Midnight is a pompous lie, all poetic meaning and dramatic wherewithal and glimmering showmanship. Can’t write a bad poem without throwing midnight in there. Privileged hour of private dicks, werewolfs, heavy metal singers. An overpromise, that’s what midnight is. No one gets laid at midnight: the partnered fuck at eleven, and the single at three in the morning. Decent people are asleep at midnight, and the indecent are still warming up. Midnight is like a mass-produced collector’s item: special because you’re told it is. Midnight is bullshit.
The loft party on Good Jones Street is revving back up. It never stops; it is a permanent temporary autonomous zone; it ebbs and flows in complement to real life, whatever the fuck that is, outside on the Downside of Little Aleppo. The party had the same rhythm as the neighborhood, but off by hours: the normal person’s 9 am was the party’s midnight. Time to get up, get down, get real loose with it while you’re packed in so tight. Everybody on the dance floor: gay and straight, black and white, fucked-up and sober.
(No one was sober. The loft party was a proving ground for new club drugs; exotic chemists would hand out samples of their latest wares at the bar. Just tell me what you think, they’d ask. This led to memorable evenings: one time, a chemical called H30 caused half the room to believe they were sheep, and the other half to believe they were border collies.)
Several people had tried to write a history of the loft party, and six months later were found on the dance floor naked but for glitter and hewing to the legends: the Beatification of Fantastic Barbara; that time Madonna stopped by; the Bathroom Skirmishes of ’96. Everyone had a story, and they were all the same and they were all unique: that one time the music and the drugs and the sweat mixed just right and things made sense, or at least disappeared, and the beat of the music matched the beat of my heart and the floor–the loft party had a sprung floor–bounced me into the air, into the fresculated spotbeams shivering off the disco balls, and then caught me when I fell only to launch me again, again, again in time with the bass drum as my arms wave with the bass guitar, and my fingers whibble with the keyboards. Everyone had the same beautiful story.
Facts were tougher to pin down.
When did the party start? Some said ’72, others said ’73. Somewhere around there. The first sound system? Stolen; a gift; scammed from Harper College. The first star deejay? Either Big Money or Hercules the Herculean or Mister Dre. Depends on who you ask. What year did the gorilla get loose? A lot of people say it was ’84, but the guy who got his ear peeled off says it was ’85 and he should know.
The music went
THWOMB diddle iddle iddle
THWOMB diddle iddle womp
THWOMB diddle iddle iddle
THWOMB diddle iddle womp
very loudly and the dance floor’s drugs were starting to come on–mass spinal electrification–and black lights and blue and red, they all got eaten up by the darkness hovering, the bouncing pitch right above the dancers, a murky dark that was powerful and hungry: the dancers expelled it from their hair, pores, mouths and crusted bloody nostrils. Dimness flew from them like frightened birds and flocked atop their heads: it was the long day, and the too-short night, and the filth of the Main Drag and bedroom compromises, the stairs up and down to work, madness and impatience and youth’s indifference, and the lights–the yellow wheelers, and orange spinners, and pinpointers of pure white–crissed and crossed right above the dancers’ heads, too, and kept the sadness from settling back down.
Nothing hurt on the dance floor.
Mixmistress Bosh was spinning. She had a legendary record collection, legendary mostly because she wouldn’t let anyone near it: she would carefully paste blank white paper over the labels, and the only clue to the vinyl’s content would be a series of glyphs in careful black ink. (Mixmistress Bosh first translated the song’s title into a simple number-cipher, and then translated that into a series of symbols she had invented.) There would be a song you vaguely recognized–say, Put Your Love On Me by the Atlanta Disco Corporation–and then a sudden plunge into abject and almost dastardly weirdness, something like if Tuvan throat singers were raised in Oakland, and back into a golden oldie like Sneakin’ In The Back Door by Cassidy St. Ives.
She watched the floor, the flow, did they follow or did they fly? You can’t jump for hours, no: you need to come back down, hop in place for a bit. Can’t stay at the top too long. People get acclimated up there, so you have to herd them to lower pastures for a while, not too long. Let ’em catch their breath, give ’em an off-ramp to the bathroom, to the bar. Entrancify the room with some German electroskronk or Brazilian technosamba while the show biz lights did battle with the misery.
But there was no spotlight on Mixmistress Bosh, just three small flexi-lites over her turntables and mixer, and her set up was well back from the front of the stage on the west side of the room. She was not the star, nor was any deejay at the loft party: the crowd was, the dance floor was, the music was. But not the deejay. The loft party had an aversion towards hero-worship since Alexander.
