An exploration of our
humanity unfolds here,
many levels deep, wrapped in stories during an evening of celebration, a
night on the town as it were. The town is Washington DC.
With the mall and its wide open spaces now behind us, and its frame of the
brooding presence of government structures surrounding it, receding into the
distance, the unfolding scene became 'smaller,' the streets narrower, the
houses drabber, except in the brightly lit streets that appeared like rivers
of commerce in some places. We mixed with the flow of those rivers, amidst
crowds that moved about, apparently without aim, or a purpose. Myriad forms
of advertising cried out, aiming to capitalize on the aimless wanderers'
apparent lack of purpose, each of the displays of 'commerce' suggesting in
bright colors their own purpose as being something vital and irresistible, a
must have for the aimless. Apparently they succeeded, like fishermen do by
the river, dangling their worms and shiny reflectors before the fish, which
likewise seem to float about without a purpose that they are conscious of. A
few of the commercial establishments dangled their lures in great designs
that displayed the word "Palace." There was Aladdin's Palace
across the street, a building of an oriental design, bathed in pink light.
It seemed to be a club of sorts. One of the names of the commercial
started with the word, "Temple," written in huge letters. It
seemed that the 'fish' in these nightly rivers of commerce came with an
apparent disadvantage that the fish in the real rivers didn't have. Sylvia
pointed this out to me when we came closer to the "Temple," a
place that advertised itself amidst colorful scenes, as the "Temple of
"What do you suppose that means?"
"Well, it could be a bar, a dance hall,
a strip joint, a theatre, anything of the kind that capitalizes on a human
condition, that the fish in the Potomac River would know nothing
"It might be a temple dedicated to the
poverty of the rich," said Sylvia, and began to laugh.
"Or it's a temple dedicated to the
poverty of the impotent?" I added.
I told Sylvia Erica's story that takes the
concept several steps farther. I told her that Erica was abducted one dark
night after an evening class at the university in Leipzig. A man had
followed her. He had forced her into a building that he apparently knew
would be empty. She decided that it might be too dangerous to fight the man
off, while it would cost her far less to let him have what he obviously
needed. She told me, that at first the man had covered her mouth so that she
couldn't scream, and then when she didn't struggle to fight him off, he
covered her mouth with his lips to steal a kiss, which she let him have
willingly. That's when she felt him 'explode' in his pants, by which the
tensions suddenly drained away.
He apologized to her profusely. He even asked
her for a date, before he walked away, which she refused of course. However,
she felt ashamed afterwards about her refusal to fulfill an apparent deep
unfulfilled need. She had replied to him that he was an intelligent person
and should therefore be able to establish many friendships with many women.
His response had been that he had found only closed doors. She felt sad for
him afterwards, being alone again, while she waited at the streetcar stop.
She had told me that she felt sad that
society had become so poor in its games, that this man went starving amidst
a sea of plenty. But mostly she felt sad and ashamed of herself that she
found herself no different than the rest of society. Why couldn't she have
offered the man a date in a public place for a cup of coffee and a chat? She
was ashamed suddenly, at realizing how little this gesture would have cost
her, and how much it would have meant to him as an acknowledgement of him as
a human being. It might have given him the courage not to give up hope.
"That's quite a story," said
Sylvia. "That really happened?"
"Apparently so," I replied.
"I'm sure she didn't make this up. No one would invent such an
"But Peter, that's a story about pity,
not love. Aren't pity and love contradictory terms? One can't really love
out of pity, can one?"
"Isn't that a bit like asking why
elephants fly?" I said to her. "I think the distinction that you
are referring to between pity and love is invalid. Elephants don't fly. This
fact makes that question invalid, just as is yours. If Erica had not been
moved by a deeply rooted sense of love for a fellow human being, and had not
felt him worthy to be enveloped in love as a human being, for what reason
then would she have agonized over that incidence, and her inability to
respond with a loving gesture? Isn't that what the man had really asked for?
She realized afterwards that she would have enjoyed responding in such a
loving manner, and would have found it enriching. And what about the man?
Why should his love, that had been starved, that had been countered with so
many closed doors to make him as desperate as he became, not have been
nourished by her? I think this is what Erica had been asking herself. Maybe
the Temple offers an answer to this question."
"Why don't we go in and see what the
'Temple of Unrequited Love' has in store for us?" said Sylvia.
"It probably has no bearing on Erica's
case," I said, but I agreed that it was intriguing. It seemed to be a
place for dancing. I saw pictures of a dance floor and a band in one of the
display windows. Thus, arm in arm, we lined up at the Temple's entrance. The
cover charge of five dollars each promised live music. More enticing,
however, was the inscription on a banner that loomed at the rear wall above
another gallery of photographs. The banner was strung high above the two
doorways that were the entrances to the dance hall.
"Please dance with a stranger," was
printed in silver letters on a wide red band. No one could not have seen the
banner and its message, that had been strung across the wall from corner to
corner as if it were a condition for entering.
Surprisingly, the place was crowded,
considering that we came quite early in the evening. Half the space in the
hall was devoted to the dance floor and the band, with a sea of small tables
and chairs surrounding the main attraction. Actually, the main attraction
were the people themselves. We found a tiny table in an obscure corner of
the place, but we barely got there when Sylvia became the attraction for a
neatly dressed Spanish looking man. "May I have the honor to dance with
the lady?" he said to both of us and bowed to Sylvia. Sylvia said yes
and smiled and followed the man.
Before I realized what happened I was invited
too. Seconds later I found myself on the dance floor facing a total
stranger, but she wasn't like a stranger at all. We were moving with the
music in a flow of rhythms and gestures and sounds that became our dance,
and she and I became one with the flow of the music and the center of it, so
The woman who invited me was rather ordinary
looking in the general sense, but looking closely, I noticed a faint
familiarity in the features of her face, that reminded me of the fabled Odo
from a TV fantasy situated at a remote outpost at the edge of civilized
space. As the dance progressed the familiarity broadened. But there the
familiarity ended. Her moves, her reactions to the music, her faint shy
smile and secret smug grin of satisfaction in the enjoyment of the dance,
were far from ordinary and familiar. They mirrored in many ways my own
responses in the 'whirlwind' of the dance, which seemed all new.
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in Chapter 13 of my novel: Roses at Dawn in an Ice Age World
online page 109 to 122