I want to take you someplace with me. This journey is neither far, nor exotic. Depending on your mindset, you might call it banal. Or tacky.
I call it fun.
You and I, we’re driving down a back street in an industrial corner of my town on a Saturday night. Make that last Saturday night, to be precise.
We pass factories, warehouses and cross railroad tracks before we come to a parking lot loaded with Harleys, pickups and SUVs. We find one spot left for our little car. We cross the street toward a cinder-block, windowless building. Smokers crowd around the door. The temperature tonight is freezing, but the men wear t-shirts or cotton shirts with the sleeves rolled up high on their tattooed arms. The women’s arms are bare, as are their thighs, below their short skirts.
Noise and heat assault us the moment we open the door. This makes clear to us why the people standing smoking in the cold are lightly dressed. We immediately wish we were, too. We pay our cover charge and plow into the crowd, heading for the bar.
I’m going to leave you here at the door because, as much as I wish you were with me Saturday night, you weren’t. I was with my friend, Brenda, which was a good thing, since, as you know, Brenda loves to dance (refer to The Cougar Pack).
So do I.
We didn’t even make it to the bar before a man appeared at my side and said, “Let me buy you a drink. What would you like?”
Before you congratulate me on my vixen divorcee powers, this guy is someone I know. His name is Jack, and his boss some 15 years ago was a man named Alan, my former husband. I introduce him to Brenda, who briefly turns her mega-watt smile on him and disappears into the crowd.
Jack and I, now with beers in hand, thread our way through the crowd right up to the stage. The Garbage Men – that’s the name of the band – are wearing the same one-piece outfits my trash collectors wear. Except that propped on his head, each Garbage Man sports a Santa hat.
Jack tells me he started coming to this Christmas show 17 years ago. He missed a few years recently, while his wife was ill. He’s now a widower and I’m divorced from his ex-boss. Life changes, doesn’t it?
He also tells me that all the music performed tonight will be Christmas. I wasn’t prepared for that. I think, “Oh, great. I’m trapped listening to two hours of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. I’ll die.”
Didn’t hear that one at all. Also missed I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.
What did I hear? How about Jerry Lee Lewis, his relentless, pounding chords racing up and down the keyboard, somehow with Christmas lyrics. How about the Beach Boys, with their sweet California surfer boy harmonies turned to a song of snow and cold. How about a 1920’s Charleston number, but about a flapper longing for a visit from Santa.
The dance floor is too crowded for any actual dancing. Jack and I only have a few inches of personal space, so I make the best use of what I have. I’m shaking what I can shake and tapping what I can tap with almost no room to move.
Only one woman is on the stage at any given moment. Her job is to keep rhythm to the music with the jingle stick. In another setting, you’d take this for a standard that a warrior would carry into battle. Here, it’s white and red and the rounded top is covered with silver bells.
At the end of each song, a new woman jumps up on stage to claim the jingle stick. She pounds it into the floor to get maximum thumping and shakes it to get maximum jingling. Of course, this all results in a great deal of booty shaking. That’s the point, right. Except this booty belongs to women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. They’re having a great time, their faces wreathed in smiles as they thump, shake and twist. They’re at an age when they don’t get to strut their stuff much, and they’re loving it.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn. What to my wondrous eyes should appear but a tall, dark stranger. He says, “Aren’t you going to get up there?”
“Oh, no. I’m too shy. What about you?”
He says, “That’s just for pretty ladies. You sure love to move. Looks to me like you fit the bill on all counts. Go on up.”
I say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and turn back to the stage. No booty shaking for this vixen – as if I had any booty to shake.
The next song is the Memphis blues. Slow, sultry, insinuating. Oh, a little dirty dancing at this moment would be fine, my body pressed against my partner’s. Alan was always quick on the dance floor for a song like this one.
I look at Jack. Bad idea.
I glance at the guy behind me, who appears to be on his own. That could get me in trouble.
I scan the crowd for Brenda and spot her by the bar, talking animatedly with some man. No, this crowd would not take well to two women dancing close to each other.
I turn to Jack, ruffle the damp hair at the nape of my neck and say, “It’s hot in here.”
“Yeah. The temperature’s gone up about five degrees with each song.”
“I’m going outside to cool off. Thanks for the drink and dancing.”
The cold air is a welcome relief. But the relief quickly turns to shivering and I head back inside.
Brenda is by herself, so I join her. The crowd has thinned enough that we can carve out a square foot to dance. Once we loosen up, relax into playing off each other, the folks around us cluster more tightly together, giving us even more room.
Then the band digs deep into its play list and comes up with the The Kinks. I close my eyes. I’m back in my high school gym, consumed by the music, the beat swelling up from the floor, into my shoes and up my body. I’m shaking my head, hair flying, feet pounding out the rhythm, arms thrusting up over my head.
“You’ve really got me! You’ve really got me!” I belt out along with the band.
How did that become a Christmas song?
That did it for both of us. We’re out of steam. Time to leave.
Brenda pulls my arm just before we step out the door.
“Should we do it?”
“Make like Santa Claus?”
This is the kind of communication that happens when you’ve been friends for 30 years.
“But of course,” I answer.
We turn in unison, facing the thinning crowd of Christmas partyers.
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” we call out, wave, spin on our heels and dart out into the cold.
Wish you were there. We’d have had a great time together.
Where ever you are for your holiday, whatever you do, I hope it’s the best.