Kenneth, born and raised in the South, resides in Hamilton, Alabama. He enjoys sharing his unique perspectives on life through his writing.
Danger and Dancing Helped Build The Dance Hall
when the 26 cups of black coffee really kicks in, I sit silently just mulling over my life where I remember things that really stood-out. Sure. Everyone has "those" personal memories that is never mentioned or discussed by civilized man. And I do not mean anything about prostitutes or strip clubs. But "that" one place that my friends and I had in our hometown – a dangerous place where the timid of heart and weak of biceps dared not enter: the Dance Hall.
That was what the adults called it. But when they said it, they said it like . . ."That ol,' sinful Daaancee Haaalll. People who go there will surely rot in Hell," and most who described our Dance Hall did emphasize Hell. That one noun has been the origin of so many people who left the "Pathway of Righteousness" due to Hell being said in a whisper. I learned at age eight when grown-ups were sitting around on a Sunday afternoon and gabbing, if they said Hell, the women would halfway cover their mouths and whisper Hell. But not my dad, no, ma'am. He, bless his heart, spoke Hell with fire and authority and him not a preacher. Between you and I, I think that he just loved to say Hell. And while I am on Hell, I ask you, how can a soul "rot" and "burn" in Hell simultaneously?
When my best friend, Stevie Sullins, a curious fella, and I would drive into the parking lot of our Dance Hall, we took careful notice that the owner(s) had not given too much thought to the detail of the outside of the building. It was that drab, almost gray color of White. And the painter, if he were that, (possibly the Dance Hall's brother-in-law) did not use a paint brush, but maybe a shoe brush. Stevie and I could tell right off that the painting was not done with swipes, but someone who was in a hurry to finish the work and get paid. It was ugly to be blunt.
Few People in the Parking Lot
but the parking lot on weekends was packed. We would see cars and pick-up trucks in the parking lot from nearby counties. We knew what was going on. And it wasn't doing the Cha, Cha. We knew that something had to be done for our young minds were being vexed at the NOT knowing what was going on inside this Dance Hall. Unless you have forgotten, it's tough being 17.
What made our Dance Hall so flexible was the owner of this place had respectful hours for parents to take their children to skate on a wooden rink. What fun that was. Then, with the flick of switch, the sleazy lights would go on bringing either piped-in Country Music or a local Country Music band or sometimes both, but not at the same time. The adults loved it. And why the amazing Dance Hall kept luring adults inside was there was NO alcohol served in this adult-friendly place. As you may have been told (by me), our hometown was DRY.
Combined with the urging of our curious 17-year-old minds and friends who prompted peer pressure, Stevie and I had made up our minds to stand up like men and go inside this very magnetic place that was quickly being our area's "talk of the town." One night Stevie and I parked close enough to the front door to catch a glimpse of the inside of this Dance Hall/Roller Rink each time someone would go in or out. That came to a frustrating stop. Crowds of people talking would gang-up outside--blocking our view, so we had to devise a Plan B.
We were soon in business when a mutual friend, "Donnie" who was chasing a certain girl stopped on one Saturday night to find out of we had seen his girlfriend riding around with her girlfriends in town. We did not lie. We had seen her, but not close enough to point her out in a Police Line-up, so we were as truthful as we could be.
So "Donnie," who was blessed with a quick mind, told us that he would appreciate Stevie and me going inside "the Skating Rink," as "Donnie" called it, to see if his girlfriend was in there and see what she was doing. Steve and I began to ask questions. If "Donnie" had a girlfriend, what was she doing with her friends in a hellish place as a Skating Rink/Dance Hall? The situation was at most, perplexing. So Stevie and I were caught in the middle.
Stevie and I sat one night in his 1961 Chevy, (which was his dad's car), and pondered this situation with "Donnie" and him sending us inside the Dance Hall and his instructions were: if we seen this girl whom "Donnie" had been dating, we were not to talk to her, but not be seen of her--in short, hide and find out all we could about her to report it all to "Donnie." Cloak and Dagger at its finest.
With one 17-year-old, approaching the Dance Hall would be impossible because Stevie and I were not the caliber of guys who would frequent a Dance Hall--and just let me say before we go any further, we were not feeling any better than anyone and didn't let on that we were, so just put those judgmental thoughts aside.
