His name was Duke. I remembered the name so suddenly that it surprised me. I wasn’t counting on coming up with a name while recalling a scenario that occurred over 25 years ago. But there it was, right out of the blue, having no significance whatsoever to the memory of what had actually transpired.
We were sitting around a picnic table placed on a small grassy island in the middle of a vast concrete parking lot. Someone decided that this was the ideal spot to hold a staff meeting. It was a warm summer afternoon just two short weeks before we were scheduled to open. Most of us were seasoned in nightclub operation and development, so the recent construction delays and increased work hours were expected. What we had not anticipated was the unusual amount of resistance from a neighboring homeowner’s association. There’s only so many community meetings you can facilitate while you have five thousand other items of business to attend to. With our public relations skills to the test and stress levels in overdrive, our general manager thought it prudent to invite a motivational speaker to meet with us. And so here we were.
Had the acronym written on the board before us been the least bit impressive, I suppose I would have remembered it. I only remember that the letter “E” represented the word “elan.” This seemed to be the word that Duke was having an issue with. He kept interrupting the presentation to ask for clarification on the word.
The rest of us might have had a sense of bewilderment with this word, also, but we were too preoccupied with our own agendas to admit it, much less care. I remember thinking that I had shit to do, and that this stupid gathering was just a waste of precious time.
I watched with mild amusement as Duke persisted in returning to the subject of “elan.” Sporting a Flock of Seagulls hairstyle, our guest speaker grew noticeably flustered, pushing up his carefully turned shirt sleeves and adjusting the end of his belt to hang just-so over the front pocket of his pleated linen pants. He shuffled his sock-less, leather slip-on clad feet back and forth while attempting to articulate his thoughts. It became rapidly clear that he actually had none.
The pirate had outwitted Miami Vice.
In 1985, spandex frequently passed for business attire, particularly if you worked in the nightclub industry. While women resembled Madonna’s Material Girl and guys wanted to be in The Breakfast Club, Duke kept his long hair in a ponytail, wore an untrimmed beard, and rode his motorcycle to work. With his boot heels perched on a overturned milk crate, he rested his folded arms comfortably over the ancient jean jacket covering his flannel shirt. This man would never follow a trend. Amidst a sea of desperate wannabes, Duke was a rogue. He was Jack Sparrow decades before we had the name.
Some twenty-five years later, I suddenly appreciate the manner in which Mr. Miami Vice’s well-planned motivational presentation had been derailed. Back when words like “proactive” were used by everyone for subjects other than an acne solution, I realize now that I had the rare pleasure of witnessing a display of genuine individualism. Spirited self-assurance is a state of being.
When I think back upon that one summer afternoon, it occurs to me now that Duke was already living his personal elan. He was either fascinated with the notion that someone thought it could be defined by one word, or more likely, he simply knew that it could never be communicated with language, so he simply found it entertaining to watch someone try. In any case, the memory will certainly remain entertaining for me.
Thanks, Duke….wherever you are.