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A New Love
Sidney Thacker used to go dancing every weekend. He loved to dance and he loved jazz. That’s how he became such a cake-eater. Dancing. He always did tell me that was the only proper way to pick up ladies. I suppose he would know. I was more of a background man. Sitting at the bar, drinking a beer, but not Sid. Oh no, not Sid. He could dance too. He was a swell dancer. The Charleston, the Fox Trot, the Shimmy, Sid loved them all.
He moved to New York from Chicago about six years ago when all his money ran out. Dancing and drinking wasn’t too cheap when you were just a bartender. Of course he borrowed money from friends and lovers, but that only put him further in debt. Never bothered Sid much, though. He just figured when it all ran out he’d start again somewhere else. And that’s exactly what he did. I knew he often missed Chicago but he hid it well. He talked about Lincoln Gardens the most, as if he missed it more than the actual people. I’ve never seen it but I’ve heard it’s a real hot spot, especially for dancing, which always was Sid’s one true love.
When Sidney decided on New York I wasn’t surprised. He had friends there, like myself, and he knew he could find some work. Sidney always lived for the moment and at that moment the only things he thought about were girls and clubs. His father taught him to dance when he was just a boy, saying no woman liked a man who couldn’t move. Sid took that to heart.
He was built for dancing too. He was tall and fit. He was handsome, and despite his lack of money, somehow always well dressed. It was no wonder all the women loved him. He had brown hair, blonde in the summer time. He often stood with his hands in his pockets, except when he was dancing. Then they were flying about everywhere. Or sometimes, if it was slow dancing, they were held around the waist of a girl.
When Sid first came to New York the first person he called was me. I set him up with a small apartment across from mine. The second person he called was Marvin Calloway. Marvin set him up with every club in Harlem. I knew Marvin and I knew him well. Marvin liked to have a good time. And those Harlem clubs, boy, they were a good time. Sidney had never been to any of them before but he fit right in. Marvin took him to Connie’s Inn, the Cotton Club, the Lafayette, Barron D. Wilkon’s Club, and Sid’s favorite, the Savoy.
Sidney didn’t find a job in any of those places but that was fine by him. He was making good money tending the bar on 45th street. It was a speakeasy but that didn’t bother Sid either. Nothing much bothered Sid. He liked the Savoy the best because they played the good stuff there. Usually it was just records but all the same, it was the good stuff; Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Fletcher Henderson, James Scott. Sid would come home tired or plain out drunk. The Savoy didn’t have any gunmen. He won countless dance contests paired with countless women and he never got tired of any of it.
Sid loved women but he loved them all together. There was never really one woman. Usually just a group of them sighing as he walked by. I envied him there. I’ve only ever had one girl and back then I didn’t even know her yet. Sid had plenty of girlfriends, sometimes more than one at a time. I’ve heard him say, “I love you,” on countless occasions but I’m pretty sure most of the time he didn’t mean it. Sid would never admit that though. He’d never been in love, except with his dancing, so all those girls were all he knew. He liked to have fun too much to carry on with a real relationship.
I knew that and Marvin knew that. That’s probably why we were both so surprised when Sid started talking about Lina. Not just mentioning her, but really talking. He would go on and on about something she said, or what she wore, or how she danced. He said she could dance as well as he could. When he said that Marvin and I, we both knew something was really going on. Nobody could dance like Sidney. Who was this Lina? I decided I had to find out. So one night Sid took me to the Savoy to meet the fine lady. Marvin said he would meet us there.
Sid hadn’t really hooked up with Lina yet. But I was pretty sure soon enough, he would. None of the ladies back then could resist Sidney Thacker. Sid had only danced with Lina a few times, and bought her a drink or two, but he’d already figured out she went to the Savoy on Saturday nights. Those became his favorite nights. I remember it was a Saturday sometime in July when Sid took me to the Savoy.
I’d only been there a few times but I liked it all right. White folks didn’t go there much. There was a big dance floor and a nice bar. All the men looked real spiffy and the women were all flappers. There were tables around the floor, and when we went in Sid lead me to one of those. Marvin came in soon after us. He walked to the table, sat down, and waved over the waiter. He ordered us a round of drinks and then turned to Sid.
“Sid, what’s this? You’re not dancing.”
Sid smiled that charming smile of his and leaned back in his chair. “Waiting for Lina.”
He spotted her then. He got up and made his way over to the front hall, where a young woman had just walked in. Sid walked up to her, leaned down and kissed her cheek, then took her coat.
“Marvin,” I said, “I think I see our girl.”
“Look, they’re coming over now.”
Sid was leading the woman to our table and a fine lady, she certainly was. She was tall and slender and walked like she had class. She let Sid lead her but only because she was a lady. She had smooth, coffee colored skin and dark brown eyes. Her lips looked real soft. Her hair was cut short, like all the women had their hair. And on her face she wore a slight smile, and a shine in her eyes.
Sid was smiling widely when he introduced her to us, “Kiddos, this is my friend, Lina. Lina, Marvin and Jack.”
“Please to meet you, fellas.” Marvin kissed her hand and Lina laughed a little. She had a lovely laugh. Sid sat down and Lina took the chair next to his.
“Can I get you a drink?” I offered. Sid was only looking at Lina now and I knew he was itching to dance.
“Oh no, thank you, Jack, but I think I’d like to dance. Sid?” He practically leaped out of his chair, knocking it backwards. He blushed sheepishly.
“That would be swell.” He took her hand and led her onto the floor. Lina was a swell dancer. She and Sid were in perfect time. I thought they were the handsomest couple on the floor. In the midst of all those Charleston steppers they didn’t miss a beat. It was quite a sight to see our old Sid laughing and swinging his feet with a pretty girl right beside him, doing the same. They were quite a pair.
“Marvin,” I said, “I think our old Sid’s found a new love.” He smiled and raised his glass.
“I’ll drink to that.”