Walking Tall — Prepubescent Angst

Something magical and special happened between the summer of sixth grade and seventh grade at Washington Grade School.

 

I kind of sensed something was happening in sixth grade and I think a lot of the other guys had a feeling something was happening too.

 

The girls were, well different. I swear some of them grew two-three inches over the summer and they looked older, more mature. Many of them were not the giggling, pigtailed girls we had last seen in the sixth grade. Some were even wearing a little makeup and lipstick. Many of these girls were not the same ones we had played “kick the can” and “tag” the previous school year.

 

These were young ladies.

 

Well, there was something going on hormonally and it was usually right around this time when parents sat their kids down and told them about the birds and the bees (whatever that was supposed to be). Yes, we all got a crash course on the facts of life.

 

Now keep in mind, with all this hormonal stuff going on inside our bodies as well as on the outside, it made for some awkward prepubescent moments—especially when the boys and girls got together for a social function, in this case Washington Grade School’s Halloween Dance.

 

By the time kids are in the seventh grade Trick or Treating has lost its allure but a Halloween Dance is something entirely different. If you were a seventh grader, it was a kind of coming-of-age party, a rite of passage. And I had every intention of making a lasting impression on my classmates.

 

The TV show Dark Shadows was quite popular with the vampire Barnabas Collins and I had also seen Dracula Has Risen From the Grave that previous summer, so I decided that I wanted to go as Dracula for the Halloween Dance. My Grandmother Miller made me this real cool black and orange cape, I used the vampire teeth that came with the Dark Shadows board game, and the landlady’s son Jody who was studying art helped with the ghoulish make up. I was definitely going to be the best vampire that ever set foot into Washington Grade School.

 

The gymnasium was decorated with lots of orange and black crepe paper streamers and pumpkins and other assorted Halloween decorations. Outside, in the lobby a table had been set up with refreshments and cookies. The music was courtesy of a vintage mono phonograph set up underneath one of the baskets.

 

We had to take off our shoes (I could just hear Coach Walters screaming at the chaperones if his gym floor was scuffed in the least bit way come Monday morning if we hadn’t removed our street shoes) and then we took our positions: boys on the visitor side and girls on the home side. The sweet fragrance of dime store perfume and Bazooka Joe bubble gum filled the air.

 

When you are in seventh and eighth grades you don’t want to dance at first and then you kind of want to hang back so the rest of the guys won’t think less of you. No one wants to be the first one to dance and despite numerous pleas from the chaperones, none of the guys wanted to dance.

 

“Go ahead and dance,” said Danny Chambers.

 

“I’m not going to be the first,” scoffed Mitch Durango.

 

“Don’t be a chicken,” laughed Brent Porter.

 

Someone would have to be sacrificed and that somebody was going to be me. I wasn’t the scrawniest kid in class but I was scrawny enough to be on the receiving end a good push from Fred Brown.

 

“Get out there and dance Miller!” said Brown giving me a good push.

 

And there I was, standing in the middle of no-man’s land which was actually center court underneath this orange crepe paper pumpkin and all the orange and black crepe paper streamers criss-crossing the gym. For a moment—which if I am not mistaken seemed to go on and on—I just stood there dumbfounded. People were shouting and laughing and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

 

Then I heard an Angel speak.

 

“Do you wanna dance?”

 

The Angel turned out to be Debbie Hansen. Well, not an Angel per se because Debbie Hansen was dressed up as Little Bo Peep and I must have seemed like some poor little lost sheep. Somehow, in all the confusion, shouting, and laughing I had wandered near a group of girls and Debbie, sensing the predicament I was in, came to my assistance or maybe she just felt sorry for me.

 

“Okay,” I said sheepishly.

 

And no sooner had Debbie and I started to dance, other students joined in to the delight of our chaperones who would be telling everyone on Monday how the dance was a great success.

 

Debbie and I had moved to center court and started dancing. It really wasn’t what you would call dancing for me. Debbie had some nice dance steps and moves that for a 12-year-old were quite awesome. She must have picked these moves up watching American Bandstand. I on the other hand, must have learned my moves from watching Herman Munster or the Frankenstein Monster because it felt like I was wearing heavy boots as I rocked back and forth.