Alexander Pearl had the bluest eyes. They were the color of the ocean when it was happy, and his beard crawled up his cheeks halfway to his nose. It was shiny-black like his hair, which he wore long and shaggy and poofy, artfully messy, and he would tuck his hair back behind his ears with his ringed fingers while he talked to you without breaking eye contact. Alexander Pearl made eye contact at an Olympic level. And, God, he could make you dance.
He was an orphan, or he was a rich kid; went to Yale, or got thrown out of the Coast Guard; from Montana, Maine, Missouri, maybe Mexico: he had a slow and affected accent–it always sounded like he was doing an imitation of an actor you’d never heard of–and he pronounced his vowels in unplaceable ways. He had no tattoos or identifying marks. One weekend in 1972 or 3, he was just…there…and so was his sound system and lights and, oh, his glorious record collection.
Alexander Pearl had good taste and better ears: ten thousand? Fifteen? Milk crates and wide cardboard longboxes perfect for flipping through and more milk crates. How does the milk get delivered when the deejays have stolen all the crates? Motown and Memphis, the Bristol Stomp and the Bromley Thump, test pressings and bootlegs. Alexander Pearl invented the remix. Songs no one had heard before, but still knew all the words to: No Substitute for Love by Napoleon King, and Dance ‘Til You Can’t by the Grover Green Disco Orchestra, and A Trip to Venus by Keena Wright. He played records like Hemingway telling a story: this follows that because this has to follow that.
Emotion and motion must surely be interlinked, Alexander Pearl thought; otherwise, they’d be spelled differently. Move a body, move a mind; free your mind, and the rest etc., etc. The dance floor was spotted at first, couples here and there, but soon it was shoulder to shoulder, asses rubbing up against each other with glee, and Alexander Pearl had two lights on either side of the stage pointed straight at him, but when the music would bring the crowd up way up high up bouncing those lights would quiet so he could see them, see them dancing and jumping and waving their hands–at his command!–and then he would bring them back down, down, down, and sometimes lower the volume to just a whisper; when he did that, the room took the chance to cheer him lustily.
Alexander Pearl believed that he had found the route to God, and that it ran through him. I am, he thought, the Prime Mover in this room, just as God is in His. This–this jumping beauty, this sweating sweetness–this was not here before me. Emptiness. Both devoid, and a void. But now: lights! sound! and LOVE, motherfucker, LOVE there were white girls getting fucked in the bathroom and black guys getting blown at the bar; none of this existed before him. Did I not create this?
I did, he thought.
And when he wasn’t deejaying, he would talk to the dancers who looked up to him. About religion, philosophy, history. Alexander Pearl had a lot of theories about a lot of things, and because he was handsome and so good at talking and making eye contact, people gave weight to his words; he knew who to talk to, as well: gay kids thrown out of their houses; waitresses with black eyes; the destitute, the prostitutes, and substitute teachers. Alexander Pearl could spot people aching to believe, and he had such blue eyes, and he collected people who wanted someone to follow. The party went 24 hours, so Alexander bought the floor above it and his followers started moving in with him, and they focused in on him; he spun records, and they danced; he lectured, and they listened. If you can manage not to take your dick out on the Main Drag, you can get away with serious bullshit for years. It took the police until 1983 to bust the doors in.
36 dead by asphyxiation. Dry cleaning bags and rubber bands. One by single gunshot to the head, self-inflicted.
The loft party kept the deejay booth well far back on the stage, and no lights were pointed towards it, and Mixmistress Bosh selected her songs by flashlight clasped in her teeth: Your Body Says Yes by Adonis Thomas, and Fill Me Up With Disco by Arno Cranberry, and Nuclear Dancin’ by Omnifox. The music boomed and twirled, and dance floor said YES up and down up and down at 120 beats a minute, and Big-Dicked Sheila and Augusta O. Incandescente-Ponui (whom everyone called Gussy) had each other’s asses in their hands and both of their tongues were in the wrong mouth.
Sheila loved Tiresias Richardson, she did she did, but she was also getting a little sick of her bullshit: you get fucked up after work. Or you get fucked up slowly during work. You didn’t get fucked up before punching in and then expect adrenaline to pull you through. Sheila and Gussy had walked/dragged Tiresias to KSOS’ building, and then helped/shoved her into the Draculette costume, and down the hall in the stolen wheelchair and onto the couch in the studio. Gotta give it to her, Sheila thought. When the red light came on, so did Draculette.
