Vintage Phoenix Memory: Dance Hall Days

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It was 1981. We were young, and there was nothing better to do.

And so my girl friends and I -- a bony chick we called Uncle who rarely spoke and her best friend, Laytchie McJeep, a corpulent girl who never stopped talking -- got dressed up in funny clothes and went to discos.

Being fashionable required an entire weekend. On Saturday mornings we'd drive downtown -- a daring thing for kids from the suburbs to do -- because that's where the good junk stores were. We'd forage at Goodwill and Salvation Army for old military uniforms and '50s housedresses and old dinner jackets and paste brooches. Then we'd take everything back to my apartment and make it "better."

Uncle liked to belt things and wear them as dresses. She'd put on a giant men's shirt or a huge, ratty old sweater that barely covered her ass and wrap a length of chain from the hardware store around her middle, and that was her outfit. I'd cut up a pair of Boy Scout trousers with pinking shears, then safety-pin them back together. Lapel pins with punk rock sayings were my favorite accessory; I wore my "Fuck art, let's dance!" button for an entire summer.

Laytchie favored sleeveless polyester shifts in patterns so ugly, they hurt your eyes. She was proud that one of her outfits -- a complicated black-and-white-checked number that Unc called The Twilight Zone Dress -- made a girl vomit, right on the dance floor at Discovery one warm Saturday night.

We got drunk, and we danced. We were poseurs from the 'burbs, but never before 10 in the evening, because being seen early wasn't fashionable. We started out at more respectable places, like Anderson's Fifth Estate in downtown Scottsdale, where we danced to populist disco by Donna Summer and the Bar-Kays, and where some of our dance floor friends were discovered and became regulars on a low-rent American Bandstand knockoff that aired in Los Angeles. And at Tommy's Copa on Camelback Road, where the lighted dance floor throbbed in time to the music and where Laytchie -- our designated driver because she didn't drink or smoke dope -- flirted with all the ugly guys, just to be nice.

After we had gotten, in disco parlance, "sufficiently cocktailed," we'd head way downtown to the trashy gay nightclubs, places with names like Bullwinkle's and Hotbods Desert Dance Palace and our favorite, Sammy's Steak House -- a sleazy toilet that served neither steak nor any other kind of meal. The gay clubs played the best music -- a combination of hardcore disco (Lime, Sylvester, The Twins Plus Him) and dance-punk (New Order, The B-52s, The Thompson Twins) that drove us mad with pleasure. Here, in the "bad part of town" at 2 in the morning, freaking out to DJ Hubert's obscure Eurotrash mixes, we could forget the suburban strip-mall jobs and junior-college grind that awaited us on Monday. And Tuesday. And, we feared, forever.

The dumps where we danced in our weird rags are long gone; downtown Phoenix no longer is a bombed-out ruin where bored suburban teens can go to hide. Not long ago, I saw an ad for Anderson's Fifth Estate, the last of the hoary old discos of our past, now recently closed. Among its weekly themes was a Retro Night, featuring a DJ playing classics by The B-52s and The Thompson Twins.

How trashy.

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