“Who is Disco Werewolf, Mr. Sugarshine?” the girl asked. “My readers are dying to know.”
“Mark my words, young lady,” Sweet Johnny said as he motioned for the girl to join him at the other end of the bar, out of earshot of any prospective snoops. “Me allowing you access to this fantastic world is the absolute last time that I will ever do a favor for anyone.”
“What do you mean?”
“I called The New York Courant,” Sweet Johnny said. “After getting the run-around for an hour and…can you believe? Me, the Emcee of Funk, the Sultan of Soul, the Duke of Disco getting passed around on the phone for an entire sixty minutes? Finally, I was able to speak to the city desk editor, one Mr. Ernie Pomeroy and he says you don’t work there.”
“Yet,” the girl said. “I’m working on it.”
Sweet Johnny smiled. “I like your style, kiddo. I do. And true, we were all nobody before we became somebody but you, my dear, are a nobody.”
“Please,” the girl said. “Just a few quotes.”
“Claudette Jenkins is, and this is a direct quote from Mr. Pomeroy now, ‘A nice girl with a lot of chutzpah, but much too young to traipsing about the streets at night, looking for trouble.’ I agree and if you head for the door right now and don’t let it hit you where the Good Lord split you, I won’t bother to report that fake ID you flashed at me to the authorities. Twenty-one my eye.”
“Ernie has been on a desk so long he wouldn’t know a good story if it bit him in his ass,” Anette said.
“That’s between y’all,” Sweet Johnny said. “Bottomline, you lied to me, baby girl.”
“Lie is a strong word,” Claudette said.
“When you came to me a week ago and asked if you could come in, sniff around, talk to some of the dancers and get some quotes about Disco Werewolf, I feared you might be working on some kind of hatchet job,” Sweet Johnny said. “But then I realized that all press is good press, so I agreed. But now to find you not only don’t have an employer but aren’t even of an employable age.”
“I’m seventeen!” Claudette protested.
“Good for you,” Sweet Johnny said. “And the supermarket is down the street, little bird, so fly, fly away and go see if they’ll hire you as a cashier, because they damn sure won’t hire someone your age as a reporter.”
“Mr. Sugarshine,” Claudette said. “We’re talking semantics, here.”
“Semantics?” Sweet Johnny asked. “Oh, my, now that’s a three-dollar word. Where’d you hear that one? On the playground?”
“You’re right,” Claudette said. “I don’t work for the New York Courant.”
“No Shit, She-Sherlock.”
“But I am working on a story about Disco Werewolf,” Claudette said. “But I can’t publish a story without answering the biggest question swirling around it, namely, the true identity of Disco Werewolf. When I get that, there isn’t a paper in town that wouldn’t buy it from me so essentially, I didn’t lie to you. I will get this story in print…eventually.”
“Go eventually stand in the corner and think about what you’ve done, baby,” Sweet Johnny said. “Now pardon me, my viewers need me.”
Sweet Johnny stepped away, only to be stopped in his tracks by Claudette’s next words. “You pay him, don’t you?”
A look of panic overtook Sweet Johnny’s face as he turned around. “What the…who told you that?”
“No one,” Claudette said. “Last night, I saw you tuck a wad of cash into his paw. He isn’t just a regular customer who picked your disco over the other discos in town.”
“Flea infested rat traps, the lot of ‘em!” Sweet Johnny said. “But Miss Jenkins, I’ll have you know that whatever business transpires between me and the illustrious Disco Werewolf shall remain between me and the unparalleled Disco Werewolf.”
“That line outside,” Claudette said. “It was never that long before Disco Werewolf showed up. You need him, don’t you?”
“Sweet Johnny Sugarshine needs no one!”
“I can read between the lines,” Claudette said. “You’ll go into receivership without him.”
“Receiver-what? Receivership?” Sweet Johnny asked. “What are they teaching advanced accounting classes on that show with all the puppets you kids watch? Get to steppin.’”
