steve ivory (2014)

Steven Ivory

*He pulled the big, maroon Buick duce and a quarter into the shopping area parking lot, found a space close to the sidewalk and intersection and slid out from behind the wheel.

Already giggling at the mere thought of what was going on here,  I stayed behind in the passenger seat, wondering just when he was going to relent and say, “I’m just kiddin’, man, I ain’t ‘bout to do nothing like that.”

When he found his spot, he motioned to me, I pushed B.T. Express into the dashboard tape player and turned it up.   With the funky, insistent, “Do It ‘Til You Satisfied” blaring from his car speaker, on the southeast sidewalk of Crenshaw and Slauson, Raheem proceeded to get busy.

In 1975, Raheem, 11 worldly years older than my 19 years and an avid student of “astrology, mysticism, world religion and so forth,” was the most “spiritual” person I knew. It was from Raheem that I learned the difference between an eye doctor and an optimist.

But then, Raheem also introduced me to something called hashish, and one day in a haze of optimistic, hash-induced heaviness at his Inglewood apartment, Raheem got to gabbing again about his Theory.

Whenever he started discussing this, you couldn’t stop him. Usually, I’d passively listen, like a disciple sitting at the Flagg Brothers platform shoe-clad feet of a hip, inner city guru. But this Saturday afternoon I challenged him to prove his cosmic rap. If he did, he’d win $20; otherwise, he’d give me $20.

‘Heem, grinning at Grasshopper’s challenge, said he’d not only show me, but do so in the most immediate and simplistic fashion. “No more reading about human nature,” he declared. “You gon’ see this happen, brotherman.” He explained to me his idea, and we set out for the street.

Thus, there the lean, afro’ed ‘Heem was, in faded Navy bell-bottoms, long sleeved blue and white flower collared print shirt and black platforms, on a busy south-central L.A. intersection at noon, seriously getting down.

Admittedly, Raheem was quite the dancer, having gotten plenty practice on weekends at Maverick’s Flat, the renown black night spot further up the Crenshaw Strip.

But out here, the only thing ‘Heem’s soulful and clever moves generated were honks from heckling drivers and gapes from sidewalk pedestrians who, thinking him “off” or shermed out, gave him a wide berth. Undeterred, he worked himself into a trance as I, his clandestine DJ, threw at him the entire contents of his funk-filled glove compartment–Funkadelic, Ohio Players, Kool and The Gang.

Bent on proving his philosophy, Raheem, as if atop the highest podium on “Soul Train,” pranced and shook a tail feather for a good forty-five minutes, almost ten of them dominated by a live version of James Brown’s almighty “Sex Machine.” I was feeling $20 richer with every funkified vamp.

And then I spotted her. In a light green muu muu that artfully concealed a sexy girth and pink flip flops, she looked to be in her late 30s; maybe 40. Coming west on Slauson, she cradled a bag of groceries while casting an inquisitive gaze on Raheem’s funky chicken that concerned me.

Once at the corner, she pushed the WALK button and turned to give Raheem another look, smiling no doubt at the idea of this stupid so and so tearing it up out here. When the sign said WALK, I prayed she’d do so and not mess with my money.

However, the glide in Raheem’s joyous stride–coupled with Parliament’s raucous “Together”–proved irresistible. She seemed to shrug, “What the hell,” sat her groceries down next to our car, stepped toward Raheem and proceeded to move.

There was new vivacity in ‘Heem’s boogie as both laughed at the thought of strangers literally dancin’ in the street. Miss Muu Muu shook her booty for a good two or three minutes before quitting. She told Raheem she needed that. As she retrieved her bag, two teenagers walking a bicycle with a flat tire through the scene mockingly and earnestly offered shuffles of their own.

Delighted and facinated in my defeat, I prepared to pay the $20. Raheem’s theory, which he’d valiantly illustrated, was simple: Anything good is infectious. He bet me that if he danced long enough on a boulevard that somebody, feeling his joy, would either urge him on or abandon their fear and join in.

His sidewalk boogie,  Raheem said, was a metaphor for love, and  his theory was that if you love,  people will love with you. It might take a minute–or the disco version of Ben E. King’s “Supernatural Thing”—but love selflessly–that is, love for the sake of love–and folks are going to join you. One person dancing on the street is considered “crazy;” two people dancing, Raheem insisted, is a movement. And movements grow. At 19, I hadn’t   considered this kind of thinking.

Nor, apparently, had word of the Movement reached the brother who gave a jump to Raheem’s car battery, drained by all that funk. He didn’t care that ‘Heem had his own jumper cables and/or  that we were conveniently parked right next to him and that in helping us,  he wouldn’t even have to move his car; he still charged us five bucks.  Which was proof  to me that in the ‘hood, at least on the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson, enlightenment, while cheap, ain’t free.

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]