Contact Improv, Broken Glass, Human Destiny

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

In summer I lived in northern Vermont, way up in the corner of the corner of the state, in the Northeast Kingdom, 20 miles from Canada, 20 miles from New Hampshire. I tell Canadians here in San Miguel, "I could see Canada from my bedroom window," specifically I add, "the Laurentian Mountains." Often I will then sing, rather well, I think, the first two words of the Canadian national anthem, "Oh Canada..."

Up past the end of a dirt road, mine were the last, highest pasture (where once sheep browsed and cows grazed) and the spectacular horseshoe-shaped ridge that surrounded it. I do mean up. Up the way the hiking trail went to nearby Bald Mountain with its old firetower,from which one can see just about all you'd ever want to see, hundreds of mountains and 14 bodies of water. I used to wonder why the clouds looked like the clouds in Maxfield Parrish paintings, until I learned that Maxfield Parrish had lived just over the border in New Hampshire. There the mountains are different, taller, more rocky, White, not Green.

We opened up the old road through the woods, one half mile through my neighbor's property, expanding that already wide hiking trail, creating a very tasteful rustic passage to get to my land. I got a lot of respect for being so high up the mountain. Up in the Kingdom, when the UPS delivery man tells you that you have a nice place that means something. The old-timer, who came through, admiringly exclaimed (admittedly, exclamations in those parts are rather subdued), "You're up in the hat," meaning where the clouds sometimes circle the mountain top hat-like.

My neighbor, who constituted the only other property on the whole road, was plural. Mad Brook Farm was a hippy commune founded in 1969. In 1969 the Summer of Peace and Love was over. Things were turning sour; think Altamont; "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming." 300-400 protesters were murdered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. Janice, Jimi and Jim were not long for this world. As Black Pete, one of the original Brookies (man, was he an original) told me, "Everybody I knew who was dealing drugs was dead. We got the hell out of Dodge." A lot of people had the same idea; "And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

Up on Mad Brook Farm, lived, still lives, the man who started Contact Improvisation Dance. The New York Times calls Steve Paxton "A Buddha of American Dance". I had many pleasant, edifying chats with him. I brought him more than a few fresh-pressed glasses of carrot juice when, as was his want, he was scything the grass, very gracefully scything the long grass, maintaining the yard around his dance studio/home, and at the same time maintaining the compost pile to which he added the cut grass.

With apologies to Steve, who once, when I was taking photos, admonished me, "We are very jealous of our privacy," I will reveal the fact that in his home and studio complex (one building with multiple additions) he didn't always sleep in the same bed, he had more than a few places where he sometimes spent the night. Once, at 2:00am, before I had my own home there, when I was looking for a quieter place for my daughter and her mother to sleep during Mad Brook's 30th anniversary party, I entered the dance studio and found Steve sleeping under a blanket on top of some mats, a comfortable bed he graciously yielded to my daughter and her mom. I woke him up by very gently grazing his somewhat stubbled cheek with the back of my hand. Coming to, no doubt a little surprised, I oriented him, "Steven, it's David. I'm looking for a place for my daughter and her mom to sleep." Completely possessed and gracious, he responded, "Yes, of course. It's just that your touch was so remarkably like that of a mouse." Then he got up to get some sheets.

In my house I have only one bed. I do, however, have two pillows, one sculpted of memory foam, one filled with down. I start the night with the foam, but often, sometime during the night, switch to the feathers. Last night, instead of completely replacing the one with the other, when I made the switch, I simple pushed the foam somewhat aside, somewhat onto the night stand. Later, waking up in the early dawn, attempting to reposition the foam under my head I felt that is was weighted down. Opening my eyes I saw the shadowed form of my cat curled up upon it.

Cats, at least cats that go outside, at least outside here in urban, dusty Mexico, despite contentions to the contrary, are dirty animals. I know, cats are cleaner than dogs, but that is faint praise indeed; pigs are cleaner than dogs. My cat sometimes comes home with grease marks acquired under cars wher he has sought temporary refuge. I don't even like (but do tolerate) this savage male killing machine on the bedspread. So there, at 6:45am, I awaken this content pussy cat from his no doubt vicious dreams with a firm (non-painful) slap on his hind quarters. Normally skittish, he was indeed surpised. Escaping with all possible speed across the nightstand he overturned my drinking glass. There, in the still-dark room, I heard the glass bounce on the table; I heard the water splashing onto the floor; I heard the glass crash onto the floor. I gave my own savage hiss for good measure, as the cat made for his cat door. Some people treat cats like people. I treat cats like cats. Animals love me. I know that he'll be back as if nothing happened when it's time for his breakfast.

Last night I should have taken, I did initially take, an empty mustard jar for a drinking vessel, because I know these things happen, because I have a lot of empty mustard jars and very few glasses. The jar in hand had a speck of something (carrot pulp?) on its rim, so I switched the water to a glass, one of two large ones that I have. Anti-consumer that I am, all my few glasses come from the memorial candles I burn to honor the yartziets (death anniversaries) of my parents. (Happy Day of the Dead!)

The Jews exclaim "Mazel tov" whenever a plate or glass is broken. (Mazel tov means, not good luck, but good fortune or good destiny. Luck is random; fortune is destined. Mazel means constellation. The plural, "mazelot", means zodiac.) There in the fading darkness, good Jew that I am, I exclaimed (well, ok, I murmured), "Mazel tov". There in the fading darkness, I remembered a Jewish wedding, outside on a lawn, where after several stomps by the groom, the glass, wrapped inside a napkin, now pressed into the grass, refused to break. To the rescue, I moved the resistant vessel onto an immediately adjacent brick walk where it yielded at once, eliciting shouts of "Mazel tov". (Try breaking an egg in your hand with equally distributed pressure.)

We Jews are a superstitious, yet practical race. Our Yiddish greeting is not, Que pasa? or What's happening?, but Vas mach du or What are you doing?, as if to ask, what are you doing about it? what are you making of it? When life gives you lemons, it's time for lemonade. There in the fading darkness, shortly after murmering my mazel tov, it dawned on me that here was the story I needed for my magazine tomorrow. Just so it shouldn't be a total loss.

When I sat down to begin this story the time displayed on my laptop's screen was 7:11, which I take to be a lucky omen. The cat just came in... unpertubed. From his perch on the sofa he eyes me expectantly. It's time for breakfast.

*****

Watch a video about Steve Paxton and Contact Improvization

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photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr David started this magazine because he could write and liked to communicate. He fully expected that in a town like San Miguel he could find authors to publish in addition to himself. Well, practically no one is submitting anything. Stubborn as he is, he continues, now publishing himself, and a faithful cadre of authors and photographers. His motto continues to be, "It's hard to be ahead of your time."

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