!  Jesse wasn't confusing… the confusion was mine!

At least Laney had a legitimate excuse.


Sausage Factory?

Now I'm in a small rural town working at a meat store slash deli. (I know; don't try to keep up.) Maybe to make the town feel bigger, almost everyone has two names here. Some names I have written on my ticket slips for Reubens and cheeseburgers: Dirty Ike (whose real name is Ike, but answers to Dirty), Monkey (is that the best you could do, Jared?), Shorty (no idea), Stubby (Karl indeed lost a finger), Music (because Daisy Blossom was too normal?), and Natalie (because why not, Sheryl?)

I am called Abner by someone I just met. I'm a little embarrassed to answer in front of customers (who probably go by Ugly Joe or Tumbleweed), and every time I address Monkey I feel like a big jerk. I'll take Abner over "Little Girl," though, my next nickname. I am even asked if this is my first job, and another encouraging geezer tells me "if you can work here, you can work anywhere!" I know, grandpa. I already have.

I used to know people in Eugene called Doctor and Kiwi, and I thought that was normal. If Eugene ruined me, Richmond fixed me -- you will hardly find a Michael go by Mike there. This all seems weird!

The main fashion here is pajamas: from day to evening. Each street is like a different hall in the same dormitory.

My old coworkers, friends and family -- all city people -- have no ability to comprehend what has become of me. What are you doing again, Abra -- working a fruit stand? Potato-picking? Living in a treehouse?

Yes, I tell them, more or less. And call me Abner.


Salon and Spa

I love the dentist. I know you're supposed to hate the dentist, but I can't help it. A dental cleaning is like a spa day in your mouth. (Okay, so I guess I love the dental hygienist, but I feel like that comes under the category of "the dentist".) As a kid, I would slowly contemplate each flavor of polish as if choosing ice cream. Now they don't even ask, but I have moved on to more mature luxuries. Now my favorite part is answering smartass responses in my head while my mouth is wide open... "How is my summer going? Well, it was going great until the moment of now, when you just stabbed me in the lip."

In my earliest memory of going to the dentist, he gave me a ring, any ring I wanted. They were all cheap metal adorned with precious fruit, and I chose pineapple. It became my prized piece of jewelry. I was four; perhaps I misunderstood the reward and thought he was proposing to me. Children get confused easily. And why shouldn't they? Life is confusing. You begin by floating around inside someone's belly and from there it only gets weirder. Meanings, of symbols or words, are especially difficult to decipher. I know a toddler who thinks her daddy is a nice lady, and another whose favorite color is diet pink. How was I to know that a ring wasn't a proposal every time it was offered? About a year after the pineapple incident, I had another misunderstanding. I liked the curly-haired boy who sat next to me in our first-grade class. Inspired by puppy love, I wrote a poem of sorts, a work of art in crayon on construction paper: "To: Jacie / Nolan is my boyfriend / Don't tell anyone / From: Abra." Of course, Jacie immediately told everyone. Eventually I learned the actual definition of the word "boyfriend". Before that, though, Nolan stole my brand-new eraser and poked holes in it, so I broke up with him (unbeknownst to him). Art supply abuse is a deal-breaker.

The dentist didn't mistreat erasers, as far as I knew, but our engagement was effectively broken when he moved his practice across town. The new dentist gave out toys! As I got older and began a new relationship -- with the orthodontist -- it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't have loved the dentist so much. It came to my knowledge that the two were good friends. The orthodontist's last name sounded something like "Psycho," and I could imagine them having lunch together, conspiring ever crueler forms of punishment...

Dentist: Abra has been slacking on flossing. I'm so pissed. You got any ideas?
Psycho: I can always tighten the braces up a notch.
Dentist: I'm envisioning something more... painful.
Psycho: Well, how about affixing a metal bar to opposing teeth that will slowly pull them together?
Dentist, raising his glass: Brilliant! Cheers.

But that was only a bitter daymare of someone going through that teenage I-hate-the-world-and-the-world-hates-me phase. Now that I've grown out of that, I love the dentist once again.

Indeed, I love the dentist, but I hate the hairstylist. I have to confess, I have never been to the same one more than twice. It's pretty much always the same routine to thwart me:

1. Picture. I always use a picture, so as to minimize misunderstandings. The stylist immediately tells me why my hair will never, ever look like this. Which brings me to what I was trying to avoid...
2. Explaining. I attempt to use verbiage and gestures to convey my vision. The stylist ostensibly restates my request "in her own words".
3. Acceptance. Lacking proficiency in hairspeak, I can only repeat Step 2 before inevitably nodding and agreeing reluctantly. The stylist then does the opposite of what I wanted, and I leave looking worse than I came in.

