That's all right. No one is really staying put anyway, just resting their feet at whatever table is on the way to another table and another set of friends. Like the rest of the younger people here tonight, I watch and marvel at an event that I--that we--almost certainly will never host. Daddy reappears occasionally with a friend in tow, a little breathless and smiling. "Hey, hey, hey, check this out,' he says, shaking his finger continually at the person behind him. "Did you meet this guy? Do you remember him? You probably were too little, but, man, he was around all the time at the house. Yeah, yeah, he used to. . . . '
I smile with my hands in my lap, nodding, not really remembering at all but wanting to sustain the evening however I can. Daddy, satisfied, talks on and claps a hand to the man's shoulder. His hands rake the air with the same expressiveness they had when he played the horn.
I think back to 1970, when I was 8 and he ran for state Assembly, putting bright orange posters of himself up all around South-Central; a rare instance, the only one I can recall, of Daddy doing anything resembling self-promotion. It was a handsome picture, depicting him with thick wavy hair and moustache, tie knotted firmly in place. His smile was small and uneasy, and I don't recall his laughing around friends then, even his most ardent supporters, nearly as much as he's laughing now. There was no need to reflect then; there was still the belief that black neighborhoods would survive the loss of neighbors.
I begin walking what seems like a mile to the dance floor. I get waylaid myself, by Corky and Awanda. I know Billy's in the room somewhere, talking up his sauce that's on every table. Other people I meet listen closely to my name, then grab my wrist if they recognize it. "I'm so glad you came,' they rasp in my ear.
I try jitterbugging, with somewhat awkward results--"Soul Train' this ain't--but I am happy taking part. These are not dances I know. But my feet and I have much to claim. I think about Hal's pronouncement: Things will get better. I can shift the current of history with a flap of my wings. I can deepen its tone with my instrument. If I walk away from L.A., move off to another frontier and take up another tradition, my passage from place to place will be well marked.
Hal thinks I'll stay on. He says L.A. is just a place where people stay put. Clearly he's going nowhere; L.A. holds the dreams that are left. "Natives don't leave,' he says. "For a lot of us, this is the end of the line. This is nirvana.'
My father calls me one morning not long after the reunion. He talks fast, a wind storm blowing by many subjects: politics, the state of education, my Uncle Edris' health.
One other thing. "How's that story coming?' he asks.
"The Eastside deal. Have you turned it in yet?'
Daddy's been checking on this story like a sick child, like something entrusted to him. I choose my words carefully for the prognosis. "Not exactly. I'm still working on it. It's a challenge. It's long. Longer than most pieces I write. Different.'
"Uh-huh.' I hear papers rustling. "Well, you know, Hal's been asking about it. He wants to know. That's really his deal. Of course, you know that.'