As a freshman at El Dorado Union High School, I decided to take PE Dance Class so I could go to events like the 1957 Sock Hop and be more than a wall-flower. It wasn’t to be…
In my last MisAdventure’s post, I took you through my early ‘romantic’ adventures up to my competition with Eric over the exotic Judy in the fifth grade. I carry on today, where I became hormonally challenged. Read on!
A pair of twins took up my sixth and seventh grade passions. I started out with Gail but she dropped me. That was a shock. Fortunately, her twin, Lynn, was interested in me so my suffering was short-lived. Like about a day.
By the eighth grade, my previously semi-quiescent hormones begin to stir. They weren’t boiling yet, but they were bubbling. Girlfriends were becoming serious business and new emotions suggested slightly more adventuresome behavior on my part. Holding hands, an awkward kiss or two, and snuggling up on the dance floor were about as far as I got in the parlance of the day, however.
Ann was my serious eighth-grade flame. She had dark hair, dark eyes and a ready smile. She cried when she wasn’t assigned as my partner in our square-dancing club. I liked her a lot but I was going on to high school and high school boys don’t date elementary school girls. I dutifully, if reluctantly, ended the relationship. Payback time came at the eighth-grade graduation dance in Placerville, a big event attended by seventh and eighth graders from throughout the region. Ann showed up dressed in white and was radiant. A steady stream of boys lined up to dance with her. I hid out and sulked in a corner with a bad case of instant jealously. I did get the last dance, though; it was ‘Love Me Tender’ by the latest singing sensation, Elvis Presley. The year was 1957.
For some reason, I decided to go out for Cross Country my freshman year. I am second from the right in the top row.
Something happened between the eighth grade and high school. And it hit me right between the eyes with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Here I was a happy, well-adjusted and relatively successful young man one day and a serious candidate for a strait jacket the next. Pimples popped out on my face overnight and my voice became dedicated to practicing random octave jumps. Teenage-hood, which had promised to be a mild adventure, arrived with a vengeance. I was being hormonally challenged; I had a terminal case of puberty blues. Things I had taken for granted became illusive, almost impossible to obtain. Take girlfriends, for instance.
I expected to lose a little ground in the field of romance when I became a freshman in high school. Sophomore, junior and even senior boys cruised the hallways in a mad scramble to check out the new crop of freshmen girls. And the older girls weren’t about to date a freshman boy, that lowest of low creatures. But I didn’t expect to bomb the way I did. I became intensely, almost painfully shy. I would walk down the hallways staring at my feet in fear that some young woman would look me in the eye. If a girl tried to talk to me, I would mutter inanities and make a run for it. The strangest statements came out of my mouth. As for asking a girl out, the odds were a little less than being struck by lightning and the latter seemed like a less painful alternative.
It wasn’t that I didn’t notice girls. My body was one huge hormone. I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. I pined for a young woman who sat in front of me in Mr. Crump’s Geography class. She was gorgeous and came with a full complement of accoutrements: smile, brains, hips and breasts. I was in deep lust. My knee and her butt were mere inches apart and her butt was like a magnet. I had the most intense fantasies of moving my knee forward until it made contact. In my fantasy she would of course turn around, smile at me and suggest we get together after school. In reality, she would have turned around and bashed me with her geography book (rightfully so), or worse, told Mr. Crump. I would have died. I kept my knee where it belonged. It is a strong testament to my love for geography that I didn’t flunk the class under the circumstances.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and I was a desperate man. I signed up for dance classes in P.E. I would learn to dance and become a combination of Arthur Murray and Elvis Presley. Step, step, slide and swivel your hips. Girls would flock to me. It wasn’t until the day of the class that I learned the magnitude of my mistake. I would have to dance with girls to learn how to dance and there they were, lined up on the opposite side of the gymnasium floor, staring at me.
“God, why did I do this to myself,” I thought as I stared across the distance at twenty females who I knew were thinking, “anybody but Curtis.”
“Okay, boys,” the female P.E. teacher announced in a stern voice, “I want you to walk across the room now and politely ask a girl to dance with you.” Wow, that sounded like fun.
Reluctantly, I began that long walk across the gymnasium floor. I was a condemned man and the gallows were looming. I walked slower. Maybe an earthquake would strike. Maybe the Russians would shoot off an IBM missile. Maybe one of the surly seniors would throw a match in a wastebasket and the fire alarm would go off.
I approached the line and looked for a sign. One of the girls would smile at me and crook her finger. But the girls looked exceedingly grim. A few looked desperate, like deer caught in the headlights of the proverbial 18-wheeler rushing toward them at 90 miles per hour. I picked out the one who looked most frightened on the theory that she would be the least likely to reject me.
“Uh, would you care to dance,” I managed to blurt out.
