Thursday, April 19, 2012
And the bandstand falls silent ...
The sad news yesterday of the death of once-ageless Dick Clark returned me to yesteryear, to afternoons in the late 50s and early 60s watching American Bandstand and feeling, while doing so, like a loser. Here's why ...
I was a short kid (my height mark on the kitchen door frame has not crept upward a bit since, oh, 1959, a coincidence: I'm 5'9" ... okay, 5'8"). I desperately wanted to be taller, principally because of basketball (I knew that if I were 6' or taller I would soon be in the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.; instead, I stayed short, became an English teacher, and married a woman who attended college in Springfield, Ohio--a far better deal, as I think of it--except on paydays).
But I also wanted to be taller because I was afraid. Lots of guys were bigger than I--could kick my ass easily--and many of the shorter ones were just stronger than I--sometimes, like Virgil Rowe, a teammate, much stronger. I tiptoed through high school avoiding fights, befriending behemoths, looking over my shoulder, taking punches to the shoulder in the halls, punches I could do nothing about--if I wanted to live, that is. So I smiled when they landed, as if to say, Nice one!
So what does this have to do with American Bandstand?
As I watched that show, I learned a few things about myself--things I really didn't want to know, things that I found great difficulty accepting in adolescence.
Lesson 1: I can't dance for shit. This was somewhat evident already at the Hiram School dances, although I did win a jitterbug contest in junior high, mostly because I'd taken (required! by Mom!) dance lessons back in Oklahoma and was one of the few kids who even knew how to jitterbug. But everyone caught up with me, surpassed me. The last popular dance I learned was The Twist--it was the last popular dance I could learn, I fear. Joyce discovered right away what a bad dancer I was/am (she had taken years of lessons--can still tap) and "danced" with me at our wedding, probably wondering--not for the last time--what on earth she had gotten herself into.
Anyway, the Philadelphia teenagers dancing on Bandstand were just much better than I. Pathetically better. I would scan the dancers, looking for someone to whom I could feel superior. It didn't work out.
Lesson 2: Not one of those pretty Philadelphia high school girls would go out with me. This I knew with a certainty I felt for little else in my life. For I knew already--from my experiences in school, at summer camp, and elsewhere--that there were just some girls (i.e., very attractive ones) who did not look on me with, uh, desire ... A pathetic case in point: In college, some (male) friends and I drove one Saturday night over to Kent to one of the bars. We stood in a little sad cluster around one table, noticed a table of girls not too far away. Who would approach them? I don't know how we decided, but I lost. I walked over to them. They looked up, their eyes glazing when they saw me. I tried my most persuasive line: Uh, you guys mind having some company? I gestured back to my "friends," who were feigning ignorance of what I was doing. The Leader of the Pack (of girls) spoke for all: Yes, we would mind. Back I crept to my own impotent pack, and we headed back to Hiram immediately, where we flopped in someone's dorm room and talked about the Evil Women of Kent.
So imagine my disbelief in 1969 when I spoke to Joyce ... and she listened ... and smiled ... (Later, married, we went to Philadelphia a number of times, saw no Bandstand alums.)
Lesson 3: Every one of those Bandstand boys could kick my ass. (Now to you see the connection!?) Some had sullen, dangerous looks on their faces as they danced; some seemed to be looking right through my TV screen at me, words of dire warning (Dyer Warning!) projecting from their eyes: If you ever are in Philadelphia, punk, we will know it; we will find you; we will kick your little Hiram Ohio Ass!
But by then I had changed channels and was watching The Three Stooges. Feeling at home ...