The Time I Crawled Around A Strangers Apartment Meowing

2019-10-17 • life

It's 2 a.m. on a Monday night and I wish to spend my last few weeks in New York doing "interesting things". I'm on the fringes of Facebook events, eyeing the locationless release party of a harsh noise band with three followers on SoundCloud. The theme is "desolation". They promise a "Puppet Sex Show". I keep scrolling. I settle on "Tantric Latihan", Thursday night, which promises to be some sort of "dancing meditation".

Thursday comes and the address leads me to a spot in Brooklyn. It's in an unlocked apartment, not a dance studio. I linger outside for a bit, then feel weirder about not going in than going in, then open the door and walk inside.

I'm now in what seems to be a group house. Just a bunch of people who are doing homely things, in their home, that I've just walked into. There's no meditation in sight. I introduce myself to someone hanging a painting. He looks confused. I ask him about meditation. He says "maybe upstairs?"

I go up the stairs and spot a girl in a tie die blouse. Surely this is the dancing meditator. I ask her if his is [the venue], and with a big smile she says "yes welcome", and I say "ah, great thanks", but I'm still a bit confused because no one seems to be dancing or meditating. Am I too early?

She does not start explaining dancing meditation to me. Rather her gaze becomes less warm. Am I a home invader? The confusion spreads to her.

"So do you live here? Or are you a guest?"

"Uhh, I'm actually here for this dancing meditation thing. Am I in the right place?"

"OH! Dancing meditation! That was yesterday! You're off by a day!"

Ah! An honest mistake! Confusion dispelled!

"Oh! Sorry about that! Don't know why I thought it was today. I'll just head out then. Thanks."

"Wait! I feel bad! You came all the way here! I'm the one leading that class! If you want, we can do a quick session with just us."

"Um, uh... yeah, ok, sure! Thank you!"

The Facebook event promised a dark room and blindfolds. It promised a soothing anonymity for the anxious dancer. I look around. We're in a well-lit kitchen, no blindfolds. People are cooking dinner next to us. A small child watches me quizzically.

The lead-- she seems like a Cassandra, we'll call her Cassandra-- puts on some jazzy instrumentals and begins teaching me the basics of improvisational dance.

She's speaking, but I'm somewhere else. I'm in my head where it is now dawning on me that we're about to dance, "ecstatically" (in her words), lights on, unblindfolded, in the middle of a large kitchen, amassing a growing crowd of strangers all cooking dinner, on a normal, unscheduled, Thursday night. You must understand: I am part alien. The alarms are blaring. We are at risk for extremely high levels of embarrassment. I will never shower peacefully again. I haven't even fully processed walking into this random apartment on the wrong day. And now this.

Cassandra wraps up her explanation. "Oh, and last thing, since the contact tends to be sensual, do you have any boundaries I should be aware of?"

Contact?? Sensual??? I thought this would be a solo situation. I expected some flute sounds and arm waving in the darkness! I was promised blindfolds! I can't even conceive of what a boundary would be in this circumstance.

"Not that I can think of."

"So that all sound good then!?"

"Yup, sounds great!" Amazing. My really gets off on throwing my fragile mind into social situations it can't handle.

We begin, standing back to back, eyes closed. She starts roll her back into mine, kind of falling into me, in a controlled manner. Cortisol opens my eyes and I meet the gaze of a dude holding a tray of roasted carrots. No blindfold. He looks amused. I close my eyes.

It's only weird if you make it weird. Just don’t be weird. I try to relax and roll "intuitively", channeling a slug.

We continue. The movements grow more complex. The back of our arms flow together gently and separate. It's bad, but not terrible. There are moments where I'm feeling the music, feeling normal, and the touch and the movement arise naturally. But as soon as I slip into peace, my attention starved mind asserts its ugly existence, hijacking my awareness, jerking it towards what Cassandra must be thinking, how trapped and awkward she must feel in this situation, back-grinding on some alien life form, what her roommates must be thinking, probably munching on carrots silently giggling at this absurd spectacle, etc, etc, and I tense back up.

After a few minutes of rubbing our backs and shoulders together, she probably realizes that I’m going to need some extra help. This is a difficult case, Cassandra. She turns around mercifully and in a sweet voice, concealing my demotion the best she can, "hey, you know what! Let's actually start with some mirroring exercises!"

I copy her actions. Yes. Sounds reasonable.

