Yes, it was in the post-Vietnam, pre-AIDS era. Practically every night I'd spend hours line dancing to the anthems of Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, and KC and the Sunshine Band. 1977 was the year I first saw the movie Saturday Night Fever and fell in love with the music of the Bee Gees.
There were two ways to enter Clementine’s: walking down a narrow flight of stairs, or sliding down a chute. Either way got you to a living fantasy.
You’d wind up in a huge open room illuminated by a rotating disco ball, colored strobe lights that warped your reality even if you weren’t yet drunk or stoned, and a few discreetly placed floor lamps that provided little more than dim haze. Most of all, there was a pressing multitude of warm bodies and the sounds of disco belting out the message of freedom, expression and free love.
A huge bar extended across the front of the room where three bartenders served drinks as fast as they could pour them. The dance floor of diamond-shaped black and white tiles was rarely empty; the occasional cooling fingers of vapor rising from grids in the floor made the swaying dancers seem like uninhibited creatures from Hell’s nether regions.
The dance floor was like hypnosis, insanity, and blasting sound. Bodies crushed together amid the beat of drums as ancient as the continent of Africa. Once, across the crowded dance floor, I saw a beautiful young woman staring at me. Our eyes locked. We danced toward each other. She passed me a note with her phone number. When I called her the next day she invited me for spaghetti. I showed up with flowers and a bottle of wine.
Marti was her name. At least that's what I'll call her. A single mother, she had a five year old son named Chris. We ate pasta and drank wine by candlelight. I helped her with the dishes and then she put Chris to bed. We made love in her bedroom.
"I want to thank you," was her unexpected reply as we lay in her little bed.
"My pleasure," I said.
"You don’t understand," she explained, sensing my flippancy. "I’m in remission from cervical cancer. You're the first man I’ve slept with since having the surgery. I’ve been so worried I would never have feelings again. You proved me wrong. I thank you for that."
Confused and too young, or stupid, to understand the depths of her message, I contributed little more than small talk before saying goodbye and disappearing into the night. I never saw her again and I don’t think she wanted or needed me to.
Those were the days of disco, my days of disco, for whatever that means. Some people have suggested that disco isn’t cool and people that liked it were somehow less than intelligent. I don’t think so. It was a magical era and we were just as human and vulnerable as any young person today.
And I know this. Whenever I hear Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer or the Bee Gees, I find myself back on that same dark dance floor, with wisps of vapor cooling sweat dripping down my neck as I pulsate to a message of love and coming together. And when I do, I feel like sliding down that chute.