The Angle / 15 February 1999
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and I celebrated by drinking whiskey and pineapple-orange-strawberry juice (this is a homemade cocktail which I’ve given the name “Desperate Hours” and it tastes almost, but not quite, as nasty as it sounds), watching “The Young Ones,” and thinking of new messages to go on those little chalky heart candies (a random selection follows: “Are you my mother?” “Windowlicker,” “What does your baud rate?” “Be my Nutrasweetie,” “Dick Laurant is dead,” “Sex is violent,” “I’m your clamdigger”). It was quite pleasant.
This time of year always gets me thinking back to junior high, particularly the Valentine’s Day dance that took place in eighth grade. It’s funny, because just the other night some co-workers and I went out for Commission Drinks and we started talking about what song was playing during our first slow dance, and it was at this Valentine’s Day dance that I had my first slow dance (first two, actually, but more on that in a sec), but I have absolutely no memory of what song was playing. My nerve-endings, at the time, were numbing all of my senses with flame, so very little was coming in, stimulus-wise.
See, the thing is, the eighth graders weren’t allowed to have formal dances, i.e., ones where you dress up and have dates and all since that would presumably lead to multiple abortions and messy divorces and, for once, the powers-that-be at my tight-knit little prep school were absolutely correct. So we had to satisfy ourselves with regular dances which, if memory serves, consisted of unbearable tension that built exponentially with each pounding beat of “Rock Lobster.” And the constant re-pegging of cuffs, etc.
But there was a tradition that went like so: The ninth graders were forced to invite the eighth graders to one of their formal dances, of which there were two per year. This seems a little ridiculous, sort of like casual Fridays in reverse, but this was but one of the head-scratching rules that existed at my school. Anyhow, this time around the ninth graders simply “forgot” to officially invite us and their formals came and went without us being able to get in there and cut a rug, or, actually, the lemon-scented tile floor of the cafeteria. I don’t know how this happened, but I’m sure the ninth graders had quite a laugh over it while they were engaging in nonstop athletic sex at their biannual bacchanalia.
So there was an outcry, and the powers-that-be decided they would bend the rules a little and allow us to dress up for our upcoming dance (that happened to fall on or near Valentine’s Day). I think there was a strict policy against asking and bringing dates, but that could just be my fuzzy memory (thank you, my beautiful Desperate Hours, thank you). Despite this, there was still an undeniable weight of solemnity attached to this event, and we all agreed, in that collective unconscious way, to treat it as Not Just Another Dance. It became a Big Deal. It was probably the first formal social event most of us had been to, at least with our peer group, so it fairly reeked of erupting adulthood, as it were.
The whole evening has disappeared into a blurred darkness except for the two slow dances.
There was no slow dancing to be had at our previous dances, and so dancing as a social exercise had not yet taken on any kind of sexual meaning. Dancing, for me (and this is probably still true today), consisted of me focusing intently on trying to find the beat (thank goodness I didn’t go to school when these mad drum-and-bass beats are tearing up the charts! Fee-yew!) to the exclusion of all else. I could be dancing with Swamp Lady or Hilda of the Missile Breasts, it didn’t matter — I had no idea where I was or what was going on. But with slow dancing, you know, all of a sudden, there’s actual physical touching, and this simply took everything to a whole new level.
I was extremely fortunate to have a mentor for my first slow dance. In fact, I don’t even consider that one my first; it was more like a training session. During one of the slower songs (and you can bet silent shockwaves of undefinable confusion went through the room everytime that telltale slow-beat pumped through the speakers), one of the more forthright girls in my class grabbed me from my fetal huddle in the corner and dragged me onto the floor. This girl and I had a fairly thorough and platonic relationship, so this was not threatening. I tried to play it cool, but I did the thing where I put my arms around her neck instead of her waist. Is this common? So while she was trying to put her arms around my neck, I was trying to do the same thing, which looked mighty awkward and showed a considerable lack of suaveness and machismo on my part. She quietly, though not without a smirk, corrected my positioning and the dance progressed tolerably from then on. It was extremely rough, but I learned generally how it worked and embarrassed myself only in front of a sympathetic party.
It was a while later when the second slow dance came along. There was this girl, and let’s call her, say, Elke Sommer, which is not her name but the syllables more or less match up. Elke Sommer was pretty much designed to inflame the passions of her fellow eighth graders — unbelievably tall for her age, not exceptionally curvy but I don’t think anyone was then, a beauty that sent painful, icy signals into the deepest recesses of one’s cerebellum, blah blah. Pretty standard stuff, really. But I’d actually hung out with her a few times (including one glorious afternoon when she and I went record shopping together — alone!), exchanged some notes (lengthy, overwritten notes on binder paper, scrawled in Erasermate … these were the nauseating precursors to this very website), joked around. So I felt I had a leg up over the other lusty losers in my class. Anyhow, I can’t remember who asked whom to dance but I get the feeling it went like this: We were dancing sort of in a group to some fast song, and then all of a sudden a slow song came on and everyone had to scramble for a partner or else skulk back to the wall. This seems like a plausible turn of events.
Then, before I knew it, I had my arms around her, her waist, and she had her arms around my neck. I’m sure there was the requisite ninety feet between our bodies, but my memory wants to say we held each other close. At first I was freaked out that I was all sweaty (which was probably true since I was in a dress shirt and tie and probably an undershirt) and stinky (probably not, considering the sheer volume of deodorizing products I’d applied earlier in the evening) but soon enough I was lost in the moment.
There was no rhythm, there were no details, there was no world. There was just heat and motion, grounded by one tiny angle. This was the angle beneath my hands, the angle as her back began to flow out into her posterior. Elke’s ass! And my hands were just about on it! And did I mention how tall she was, and so how it would’ve been the most natural thing for me to rest my head on her developing bosom?
Have you ever been pummeled so thoroughly and severely by life that it resulted in an inky, sensual death?
I saw her again recently, at the wedding of the girl who walked me through my first slow dance. Elke and I sat together at the reception and caught up. She was considering the Peace Corps, she said. Then she got stung by a bee and since she was allergic to bees she became very panicked and rushed off, never to return.