Most of my salon experiences in Korea were literally a cut above anything I'd had before, but I finally fell head over heels for a stylist, happening upon this salon the day before I flew back to the States. Everyone in Korea has amazingly cute hair like anime characters, but based on the misinformation (lies and deceit!!) of American stylists, I wasn't sure it would work on me. "Your head not wrong shape," I was assured. "Your hair not too thick." And so I got the BEST HAIRCUT of my life with DOUBLE the communication barrier for less than TEN DOLLARS, calculating how much that would increase if I flew to Korea and back every six to eight weeks.

Inversely, my one experience with Korean dentistry was disappointing. After examining my mouth, the dentist concluded, "It's not too bad... but it's not too good either. The bad news is you have..." Drumroll, please. "...some fillings." Huh? Don't I know that? I figured she got her English mixed up; she meant to say "cavities." Then she continued, "The good news is you don't have any cavities." Oh, thank God, because for the last decade I had been wondering what those metallic spots were.

Back at home, I gave up on plotting ways to bribe my one true stylist to move to America, and set out to find a replacement. I superstitiously (or racistly) thought a Korean stylist would be a sure bet, so I found one nearby and gave her a chance. What she gave me in return could only be described as Early 90s Newscaster Barbie. Now I really need a spa day. Has it been six months yet?



Of all that I lack, a sense of direction is perhaps the most sorely missed. Mine is so bad, I've gotten disoriented in my own two-bedroom apartment. I've even lost my car.

Visiting a synagogue one day, I left the service to use the restroom, which was like the prize at the end of a maze. The most amaze-ing part was that I didn't get lost in the basement somewhere. But when I reentered the sanctuary, everyone was facing me! I froze. How did I end up at the front? I backed through the door, bewildered. I sat down on some steps to take some deep breaths and find some logic in this madness, and I came up with three possibilities:

1. I went the wrong way.
2. The entire congregation turned around.
3. I just opened the door to a parallel universe.

I'm used to getting lost, so I deduced that the most likely explanation was that I went the wrong way and came through a different door somehow. But carefully retracing my steps brought me to the same door. I couldn't think of a single reason the entire congregation would turn around and face the back, so obviously I had entered into a magical land where everything is backwards. I opened the door to see what adventures awaited me in this other dimension, but this time everything was normal again! New probability:

4. My exorbitant nutmeg consumption has finally caused me to hallucinate. I knew this day would come.

When the service ended, my friend Mandy teased, "I saw you look confused when everyone turned around." Apparently it is a regular part of the service to face the various banners on the walls while reciting creeds or something like that. I think I'll lay off the nutmeg for awhile, anyway.


Club Contra

I am convinced that at any given moment, something incredible is happening in the world -- you just have to find it.

The first time I went contra dancing, I determined that it was the nerdiest thing I had ever done, which is saying a lot. Until the second time I went contra dancing. This night was advertised as "Club Contra". I didn't believe it until I saw the lights from the disco ball racing along the walls and heard the thumping beat. We're going to do-si-do to this? We all donned glow sticks and someone went around painting one-of-a-kind tribal designs on our faces with glow-in-the-dark paint. Keep in mind that the contra crowd is largely over fifty. If someone had accidentally wandered in off the street, they would have been shocked and appalled: This is what goes on at the neighborhood recreation center at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday? How long has this been happening?!

As my partner is swinging me round and round in the neon-splashed darkness, I wonder how it is that I became part of this insanity and whether the teenaged DJ is experiencing the same existential crisis. How does a DJ even get a gig at a contra dance? (The only reason I even know about contra dance is because of ballroom dance... it's a slippery slope.) Bringing hip-hop to contra is like bringing a vegan dish to a Southern cookout - just going to be smothered with cheese.

The culture of contra dance is confused enough without bringing hip-hop into the mix, anyway. Perhaps due to the archaistic nature of the activity, people seem to have no idea what era to dress from. Anything goes, from shorts with bowling shoes to bright orange hippie dresses with lace-up suede moccasins.

Dance fashion is a problem in general -- just look at prom. Girls wear fancy ballgowns straight from Cinderella so they can jump around to hip-hop like they're in a club? Why don't they just come to Club Contra? Prom doesn't even have glow sticks.