Museums aren’t really my thing. When V asks if I want to go to Art After Five with her on Friday, I say okay because I haven’t seen V in awhile and I want to spend some time with her. Lots of people find art museums to be calming, but for some reason walking around the Philadelphia Museum of Art makes me feel listless and lost.
V was my English professor at Penn State for three semesters. She taught me how to write better, to think critically (something I now forget how to do), and to remind myself that I am beautiful and smart from time to time. I’ve cried to her about everything from a C+ paper to my anxiety around turning twenty. Since she left State College to open up her own business in Philadelphia, we’ve become great friends and I respect her immensely. V is the same age as my mother.
“Wanna smoke some pot?” V says before we get into a cab.
I am reminded of that C+ paper, which I received shortly after telling my English 458 class a silly story about being high as balls at the Band of Horses show at the State Theatre my sophomore year. I sat down in my balcony seat next to my super cute graduate student French teacher, whom I had exchanged mixes with when I was a freshman. With monsieur Nate on my left and Zack on my right, I had bugged out and told him how stoned I was. Nate nodded. “This show is gonna be really great for you.” A few weeks later, V asked me if I had been high when I wrote my paper. I was wildly embarrassed.
I did not smoke much after that.
We climb the stairs to the art museum two at a time, out of breath by the time we reach the top. I look behind me and sigh. Philadelphia, you are so beautiful. V leads me to a dark corner by the entrance and pulls out a little baggie and one-hitter. “Here, Allie, your fine motor skills are probably better than mine.” She has matches, no lighter. We hear a door slam and jump, as if we’re sixteen years old, trying to get stoned before Homecoming without our parents knowing. Note: I never smoked pot in high school, not once. I was too proud of my good girl status, too scared to lose the trust of my parents.
V and I enter the museum. Inside, the sound of Wayna, an Ethiopian Grammy-nominated singer wafts through the hallways. I grab $8 glasses of cheap-ass wine from the bartender and smile big when he pours to the top. V and I grab seats on the steps and look around. I’m not sure it can get more bougie than this.
“Who would have thought we’d be hanging out five years after you came crying to me about your C+ paper?” V asks me. “Who would have thought we’d be at the art museum on a Friday night, enjoying live music and wine and taking it all in?” She pauses. “I think I’m a little high. This conversation feels a little more edgy than it would be normally.”
Who would have thought.
Wayna ends her set and a DJ spinning exclusively world music takes over. An older couple starts doing the fox trot, or something, while everyone else awkwardly watches. V’s friend M comes by and they chat for awhile alone. M is fifty, with dyed red hair, a heavy South Philly accent and a six-pack I can see through her slinky going-out top. She’s going through a divorce, V tells me later.
When I come back with two more glasses of wine, the makeshift dance floor at the bottom of the steps has filled up. I drop all my shit in a corner and make my way to join in. I am surrounded by people of every age. Little girls dressed to the nines, big black dudes with dreads and head wraps, elderly couples letting it all hang out. The DJ is bopping his head. Apparently world music with a beat is a thing.
V and I dance together, bumping hips and getting groovy. V tries to get some of the single men to dance with her, just for funzies, just because she can. My boots slip and slide gracefully on the cool marble floor; I twist and shout, I moonwalk, I spin myself in circles. The atmosphere has shifted from bougie to bananas. I am dancing unlike I have ever danced at a club or a party or even in my own living room.
“Hey, baby,” V says, shaking her body around me in every direction. “This is what fifty looks like! Aren’t you excited?”