an ordinary evening (9/11 reflection)
It was a beautiful night outside. Warm breeze, clear skies and we were alive with the energy of creation. Swing Dance America. We were all at City Center, a faithful pack of swing dancers with me as their newest member. We had a small audience that night, as it was by invite only. This was our final dress rehearsal in a space that was both too big and too respected for the likes of us, but we filled it. In two days, we were to leave for Ohio for a short tour that paid us hardly anything. Who cared? We were about to travel the country in a van and spread swing to a tone-deaf nation.
Back in the late 90s and early Aughts, Swing, the music and the dance, had made am earnest resurgence. Bands like BBVD, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Brian Setzer and The Atomic Fireballs were popping up in retro bars and beat up supper clubs all over the city. Our dance group? We had George Gee’s Jump Jivin’ Wailers as our big band, and they were awesome. But, as all second-comings do, the new-age swing era was quickly coming to an end. Regardless, that night, in that heated ballroom, we ripped out some intense magic. I found myself not only living my dream of being a professional swing dancer but, I was also being complimented on my dancing by the best NYC had to offer.
When we finished notes at 10:30, a 6’1” swinger on the Carolina Shag circuit who was a friend of the group invited me to breakfast right then on that night. We sat at The Renaissance diner in midtown at 11pm eating eggs and waffles, talking about the absurdity of what was acceptable for dinner, the current trends of swing, and the raw energy that seems to be flowing through this great world of ours.
At 1:30 in the morning, I was back on the R train, alone, heading back to Queens, writing about how simply ironic life could be sometimes. The train was half full but it was electric and vibrant. I remember, as clear as my own image in the mirror, this black woman who was on the train not too far from me, sitting on a folding chair that she brought with her. She was very dark skinned, but she was clad in a stark white shirt, skirt, stockings and shoes. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen clothes so white and so crispy clean. Against her skin, it was the perfect dichotomy, and I was fascinated by the visual contrast. Inspired by her, I wrote a poem on that train, ending it right before my stop with the words, “I must close this night’s event down and wish for tomorrow.”
I was asleep by 2am.
I was twenty-three years old. I had dreams. I had goals and I had hopes. My life had been mapped out since I began dancing and I knew exactly where I was going. I was strong and happy. I was confident and I was excited. In less than 36 hours, I would be getting in a white van, on the road again, headin’ west, traveling around the country…a city boy reconnecting to the sad gray beautiful roots of the land of America. I was a hamster running the wheel again to reinvigorate the energy of my life.
I remember thinking, before I fell asleep that night, that I never wanted to stop moving, never wanted to be settled, tied down and that I absolutely never would call one place in this endless world my home. Mother Earth was just too big. In a few months from then, I would be in Italy and the last of the cogs of my existence would be set in motion.
That was at 2am.
Seven and a half hours later, I woke up and I feel as though I have not been certain of anything in my life since.
Ten years ago from this exact moment that I write this, 11:30am, I was walking back to my apartment from breakfast and Best Buy with my old roommate and neighbor across the street, mentally paralyzed, confused, and numb to the center of my soul. There was no fear, no excitement and, strangely, no silence. I kept looking at every crevice of life around me as we walked those three blocks and it was all moving as normal. Oddly, all the businesses in my neighborhood were still open and I was humbled to realize I understood nothing.
The air was so beautifully warm, very few clouds with a cool breeze that carried a smell on it that, to this day, I have never experienced since. When I got home, I sat on my balcony and all I could seem to do was stare at the moving, breathing painting creating and regenerating itself directly in front of me; a godly work of art that grew thicker, darker and more ominous by the minute, like the clouds of a storm rolling in for a visit. However, this cloud ended up staying for weeks.
I waited, but there was nothing happening. Nothing new, at least. Everything that was to happen within my skyline view already happened, but, still, I just sat out there for what felt like hours. There wasn’t really anything to do. Just sit and stare, admiring how enormously fast this smoke cloud was growing, how it was pushing out the sunlight on what was supposed to be a day of gratitude for my life, my dedication and my accomplishments.
I waited, for time, for a thought, for armies to march down the street, for something. I just sat there, most of the day and most of the night And as each and every endless moment passed, I just felt that everything and anything that mattered was getting whispered away in that dark cloudy haze, and nothing has seemed to matter since…