Dating and Dancing–an Excerpt from Waiting for Westmoreland
Now that I lived in the small town of Midland, I suffered from limited mobility. There was no public transportation and Bill would not allow me to drive their Volkswagen bus, the one vehicle he and Lorraine owned at the time. The cost of his car insurance would have more than doubled had he allowed me to do so, he pointed out. Nonetheless, I asked out this girl in my chemistry class. She had blazing red hair surrounding a freckled face, with green eyes and an intriguing gap between two front teeth, like Brigitte Bardot. Much to my surprise, she agreed to meet me at the movies. Bill would drive me there and give her a ride home. Alas, she didn’t show up. When I saw her in my next chemistry class, she made some excuse about her Irish father. After that, she simply turned a cold shoulder to me. I was too embarrassed to pursue it further.
During my year in New Jersey, I made another lame attempt at dating. How ignominious, having your much older brother as a chauffeur! This time I made certain we actually picked up the girl at her home. A disaster ensued nonetheless. The downward spiral began with my comment on her clothes. She came to the door in a sweater and a plaid wool skirt, with a wide belt. The belt had a large square buckle, repeated in miniature on her black flats. Having recently finished a unit on colonial America in history class, I innocently but thoughtlessly observed,
“Hey, that reminds me of the Pilgrims.”
“Are you saying my clothes are old-fashioned!” she hissed, with eyes blazing in fury beneath furrowed brows.
“NO, no!” I stammered. Digging the hole deeper, “I just meant the buckles looked like what the Pilgrims wore—you know, like what we saw in class last week.”
“These are not at all like the Pilgrims wore. These are gold buckles; they wore plain and simple stuff.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“OK, let’s get going.”
The tension subsided but the mood never lightened. Bill dropped us at a nearby strip mall, promising to return in 2 hours. Sitting stonily side-by-side in the theater, we watched a now forgotten movie. Midway through the show, she rebuffed an abortive attempt at an arm around her shoulder. Oh well. Bill was there at the curb as we exited the theater.
“Did you have a good time?”
“Oh sure, fine,” I said.
“It was a good movie,” she added.
We dropped her back home. Before she could reach the door, a light came on and the face of her father appeared. He waved a quick goodbye to us on her behalf as he closed the door.
“Didn’t go too well, huh?” Bill asked, as we pulled away.
“No, not really. That’ll be my last date with her I’m sure.”
That turned out true enough and the last one in high school. Dating hardly seemed worth the aggravation at this point.
[Later, having moved back to Minneapolis]
“John, you should go to the dance tonight,” said Bill Casbohm, a fellow Y dweller I had recently met.
“I don’t know. I’m not much for dances,” I replied truthfully, having had little experience with them. Even when I had tried to make a connection, in Midland and Kendall Park, it hadn’t gone well.
“That doesn’t matter; most of the guys that live here can’t dance either, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He was reading my mind. “It’s your chance to meet some girls.”
“Oh sure, meet girls at the YMCA? Are you for real?”
“Hey, the girls that come here aren’t looking for a wild time or a great dancer. Their moms figure the guys that go to dances at the Y must be safer than the ones at the clubs and the parties.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” What did I have to lose? After my limited and ill-fated efforts at dating while living with Bill, I needed to do something. Of course, there was that missed opportunity, if it could be called that, when a woman wearing only a negligee answered my knock on her door. She had invited me in to tell her all about the encyclopedias I was peddling. I declined the offer, insisting (honestly) that the company required me to talk with both a husband and wife. I left her standing puzzled in her doorway, that a young man could be more interested in making money than her.
Bill was the first one to spot Gloria, a trim dark-haired brunette in a snug-fitting shift. Like most American females aged 15-30 in 1965-66, her hair was teased up in a pile resembling a hair dryer hood and held in place with high viscosity hair spray. Not my idea of beauty but that’s what they all did. Then again, who was I to be fussy given my nerdy look and lack of dating success or even experience? After taking her for a few spins around the floor, Bill brought her back to meet me,
“John, this is Gloria.”
