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Culture, DC, personal essays

A Black Shadow Returns

contributed by Melanie Henderson
Most mornings, I drive to work. But after a weekend of tree-trimming with babyboy, baking, and gift-wrapping, I was running a little low on energy and time. So, I took a walk to work so the sounds of the city could wake me. While walking down K Street near what used to be the Sursum Cordas Project (moment of silence…it’s all electric-wired fences and unkempt grass now), I happened to look down. Low and behold, I saw a soggy postcard:

I remembered how the mystery and persistence in the bold angles and curves of blackprint gave a sort of haunting feeling to all travels through the District in the 80s. I remember asking my mom, “Who is Cool Disco Dan?” She didn’t know. I never knew. After a while, I didn’t care. Figured he was locked up somewhere for all that damn tagging. But, I did know this dude was on a mission to imprint his character across the District as often, as prominently, and as boldly as he could. From what I can remember, he never used colors like other taggers. But then, he wasn’t your average tagger or graffiti artist. You could tell he was serious about this. I mean, his tag was under bridges at heights it seemed only spiderman could reach. Always in black. His tags stood out the best in the rain, letters bursting at the hips like one of my uncles old girlfriends he had met at the go-go. His girlfriends always had Venus Hottentot hips.

It’s funny, I wasn’t particularly a fan of Cool Disco Dan spraying himself all over town, on buildings, walls, trash cans, I mean, anything. But now, the little postcard with the familiar bold print reminds me of a totally different DC.

Of course, there were a lot of things about the 80s in DC that are worth forgetting, but there was a flavor and a heat about the city then that seems to be trickling away at an uncontrollable pace. The retail shops filling up old Chinatown. Humongous condos blocking the neighborhood’s perfect view of fireworks on the Mall from New York and New Jersey Avenue. Strange, the neighborhood once affectionately known as simply New York Avenue is now “Truxton Circle” and “Mt. Vernon” according to Historic Preservation. They’re preserving something, but nothing I remember. I miss the O Street Market. The numerous fireworks stands lining the major thoroughfares of DC at the crack of summer. The feelgood of the annual Black Family Reunion. It’s all different. Some change is good. Just some. But what can I say. Some of us are still here and will always remember that once upon a time in DC.
Thanks Cool Disco Dan for taking me back for a spell.

Based on the postcard, it seems Cool Disco Dan has grown up! Entrepreneur with a product to sell. Check him out at www.CoolDiscoDan.com.

Melanie Henderson, 4th generation native of Washington, DC, is a graduate of Howard University and an MFA candidate at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.

About Abdul Ali

I'm a fellow at American University studying creative nonfiction and poetry. I write across a few genres but it's all brought together by larger questions about culture.


2 thoughts on “A Black Shadow Returns

  1. Thanks to Melanie for this thoughtful and well-written piece. A few years ago, I wrote a few poems about this “Cool Disco Dan” because I could see many of his tags from the Metro’s Red Line, between Brookland, where I lived, and Union Station. I never thought to check if he had a website. I’ll make a visit. Thanks for an interesting essay.

    Posted by Joseph Ross | December 16, 2009, 10:25 AM
  2. Hi Melanie,

    His tags stood out the best in the rain, letters bursting at the hips like one of my uncles old girlfriends he had met at the go-go. His girlfriends always had Venus Hottentot hips.

    I wonder if you know the meaning of “The Hottentot Venus”.

    Dede Hunt puts Saartjie Baartman, the original Hottentot Venus, into context: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ7mmMe4klQ

    Please reconsider the meaning of Saartjie Baartman as a point of reference in future. Her life was a travesty of justice, dignity and humanity.

    Posted by South African Woman | December 20, 2009, 11:13 PM

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