I was going through a box of old photos recently that my mother had. There among hundreds of other old and faded black and white photos was one of me standing in our old living room and looking like the poster boy for dork camp. On the back, in my mom’s handwriting was written: Doug ready for his first dance. My mom was real big on labeling all those old pictures; a habit that we used to tease her about, but for which I am now thankful.
If any of my own kids were to see that picture, they would have their own label for it. Their label would be something like: Doug; never let this person dress himself or comb his own hair again! (That hair part shouldn’t be too tough to enforce these days.) Yes, it was hard even for me, as I looked at that photograph, to convince myself that anyone in their right mind would wander outside looking like that. I had forgotten how badly we dressed in those days with the tight pants, rolled cuffs, white socks and Brylcream – slicked hair parted on both sides.
What I haven’t forgotten however is that first date. It was unforgettable both for its excitement and for its ability to cause embarrassment. (Which for adolescents is a slam dunk cinch.)
I would not want to embarrass any members of the young ladies family or her friends by using her real name in this story. Who knows, there may be another copy of that picture floating around and that could prove embarrassing. ( Him??? you went to a junior high dance with Him????) So, since almost all of us young lads at the time were pretty much in love with a movie star blonde named Marilyn Monroe, who had huge . . . Er, . . . box office draw to her credit, (almost forgot there for a minute, I want to keep this G rated.) I will refer to my young date as Marilyn.
Getting these sorts of things set up when you are a small-town 7th grader are a tad complex. I, of course didn’t actually ask Marilyn out until it was a dead lock cinch that she would say yes. No, things like this took months of careful planning. The first thing that had to be determined is whether Marilyn even liked me enough to convince me to take that next step. Back in the 7th grade, there was a definite protocol for these sorts of things. I asked my friend, Terry for his help. Terry was amazingly suave and advanced for an incoming junior-high student. (Because he actually talked directly to girls.) He, in turn, asked a girl named Ramona to ask Marilyn if she liked me. The answer to this would come down the same grapevine in reverse.
The tricky part, however, was staying cool during the wait and making sure that Terry didn’t actually tell anyone that the information was for me. After all, is there anyone more insecure than a junior-high boy? It is pretty hard to be cool when you are the target of noogies in the hallway from the seniors and you are breaking out with six or seven new pimples per minute and stand about four inches shorter than every girl in the class. A guy is taking a huge chance here and if your dream date makes a face at the mention of your name, like she was just handed a plate full of mouse remains, well, you sure don’t want her to know that it was you who started the inquiries in the first place.
Therefore, Terry’s assignment was often stated as this: “Go find out if she likes me. But don’t let her know it’s me who wants to know.”
I was lucky. The news came back that Marilyn liked me. Many of my 7th-grade buddies were not so fortunate and got terrible news back through the grapevine. This caused them to react in typical adolescent male fashion by declaring that they did not like the object of their inquiries either; did not plan on going to any stupid dance and then they would start to hit each other on the arm in a show of solidarity.
This wasn’t going to be your typical date. Seventh graders do not have driver’s licenses. My dad drove me to the school after taking that awful picture and pulling me aside for a little talk about cutting so deeply into his Brylcream supply. I couldn’t wait to get going early. I wanted to be there waiting so that Marilyn wouldn’t see me being driven there by my dad, who at that time was, in my own eyes, the undisputed king of Dorkdom. Dad had one of those winter hats, where you tie the big furry earflaps up over the top of the hat, and he drove a big brown 1958 DeSoto, which was, by any standards, the ugliest car ever manufactured.
When Marilyn came to the school, I showed her what a deep and interesting person I was with my mastery of the English language. I said, “hi,” and she said “hi” back and we headed for the band room for the dance. For about the next hour we sat in chairs beside one another and spoke maybe five or six syllables, total. Pretty soon she was up dancing fast dances with other girls and us guys were over in the corner hitting each other on the arms again.
About halfway through the evening, some teacher chaperone would put on a slow dance and announce “ladies choice” dance. I still bless that teacher. Finally, all us short, clumsy young men are out on the floor with a young gal who was likely a head taller than each of us. We didn’t know how to dance well, if at all. We just sort of swayed to the music. But that was the night I realized how soft and wonderful a girl was and how great they smelled. I have to admit that I have liked them ever since and even asked a few more on dates without the help Terry or any body else.
It’s funny how an old photo will stir up such vivid memories. Two things are sure, however:
1.) Times were a lot simple then, and
2.) Nobody should have had to go anywhere with someone who looked that dorky.