Ray led the way through the crowd, bee-lining it to the bar. I fell in behind him and tried my best to stay out of the fray that was the Saturday night dance crowd. After standing in line outside for twenty minutes in the cold, the club felt stifling and congested, the air heavy. While Ray ordered drinks (I decided my ‘disco drink’ would be gin and tonic. I didn’t even want my beloved Vodka to see who I was becoming!) I looked around the place, feeling like I was behind enemy lines, taking mental notes to bring back to the rockers. The sound system blared (‘More than a Woman’) and the dance-floor was packed to capacity. The silver disco ball that hung over the dancers, spun its confetti of light sparkles over the crowd in flurries. Red, green and blue spotlights throbbed, aiming up, down and straight across, cutting through the crowd. There were hips swirling, arms flailing, knees bending, bodies twisting. Hustles of all kinds were represented: The American, along with the Latin, Street, Rope and even the Triple Hustle. There were additional dances like The Rock, The Line ( you wait so long to get into these places, I guess they named a dance after it), The Drop, and The Disco Swing. I didn’t know any of this at the time, I only knew that these people must have spent gads of time choreographing these moves- which to me – seemed like the equivalent of having to ’cram’ for a night out, defeating the whole purpose of having a fun night out. But they seemed happy- and very anxious to show off their moves- that is, if they were lucky enough to secure a spot on the perimeter of the dance-floor. It was impossible to tell what was going on in the middle. But-chances are: it was sweaty.
While we stood by the bar, Victoria fluttered over to us, her gorgeous red Halston flouncing behind, earnestly trying to keep up. “COME SIT WITH US! WE GOT A BOOTH!” she shouted into my ear over the music, almost shattering my eardrum with improper modulation. She pointed to the left. “IT’S OVER THERE!!!” she shrieked,, and took off with a start. Just then, Ray turned around, offering up my gin and tonic, a slice of lime buoyed to the swizzle stick, gripping his own drink in his other hand. I motioned for him to follow me. We headed off into the strobing cavern of the disco club to find our friends. My eyes were peeled for the red beacon that was Victoria’s dress, and sure enough, I spotted it from a good distance, and made my way to the booth her and Lenny occupied, all the while slurping my drink through the swizzle stick, eyes wide, on a mission.
As we arrived at the large, U-shaped booth, Victoria scooted over and patted the orange naugahyde bench seat next to her, indicating where I should sit. I put my drink onto the lacquered wood table, pulled off my suede coat, and handed it to Victoria, who placed it to her left, out of the way. I slid in. Meanwhile, Rod Stewart/Lenny was leaning completely back, sprawled out, legs spread apart, hands clasped at the groin, head lolling , his choppy, silvery-blond hair glowing against his bronzed face. He demeanor was completely at odds with the driving beat of ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’, now on the turntable, a song I was ‘at odds’ with in general. It struck me that Lenny’s ‘casual’ stance bordered on comatose. I wondered if he was into downers, one of those Rorer 714 connoisseurs that Victoria sometimes spoke of. I was too laid back by nature to like anything that slowed me down and found it annoying to be around the lethargy that these types demonstrated. It was like hanging out with someone who’s sleeping. I mean- what’s the point? Now that Lenny had his coat off, I also noticed that he was sporting an airbrushed ‘sunset scene’ in shades of mint,(to match his silk, glam-rock trousers) beige and orange on his silky button down shirt. It was very reminiscent of the mural on the side of Bobby’s old custom van. I also noted that more than a few of the upper buttons were undone, revealing a gold medallion-(yin and yang)- on his hairless, unnaturally tanned chest. He looked completely bored in this pedestrian disco, and the smirk on his face seemed to say ‘You’re welcome, Ladies! Feel free to enjoy the Eye Candy…’
Meanwhile, Ray took off his pimp coat, hoisting it across the table. It took three of us to maneuver the giant pelt over the drinks, dial-a-date phone and ashtray full of ashes and one burning ember attached to an Eve cigarette. We handled the fur gingerly, as though it were on a stretcher, with us trying not to incur neck injuries. Once we cleared the table, we gently laid it atop Victoria’s fox fur, segregating it from the cheaper suede/faux-fur of mine- the obvious ‘townie’ in this coat crowd. Of coarse, Lenny couldn’t be bothered with any of it and literally twiddled his thumbs, whistled to himself, then picked a tooth with his pinkie fingernail. Settled in, I glanced over at the silver and white fur piled high, and noted it now appeared as if a wolf was stalking us from under the table. In fact, the club was teeming with furs, and had the PETA-protesters of the future existed in the late 70s, there would no doubt be a national shortage of red paint. Sherman Williams style outrage. However, as far as Ray went, I was quite relieved when I saw that underneath his behemoth coat,(and let’s face it- anything could have been under there!) he was wearing a black collared button down shirt, plain but for some strategically placed gold zippers to fancy it up. It wasn’t silk, or silk-screened, and he wore only one rope of gold chain. More importantly, his shirt was properly buttoned. I guess with a coat as magnificent as his, it was best to keep the rest of your wardrobe on the down low. And stay away from walking sticks. No matter how ornate or tempting.