Sheila left the studio and went back down the hall to Masada, Tiresias’ dressing room. Gussy was sitting on the couch, and she went to her and hiked her dress up, straddled her, and Gussy felt her skin flush and warm.
“Let’s go dancing,” Sheila said.
“I’m not dressed right,” Gussy said and Sheila kissed her again, hard at first but softening until their lips were just barely touching and when Sheila pulled her head back, Gussy’s followed and she tried to kiss her again, but Sheila snapped away each time, smiling. They were both smiling.
“Let’s go dancing.”
“Okay,” Gussy said.
They hit the Main Drag and were about to turn south, but Gussy noticed a light still on at The Tahitian that should not have been; they crossed the street, and Gussy dug in her purse for the keys. The chandelier was still glowing and Gussy muttered about Julio as she crossed the lobby. Sheila heard it first, a high moaning accompanied by a rhythmic slapping, speedy but not frenzied yet, and Sheila began to laugh as Gussy heard it, too, and changed course towards the stairs, and to the projectionist’s booth.
She threw open the door; Julio was in mid-thrust.
“You need to stop fucking in my projectionist’s booth!”
“Shit,” Julio said as he tried to roll off of Romy Schott, but she was naked and embarrassed of the fact, so she clasped onto him and wouldn’t let him go; they rolled over twice.
“Sorry,” Romy said.
“Please just tell me you weren’t humping during the Holocaust documentary.”
Julio looked at Gussy with panic; Romy looked away.
“Wow. Wooooow,” Gussy said as she backed out of the booth and closed the door.
Romy was still clutching Julio to her, and she looked at him and was about to say something when the door opened again.
Gussy shut the door, and then Romy said,
“I think we should–”
The door opened again.
“Seriously: I’m impressed. Lock up.”
Back on the Main Drag, Sheila put two cigarettes in her mouth, lit them, handed one to Gussy as they walked south to the Downside and the loft party.
“I saw it in a movie.”
They passed Sheila’s shop, and she veered off to rattle the door and make sure it was locked, and they passed Tower Tower, to which they both gave the finger, and they passed the Pulaski village and the Wayside Inn and the Irving, all of Little Aleppo’s ghosts still standing for those who looked hard enough; Gussy and Sheila were only looking at each other. Sometimes, the moon.
Comanche Stank by the Hangdown Five was blasting at the loft party like
and the drugs had gotten right on top of them: a nostril-scorching, blue-tinged line, and then another for symmetry. Sheila leaned into Gussy coming out of the bathroom, and there were friends to say hi to and then JESUS what happened everything tingling and here comes the bass going THWAMP in your chest, and all the hair stands up on your forearms and asshole, and Gussy gathered up the material of Sheila’s church dress in her hand and Mixmistress Bosh cued up Dance ‘Til You Can’t by the Grover Green Disco Orchestra they were facing each other on the dance floor which had no tether to the Main Drag and did not know of politics or death or loss, and only existed when you decided it did with its lights shooting down sorrow above your scalp while you bounce and say thank you they kept reaching out for each other, reaching towards each other, their hands would intertwine and come apart, and Gussy would reach around to Sheila’s back, to the very small of her back, and pull her in so that their hip bones met and their crotches pressed against one another Sheila’s eyes were wide and she inhaled sharply through her nostrils and leaned her head back and Gussy kissed her both of their eyes were open staring in and daring to close and Sheila licked Gussy’s upper lip and pulled away threw her arms up Gussy wooped WOO and her hands came up her front over her tits and up her neck and cheeks and through her thick curly black hair and WOO all the way up and while she was not looking Sheila stepped forward still dancing and reached around Gussy’s waist pull up her green skirt and spread her fingers for a good grip on her ass and then she pulled Sheila in again for another kiss and another kiss and another kiss she could feel Sheila’s cock stiffening against her thigh and lifted her chin kiss her neck and hands on tits and Gussy pulled away why come back come back her hips wheeling and swiveling and she’s smiling and Sheila advances light steps like a cat and they are still dancing the song is now No Substitute For Love by Napoleon King they have not noticed the change because there is no change at the loft party just music and no discussion of context and Sheila reaches out and grabs up a handful of Gussy’s hair and pulls not hard but a little hard Gussy squeals and closes her eyes and they are still dancing as Sheila kisses her and Gussy kisses back twice as hard.
There was worry outside, and time had its way. The Main Drag was conspiring with itself. The future seemed surly. You couldn’t run, but you could hide somewhere dark and loud and full of people just as confused as you. The weather might get weird and the times might get stormy, but you could always get high and dance, and fall in love, even in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.