By David Daniel
The radio DJ said, “Be caller number seven and win!”
Bored, I dialed. “Congratulations,” someone said, not the deejay, a young woman, probably a station intern. “You’re caller seven.”
“Cool,” I said. “I never win anything.”
“Well, you sure did this time. Your name and address please?”
I gave them.
“Come to Forbidden City Discothèque any night next week and claim your prize.”
“Oh. Thanks,” I said. “By the way, what’s the prize?”
“No cover charge, two free-drink tickets. You can dance the night away.”
“Isn’t that plenty?”
I never did claim my prize. In the evening sometimes, curious, I would cruise past the discothèque, an enormous glitzy edifice that also contained a game arcade and a Chinese restaurant. A tall electric sign read FORBIDDEN CITY. Through the windows, light from a spinning mirror ball spattered the purple darkness, and the music pulsed the night. I’d envision the people inside: players, the glitterati, dancing to “Boogie Wonderland.” I kept thinking I’d go in sometime, see if my name was still on a guest list and claim my free drinks, maybe meet some of the Beautiful People. The intern on the phone had sounded pretty hot.
But prize offers aren’t forever. Discos had their day. A cultural construct built on platform soles, permed hair, and a 4/4 beat had an expiration date. The club eventually closed, though the deserted building remained, along with the big sign which, improbably, stayed lighted. In time, saplings grew up through the cracked parking lot, rising in a renegade urban forest. Some of the lights in the sign burned out so it read RBID CITY—phonetically, “Rabid City.”
For a long time the place stayed that way, spooky in its abandonment, yet possessed of a strange allure that ignited in me a vague apprehension of missed chances. Under a lilac moon I’d drive by and imagine the howl of wolves, like a nocturnal dance beat, and people still inside, moving with the jerky marionette motions of the undead as the night frenzied on, and all the while, the mirror ball threw long squirms of colored light, like a dismembered rainbow.