“Uh, okay,” she responded with about the same level of enthusiasm she would have if I had offered her a large plate of raw liver. It was P.E. Dance Ground Zero after all, and she wasn’t allowed to say no. We were destined to be a great couple.
“You will put your left hand in the middle of the back five inches above the waist line.” The teacher, who was now sounding more and more like a drill sergeant, carefully described what we would do with our hands. It was quite clear that there would be minimal contact and no contact with behinds. “With your right hand and arm, you will hold the girl away from you.” There would be no accidental brushing of breasts either. I assumed the correct position with marine-like precision. I was going to get this right. I studied the chart the teacher had put up to show me what I was supposed to do with my two left feet. I listened carefully to the lecture on rhythm and down beats. I watched with intensity as she demonstrated: step, step, slide, step-step.
And all too soon it was our turn. A scratchy record blasted out a long-since-dead composer’s waltz. I didn’t know who it was but it wasn’t Elvis or even Benny Goodman. With one sweaty palm in the middle of the girl’s back and the other sweaty hand holding her a proper distance away, I moved out on the floor. Step, step, slide, step-step. One, two, and three, four-five the coach barked out. My feet more or less followed the prescribed pattern as I avoided stepping on the girl’s toes. I tried a turn and managed to avoid running into another couple. Ever so slightly I relaxed. Maybe things would be okay. Maybe I would have fun. Maybe Hell would freeze over.
“Stop, class!” the teacher yelled as she blew her whistle and yanked the needle across the record, adding another scratch. We dutifully came to a halt. What now?
“I want everyone to watch Curtis and his partner,” she announced.
“Hey, this is more like it,” I thought to myself. Not only was I surviving my first day of dance class, I was being singled out to demonstrate. I smiled, waited for the music to start, and boldly moved out on the floor where many had trod before. Step, step, slide, step-step. We made it through all of three progressions when the teacher abruptly blew her whistle again.
“And that, Class,” she proclaimed triumphantly, “is not how you do it. Curtis is moving like he is late for an important date with the bathroom.”
The class roared— and I shrank. I don’t know how my partner felt, but I wanted a hole to climb in, preferably a deep hole with a steel door that I could slam shut. And I was more than embarrassed, I was mad. My normal sense of humor had galloped off into the sunset.
“You don’t teach someone to dance by embarrassing him,” I mumbled. An angry look crossed the teacher’s face and she started to reply. I turned my back and walked for the door.
“Where do you think you are going, Curtis? Get back here!” she demanded in a raised voice.
“I am leaving,” I replied without turning, calm now the decision made. The class was deadly quiet. This was much more interesting than P.E. Other kids might challenge teachers, might walk out of a class, and might not even care. But not Curt. This was a guy who always did his homework, participated in class discussions, was respectful toward teachers and aced tests.
I reached the door and put my hand on the handle.
“If you walk out that door, you may as well walk home,” the teacher barked. “I will personally see to it that you are suspended from school.”
I opened the door, walked out, and went straight to the office of the chairman of the P.E. Department, Steve O’Meara. Steve worked with my Dad in the summer as an assistant electrician, but I knew him primarily as my science teacher. He was a big man, gruff, and strong as a bull elephant, a jock’s jock. He demonstrated his strength by participating in the annual wheelbarrow race at the El Dorado County Fair. The race commemorated the fact that John Studebaker of automobile fame had obtained his start in Placerville manufacturing wheelbarrows for 49ers.
The County’s strongest men would line up with their wheelbarrows at the starting line and then rush to fill a gunny sack with sand at the starter’s gun. They would then push their wheelbarrows and loads at breakneck speed around an obstacle course that included mud holes, a rock-strewn path, fence barriers and other such challenges. In addition to making it across the finish line first, the winner had to have fifty plus pounds of sand in his gunny sack. Underweight and he was disqualified. Steve was always our favorite to win and rarely disappointed us. He had a very loud voice.
“What’s up, Curt,” he roared when I entered his office. I knew Steve didn’t eat kids for lunch but you always wondered a little.
“I think you are supposed to expel me,” I replied. He started to laugh until he saw my expression. Mortification and anger on the face of a 14-year-old are never a pretty sight.
He became serious. “Sit down and tell me what’s happening,” he suggested in an almost gentle voice.
Ten minutes later I walked out of his office with a reprieve. I didn’t have to go back to the dance class and could finish out the quarter playing volleyball. Steve would have a discussion with the dance instructor. I imagine she ended up about as unhappy as I was. At least I hoped so. I entertained a small thought that she would hesitate the next time before traumatizing some gawky kid whose only goal in attending her class was to become a little less gawky. It would be a long time before I would step onto a dance floor again.
TUESDAY’S POST: The world of Ultra-light Backpacking Gear— Preparation for the Thousand Mile Trek!