A warm April Saturday night in 1948,
instruments were unpacked, monogrammed stands
set up at Maspeth’s National Dance Hall, the air
redolent of honeysuckle and the scent of
pompadours saturated with Vitalis.

Zoot-suited goombas from Greenpoint
jumped and jived to “Take The A Train,”
belting rum and Coke between sets,
trying to staunch the flow of sweat in an era
before A.C.

Wound-up marionettes jitterbugged
half-dreaming they were auditioning
for an MGM Donald O’Connor musical,
recovering, then, with a languorous fox-trot,
immersed in a radiant rendition of
“Harlem Nocturne,” as smooth as Glenfiddich
straight up.

The star of the band, an alto sax player,
was a strutting seduction artist with a
manicured Clark Gable moustache and
an Ipana-white smile, entrancing
dancers with virtuoso playing, tempting
them to stop and listen, wide-eyed
as his pyrotechnic soloing.

The last song of the night was always
“Good Night Ladies.”
As the final refrain faded, a jealous
mob of burly, brass-knuckled goons
from Sheepshead Bay mounted the
stage, splattering fists and cymbals,
leaving blood-spattered sheet music
and our gifted sax player with
his mouth busted wide.

Milton P. Ehrlich