Esopus is a frothy creek, frequented by trout and tubers, that snakes through the towns outside Woodstock. My friend Tod once had a cottage on a roaring stream connected to the creek. Now he has created a lush extravaganza of a magazine called Esopus.
I went the other night to a launch party for their eighth issue, in the white gallery-space basement of New York City’s Center for Architecture, an attractive building that’s just a stone’s throw from the granite chess tables in Washington Square Park.
Before I joined the hundred other Esopus revelers, I added my name and cell phone number to the bottom of a list that was kept by a greeter who sat at a desk by the front door. I was told that sometime during the evening I’d be called by a member of the Headlong Dance Theater, a Philadelphia-based troupe that would put on an individualized dance performance just for me. The greeter volunteered that no sex would be involved.
An hour and a half and two chardonnays later, a woman called my cell phone and asked where I was. She instructed me to go up two flights of stairs and out the front door. She said she would call me back when I was outside.
As soon as I was in front of the building, she called again and told me to cross the street without getting run over and take a seat atop a small yellow sticker attached to the base of the famous statue of Mayor LaGuardia. “Paul,” she said, “you need a nickname. I’m going to call you Buzz,” and she pronounced Buzz as if had four z’s. “Is that okay, Buzz?”
It was more than okay. I liked it. It was macho. Like Buzz Aldrin. I had the right stuff.
As I sat on the sticker, she told me to experience the world around me. “The man drinking coffee on your left, the UPS truck passing in front of you, the birds on the branch above your head,” the voice coming through my phone said, “now take it all in, Buzz.” I took it all in, but she was nowhere to be seen. She told me to sit there for 30 seconds immersing myself in my surroundings and she’d call me back.
She called on cue and asked me how I was doing. Then she instructed me to go to a pay phone half a block away on the other side of the street. She said I’d find a colored sticker to affix to my shirt. While I walked to the phone, she asked me if I knew that a bee has 3,000 eyes through which they are able to see everything around them. I told her I didn’t know that.
Once the sticker was on me, she instructed me to go around the corner and into an NYU building. The security guard, she said, would notice the sticker and check to see that my name was on a list. Then I’d take the elevators to the sixth floor and look for Room 606. It was confusing to find the room, she said, so she promised to call me back when I emerged from the elevator.
When she called back, she told me to walk past the picture of Billie Holiday and around the corner past a series of music practice rooms. I did as she instructed and found Room 606, which had a honeycomb-cell symbol on the door. “Be brave, Buzz,” the voice on the phone said before hanging up. A woman emerged from Room 606 and greeted me, “Hi Buzz.”
I finally got it. Buzz was not a spaceman’s name but had bee connotations. The woman explained (or maybe the phone voice had told me some of this—my recollection is fuzzy because at the time I was nervous and excited about what would be expected of me) that I’d have four minutes alone in the cell with three dancers. That they would respond to my movements and mimic them. That no one would be watching. That I should make of the experience what I wanted. That it would end in exactly four minutes when the music stopped. She asked me if there was anything I wanted to leave with her while I went inside. I gave her my sweatshirt and glasses.
Inside were two casually dressed women and one man who were all down on the floor entwined theatrically in a frozen dance pose. All was quiet. Then the music started and I gingerly walked around them. They did not respond. I was unnerved that they were not copying my movements, as I thought was promised. I walked in a big square around them and self-consciously raised my arms a bit, but still they did not respond. I’m the kind of person who, at parties with strangers, usually hovers in the corner near the chips and salsa.
Something overcame me, though, and I suddenly got down on the floor and scooted in close. Now the bees came to life, and I can’t really describe what happened next—it was all a fun blur—but one of the women was kind of in my lap at one point. Just as I was getting comfortable, the music stopped and my four minutes were up. The performance was incredible.