Kicking off some stimulating conversation, Lenny yawned like a lion and I was forced to notice he still had his tonsils. Spreading his arms up and out, as though he might take flight, while making no attempt whatsoever to cover his mouth or say ‘excuse me’,he then dropped his head even further back on the headrest. Evidently, the move had taken what little he had left out of him. Victoria sighed. I stirred my drink, while Ray slugged his down. Someone wanted to take me to a place called ‘Funky Town’ if what I was hearing music-wise was on point. I pictured a town full of cartoon Sly Stone types, doing synchronized dance moves down the main drag, one bell-bottomed leg comically out front, bent at the knee, platforms gleaming. I knew I wouldn’t fit in, in any place called ‘Funky Town’, but appreciated the offer.
We couldn’t see the dance floor from where we sat, but throngs of dancers and patrons walked by our booth in various states of disco fever.Victoria began rattling off designer names- Dianne Von Furstenberg, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, Fiorucci,Missoni, Armani – she knew them all, and evidently the clientele at Ringers did as well. Though she was quick to add this disclaimer: ‘or it’s a damn good knock-off’ After all- this was the hayseed suburbs! and even though she lived here as well, and was prancing around in an authentic Halston, it was unlikely-in her estimation anyway- that the rest of the town was as stylish. It was her own little license plate game, only with trendy labels instead of cars, and she did it to pass the time. I couldn’t care less about designers, and was into a sort of ‘Stevie Nicks freestyle’ way of dressing – a look that would definitely not fly in this crowd.
Finally, someone threw a hat into the conversational ring. “I saw a dead guy today” Ray blurted out.
“What?!!” “Huh?” “God damn!” Me, Lenny and Victoria reacting, respectively.
“Yeah, I was dropping a caw off in Bed-Stuy, and I pull up to dis guy’s garage, and there’s cops everywhere, and yellow tape around the awffice, and on the ground is a guy- bleedin’ to death. Died right there. Gunshot! No one knows anything about why… friggin crazy!”
Lenny came to life, sitting up straight. “Manny’s place? Are you kidding? Why didn’t you tell me? You did get the cash, though?”and realizing how cold (and suspicious) he sounded, quickly added “Manny’s alright though, right? Man!- why didn’t you tell me this!!
“I just did!” Ray said, and stood up. “Manny’s fine. He wasn’t even there!”
“Want anotha?” Ray asked me, pointing at my drink. “Sure!” I said. I was down to sucking ice cubes. Ray started towards the bar.
Lenny slid out behind him, and said “I’ll get you another one, too” to Victoria, not even looking at her, tracking Ray instead – it was clear he needed to square some something up with him. Victoria watched him go, and then became flustered and almost giddy.
“These guys are the real deal!” she said, leaning in to me “But try not to ask them about their business. They don’t like that. Our role is to be their release from all of that!”
“Ewww! That is disgusting!” I said. “I’m not ‘releasing’ anybody!”
“Not like that!” she sighed “Ya know-you have a really dirty mind!”
“No, I don’t.” I shot back “It’s the way you put things that makes me nervous. Like you’re signing me up for shit I haven’t agreed to!” There was something about these guys that she wasn’t telling me, something I might object to. Who were they? Mafia? Killers? Dealers? Hustlers? Or maybe I was completely off. They could just be plain old guys who live in Brooklyn with their mothers for chrissakes! Though that didn’t necessarily cancel out my first guess!
Victoria’s eyes darted around the club, and she seemed nervous. We sat silent for a few minutes, staring at the dating phone, which was also silent.
“Okay” she said, clearing her throat “Dummy up. Here they come’
I automatically straightened my posture, and reset my facial expression to blank/casual. I looked over at Victoria, and saw the familiar glint in her eyes. She loved excitement, and nothing was more exciting than risk and danger. Looking back,I think if Victoria could have been anyone, it would’ve been Lucky Santangelo from the Jackie Collins books. The fictional books. Books that weren’t yet published in our ‘Ringers’ phase, but books that when I read them a couple of years later (trashy beach reads,yes- but I loved them, and am only slightly ashamed to admit it) I was struck by how much the character reminded me of V. The problem with real life though- was that not everything was always worked out by the last page. One of the reasons Victoria and I clicked so well, was that I was completely satisfied in the sidekick role (a role Victoria would never, ever accept: it’s the spotlight or nothing! ) because I felt like I lived vicariously through V, and the crazy things she did, without having to put myself on the line. Being with V was like having the Cliff Notes version of all sorts of life experiences, many of them daring and edgy. I got the whole ‘gist’of whatever scene we were in-in half the time. Living in the bland suburbs of Connecticut- it was rare to find a shooting star like her. But it made my life eons more exciting.. And though I knew it wasn’t possible to be a fictional spitfire like Lucky Santangelo,(life’s minutia, and unedited’real time’ made sure of that) it was fascinating to watch Victoria make a good run at it, while I settled in with my popcorn to enjoy the show.