 

I had never really noticed Debbie before, at least not up close and personal. We had become good friends in the sixth grade because our desks were next to each other. She always laughed at my jokes and was always really sweet and nice to me.

 

Maybe this was payback time because when it came time for a slow dance we held hands and she helped me to stop my rocking. We sort of swayed back and forth but it was definitely dancing. It was then that I got a whiff of her sweet dime store perfume and shampoo that made me dizzy and gaa-gaa at the same time.

 

But there was one small problem: Debbie was taller than me by a couple of inches and when we held hands and swayed back and forth my line of vision was right around her neckline. She had the most beautiful neckline and her shoulder-length hair made me think of Mary Tyler Moore for some reason.

 

Once I got that first dance out of the way, it got easier to dance with the other girls. In fact, after a few dances those Herman Munster dance steps disappeared and, after having watched some other kids dancing, I picked up some pretty good moves.

“You dance very well,” said Debbie Jones.

 

“Thank you,” I replied.

 

“Let’s dance again,” she said.

 

I really wanted to dance with Debbie again and I tried to look for her in the crowd of kids dancing around mid court.

 

“Okay,” I said. Debbie would have to wait.

 

At some point the dance turned into a competition between me and Jimmy Zens—a kid who fancied himself as something of a ladies man which when you are all of 12 years old is no small feat. Someone must have been keeping score because Jimmy and I were now competing with one another to see who could dance with the most girls.

 

In the end Jimmy beat me out but that was okay because by the end of the night I ended up dancing with Debbie not once, twice, or even three times but five times. We even danced two slow dances including the last one of the evening.

 

I don’t want to say that I had a thing for Debbie, but in bed that night I thought about Debbie and wished that I were taller. Yeah, I guess I did have a little crush on her. Damn that puberty after all. I didn’t care about my voice changing. I just wanted to be taller. I might have been too young to understand terms like “feeling a little self-conscious” and “low self-esteem” meant, but I kind of figured that they had something to do with puberty.

 

Then I remembered this advertisement I saw in the back of one of my comic books. I got out of bed and started searching through my comic book collection. I flipped through one comic book after another and then I found it.

 

Grow taller instantly.

 

That’s right. Grow tall instantly. For only $4.95 this company would send me the secrets and tips for how to increase my height.

 

It could be a month, maybe two, three—who knew how many months before I would be the same height as Debbie. However, this advertisement guaranteed a height increase instantly.

 

I asked my mom for an advance on my allowance. I had been in the doghouse as it were since the end of summer when my brother and I had gotten in trouble when we slept over Jim Black’s house. By Halloween my mom had softened up a little and advanced me a couple extra dollars.

 

Next I went to Arkins Drugstore (yes, the same Arkins as in Janie Arkins) to get a money order and then the post office.

 

Two weeks passed and then another and I still hadn’t received anything in the mail. Then it was Thanksgiving and still nothing from the company. Christmas vacation came and then Christmas and there was still nothing in the mail for me. I probably should have learned my lesson about responding to or ordering something from the back of a comic book or magazine after I was told my song A Groovy Chick in a Bikini would be a hit and “could you please send a couple hundred dollars?”

 

Maybe this would be different.

 

I was just about to write off that $4.95 as another comic book swindle when one day in January I finally received a small parcel. Even though I had pretty much forgotten about growing taller by then—Debbie in the meantime had started dating a much taller eighth grader—I was still curious to see what I was going to get for the money I paid.

 

I opened the parcel and inside was a letter thanking me for ordering their product—two wooden shoe lifts—that according to the letter would add 2 inches to my height.

 

Fortunately, as fate and puberty would have it, I wouldn’t have to worry about growing tall. By the end of that school year I had shot up a few inches and was one of the taller kids in my class. I was still scrawny, but at least I was standing taller.

 

© Jeffrey Miller 2008

 

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