BY GRAYSON JAMES
Lula Lounge seems like it was pulled straight from the 80’s - or at least a b-list film’s version of the 80’s. It looks like a set that the directors of Scarface thought was “too cocaine-y.”
When I walk in I see kaleidoscopic lights running across the floor; a line of orange catches a face locked in a grim smile, focused and ecstatic, like Teresa. Across from this, blue briefly outlines a thin weathered hand, a hand raised slightly with fingers curling inwards. The dull shine of a ring catches my eye for a moment and then is lost. I think of a magpie, confused and scared. A band is playing, and before I can really notice who or what or why they are there, my friend pulls me in. She tells me she has learned to dance, and that she’ll teach me. I smile, feel myself blush, and then agree. We Salsa clumsily. We are interrupted (a quiet grace) by a couple who have begun to dance beside us. They are older, and moving wildly. It takes me a moment to fully grasp what is happening; I’ve never been somewhere people actually dance with each other, I’ve never seen bodies move back and forth in time, I’ve never heard laughter and conversation slip between the rapid notes of a trumpet. I feel like I’ve fallen into another world, one both strange and intimately familiar.
I step away quietly, watching the crowd cheer the couple on. A bead of sweat slides down the man’s temple as the dancers push-and-pull away from each other. People dance like they fuck, and I am quickly embarrassed by the thought, as I do not dance well.
There are plants resting in alcoves, their leaves reaching, in a way that seems desperate, to the high ceiling. They are lit from behind by a purple light. I walk to the bar, and get a glass of water. When I return to the dance-floor, I am once again pulled in by a friend. I dance for a song, and then quietly back away.
The club is packed, and tan men surround the recessed dance-floor. They wear white button down shirts and square-toed shoes. I feel underdressed, noticing a cigarette burn in my unwashed hoodie. The dancers move in and out seamlessly, somehow always finding a space-between that they can slide through. I was reminded, vaguely, of a pack of hyenas, or of a thread in a loom, or of schools of fish that turn in tandem, never colliding and never falling out of sync. I imagine Attenborough’s narration here, describing a delicate mating ritual.
There is something both exciting and terrifying about being so out of place somewhere, there is an unease we feel in our guts. It is like staring out of a plane window in the same moment you hit a bump; a searching for meaning in the unfamiliar, or the meaningless, or the empty, or the anonymous. I have always been fascinated by dancing, by a community that is formed and broken in an evening, by a coming together and falling apart that moves like the tide does. On nights like this I imagine that each person is changed, or maybe left the same, sometimes both. I think of them as a deep breath, one that clears lungs.
There seems to be some kind of common understanding here, a shared sense of space, a perception, manifest in small adjustments, or the swing of a hip, or in a cautious step. Each gesture seems to say that each person who moves is not only alone, or with their partner, but is with a crowd, a community.
This harmony is broken by my friend, who is throwing her arms wildly. I look over, and catch the eye of C. who is now dancing with a stranger. He seems both humble and forward, focused more on helping her learn, or not having his toes stepped on, than anything else. While dancing, she catches my eye and laughs. I smile, moving to the periphery. I lean against a wooden balustrade, feeling a sticky floor underneath me. I hope it’s booze, and don’t bother looking down. Across from me, slightly raised, are tables, their outside edges lined with empty beers like a fratboy’s bedroom window. A group of middle aged men, all wearing sunglasses, lean in towards each other talking in, what I assume, are hushed tones. One of them, wearing a baby blue shirt, looks at me. I feel his gaze through dim sunglasses, and slowly look away. The space, or the people in it, sense that we are outsiders. We seem to have reached an uneasy truce - my friends play along, dancing and laughing, and I stand quietly off to the side. This is not a place meant for you, the people seem to note, but for now you are welcome here.
This is an accidental intrusion, a crossing of a line that is marked in snow, a line that fades in and out, a line like paint on grass that moves in the wind or in time with the bodies that cross it. It brings on a tension that is bittersweet, one that should be celebrated, preserved, and thought of as a beautiful thing; beautiful like dust that accumulates on a windowsill or beautiful like a floor marked with scuffs from shoes.
This tension should be extended, it should be a constant reminder that I was not here first, that this space does not exist for me, and nor should it.
As the night goes on, a sad fog machine sputters out what I assume will be its last breath, a soliloquy in a thin mist, and the band packs up their instruments. Dancehall begins to play. Very few people leave, but there is a marked change in pace.
I go out for a cigarette, and think of the times that I have walked by here. I remember the crowds, every night, standing out front. I lose count of how many cigarettes I have bummed off these people, and suddenly feel that I owe them an immense debt. I am a transplant to this neighbourhood, a foreign limb reattached, and I have no place here. I go inside to say goodbye to my friends, and the bouncer greets me with a warm smile. As I pass him, he pats me on the shoulder. I am thrown off by the friendliness, and left confused.
While walking home I pass a new coffeeshop that has opened just down the street. It is a “slash” space - as in coffee-slash-plants-slash-gallery. I try to remember what was in the spot before, and am unable to. A deep sadness settles in me. There is a finality to these changes, and it is easier to turn to cynicism than to hope, to abandonment than to work, easier to let out an exasperated sigh than a shout in solidarity. Craigslist apartments in the next hot-spot, kijiji ads for an industrial live-work space, signs hung in windows.
Neighbourhoods change like glaciers or continents, dragging bodies along with them. Places like Lula seem to gently push back; they push like a brick wall pushes against the ivy that climbs it, as both support and resist.