We face each other and she puts her palms against mine and slowly moves them up and down, in a mime-like fashion. Much more manageable. I relax a bit. She senses this, and starts to add facial expressions. I mirror them. Then she starts jumping around and I mirror, mind fading.

Roommates shuffle around nonchalantly. It's now clear to me: they're used to this kind of shit. It's not weird for them. I feel better.

She gets on all fours. I mirror. We look at each other for a moment, both on all fours, in the middle of her kitchen, roommates eating carrots. She makes a clawing motion and a scrowling face and crawls around the linoleum tile. With complete confidence, she weaves through her roommates legs, letting out meows, clawing her hands in the air. She looks back at me and impelled I begin to crawl around the floor of this kitchen meowing like a cat, and I meow, and meow again, and I hear myself meow and-- and-- what the FUCK am I DOING


As my mind or ego or whatever is yelling continues its meltdown, the new playful and zen part of my brain, called forth by the surreal-ness of the situation, and by Cassandra and her strange ways, free from social conditioning and fear of judgment, pulls me forward on all fours, and I continue to crawl around like a fucking cat on this kitchen floor, smiling and meowing, through a forest of stranger-legs. Cassandra lays down on the floor on her back and I mirror and now we're both splayed out next to the fridge with the soles of our feet pressed together in a conjoined bicycle maneuver, moving faster and faster, then erratically, like we're possessed. Her roommate moves to open the door of the fridge to get some kombucha or something, but the arc of door is blocked by my thigh, because, of course I'm laying on the fucking floor, next to the fridge, in my erratic conjoined bicycle maneuver, with Cassandra, and so I scooch out of the way, and then get back to bicycling, and the war in my brain rages on, the ego desperately trying to recover from this unexpected coup, not even sure who's in charge at this point.

And then, it ends. Cassandra, on her back, says, "well I think this is a good stopping point," and I wonder what the criteria for a good stopping point is.

We get up off the floor. I thank her, we hug, and I leave, feeling dreamlike, vaguely confused, but proud of myself.

Can you imagine me crawling around the floor of a strangers apartment meowing earnestly? Because I cannot. It's not a big deal for many of you. But it was for me.

Which is actually kind of sad. What's wrong with some crawling and meowing? I knew nothing was wrong. But part of me thought: this "adult play" thing, beautiful, great, for most people. But not for me. I relate to Hal, from Infinite Jest, who in one scene, tries to express himself to the head of the Enfield Tennis Academy, to speak openly and deliver a passionate monologue, but ends up "waggling" his arms wildly, making horrendous, incomprehensible, noises, eventually restrained and forced into the hospital, thought to be having a seizure. Dying, maybe. There is surely some baseline level of clarity, of physical and mental organization one needs before they can act freely around others.

And so over the last decade, I’ve carefully constructed this cage around myself to keep me from acting out of line. But recently I've been fed up with it. I loud and animated as a kid. My favorite class used to be improv, but now at 22, I'd rather eat glass than do anything akin to improv.

What happened? I can’t point to a single, large, cause. It's more the gradual accumulation of small failures. Years and years of small social missteps and the improportionate self-doubt that came with it. Your joke falls flat, people tell you to shut up, and you embarrass yourself a few times, and large groups of people look at you strangely, then people seem to be avoiding you, ignoring what you say, like the buzzing of a mosquito, something to be tolerated, stoically, but not engaged with, and you have trouble making friends, and you start to wonder what "normal" is, and how to achieve it, and all this keeps you up at night, thinking, and you start to lose sleep, and so to protect yourself you kill your own confidence and retreat to anonymity, with dark rooms, and blindfolds. You staff your conscious mind with a team of no-nonsense deputies that double-check every action before it escapes the motor cortex. So if you're about to be vulnerable, or let loose, or express yourself in any way that could draw any level of judgment, the on-call team hits a big red button and freezes you up, avoiding the danger. You walk stiffly through the world, judging each action you take, never committing more than 50% of yourself to anything, because the other 50% needs to stay inside your head and run this whole self-consciousness operation.

But what a sad way to live! Fortunately, life always prevails, tearing down the dams you've so carefully constructed to keep you safe and sedated, drowning out the conscious guards. Life waits for moments of great anxiety to strike. These moments where you conscious guards cannot handle the immense calculations required to protect yourself, and so you have no choice but to surrender, on the floor of a stranger's apartment, crawling and meowing.