Lost in a sea of fedoras
Rifling through my closet of multi-decade wear, I knew the 1920s era would not be represented. Oh, I knew there would be vestiges of the 1980s, probably some ‘70s paisley, but a flapper dress would not hang within. I don’t extend that far, and if I had something of Mom’s, she was a shirtwaist gal.
Once in approximately every score or so, I venture beyond the Twilight Zone of my flat screen and dare to dodge the drunks on New Year’s Eve. I consider it a rite of passage from one life phase to another — this being the spring of my second childhood. Plus, I hate being predictable.
I chose to crash The Bootlegger’s Ball at the Ashland Armory. My choice was more from a desire to applaud Lane Hall as new drummer for the Bathtub Gin Serenaders. I haven’t slipped into the abyss of sullied dissipation. Lane had just learned 14 new songs with a new group within a month during the holidays. I thought anyone capable of that feat deserved an audience.
I adopted a character and an attitude, battling back the inner whiner who kept bemoaning the facts that I would, a) know no other soul b) there would be all couples and I would look like a dope c) the temperature hovered around 29 degrees, and d) the weatherman warned of thickening (sickening with a lisp), freezing fog. The writer won over the wimp. I plowed through the pea-souper to Ashland, rubbed elbows with gamblers and bobbing frolickers, and lived to tell the tale.
I stem from a family of honest Midwestern farmers, not bootleggers (except for Great Uncle Harve). I felt less like Gertrude Stein, more like Willa Cather as I pulled on fancy gloves, stuck a beret on my head and joined the couples waiting at the armory door. I planned to be home by 10:30.
A worker handed me some funny money with Grover Cleveland on the face. There were roulette wheels and poker tables available, but I wisely tucked my folding Grover away. With the current trend it might come in useful someday.
Security guards had a formidable task ahead of them on a night when suspect violin cases might be in tow. Fishnet stockings with and without concealed Derringers might infiltrate the scene, while broad-shouldered suits and fedoras began to cruise the darkened recesses. And the band played on, but not one ‘20s bedecked oaf asked me to dance. A few twirled ala carte. One man near my age never sat down, but kicked up his heels and spun in varying directions while periodically joined by young women who tried but couldn’t quite read his Tasmanian spasms. Meanwhile, I sat and tapped my feet to the upbeat jazz, and Lane performed admirably in his pork pie hat.
After their lengthy set, my back was screaming, “I told you so!” It had sat too long in a folding chair without dancing. That’s when I began searching the shadowy figures for the drummer to come. All I could see was a sea of fedoras — no pork pies. Finally, with my head and intent turned toward the exit, he appeared behind me and asked, “May I have this dance?”
We toddled our way through one Band du Pays number not knowing our Charleston from a Black Bottom, but it felt good to move and to have a counterpart.
We left the festivities as the room began to fill, and the music grew louder to compensate for alcohol deafness. We moved on to a more predictable place, where there are just as many late-night characters filling booths. I missed my 10:30 ETA, but we welcomed 2019 in the most American way imaginable — over a club sandwich and fries at Denny’s.
Adventure awaits in 2019. Bring your binoculars.
Reach freelance writer Peggy Dover at firstname.lastname@example.org and on her Facebook page.