“Why don’t you ask her to dance,” Bill whispered generously in my ear, as Gloria’s head turned toward the music.
“So, you want to dance?” I inquired, as manfully as I could.
“OK,” she replied with a disarming but unreadable smile.
I did my earnest best in faking an ability to dance. Thanks to occasionally watching Dick Clark and Lloyd Thaxton, I wasn’t totally clueless, just not adept.
“You’re a good dancer,” she said, over the unintelligible lyrics of “Louie, Louie,” playing loudly in the ballroom. Hah, what a come on, I thought to myself.
“Oh, thanks; so are you.” No, not really, I lied.
A few songs later, adorned by the sheen of perspiration, we took a break. Sitting down next to Bill Casbohm, I asked both of them,
“You want a pop?”
“Sure,” replied Gloria.
“Sure you can carry three of them?” Bill, partner-less, asked.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“I’d like a cherry Coke, please,” Gloria said.
“Root beer for me,” Bill replied.
“OK, I’ll be back in a couple minutes.”
It took a little longer than I thought. A long line at the pop stand held me back. By the time I got there, Bill and Gloria were back out on the floor. They came back soon, as a slow dance started up.
“Hey, John, you were taking so long, I didn’t want Gloria getting cold sitting here,” Bill said with a laugh, his short blonde hair still dry along the edges in the chill air of the well air-conditioned room. He hadn’t been dancing as much as I had.
“Will you watch my drink, please? I need to go to the ladies room.”
“You bet,” I said.
As she walked away, Bill wasted no time pumping me up.
“I think she likes you.”
“Oh yeah, sure.”
“No, really. Next time there’s a slow dance, just get her on the floor and you’ll see.”
“You saw her first. I thought you were interested in her?”
“Well I was, but I don’t think she’s interested in me. So go for it!”
“Oh, all right.”
We sat in silence through the Beatles, Stones and Chuck Berry, before the return of Gloria. With face back in place and hair restored and re-glued, she sat down beside me, in the only open chair, with another inscrutable smile.
“Thanks for the Coke. I needed that.”
“You’re welcome. Do you come here often for the dances?”
“Well, I’ve been here a few times. I haven’t seen you here before.”
“This is my first time here. I just moved back in.”
“You live here?”
“Yeah, I need to save up money for college.”
“You’re going to college?” Gloria’s eyes opened a little wider. The corners of her mouth rose and her breath quickened.
“Well, not yet. I just got accepted at the U for the fall. I would have started last year but I graduated from a high school in New Jersey. Even though I lived here most of my life, I couldn’t qualify for resident tuition because of living out of state with my brother for two years. So I had to live and work here for a year to get in-state tuition. I needed the money anyway.”
“What are you going to study?”
“Well I really want to be a writer, but people have told me not to count on writing to make a living. So maybe I’ll do technical writing or go into advertising. I guess I’ll be taking a lot of English classes.”
“Wow, that’s neat.”
Right about then, the DJ started playing the new chart-topping single, “Gloria,” by the Shadows of Knight.
“Hey it’s a song about you! You want to dance?”
More enthusiastic faking later, Gloria the song concluded and Gloria the girl grabbed hold for the slow dance. Step, step, turn—clinching all the while, tentatively at first but then more firmly. Feeling no psychic resistance and recalling the moves I saw my more confident friend Gary put on the girls back at Henry High School, I boldly pressed a knee between her legs and lifted up. Alas, there was physical resistance, in the form, apparently, of a girdle. But not too much. She reciprocated my advance, rather than rejecting it, limited by the girdle’s constraint and the contours of the shift she wore. The slow dance and the grind ended in a comfortable but silent embrace. Bill had been right all night. It had been a good idea to go to the dance. Gloria liked me. So now what? I wondered.