I WAS a teenager racing from my junior-high school to the pizzeria when I spotted a local celebrity.
D-Nice was signing autographs in Queens, New York, while handing out his record Call Me D-Nice. It was 1990 and he was super-cute with a ridiculously infectious smile, the kind of voice that puts you at ease while also making you stand a bit straighter, and a luscious, high-top fade.
Although I mostly listened to freestyle, new-wave and the New Kids on the Block at the time, I knew his rap single and knew that it was an honour that he came to visit us. He was gracious and took his time to talk to every one of us and he signed my record with an extra exclamation point. The record is still in my parents’ house in Queens.
I currently live in Cork, as a Fulbright scholar studying Irish literature and Film at University College Cork.
I was informed via email recently that the US Fulbright program is now suspended. I don’t know if and when my university will open again. I don’t know if I’ll have a graduation ceremony. I don’t know where I’ll be living in a few months.
I receive almost daily emails advising me to go home as soon as possible, from both Fulbright and my university, because no-one knows how long this will crisis will last, meaning I could be grounded in Ireland indefinitely.
So while I consider the American Embassy in Ireland’s advice to leave immediately, how could I possibly do that now? I gave up my apartment in San Francisco to come here and leaving prematurely means I have no place to live. My only option is to go live with my senior citizen parents and possibly infect them.
I’m one of billions who don’t live in a private house, at a safe social distance from others. I live in a house with other international students, none of whom I knew before arriving here.
I’m still one of the most privileged in all of this mess as my grant money didn’t disappear and my rent in Cork is prepaid for a few months. And I have a sanctuary, my bedroom, as I engage in social distancing from others in my accommodation.
Last week, I started to dance with my mom 3,000 miles away in Queens, joining thousands of others around the world for D-Nice’s Homeschool virtual dance parties on Instagram Live. We sweat and text and hoot and holler as we get our 10,000 steps in, reliving the days when we could be in a room full of people without fear.
My mom is a really great dancer who I just remembered was the prom queen of her high school. How did I forget that? I’d forgotten so many other things I love about the people I love the most before this week.
D-Nice plays a lot of the music I only ever heard in my living room growing up. Music my young parents played to each other to communicate their feelings instead of saying them.
That pulsing apartment and its borough are pretty much ground zero for Covid-19 right now. We are the new Wuhan. We are in deep, deep trouble.
D-Nice’s sets aren’t extraordinary in a way we haven’t heard from top DJs around the world, what makes them special is D-Nice himself. He’s enigmatic, he’s charismatic, he’s talented. When he says “everybody on the dance floor!” it gets us up because he’s tapped into the void of humanity and simplicity we’ve been lacking as we walk the streets and grocery aisles in masks, only able to see the anger and apprehension in people’s eyes.
There’s no reason for him to be online for seven-plus hours at a time except for his love of music and bringing people together and that energy is palpable.
Every time he wishes someone a happy birthday, celebrity or not, I raise a glass of my quarauntini (Huzzar Irish vodka and Irish kombucha). When he lets us (or specifically Halle Berry) he’s drinking a 2016 Cabernet as he enters an extra, extra set, I rush to pour another glass, virtually making my way from the dance floor to the bar, wading through people like Michelle Obama, Oprah, Holly Robinson Peete, Doug E. Fresh and Kelly Rowland at this Black American A-List party.
D-Nice plays at least twenty “last” songs most nights. You could feel his joy in playing music for people, particularly our people, while calling out his bi-partisan desire to get Americans registered to vote.
He understands the gravity of the moment, his perhaps fleeting influence, and is doing what he can get us back on a real dance floor sooner than later.
As a New Yorker, it’s almost certain that I will lose someone close to me. That will be the case for a lot of New Yorkers, especially New Yorkers of colour who overwhelmingly have friends and family who work as nurses, cashiers, for the MTA (my brother is a train operator) or in the gig economy.
If we get out of this anytime soon we will all be dancing more. We’ll be smiling more, hugging more and remembering more.
Until then, we will hold each other within grasp over D-Nice’s beats. At least until the last song plays.