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Night Club Opening

by Anson Gonzalez

My longest cyberpal had forwarded a request from an American visitor who wanted to contact Ciegrie, one of the leading poetasters of the country. I tried my best to contact this person, relaying every little bit of info I gathered, but this Anansi was continually incommunicado to his associates. Apparently the person was seeking the info for a third party, who started writing me and who became my hook-up for a short period.

Connecting with this person was like stepping backward in time. So many memories were jolted. They carried me back to the 1950s when, among other activities, I was a member of Victor Hayes Afrocubans (a dance group in San Fernando). Our assignments took us all over, mainly for the pleasure of the dance. We practised hard and were glad to be booked in shows in San Fernando, Point Fortin, Princes Town or any place that would have us. Like most local artistes, perennially, we were treated shabbily. No one cared how one got home after these events. Many adventures occurred afterward including hitchhiking, and often more hiking than hitching. Once I remembered we were all packed into a van and this girl was sitting right up on my instep. Her thing was pulsing on the curve of my foot. I could feel it there, big and fleshy and hungry, but I dared not move; I just endured the sensation from Point Fortin to San Fernando, as my leg fell asleep and awakened several times. In the dark she just watched me and grinned. Most of the others were fast asleep in the constricted situations unaware of the peculiar drama that was being played.

Another time we were invited to perform at the opening of what we thought was a grand night club. I, in particular, was too naive to read cues into the name and location. It was called The Big Bamboo, located at the back of Imperial Stores at the corner of Cuenca Street in San Fernando. It turned out that a white man with connections at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery was the owner. His name was Mr Horney. On this opening night his entire family was present: his wife and a range of children from teens to toddlers.

Not having ever visited a night club before I didn’t know what to expect, but there was something wild about the atmosphere. Soon the show was on under the garish lights in the funky atmosphere. There were calypsonians, comedians, balladeers and limbo dancers. At the time limbo dancing was big and a dancer named “Stretch” Cox could dance below the 6-inch bar. I think he had played a scene in Fire Down Below which starred Robert Mitchum.

Well the Afrocubans strutted their steps; I can’t remember clearly now, but it must have been calypso, a plantation dance, a meringue, a rumba and a samba. We were given our due applause and seated at a table with a bottle of rum and chasers as rewards. Let it be known that I had not yet learnt to drink so I monopolized the chasers. This was as much as reward as artistes could expect in those times and for many years after. So we settled in to enjoy the rest of our fellow artistes and to notice that the joint was really on a bit on the seamy side. There was a tall, well-built, soft spoken guy circulating and often being laughed at. It was a certain Mr. Hinds who was recorded in calypso around the time that Coca Cola introduced the family sized bottle.

Well around midnight Princess Salome of Nubia, they said, was going to present the dance of the seven veils. Now, I had grown up with movies like Dance of the Seven Veils, John the Baptist and Salome When She Danced, but this Salome was quite unlike the Hollywood versions. Apparently she was well known to many in the audience, for all around went quiet, and they focussed on her. The drums created a passionate excitement as she whirled, twisted, wined and jerked her pelvis in fascinating rhythm to their beat. Suddenly she started losing scarves and veils of varying colours.

Now the owner’s wife was looking a bit discomfited throughout the show, but when she noticed her children, and in particular her teenaged sons ogling Princess Salome and her contortions as scarves, bra, and veils of different lengths started flying in all directions, she stomped towards her husband, who with drink in hand and cigarette dangling from his lips was caught up in the magic of Princess Salome. She shouted aggressively and angrily at him, words that couldn’t be caught above the drumming, music and uproar and bashed him over the head with the purse holding the money she had collected for the evening. Then grabbing her children she stormed out of the the club, her face contorted,scornful and aggressive, the children bewildered . The husband never changed his position, the merest hint of embarrassment passed over his face.

The music and drumming worked up to a frenzied climax, by which time Princess Salome was down to a G-string. Just as she was about to discard the flimsy garment, the lights were dramatically cut and the music stopped. There were rapturous cheers and prolonged applause by the inebriated audience, much more comfortable as only one white person remained in the audience.

At the Big Bamboo I began to hear bout Orchid Weekes one of the younger and more prepossessing of the “working girls” who frequented there. Many of the guys in my age-group fantasized about Orchid and the others, but the favourite was with Orchid. Perhaps it was the way she lived her life with aplomb and apparent pride. I, for one, didn’t feel I could approach her, but I was fascinated by tales of her exploits.

Suddenly the major talk was that the son of of the club owner was monopolizing her, and before the gossip could really complete its rounds, they were married to the shock and consternation of the marrish and the parish, that is to say, all and sundry. They didn’t last too long to the best of my knowledge, because Orchid liked the excitement of night life and “working” better than the respectability, responsibility and restraint of marriage.

For some reason the club owner hung himself from a storage tank in Point-a-Pierre and shot himself at the same time apparently to make his exit from this world doubly sure. I lost any further contact with those people; well I never had personal contact with them, but they just faded out of my life. I gave up dance, took up other things and eventually moved to the north as the years, decades whizzed by.

So, in 1999 a poet from middle America connects with me, who happens to be the niece of the guy who had married Orchid. She didn’t even know about Orchid till she made me tell my story and which may have created a bond of sorts. It took the internet to put us in touch even though her original search was for an Anansi poetaster from Trinidad.

© 1999