“Let’s see if we can get an internship in Washington this summer” my fratty brother WHS said to me one day. After about thirty seconds of deep thought….you know….measuring pros and cons and all the other stuff that a beer soaked college junior would engage to make such a decision I said…”ok”. One of the real motivators of WHS’s suggestion that he and I apply for an internship was that I had a really good relationship with this old fella-a legendary alumnus who had connections in Washington.
“Call EFM and see if he’ll help us” …and again I said…”ok”. Now you gotta realize that EFM by this time was like about a hundred and fifty eight years old. Great southern drawl and could entertain you with stories all day long. But at a hundred and fifty eight-he could be crotchety. I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous as shit dialing his home phone number and like all these situations-my well rehearsed lines clotted and clabbered as soon as I heard his voice. I eked out the statement that WHS and I would like to go to Washington for the summer and all EFM said was “you will go” and hung up.
A week or so later WHS and I both got a packet from the Senate Judiciary Committee of which the guy we would work for was a member. We were told when and where to show up and that we had to wear coats and ties every day. We were on our way to being flunkies for a few months. WHS drove a Duster and we packed it with a few navy blazers-poplin suits-starched button downs-Weejuns and some walking around money. These jobs don’t pay too much you know.
Housing was another issue. The coordinators of these Intern programs suggest options for where to live but you are on your own regarding securing such billeting. No worries-we just asked others who had already done the summer Intern thing and they put us on a place in Alexandria called the Presidential Gardens Apartments. Pre-internet and pre any kind of worldly savvy; we sent our deposits to the landlords at this posh place after they mailed us a pamphlet showing “artists renditions” of what the buildings and interiors looked like. Lesson learned.
We roll in on a hot Friday afternoon and as well pull into the Presidential Gardens parking lot to greet the landlord and get our keys I’m thinkin’ that this ain’t good. It’s dumpier than the fraternity house. Trust me when I say that the photo that I found on google a moment ago is one of recent vintage-reflecting a massive renovation. Our deposit has been paid and we’ve no other options so making the best of a bad situation is our option. Then the cloud of despair lifted. Two gals rounded the corner-they were all cotton-all madras-espadrilles and drinking beers. They were from Alabama. They had just moved in an hour earlier. That’s when I knew everything was going to be all right. Bottom line was that this dump was THE place for Interns from all over the country to live during their summer jaunt. Nirvana-with poorly working window unit air conditioners. I drove by there one day recently with LFG and told her that I used to live there and she just said…eeeeew.
The Blue line of the Metro system didn’t extend out to where we lived that summer so we took the bus every morning. Some cute gal from Agnes Scott College took me by the hand the first morning and showed me where to get on the bus and how to navigate to the Senate. She’d already been there for a week. I had a crush on her the entire summer. This would be me about the time that said Agnes Scott cutie walked me to the bus stop.
We get situated and then connect with said girls who knew other people in the apartment complex and before long we are amongst a pile of madras and Weejuns. Then someone announces that it’s about time to go to the Chinese Disco. Now understand me when I say that I would have gone anywhere with this fun crowd but the Disco scene was never mine and I had never been around Asians in my life. Some of these folks-the guys especially, were intimidatingly cool and so if they declared that some Asian social club was the happening place to go then WHS and I were right behind them. I wasn’t going to enjoy it if indeed it ended up that we would be making fun of hard working Chinese doing culturally specific dances that were dear to their homeland.
Funny. The Day Lily a Chinese restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue was transformed every Friday and/or Saturday night. By nine o’clock it became The Chinese Disco and it was anything but. To this day folks-I’ve never had any more fun in my entire life. I would like to tell you that being an errand boy in the Senate was riveting but frankly-I didn’t give a shit.
What I craved after that first weekend at the Chinese Disco was another night just like that first one there. And I had those nights-every time the doors opened-every weekend-all summer long. We were the first in line and I was one of the last to be thrown out every time.
You walked in oxford starched-madras swathed and Weejun shod. You staggered out soaked with Washington D.C. summer sweat and beer.
I’m not going to debate the genesis of the southern regional dance ritual-the Shag. It’s kind of like arguing about North Carolina versus South Carolina barbecue. It’s all good. But these rituals have nuances and before I met anyone at the Chinese Disco on the first night it was obvious who was from the Carolinas and who was from Virginia. The Carolina Shag is a dance of precision manifesting movement from the hips down. Lots of cool footwork and Weejuns are perfecto for the slippy slidy demands of the Carolina Shag.
Not much action from the waist up and you only hold one of your partners hands with few exceptions. The Virginia aberration is something else. Now don’t get me wrong-those who did the Virginia whatever were having JUST as much fun as the rest of us. But that Virginia Dance is more of a two handed-sling your date around the floor-epileptic-above the waist unrestrained seizure. Ok I’m biased.
It is fairly undisputed among those in the know that my childhood buddy J.J.'s dad was one of the two or three individual forces that evolved the dance back in the 1940's. That's him above...somewhere down at the beach-cuttin' it.
Here’s a You Tube clip that demonstrates the elegance of the Carolina Shag…
I think the guys who concocted the Chinese Disco venue were some entrepreneurial fratty boys with a collection of 45s that would be the envy of anyone who loved that stuff. Here’s a link to a web page created for what looks like a reunion from a few years ago. Sorry I missed it. All I know is that in the Chinese Disco I found my element and my sole reason for being in DC for the summer. Other nights had their trad-prep crowd destinations as well and indeed those were fun. Third Edition-J.Pauls-Déjà Vu … but nothing and I mean NOTHING could top the Chinese Disco.
But you had to be able to dance this ritualistic thang if you were really going to have fun there right? Of course. But I’d already mastered the Carolina shag by this time…after all I’d completed three years of college and had accumulated thirty credit hours of academic work and a zillion hours of shagging at the fratty venue and other honkey tonks. As soon as I realized that pretty girls would talk to you and would go out with you if you could do this particular dance-I figured I’d learn it. The best evidence of this was watching J.C. dance with girl after girl at fraternity parties. I kid you not when I say that they literally lined up for a go with him. J.C. was about five feet six and weighed close to three hundred pounds. After one dance he would have already manifested an untucked button down shirt and sweat thru evidence on said khakis and button down. Still the gals loved him.
My D.C. summer was a blast and the Chinese Disco set the bar for the fun that could be had back then. I moved to Charlotte N.C. after graduating from college and found a slightly attenuated version of the Chinese Disco on Morehead Street. Good times were had there too but nothing like the Chinese Disco in D.C. The Cellar had long passed its zenith of the 1960’s…I mean look at who you could have seen live at the Cellar back then.
Here's Billy Stewart at the Cellar in the 1960's. Damn. Another great memory lane trip for me. I’ve found some You Tube clips of songs that you would have heard if you’d been with me at the Chinese Disco or the Cellar.
The Intrigues-In A Moment
Thank You John-Willie Tee
I Do Love You-Billy Stewart
Cheaters Never Win-The Love Committee
*Apologies for nicking pictures here and there from other sites. I’ll take ‘em down if they are yours and you get something sideways in your butt about me using them.