A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN, THOMAS E. KENNEDY
A WALK ON THE WILD NORTH SIDE
Last night I took an icy February walk on Copenhagen’s wild north side, had a pint or three at the Blue Yard Drugstore on Blue Yard Square. Then I dined on lamb curry at Kate’s Joint on Blue Yard Street, amidst the primitive faces of the paintings, where the waitress – a striking young woman with skin the color of pale chocolate – did wonders for my self-esteem by saying she had enjoyed hearing me read my Dan Turèll translations at the Poetic Bureau the week before.
That went straight to the refurbishment of my feel-good shield which protected me in the freezing dark night as my Giglio leather running shoes led me through dark side streets. Wandering boys in hooded jackets chucked empty bottles like hand grenades which exploded against brick walls in a rain of glass. Past Eve and Adam’s by a commodious vicus of recirculation etc., I entered through the banged-up face of a serving house whose name I did not note on a street whose name I do not recall.
Here I could smoke my little cigars and enjoy bottled beer at a modest tariff – straight from the bottle since the glass provided was not something I would want near my lips.
From my table against the wall, I could see around the elbow of the bar a slender woman in a blue beret, eyes closed beatifically above her smiling mouth, dancing ethereally with her hands and arms to Eva Cassidy’s “Autumn Leaves” which seeped moodily from the juke box. Normally, I would attack a student sentence that included as many adverbs as that, but must admit at times, after all, that adverbs do assist the lonely hunter of the heart in its quest.
The juke box was just beside me, and the dancing woman in the blue beret drifted across the floor to select more tunes, speaking softly to the machine in Norwegian-accented Danish: “I am old,” she told the juke. “I must find old music.”
“You’re by no means old!” I said. And she was not.
She beamed at me. “Is my music okay?”
“Your music is perfect.” Which earned my hand a warm clasp from hers.
“I am Norwegian,” she said.
“I thought you might be.”
“You thought I might be,” she repeated, eyes sparkling, as though I had said something truly witty.
She selected Santana and Leonard Cohen and stood a little away from my table, dancing in a trance-like state which did not preclude sly glances toward where I sat, presumably (I fancied) to see if I was watching. How could I not?
“Do you mind that I dance here all alone?” she asked.
“You are a pleasure to watch.” Which she was. She had a kind of scarf wrapped alluringly about her hips, tied at the waist to fall away at the front, and she moved with grace, turning to allow me (I fancied) a view from all alluring angles, throwing in the occasional discreet bump or grind, and my mind, in analytical mode, produced the thought, She is really quite pickled.
Whereupon a tall, broad-shouldered man with large hands and a young face approached my table and plopped down in an empty chair, saying, "Mind if I..?" Tattoos showed on every exposed area of his skin. On the fingers of either hand were tattooed letters spelling out, on the right, R O C K, and on the left, R O L L. Elaborate tattoos crawled out of his shirt collar to wrap about his neck, and from the thin skin of his inner wrist smiled the cocked lip of Elvis Presley.
He lit a nonfiltered Cecil and said to me, “I'm a young rock and roller, and you're an old rock and roller.” Enough of a speech to display a hefty slur. “I got these words tattooed on my fingers when my father died. I was fifteen. He was an old rock and roller, too. So I'm second generation. I'm 25 now."
Moved, I thought to share with him one of my most cherished stories about the day in 1959 when I was taking the GG subway home to Queens from my high school in Brooklyn, and the door between the subway cars slid open; in stepped a tall black man of perhaps forty years. His white shirt was unbuttoned, shirt tails untucked, revealing the black skin of his chest, and he was carrying a white handkerchief, flapped out and dangling from one hand.
In a melodious growl, he announced to the subway car - which was full of boys and girls on their way home from two adjacent Catholic high schools, one for each sex -- "Ever' body on this train: Do rock an' roll!"
And he began to dance along the aisle to the rhythm of the train’s shuttling, screeching wheels against the tracks, the rhythms of the cars racketing against one another, dancing to the music his body made from all those sounds, and pointing to each boy or girl as he passed, directing, "You there, boy: Do rock an' roll! And you there, girl: Do rock and roll!"
Dancing, twisting, hopping, landing lightly on the toes of his black leather wingtips until he had traversed the length of the car and disappeared out the door at the far end, leaving all of us Catholic boys and girls smiling at one another and wishing, just wishing, we could rock and roll like that man, just one little piece of his infectious, hypnotic set of moves.
One of the most beautiful, unexpected interludes of my life, a gift from a stranger, a glimpse of wild beauty.
That was in 1959 -- 50 years ago. And I thought to impart this tale to this young Danish rock and roller in this wild north side Copenhagen bar where the barmaid looked like she might have done some time in the ring and the lovely pickled Norwegian woman swayed ethereally to Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man," treating me to shy, sly glances from her shining eyes, and the drunken young Danish rock and roller’s response to my story was, "How long you been living in Denmark? You got a fucking terrible accent! How come you won't learn to speak Danish right?!"
I shrugged, smiled, folded shut the petals of my story and shoved it deep back into my pocket, feeling sad for this young fatherless guy.
While telling my story, I was vaguely aware of last call being called, of the Norwegian woman leaning close beside me to murmur at my ear, “Last call, last music, last dance,” of people filing out, her blue beret disappearing with one last glance back through the door.
Young man, take a look at your life. You’re a lot like I was.
Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy http://www.thomasekennedy.com/)
Copyright Thomas E. Kennedy
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