“I’ll go,” Claudette said. “And I guess I could file a less interesting version of this story, one where the identity of Disco Werewolf remains hidden forever but…I’d have to mention that you pay him, that he didn’t just select your club because he found it to be the funkiest of them all.”
“It is the funkiest of them all!” Sweet Johnny said. The Duke of Disco closed his eyes, exhaled, then calmed down. “Look, kid. If I knew who Disco Werewolf was, I’d tell you. But I don’t. Because he doesn’t talk. He’s a giant werewolf, for Christ’s sake. He barks. He howls. He growls. But he doesn’t make words come out of his mouth so he’s never told me his real name.”
“You have a business arrangement with him but you’ve never talked to him?” Claudette asked. “I find that highly suspect.”
“I talk to him,” Sweet Johnny said. “He woofs or barks or sometimes just nods. He doesn’t say shit, because, again, he’s a Goddamn dog man.”
“Huh,” Claudette said. “Alright, I guess I’ll let the part about money changing hands slide but still, there has to be some way to find out who he is.”
Sweet Johnny held his hand out and waved it across the sweeping club scene, taking it all in. “Child, look at there. What do you see?”
“A bunch of idiots getting drunk and bouncing around until they puke.”
“Oh, Claudette Jenkins,” Sweet Johnny said. “What happened to you that you have so little imagination at such a tender young age?”
“I’m black in America.”
“Touche, sister,” Sweet Johnny said. “Touche. But so am I and I’m older and yet, my mind is not as closed off as yours. When I look out at all these people, I see dreamers. I see people escaping from the hum drum machinations of every day life. By day these people are doctors and lawyers, tow truck drivers, mail men, carpenters, hell some of them are even degenerate bums looking for a handout. But they are also here in search of fantasy fulfilment. They don’t want to be Mr. or Miss Joe or Josephine Q. McGillicuddy, no m’aam. They want to be disco kings and disco queens, the lives of the party, the beaus and belles of the ball. They want to be beautiful, graceful, happening, or at the very least, they want to come here and pretend to be for a little while before their dreary lives come a-calling once again.”
“Are you getting to a point?” Claudette asked.
“Indeed, little sister,” Sweet Johnny said. “The point is, if you’re asking me the name of Disco Werewolf, I don’t know. If he wanted me to know it, he’d most assuredly find a way to tell it to me, just as I am sure, if he wanted you and the readers you do not have to know it, he’d find a way for them to know.”
“OK,” Claudette said.
“Now,” Sweet Johnny continued. “If you’re asking me to take a wild guess, I’d say our old pal Disco Werewolf is just like all of these people. By day, he’s some kind of boring schlub. Probably a loser. A dope. Not much going for him. He’s so saddened by his miserable life and his complete and total lack of an ability to turn his life around for the better, than he came up with a gimmick, got himself a werewolf costume and now he’s the king shit around here.”
“I thought that was you.”
Sweet Johnny grinned. “Nah. I’m just the Duke.”
“You think he’s wearing a costume?” Claudette asked.
“You don’t?” Sweet Johnny asked.
“He looks real enough,” Claudette said.
“Yes, well,” Sweet Johnny said. “Looks real and is real are two very different things.”
“But you just said he can’t talk because he’s a werewolf,” Claudette said.
“I did,” Sweet Johnny said. “But to elaborate, if he thinks he is a werewolf, then he must act as a werewolf and therefore, as a werewolf, he cannot talk. Corgito ergo sum, Miss Jenkins.”
“What’s that mean?” Claudette asked.
“I think, therefore I am,” Sweet Johnny said. “And if whoever Disco Werewolf is thinks he’s a werewolf, then trust me, he’s a werewolf.”
“Even if, technically, he isn’t?” Claudette asked.
