9:30 pm, couldn’t bear sleeping. So, I walked, pounding the pavement. For a Monday, Yonge Street was a sleeping lion. Something brimming underneath the placid sheen.
My West Coast friends call the face of Toronto corporate, an American wannabe, but I protested.
“The village feel is here, alive and well!” My best friend grew silent on the other end of Adium. She was unconvinced.
Where was I heading? To prove her wrong. Capture a flavor of Toronto that no one else had.
I passed a twenty-something smoking the last nip of his cigarette. He tried to hand me a leaflet for a club downtown. A forlorn face met me, faded jeans sagged off his frame, a dayglo T-shirt punctured my night vision. I half felt sorry for him, taking a leaflet that I intended to throw away later.
Just past him, a rumbling penetrated from the pavement through my sandals zinging the soles of my feet. I peered down a pitch black, foreboding alley. It was not. The flavor was found.
Pounding Latin music enveloped me as I entered. A sweet faced Korean girl stood behind a worn wooden table, one that had seen better days. A metal cash box overflowed with money. Korean girl? Salsa beats?
“What is this?”
“Every Monday is Salsa night,”she uttered matter-of-factly.
“Ohh.. what’s the cover?”
A variety of types milled in a darkened corridor; a coffee skinned man in a full suit, a gorgeous blonde in a backless dress, a balding middle-aged bloke hovering, trying to capture a spicy glance.
I had to go in. The twirling, gyrating bodies. The muggy smell of sweat. People dressed in barely anything and before me was this raunchy, celebratory dance.
From time to time I photographed, filmed or stood at the sides feeling like a wallflower at a Sadie Hawkins dance.
A Nicaraguan man named Alex asked me to dance, and while I took lessons 6 years ago, any intuition on the moves were lost.
I tried and wondered why he didn’t correct me – later it was revealed he is a beginner. We chatted by the bar, usual introductions and small talk, but he had steal away to take a call.
The dancers hypnotized me, the curve of a woman’s back as she plunged while being dipped, or the stealth confidence of a male lead. It was clear people knew each other, this was a regular weekly club of sensuality and camaraderie.
My spirits felt uplifted. A man of Indian or Pakistani descent asked me to dance, it became clear he was not a novice – which made my inexperience glaringly obvious.
He offered to show me the basic steps again and we squirreled away behind the bar to practice. My body responded to the cues, forcing my mind to remain quiet. We clasped hands, tapping feet forward/back, eventually I gave into the spins and his hand pressing against my lower back.
He said I managed to learn quickly. It was the kind of freeing sensation I forgot. Ah yes, this is what it feels like to leap into something without thinking too hard about it.
His name was AZ, from Karachi, Pakistan – here I find myself meeting these international men, but not connecting to them.
The bartender refused to give me free water unless I purchased a drink, so AZ kindly offered to buy me a juice and obtain a free water.
Then it got weird.
He proceeded to flirt with me, suggest a different bar that is packed with Salsa dancers south on Yonge Street, 2 or 3 minutes from Alleycatz, called Six Degrees. I squeaked out a weak agreement.
Instinct spoke to me acutely – a fat zero existed between us. No hot and heavy, explosions or declarations.
Noticing my wrist tattoo, he cheekily asked where else I might have tattoos, suggesting my intimates were inked with “Welcome, come in.”
I tried to badly tease him to take the attention off my tattoos, where I was staying, what my phone number was.
AZ wasn’t one to be defeated, it was a badge – get her digits despite the fact our attraction was so icy, it bled Antarctica.
He pushed, flirted madly until I could take no more – could not invent another deflection.
“Okay, my number is 555-fake!”
The climatic moment left us spent. The conversation deflated into silence and I told him I had to go, but thanks for the dance lesson.
Innocent. That’s how I paint myself. I blamed it on the pulsating music, the Salsa moves initiating a simulated mating dance.
It was 1 am by the time fresh air greeted my flushed face.
So it was. No love for me, just for Toronto.