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Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night

Odyssey was their home, their haven. It was the place, the only disco in all Bay Ridge that truly counted. Months ago there had been Revelation; six weeks, maybe two months, on, there would be somewhere else. Right now there was only Odyssey.

It was a true sanctuary. Once inside, the Faces were unreachable. Nothing could molest them. They were no longer the oppressed, wretched teen menials who must take orders, toe the line. Here they took command, they reigned.

The basic commandments were simple. To qualify as an Odyssey Face, an aspirant need only be Italian, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, with a minimum stock of six floral shirts, four pairs of tight trousers, two pairs of Gucci-style loafers, two pairs of platforms, either a pendant or a ring, and one item in gold. In addition, he must know how to dance, how to drive, how to handle himself in a fight. He must have respect, even reverence, for Facehood, and contempt for everything else. He must also be fluent in obscenity, offhand in sex. Most important of all, he must play tough.

“. . . Gus loved Donna. And Donna loved Vincent. But Vincent loved only his mother, and the way it felt to dance . . .”

There was no overlapping. Italians were Italian, Latins were greaseballs, Jews were different, and blacks were born to lose. Each group had its own ideal, its own style of Face. But they never touched. If one member erred, ventured beyond his own allotted territory, he was beaten up. That was the law. There was no alternative.

Then there were girls. But they were not Faces, not truly. Sometimes, if a girl got lucky, a Face might choose her from the crowd and raise her to be his steady, whom he might one day even marry. But that was rare. In general, the female function was simply to be available. To decorate the doorways and booths, to fill up the dance floor. Speak when spoken to, put out as required, and then go away. In short, to obey, and not to fuss.

Fuss, in fact, was the one thing in life that Faces loathed most of all. Vincent, for example. The moment that anyone started to argue, to flush and wave his hands, he would simply turn his back and start walking. No matter what the circumstance, there could be no excuse for whining. It was not clean. It made him sick at his stomach.

That was why he loved to dance, not talk. In conversation, everything always came out wrong, confused. But out on the floor it all somehow fell into place. There was no muddle, nothing that could not be conveyed. Just so long as your feet made the right moves, kept hitting the right angles, you were foolproof. There were certain rules, watertight. Only obey them, and nothing could go wrong.

Sometimes, it was true, people did not understand that. Some outsider would stumble in, blundering. A complete un-Face, who wore the wrong clothes and made the wrong moves, who danced last month’s routines. And that could be ruinous. Absolutely disastrous. Because the whole magic of the night, and of Odyssey, was that everything, everyone, was immaculate. No detail was botched, not one motion unconsidered.

Purity. A sacrament. In their own style, the Faces were true ascetics: stern, devoted, incorruptible. “We may be hard. But we’re fair,” said Vincent. So they gathered in strict formation, each in his appointed place, his slot upon the floor. And they danced.

On the first night when the man in the tweed suit arrived from Manhattan, it was only nine o’clock and Odyssey was still half empty. He had come on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and when he descended into Bay Ridge itself, he found himself in a dead land. There were auto shops, locked and barred; transmission specialists, alignment centers. Then the Homestead Bar and Grill, and the Crazy Country Club, advertising “warm beer and lousy food.” But there were no people. Only railroads and junkyards, abandoned car seats, hubcaps, tires, scattered by the side of the road. A wasteland.

It was another frozen night and, when he climbed out of the car, the sidewalks were so icy that he slithered at every step. Guard dogs snapped and leaped in the darkness, and sleet whipped at his eyes. So he huddled deeper, tighter, into his overcoat, and set off toward a small red light at the farthest end of the street.

This was 2001 Odyssey. On the step outside, Vincent stood waiting, smoking, and did not seem to feel the cold at all. His hair was blow-waved just so, his toe caps gleaming. Brut behind his ears, Brut beneath his armpits. And a crucifix at his throat.

Inside, Odyssey was as vast and still as a Saturday-night cathedral. Music blared from the speakers, colored lights swirled back and forth across the dance floor. But no one answered their call. Perhaps a dozen girls sat waiting, on plastic seats, in scalloped booths. Four Faces in shiny suits stood at the bar, backs turned to the floor. The manager standing by the door scratched himself. That was all.

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