But with two 17-year-old guys, the odds were better that we could walk into the popular nightspot and do the reconnaissance needed to satisfy "Donnie's" curious streak. So Stevie and I parked as closely as his '61 Chevy would allow and we sat there and smoked several cigarettes, to give us courage since we didn't drink, to just get out of his car and slowly enter the Dance Hall and get this job finished and get on with our lives.
Easier said than done.
I was more nervous of the two us and as we finished our fourth cigarettes, we shut our car doors so quietly as to not draw attention to us for we were not Fist Fighters or someone who wanted any trouble. Stevie and I wanted to do our best to get out of high school and then do what we could to achieve our goals of getting good jobs and making some money. Well, one out of two wasn't bad.
Before we opened the big, wooden doors, we could hear the loud Country Music playing on the inside--so loud, mind you, that as I touched the doors, I felt the doors vibrating from "Working Man Bues" (Merle Haggard) being covered by some local Country band and they were quite honestly, good. Stevie and I looked at each other one last time to see if we were really going to go inside, so without another word, we opened the doors--and what a blast!
The mixture of ages was obvious. There were the Pre-Teen's and their parents sitting in a separate place. The Real Teen's who were ganged-up in concentrically circles talking about the Pre-Teen's and then there were the Older Adults sitting at some Concession Stand table--drinking coffee, sodas and filling the air with cigarette smoke and I have to tell you, just the amount of smoke was thick enough to give anyone, no matter the age, disease enough to do them for a lifetime.
Stevie and I were cool. We leaned on a wall where no one was congregating. We did a professional job of talking as to throw off the trail of "Donnie's" girlfriend who might have been watching for us--because "Donnie" was a careful guy and with a girlfriend, he was extra careful about whom she talked to. I would say that he was jealous, but that would be "talking ill" of the dead, because in 1978, just seven years later, he got killed in a traffic accident. That's why I choose not to speak anything negative of his memory.
Stevie and I saw other adults smoking and we figured that we were close enough to being adult, so we fired up a cigarette and did that ever look and taste good. We actually felt manly, strong, and not one to be bothered. Amazing. All of this strong self-image from (a) cigarette.
In a half-hour, Stevie and I had not seen "Donnie"s girlfriend although he had given us a goo description. We thought it was time to leave. We did what "Donnie" had asked, so why kill the rest of our evening in one place?
And as we started walking toward the Exit sign, I stopped cold. So did Stevie. It wasn't "Donnie's"girlfriend (or "Donnie") whom we seen. Or any of Hell's Angels (who did not know that our own even existed), but this group of guys who looked more intimidating than any Hell's Angel. These guys were half teenage guy and half man. And had a scowl on their faces that were clean-shaven--for I noticed blood on one guy's face. Blood that had been drawn by his razor, no doubt. Plus we were almost knocked down by the Old Spice, Aqua Velva and other men's shaving lotions--these guys, I tell you, for 1971, had it going on.
But what was more amazing and boastful was one of these Tough Guys had a lit cigarette in his lips and a pint size bottle of whiskey tucked in his right side jeans pocket--sticking out for all to see. He knew that I had spied his liquor. I wish that Stevie and I had just sped away like the scared teenagers that we were, but the guy who had arms that were as strong-looking as Sonny Liston, started moving toward us and Stevie and I did not know whether to make a stand or just keep walking.
"Ughhh, (Snarl! Snarl!), you guys doin' in here?" the Tough Guy asked then exhaled a puff of cigarette smoke.
"No--thing. Not a thing in the world. Just killing time," I said quickly as Stevie and I were still in motion toward the door.
"Uggh! (Snarl!) speakin' of killing, Ughhh!" the Tough Guy said and that was it. Stevie and I did not give him time enough to tell us more about "killin'" as he put it. Other guys in our age bracket might have grieved for years at not knowing all that this guy was going to tell us about killing. We were happy at the decision that we had made.
The score: No "Donnie's" giflriend 0; Angry Tough Guy 0; Stevie and me 2.
Pretty good for a couple of amateurs.
© 2018 Kenneth Avery