April 01, 2010
The other day we were relaxing and reading the paper when an ad just jumped right out at us. There was going to be a fund-raising dinner at the Elk’s Club that very night. Ordinarily, this would not have gotten our attention, but they were having Zydeco Night! Not only that, but they were serving real Cajun food! Zydeco is good for dancing and it’s the kind of music that just makes you happy deep inside your chest. It must rearrange your endorphins, stacking them high, one on top of the other because you can’t help but be transported to a happy place.
We adore Cajun food, but it is the one type of food that we simply cannot find anywhere in the Miami area.
We bought tickets over the phone and drove that night to the Elk’s Club. I took several pictures of the outside of the Elks Club, but the Neon on the sign was so splendiferous, all I could get was a bright green smudge, so you’ll just have to believe me on this one.
The people were very, um, festive. The women were wearing some exceedingly dazzling clothes. I have never seen as large a concentration of women anywhere sporting so many sequins and glistening dots that caught the light and reflected it out in all directions. The fabrics were all remarkably stretchy and formfitting and the theme seemed to be animal print, glittery animal print.
One woman, for instance, had on skintight snakeskin print sparkly pants with sparkly black high-heeled shoes and a sparkly leopard skin print blouse and a tight sparkly black vest. I thought that a tiara would have finished off this outfit perfectly, but, alas, her head was utterly bare of ornamentation, a fashion faux-pas, in my book.
Most of the women were dressed in a similar manner, but in stunning variations. It really gave you the impression that you were in another country altogether, a culture where the women had super cool native costumes. I’ve never seen a cluster of women wearing such unusual finery anywhere else in Miami.
I became aware that Victor and I looked downright dowdy. Now, dowdy is nothing new for Victor, but dowdy is just not how I roll. I was definitely a tourist in the Fabulous Land of Sparkly Spandex.
(Note to self: when attending a fund-raiser at a club beginning with the name of a wild animal, dress your butt up. Get out that bedazzeler from the back of the closet and put those skin tight lycra jeans on that haven’t seen the light of day in years.)
Oddly, the Elks men did not appear to belong with these women. There was not a vaguely shiny thing among them. They looked humdrum; they looked like us. I resolved right then and there never to be caught anywhere looking humdrum again.
When the dinner was to begin, everyone was assigned a table. We were at 18. There were two other couples at the table that were quite friendly. They told us about all the good works that the Elks Club did. It was quite impressive.
We had some terrific gumbo to start. There was a lot of shouting in order to hear each other at the table because the room was enormous and packed with people. The hubbub was virtually throbbing. One nice man kept answering things that we didn’t ask, but sometimes this kind of conversation can be fascinating.
(Nice Man) Fourteen years!
(Me) My name’s Irene, what can I call you?
(Nice Man) We’re so glad you came to our fund-raiser!
(Me) Well, we love Zydeco music and Cajun food, so it sounded like a good time.
(Him) This here’s Paula, she’s my bride.
Paula was sitting right next to Victor and it looked like she had a lot to say to him. Her eyes were flashing and her hands never stopped moving and touching Victor here and there while speaking. Paula was animated. Victor looked totally passive, but ultra polite. Sometimes he can be awkward in social situations with strangers. I couldn’t hear anything they said over the clamor in the room, but there sure was a lot of liveliness occurring inside the Paula vortex, into which Victor appeared to have been sucked. I figured the zydeco music and the Cajun food would loosen him up.
(Me) What do you do for a living?
(Nice Man) I’ve lived here all my life, but my bride is from up North.
(Me) Where up North?
(Nice Man) My family had a hardware store at first and then branched out into a chain. We had stores in three counties of South Florida.
(Me) Do you still work in hardware?
(Nice Man) She came down here in ‘86.
(Me) What made her move down here?
(Nice Man) Absolutely, my family has hardware in the blood.
(Me) Do you have any family still working in hardware?
(Nice Man) You bet I sail! In my opinion everyone in Miami should have some kind of boat. We’re right here by the warm, beautiful Atlantic Ocean, right? That right there is nothing to waste!
(Me) My husband, Victor, always wanted a little boat, but I told him he really shouldn’t get one until he learns to swim. He thinks I’m over cautious.
(Nice Man) I only have the one son and he lives in the Keys. Great fishing there! Now, Paula, she’s got three girls, but none of them are in Florida.
(Me) Any grandchildren?
(Nice Man) Thanks! Here’s my card. Now you give us a call and we’ll all get together, hear?
(Me) You bet.
We had to file up when our table was called to pick up the rest of our meal. They had red beans and rice, which did not deserve the name since there was no discernible spice in the recipe, and a dish with chicken and shrimp in it that they called Jambalaya. I have made Jambalaya for my family for years. I’ve been to New Orleans many times and have had Official New Orleans Jambalaya and it has never been pink and creamy. The problem was that it tasted pink and creamy. You would think that the adjectives pink and creamy would be confined to dessert, but this was decidedly not dessert. People just don’t make dessert with chicken and shrimp in it, at least not where I come from, and I’m from all over.
Nice Man and Paula really seemed to enjoy their creamy pink “Jambalaya.” They had two or three helpings. Victor and I figured that this was Elks Club Jambalaya, a sub-category of the real thing.
There was some generic sheet cake for dessert, but I had really been jonesing for red velvet cake. Seriously, this was Zydeco Night with Cajun Food, wouldn’t you expect red velvet cake or piping hot beignets covered with powdered sugar?
Then the Zydeco band came on stage. They were from New Jersey. Now I understand that people can learn to play music that is not at all from their area, I mean just look at “The Commitments!” (I urge you to listen to the complete song in the latter link. It will knock your socks right off your feet! If it’s cold where you are, put on your sneakers first.) These people are from Ireland, for heaven sakes, but they sure sing rhythm and blues like Americans.
I understand from a trusted source that some of the greats in Zydeco are Wayne Toups, Zachary Richard, and Rockin’ Dopsie and that this is what Zydeco is supposed to sound like. (You should listen to this all the way through also. It’s fabulous! You should be aware that this in no way approximated what we heard that night.)
These New Jerseyans were playing their New Jersey Not-Zydeco Music so loud that the tables were bouncing a bit. I got out my box of earplugs and handed them around the table. My purse is prepared for anything.
We finally decided that we had had enough adventure for the night and when we got up to leave, Nice Man and Paula hugged us both as though we had been the best of friends forever. I thought that was awfully congenial of them.
When we got out to the parking lot, Victor shook his head and told me that Paula was rubbing his leg all night long. Whenever he moved his leg away, she would find it again with her leg and continue the rubbing. It was just exhausting for him to try to get away but not insult her. He kept jiggering his chair away, but she’d jigger hers right back over to his. Victor is so careful to be polite with strangers, sometimes it just wears him right out.
Well, my eyes were opened, I can tell you that! I suppose you have to peek under the table now and then to check what mischief might be going on, when you’re eating at an Elks Club Dinner. I shredded their card when we got home, (that hussy!)