Thorazine, Tequila and Dancing in the Streets

Only once.

Only one time in my entire life – and I’ve been around for a quite a few years – has someone made mention that I wasn’t a half-bad dancer.

This happened in the mid-1980s at an office Christmas party for the Oxnard Press-Courier which was held at the Casa Sirena at Channel Islands Harbor.

Not only was I not half-bad that night, the exact words uttered by the 20-something circulation clerk were, “You’re the best dancer here tonight.”

I remember those exact words decades later because I happen to know that I’m a really dreadful dancer. The scant few times that I have been hoodwinked onto a dance floor with treacherous comments like, “You love music right? You play music right? So, you HAVE rhythm, right?” led to some of the most mortifying moments I can remember, and I remember them all.

Once, at a now-long-gone club called “Garfield’s” in Ventura, I was literally jeered off the dance floor by the three girls I came in with as I attempted to emulate that 80s kick-thing.

Picture Paul Giamatti impersonating Elaine from Seinfeld. Disturbing, I know.

Keep in mind, at Garfield’s you threw your peanut shells on the floor and you really didn’t want to touch the sink in the bathroom.

But for reasons I’ve never understood I was – in my skinny, leather tie with piano keys on it, pink shirt, acid-washed jeans, Member’s Only jacket and probably LA Gear, high-top sneakers – the “best dancer” that Christmas season at Casa Sirena.

For most of my life, I would let my backbone slip in public only under the most explicit conditions.

  • I was inebriated.
  • I had been inebriated for several hours.
  • I was at a wedding and would have been the only person sitting down if I didn’t.
  • The aurora borealis was visible to the naked eye in Omaha, Nebraska.
  • I was inebriated from mixing tequila, champagne and slow gin.

I spent all those years shrinking in my seat whenever it appeared that dancing would ensue and I would not be able to gracefully disappear.

That all began to change sometime around 1993 when I was photographing Los Lobos at the California Strawberry Festival. Halfway through the set I couldn’t help but notice a 50-ish dude, not in that good of shape, wearing no shirt, cut-off shorts and dark sunglasses.

He had long, straggly hair and an equally long and unkempt beard. Kinda bikery without the tats.

Dude was undulating to and fro like he had od’d on a thorazine/budwieiser speedball.

I didn’t notice a hospital bracelet but he did have a Budweiser in his hand.

Two things came to mind.

  • Dude looked ridiculous.
  • Dude looked fabulous.

Clearly, dude had no inhibition, no insecurity, no anxiety – no self-awareness.

The only thing I believe he was aware of was Los Lobos’ cover version of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Which killed, by the way.

He had truly turned off his mind, relaxed and was floating downstream.

It took a lot of years but now, I’m able to suppress the discomfiture that accompanies boogieing in public.

First, the aurora borealis thing was no longer necessary, then weddings weren’t a requirement. Eventually the tequila was dropped then the inebriation stipulation.

Nowadays, one glass of two-buck-Chuck and some James Brown and I’ll tend to “Get Upa, Get Upa!”

Such was the case last weekend when Linda and I found ourselves in downtown Ventura for the annual Winter Wine Walk and Christmas tree lighting.

The city closes down Main Street for the night and crowds wander around downtown in gay apparel, carrying wine glasses with sugarplums dancing in their heads.

Toward the end of the night, after the tree was lighted and the carolers had sung and the artisans had packed up their crafts and the kids were tucked in and the grandmas and grandpas were snug in their lazyboy recliners, a band starts up in the middle of the intersection of California and Main and the residual winos make merry.

Last year the music was headlined by the storied Jeanne Tatum, a legend in Ventura County who charms and chills with her Marvin Gaye and her Motown.

This year Jeanne played earlier in the day as did the amazing, Hendix-like guitar player Teresa Russell but the Santa Barbara band The Bomb had hundreds of people literally, dancin’ in the street (thank you Martha and the Vandellas) with their James Brown and Santana.

Then it began to snow.

Fake snow but it was bad-ass.

Who could resist shaking their money makers in the middle of Main Street, on a brisk winter night, with snow falling and “It’s Too Funky in Here?”

Not even me.

I still know full-well that I am a dreadful dancer, that I in fact look ridiculous and not fabulous but at least I have finally learned how to float downstream.


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