Ancient History

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Just say yo

They could break dance.

A group of seven or eight boys, who had reputations for being tardy homework shunners and mischief-lovers, who knew rap music before it was called Old School, who were from neighborhoods near the rivers and their junction—these boys owned our junior high on the nights of school dances.

One boy’s name was Orlando. He was the understood leader, the tallest and best dancer with a ghetto blaster the size of a Mini Cooper. He could do a helicopter with his legs in the air as his shoulders rotated on big sheets of cardboard. His joints would pop and lock rhythmically, then they’d appear to liquify as the rest of the boys in his group made a chain of arms, linked in a wave around the dance floor.

During their spontaneous demonstrations at regimented dances, the kids circled and watched in meek awe, outshone.

When Nancy Reagan brought her “Just Say No” tour to our town in 1983, the break-dancing boys were invited to entertain the crowd which assembled in the high school gym.

I went with my mom, not to hear about the evils of drugs but to see a First Lady in person. Secret service looked in my mom’s big purse, which was slightly embarrassing because there was a tampon right in the open for everyone to see. We sat on the gym bleachers, recited the Pledge of Allegience, and someone sang the national anthem. I don’t remember anything specific about her speech. My memory dresses her in red, because that was her signature color.

As her speech ended, the breakdancing crew joined Mrs. Reagan. She smiled and laughed as they took her hands, interlaced their fingers with hers, and did the wave. I thought I was witnessing history, but I wasn’t. News of Nancy’s antics never made it out of the high school gym and into the newspaper. Peter Jennings didn’t report on it—and I made sure to watch just in case he did. It was a yawn, a sigh, a whistlestop on a whirlwind tour of small-town gyms and community centers. Countless other groups were foisted on stage next to her day after day, and I’m sure she played along like a good sport.

I wonder if Orlando remembers holding her hand.

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