*In December of 1978, Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” was the jam. No matter that its rhythm was a shameless rip of The Emotions’ “Best Of My Love,” from a year earlier; the dramatic opening of the infectious, anthemic “Real” could send party people scurrying for dance partners like wartime fighter pilots scrambling to jets.
And when the DJ at the West Hollywood club cranked it up one Saturday night in ’78, I knew exactly who I wanted to dance with.
I’d spotted her as Arthur and I entered the place and got a table. Across the room, she stood casual sentry at a cocktail table on behalf of four fabulously dressed man eaters on the dance floor.
Doe eyes, formfitting black skirt and black boots presented a 20-something medley of virtue and iniquity that blew my mind, as the saying went, its obliteration aided, no doubt, by the Colombian joint my compadre and I nursed in his car on the way over, after hitting Los Burritos.
She caught me looking and started to turn away. But then, for a fleeting, sexy moment, she returned a sultry, inquisitive gaze.
I didn’t want to dance. That would just be my opening line. Dancing, conversation, exchanging numbers and lies at evening’s end–forget all that. I wanted to marry this girl. RIGHT NOW. Silly, I know. But hopelessly entranced, I asked God to help me. In return, I’d do the right thing. This time, for real. Promise.
By the time I turned 23, I’d made many promises to God. You know-God, if you don’t let me get a whupping tonight for breaking Mama’s favorite vase, I’ll be good forever; Lord, just breathe your divine power into this gas tank and get me off this freeway and to the closest service station and I promise I’ll never drive on E again. Or: dear Jesus let me stop throwing up and I’ll never again do something as asinine as tequila shots after having eaten only a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some Doritos. Time after time, one way or another, He always came through. Even if things didn’t always end as I wanted them to, He made everything all right.
However, once the miscellaneous danger had passed, I usually broke my covenant. I felt bad about that. I’ve always counted on God to be merciful and forgiving.
But let me get this girl, I pleaded, and I’d really straighten up. I’d return to church. I’d marry her before sex, if that’s what she–I mean You–wanted, God. I’d do right.
In any case, Arthur had found himself a young lady at the bar. My turn. I took a final swig of my Cuba Libre and began the journey to my destiny.
My walk became a swagger as I got in step with Miss Cheryl Lynn, absolutely tearin’ it up through gargantuan JBL speakers: “What ‘cha thannnnnnk-uh/What ‘cha feeeeeel-uh/What ‘cha knooooow-uh/to be REEAL!”
In this life, timing is everything. Here’s a sterling example why: just as I reached my future wife’s table and she turned to offer a warm smile, in the moment that I extended my hand and began shouting my invitation to dance over the music, the DJ, implementing one of those antics DJs do to create frenzy on the dance floor, barked into the microphone, “EVERYBODY FREEZE!”
It was for a mere second that he stopped the music, but in that miniature space of relative silence, something truly unfortunate happened: I farted.
It wasn’t simply some regrettable but ignorable body function. This was a cheeks-flapping, underwear-assaulting fart, classic in tone and might. When they make novelty gag items to sound like a fart, they sound like this.
Only mine was sharper, louder. This was the unmistakable, uncompromising sound of a #6 cheese enchilada combination plate. With onions.
What do you do after you’ve passed, before a complete stranger you want to impress, human gas with the sonic fury of a small caliber hand gun? If you’re me on a Saturday night in 1978, you stand frozen wearing a shit-eating grin–no pun intended, truly–and proceed with a now awkward and utterly uncomfortable introduction as if nothing had happened, when already, positively too much had transpired.
Whether or not she whiffed anything beyond the curious combination of Gray Flannel in which I’d practically bathed and weed smoke in my jacket fibers, I knew she heard that fart. Her welcoming smile went suddenly tight; our eye contact became intense and unflinching, as when people are trying to appear in the moment while their brains remain stuck on an event that occurred seconds earlier.
I don’t remember much else except that suddenly my sheer presence seemed to frighten the poor girl. Cheryl Lynn wailed on as I stood there for a minute that seemed a Biblical eternity before simply walking away–wishing that something would occur to distract from the moment, like someone dropping an atom bomb on metropolitan Los Angeles. But then, I’d just done that.
Indeed, just that quick, it was over: marriage, kids, the picket fence, judgmental in-laws–at the speed of light, the possibilities for true love or impassioned dysfunction had gone up in a nuclear cloud of refried beans.
Like a forlorn puppy dog, I crawled to Arthur. He and his new friend were heading to the blues joint up the street, if I wanted to come. Yes. Please. You, this chick you don’t know from Adam, the police, men in white suits, Calgon–somebody please, take me away.
Over my shoulder, my parting vision of this $10-a-head Gomorrah was of my future would-be woman–who graciously refused to return my pitiful, final look at her–surrounded by the four fabulously dressed man eaters. They did gape, all of them in various stages of laughter, their exhilarated cackling drowned out, not coincidentally, by Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Shame.”
However, above King’s amplified soulful declaration I could hear yet another sound. It was the unmistakable timbre of omnipotence, divinity and ultimate compassion that could only be the voice of the Almighty Himself, trying not to break into full guffaw as He whispered, “Payback is a Dog.”
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]