Blue Disco



36-01 35th Avenue Queens ny

Neighborhood: Outer Boroughs, Queens

In 1978 I had the only blue record album in the Berkeley Townhouse apartment building, on 35th Avenue, and probably in all of Flushing.

It was the age of disco and Cheryl and I, the founding—and only—members of the Funseekers Club, (co-presidents of the Queens headquarters) were about to outgrow the unruly, shag rug in my parents’ living room, and move on to bigger venues.

After our discovery of the electric blue 33, we needed to expand into uncharted territory. At first, we contented ourselves with the shiny trapezoid of wood floor in the foyer. As time went on, our inanimate observers—the upright white piano and the round brown table—became obstacles. Even the Omni shelving system – “a true marvel of engineering” – shook when we practiced our dips and glides. Who knew what might happen to my father’s arsenal of cassette tapes under the rigors of our more daring moves?

We did our best to ignore these stalwart onlookers and experimented with our own brand of cantilever dancing. Cater-corner to the chartreuse wall, Cheryl and I clasped hands, raised our arms and pulled them taut behind our necks as if strings in Cat’s Cradle. There was no move we couldn’t untangle.

Our dips and slides coincided too closely with the blue and silver contact paper-covered cubes that masked generations of National Geographic and Mechanics Illustrated. Even with the entryway rug rolled up, we wouldn’t have enough room. The just-waxed linoleum tiles of the pass-through kitchen were too slippery. But, just outside the apartment, the hallway was a foot more than arms’ distance across. Down by the elevator, a mirrored version of the number five offered a near-nightclub ambiance. And next to the elevator was the incinerator room, our alibi.

Hallway dancing was a feat that surpassed collecting pennies in our matching red vinyl Hello Kitty purses with plastic zippers and penny pouches. This went beyond using Funseekers club dues for a Queens Museum-purchase of pinkie-sized baskets.

The album had one song on each side. Each ran six minutes and some odd seconds. Neither had any words. Yet, more than Black Coco—by title alone— I’m In You conveyed the message that we already had whatever we needed to succeed in the imaginary North Queens Dance Championships . Never mind that the album cover (“Demonstration—Not for Sale”) featured a red-and-green rainbow of airbrushed stripes. They were a bridge for the silver dancers who caressed the circular opening of the record sleeve with knees, palms, thighs and breasts. Never mind that neither of us were up to training bras; the disparity between our bubble-gum bodies and that of the wedge-heeled disco queen didn’t phase us for a single beat. There would be plenty of time for that metamorphosis.

When Cheryl came over, half-filled garbage bags couldn’t wait for another grapefruit peel. In the days before strict recycling regulations, milk containers and apple cider jugs signaled a windfall for our dance routine. We whisked bags from the metal can beneath the sink and pranced over the apartment’s threshold. The hallway was a runway: our slick rendition of twirls, dips and kicks always concluded at the gaping, compliant mouth of the garbage chute.

After three trips to the incinerator one Sunday afternoon, Cheryl and I perfected the slide-dip crossover. Facing each other, we made “x”s with our arms and joined hands. Cheryl slid between my legs. I pivoted and pulled her up by the armpits. Finally, we had a routine.

A few weeks later at Carvel, Cheryl told the ice cream man about our routine. He wanted to see. Four blocks north of the YM-YWHA nursery school where we had met, Cheryl and I performed a flawless routine. We earned trophies in the form of Flying Saucers.

Of course, when we bit into the sandwiches, the chocolate-cookie outside crumbled and sent ice cream down our forearms, leaving us too sticky for an encore, and hesitant about returning to the incinerator room after a performance on Kissena Boulevard.

These days, I live in Brooklyn and have the record in my possession, but not our friendship.

We stayed in touch for a long time, never attending the same schools, but present—and dancing— at each other’s rites of passage: my Bat Mitzvah, her sweet 16. We drank our first cappuccinos together (a particularly pretentious phase) and tiptoed our way through adolescence. I visited her in Spain. She helped me decorate my first apartment. A year or two after college, the Funseekers Club officially morphed into the Mutual Admiration Society (or so she wrote in a birthday card that had Kermit the Frog on the front).

There were dips, slight at first, which became more pronounced and then increasingly difficult to incorporate into our disparate routines.

We slipped apart.

Early one Saturday morning six years ago, I saw her on Fourth Avenue in Manhattan. She had a cartload of extraneous items to give to Goodwill. I was on my way to work. We stood there for a while, exchanged contact information and hugged goodbye. For several months afterwards—maybe a year—we phoned and sent notes, meaning to meet up, but never quite getting there, not entirely willing to recommit. Sort of like having a groovy old record with no phonograph to play it on.

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