The Man in the Long Black Coat leans back against the brick wall opposite 237 Waverly Avenue in Fort Greene, facing an makeshift stage tent. Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band are trading casual, conversational solos throughout an epic, Monty Alexander-style reggae-jazz tune. It’s a warm Wednesday night: the musicians must be sweating hard under the plastic of their full-length Halloween costumes. Pretty much everybody onstage is wearing a mask. Other than Fleming, who has a distinctive, full-bodied tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn, it’s impossible to tell who the other players are.
As readers who’ve followed the ongoing saga of the Man in the Long Black Coat know well, he’s been having a problem with invisibility for a long time now. Although he can’t control it, he’s come to find that he can tell when he’s about to have an episode. And this one is full-on. He was even invisible when he went into the deli around the corner on DeKalb for the little bag of pickle-flavored Utz chips he’s munching on. He knows this because the guy at the counter gave him a quizzical “how the hell did you materialize” look when he went up to pay.
This explains why he has his back to the wall instead of being closer to the band, out in the melee of trick-or-treaters of all ages and their parents. Many of the costumes are fantastic. A boy sea captain pilots a meticulously painted freighter ship mounted on double-red-wagon chassis. A couple of parents with toddlers on their backs wear sassy, pointy-eared cat-carrier helmets, faces invisible behind wire mesh. The most gregarious monster of all is an overinflated orange-and-purple T-rex, bobbing and weaving and photobombing everybody’s pics.
In the middle of the crowd, a pretty woman in a pink wig, dressed as a sexy cheerleader, dances with her friend, who’s rocking a hot feminist academic look. Eventually a couple of bearded men join them. The taller one passes around a flask; the shorter one pulls the cheerleader close to him and nibbles her neck. He’s smitten.
The band are fantastic. The Man in the Long Black Coat has been to this block party a couple of times in the past, but this is the best ever, he thinks. The keyboardist has a lush Hammond organ setting and unleashes a rich, turbulent river of sound. The horns are just as good. The soprano sax player stage left is really on a tear with his or her solos” as the night goes on and masks come off momentarily, there’s no gender correlation with any of the costumes. Tenor saxophonist Lily White comes up to the mic to sing a searing blues number. “Halloween’s not scary but the President is.” The crowd give that one a resounding round of applause. Later the group do a couple more reggae tunes – Fleming’s time in Burning Spear’s band really left a mark on her – and then a couple of slowly swaying, genuinely haunting soul ballads in 6/8 time. Invisible or not, the Man in the Long Black Coat is in his element.
At nine on the nose, a trio of cops show up to shut down the party. Without missing a beat, Fleming reprises a song from earlier in the set with a couple of verses of a lively zombie dance from the band’s 2014 album. The cheerleader and her professor pal lead the bearded guys away, back toward DeKalb; the Man in the Long Black Coat waits until the passing parade of gradeschool kids has thinned before he makes his way out. It’s the one night of the year where people can bump into him without doing a doubletake, and for once he doesn’t mind.