Every time I hear that song by Teddy Pendergrass, “The Whole Town’s Laughing at Me”, it takes me back to 1975 and the weekend a Navy buddy of mine invited me to go back with him to his hometown and spend the weekend. A weekend away from Norfolk and the base was always a welcome change. Spending weekends on base had become the same old same old. All day Friday was used by my friends and I to learn the latest soul brother handshake (we called it Dappin’), it was required learning prior to heading to the clubs. Getting the right outfit together was the second most important thing you could do, you had to look sharp. No detail was too small to overlook. Finally, my friends and I would head out to one or more of the local clubs, like Batman’s Den or Friar Tuck’s. But a couple of days away from the madding crowd was just what the doctor ordered. So when my buddy invited me to spend the weekend at his home in North Cackalacky, I quickly agreed to go.
Teddy lived in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Teddy wasn’t his real name, we just called him that because he was a dead ringer for Teddy Pendergrass and he took complete advantage of it. I won’t bother to go into detail.
We arrived at his home on Friday afternoon and by Friday night we had stopped by to visit all of his friends and hangouts. Finally, we settled in on a little juke joint just outside of town. The place was small, barely 30 people could fit inside comfortably, but we went in and tried to do just that, get comfortable. After a few drinks I noticed a woman sitting by herself in the corner. For some reason, I thought I’d go over and ask if I could join her. She agreed and I sat down. Almost immediately I asked her to dance, she agreed and we did. We danced every dance for the rest of the night. Fast songs, slow songs, in between, we danced to them all. It was as if we were the only two people in the room. After a while, I began to realize that we were being watched intently by almost everyone in the club. We were the center of attention, being the only people on the dance floor the entire night. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself more in a club environment. There was no pressure, no urgency to see who could have “pull a hammer back to the crib” first, like many of my Navy buddies did who lived off base. Everything was a competition for those guys, but that wasn’t the case here. She and I just had a good, wholesome time; laughing, talking, drinking… we were just having fun dancing, none of that other stuff mattered.
It finally came time to go and Teddy broke away from his friends, came over and tapped me on the shoulder, he said it was getting late and we should be heading out. I said goodbye to the young lady, whose name I have long since forgotten, thanked her for letting me dance with her and take up her time. I told her what a great dance partner she’d been, she told me how much she had enjoyed herself. She and I said our goodbyes as Teddy led me out of the club and back to his house. I had way too much to drink.
The next morning I awoke with a slight hangover and a stiff back from too much dancing and sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings. I dressed and went down to find Teddy in the kitchen with his mother making breakfast. My memory of the night before was a bit fuzzy, but I did remember that the people in the club had been standing around the girl and I, watching us as we danced. I asked Teddy why everyone seemed to be in awe of us and he gave me an unexpected answer. He replied, “That girl, Hanna, the one you had so much fun dancing with last night, she’s the town prostitute. She’s a street walker and everyone in town knows it. She spends most nights standing outside the club or on corners trying to pick up Johns. Last night was the first time I or probably anyone else ever saw her acting like a regular person. The whole place was laughing at you last night, the whole town has probably heard about it by now.”
Who cared if they laughed, I know I didn’t. It’s a pity, the world can be very cruel at times. I guess no one had ever asked her to dance or even bothered to talk to her before. I hadn’t known about her past, I just knew she was someone I enjoyed spending the evening dancing with. I don’t know what became of that young woman, but I hope she found happiness. I hope she found her life-long dance partner, I eventually found mine.
Growing Up Colored
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