Ayesha Farrington was relieved when she finally arrived at the 125th Street
on the Number One Line. It was 3:30 in the morning and she was tired.
Despite the hour, it was a Saturday night and there were plenty of people out.
In cars and on foot, the night-crawlers clogged Harlem's main artery.
Her three-block walk from the Subway to Lenox Avenue was interrupted only
once by a beggar who'd obviously done well that night. He reeked of cheap wine
and cigars. Ayesha had to pick up her steps because simply ignoring him wasn't
working. She didn't even break a sweat out-pacing the guy, who shouted behind
her, "Hey, momma! I can make you feel soooo real!" She rounded the corner at Lenox and 125th. The sign for Sylvia's restaurant
was dark but she could still make it out two blocks up; it'd be a short
four-block walk home.
There was no traffic on Lenox. Behind her in the distance, headlights
glimmered but for some reason there was no traffic at all. Not a soul
accompanied Ayesha on the final portion of her walk home. Then it started.
Ayesha wasn't even conscious of her surroundings. She was thinking of a day
long ago, long before crack had decimated the ranks of Harlem's most colorful
partiers, producers and pimps. She was passing Sylvia's Restaurant when her
daydream (perhaps, in this case, "night-dream") was interrupted.
An impeccably-polished 1977 Cadillac Brougham d'Elegance rounded the corner
from 127th and headed north on Lenox Avenue. She could hear a tune she'd grown
up with; The Brothers Johnson doing "Stomp," coming from the car's sound system.
The vehicle sported sparkling wire wheels, a custom rear window ("Diamond in the
Back") and one of the old mobile TV antennas, resembling a boomerang, atop the
The car disappeared as quickly as it had invaded Ayesha's consciousness,
turning the corner of Lenox and 128th street, heading westbound. Ayesha didn't
even see the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, similarly gussied up, crossing the
intersection and moving behind the Cadillac.
Ayesha arrived at home; 501 Lenox Avenue, at 3:50. She struggled with the key
in the lock. For some reason it wouldn't open. "Shit!" she thought, she might
have to wake the building's superintendant by tapping on the glass. At that very
moment, her breath was taken away by what she saw.
The Cadillac and the Oldsmobile were leading a pack of vintage luxury cars up Lenox Avenue,
proceeding almost like a vee-shaped parade up the Avenue nearly as slowly as a
parade. Music filled the air; it was George Benson's hit "Give
Me The Night." Behind the two lead cars was a parade of pink and
turquoise-colored Lincoln limousines and Mark V's, more Cadillacs, red, black and white,
Oldsmobiles and Buicks. The thing that was so peculiar is that none of the pimped-out cars
was newer than a 1981 model.
Ayesha's eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped. She was, literally, paralyzed
by what she saw next.
The cars arranged themselves in a rough circle at the intersection of Lenox
Avenue and 129th Street. The music became very loud. Ayesha remembered the tunes
she'd heard on WBLS when she was in her teens.
At once, every door in every car opened and out stepped a hundred people,
dressed in evening gowns and fancy suits. The garb was all dated, however; early
'80s. Tall men in long coats poured what appeared to be cocaine into hundreds of
little glass pipes; the crowd glowed in an orange light as they started matches,
cigarette lighters and other devices and then lit the contents of their little
glass pipes all at once.
Ayesha pounded on the door to her building, which was tightly secured. Her
breath had been taken away; she was incapable of screaming. The reason was that
the "people" who'd ridden in the cars and were now doing a dance, smoking their
pipes and prancing around inside the circle of cars, looked other-worldly; as if
they'd been dried. They were, literally, just skin and bones, like mummies.
Ayesha nearly jumped out of her skin when a woman in a gorgeous
magenta-colored flowing muu-muu, her neck bedecked with pearls, tapped her
shoulder. The woman was one of them.
"Why don't y'all come over an' dance, child?"
Despite the fact that the woman had indeed been dead for 22 years, she
recognized her aunt Carmen. Ayesha screamed as loud and as long as a banshee
announcing impending death.
Aunt Carmen patted her shoulder until Ayesha could scream no more and hoped
what she was seeing was a bad dream caused by the awful hamburger she'd had
after work that night. "Honey, few people get to see our parties, but we thought
y'all would like to come. Jes don' smoke on the pipe or y'all will end up jes
like the res' of us."
Carmen had been done in by a massive heart attack. She'd lost her apartment
twenty years ago, and was driven to prostitution to support her crack habit.
How appropriate that the tune now being played on two dozen car stereos was
Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Ayesha was now beyond
scared. She followed her aunt Carmen down Lenox Avenue to the "dance" inside the
circle of dated luxury cars.
Terror gripped her as she began to recognize some of the dessicated faces.
Chantel, the club owner from the old neighborhood, danced about in her trademark
sequined gown. She was dancing with Cool Billy, a well-known pimp. Her cousin
James held his old flame, Cassandra McRae, in his arms. Fat-D, once the ruler of
the neighborhood numbers racket, did the "Bump" with a gorgeous young
woman in a very tight mini-dress and Huck-a-Poo Top. Fat-D had been buried in
1983. All of the figures she recognized had the same skin-and-bones look at the
The crowd sighed "awwwww" when the music ended. They scrambled to take
another hit off the pipes, another sip from their drinks, when all of a sudden a very
handsome man, this one amazingly not skin-and-bones, offered his
hand to Ayesha. It was none other than Frankie Crocker, the radio dee-jay
who'd passed away in 2000. Crocker's suit of clothes was pure white silk.
Perhaps it was the fact that he looked much better than the other revelers,
perhaps just her attraction to celebrity (despite the surrealistic goings-on);
Ayesha offered her hand back. Again Benson's "Give Me The Night"
played. As Crocker and Ayesha danced, all the other of the un-dead returned
slowly to their cars, exchanging good-byes and finishing their drinks. Mid-tune,
Crocker told Ayesha "go home, darling. Don't y'all do the shit that got
us all caught out!"
Finally Ayesha's key worked. The sun was not up yet but the dawn sky was
glowing a dark orange as she watched all the cars take off up Lenox Avenue,
disappearing over a crest in the wide avenue.