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The Unsuspecting Moments

Subterranean Dreamland

USA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [73] | Scholarship Entry

St. Nick’s Pub sits buried steps below the bustling sidewalks of Harlem. It wears a red awning, and a single light illuminates the entire block of warm brick facades. I'd never been inside but I heard the saxophone that night, and welcomed the invitation.

Walking into a time warp, the joint was narrow with jazz starlets collaged to the walls, and sinking ceilings adorned in Christmas lights. A lanky man named Ghetto stood at the back of the bar, sketching snapshots of the crowd with black marker on cardboard.

I sat a wallflower, painting sporadic bright coloured lines in my mind to match the trumpet solos and drum breaks. A man spoke, “It’s your first time here. My name’s Floyd, I run the joint, what are you drinking?” I graciously accepted a gin.

As the crowd weaned out, Floyd and I sat alone. A shorter African-American man with long dread locks, dark brown eyes, and a face that read honest, he sang melodies of music, of his secret jazz cave, and of all the friends he’d made of strangers. He steered me towards the jukebox. Choosing Etta James’ “Don’t Cry Baby,” more of an interlude than a song, seemed fitting for this transient moment in time.

New York had always felt like home. Graffiti sprawled about town and the pungent smell of garbage, yet the city was real and even the vices seemed to hold virtue. It is my favourite place to get lost. When Floyd asked why I wasn’t living there, I replied, “There’s a place and time for everything."

He then dedicated Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” to me. I sat blushing, listening to words which remain with me today:

Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow, nonchalant/?Diamonds shining, dancing, dining with some man in a restaurant/?Is that all you really want?/?No, sophisticated lady/

A profound kinship had grown between Floyd and I. He understood when to laugh or subtly smile as I poured my heart out. When he spoke, I listened to his soft baritone voice. With a single song left among our jukebox playlist, on came Marvin Gaye. Floyd gestured his hand towards mine. As we danced, our faces glowed red in a subterranean dreamland.

Cracking open the door into the street, the sun peeked through darkness as the birds sang. “Will you write me?” Floyd asked. Smiling, I replied, “Of course I will.” Stumbling home in a daze, I lay in bed, and fell asleep to the sound of New York City, which lulled me from one dream and into the next. That night’s dream remains unparalleled by any one in my imagination.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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