“Well,” Sweet Johnny said. “What’s the alternative? That Disco Werewolf is an honest to God, genuine, bonafide, man stretching his body out to become a big ass wolf monster like in the movie pictures? You believe that?”
“I’ve seen things,” Claudette said. “It’s not impossible.”
“It not only impossible,” Sweet Johnny said. “It’s downright ludicrous.”
“Now who’s lacking in imagination?” Claudette asked.
Sweet Johnny pretended as though he were wearing a cap, and tipped it the girl’s way. “Very good, my dear. You win this round of our verbal joust.”
“I don’t know if he’s real,” Claudette said. “But everyone here sure seems to believe in him.”
“People will believe in all manner of wonderous things if it distracts them from the bitter, cruel world all around them,” Sweet Johnny said. “I have a hunch you’re just too young to understand that.”
“Try me,” Claudette said.
“The sixties,” Sweet Johnny said. “Oh, you were no doubt knee high to a dragonfly then, but let’s see. The man who tried to bring this country together got shot. Then the man who had a dream that white and black people would come together got shot. Then the brother of the man who tried to bring the country together was shot.”
“JFK, MLK and RFK,” Claudette said.
“All my tax dollars aren’t wasted on public schools, after all,” Sweet Johnny said. “But on top of all that, the man who said to hell with it, black people should go their own way got shot too, so really, there was no way to please anyone in that decade. Plus you riots, bombings, murders, all kinds of death and destruction. That’s all before you mention the war on the other side of the world that killed 58,000 Americans even though no one in charge could adequately vocalize why the hell any of them where sent there in the first place.”
“This decade wasn’t much better,” Sweet Johnny. “Nixon saw a desire among the public for the government to get shit under control and got his ass handed to him when he tried to control too much. So, we said screw it, we’ll elect an idiot peanut farmer lacking in ambition who will just sit around and mind the store, but that led to the Arabs humping us on gas and the Iranians taking our embassy hostage.”
“Is this soliloquy going anywhere?” Claudette asked.
“Soliloquy,” Sweet Johnny said. “Another big word. You must keep a dictionary under your pillow, girl. And yes. It is. What I’m trying to say is that adults today have been through some shit, and we’re all tired of trying to find a solution from the government, from big business, from anywhere. We’re all convinced that traditional groups and communities will fail us, so we’re looking inward, trying our best to fulfill our own wants and desires. Some do it by sitting on their asses at home and sulking into a bottle. Others do it by coming and here and dancing the night away.”
“I’d rather live in reality,” Claudette said.
“Yeah,” Sweet Johnny replied. “But the problem with reality is that it’s all so very real.”
Disco Werewolf leapt out of the rafters, somersaulted through the air and landed in the center of the dance floor to uproarious applause from his fans.
“Still think that’s a costume?” Claudette asked.
“I’ve been through too much shit in my life to think otherwise,” Sweet Johnny said.
The Duke and the wannabe reporter stood at the bar and watched Disco Werewolf get funky as Boo Boo Larue filled the night with song.
“I’m telling the doorwoman,” Sweet Johnny said. “Tonight’s the last night you’ll be allowed in here.”
“Come on!” Claudette said.
“Nope,” Sweet Johnny said. “That’s it. Stay the rest of tonight if you like, but if I see you drinking anything stronger than a root beer, you’ll leave early. Got it?”
Claudette pouted. “I got it.”
Sweet Johnny began to walk away, then stopped. “Oh, and Miss Jenkins?”
“What?” Claudette asked.
“It’s a free country,” Sweet Johnny said. “I can’t tell you to stop digging for clues as to Disco Werewolf’s true self but do keep in mind, if he felt the need to become everyone’s favorite beast, then he must be running from something.”
“Aren’t we all?” Claudette asked.
“Indeed,” Sweet Johnny said as he straightened his tie. “Still, maybe it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie…”
The Duke looked out onto the dance floor, where the werewolf was holding court. “…and to let dancing dogs dance.”