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Reliving the high school dance

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If you live long enough, you have those moments in your life that you can’t believe time has gone by so fast that you are now the parent presiding over something that you’re after just doing as a kid yourself.

One of those moments happened to me over the weekend. 

I was sitting in the expansive horseshoe driveway in front of the high school waiting for my daughter to emerge from her first homecoming dance. Wasn’t it just yesterday that my father was sitting in an idling car waiting to pick up my friends from our high school dances? 

On this night, delicate young girls with long, thin legs navigating high heels for the first time gingerly stepped past the span of my headlights. They stepped nervously down the walkway like fawns navigating a frozen pond. 

My daughter Annie approached the car, my headlights no match for the high beam smile framed by the honey-kissed hair painstakingly straightened by an iron.

There was confidence in her strut, and once she got in the car she recounted stories of politely rebuffing suitors and how she danced without a care in the world with her girlfriends. 

Man, was this a far cry from how I disembarked from my high school dances!

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I went to St. Joseph’s High School IN Metuchen, New Jersey. My wife, who was at those same dances prior to us actually meeting in college a few years later, reports that the dances were huge draws for girls in the area because “St. Joe’s was where all the hot guys with a future went.” 

This was true. This all-boy institution drew the cream of the crop academically and athletically from three surrounding counties.  It was an extremely competitive environment, most noticeably when the boys jousted for the attention of the fairer sex at these dances. 

To this day, I still wonder what a kid routinely picked last in gym class with “summa-cum lucky study habits” was doing in a mix like this, but there I was in an environment that just amplified my teenage insecurities!

When you don’t have the brains nor the brawn to bait the hook of love, you resort to desperate measures altogether: that fickle beast called fashion! 

The early eighties saw the birth of MTV, and a barrage of images were defining hot tastes at the time. David Lee Roth was encouraging you to “jump” on that channel, but there was no way I could grow my hair that long without bearing the wrath of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. 

Duran Duran trained us all on about having a “view to a kill” but I had to kill the idea of looking like them because the Good Lord did not bless me with John Taylor’s high cheekbones or Simon LeBon’s lithe moves on the dance floor.

Michael Jackson was quite a “thriller” to the ladies, but my skin wasn’t dark enough. Of course, the King of Pop bleached his skin so many times that I actually became darker than him later in life, but that was no use to me at the time. 

When I arrived at my first high school dance, I was a walking, talking meat grinder of MTV culture.  
Plus-sized grey plastic parachute pants that swished when you walked? Check. One white glove? Check. Red terrycloth headband wrapped around my oversized cabbage head to catch the “working for the weekend” look spawned by the fat dude in Loverboy? Check. Spiked hair with enough salon product to grease a wok? Check! 

White Capezio shoes with the real wood soles? Check. Ready for love? Check! Check! Check! 

There was a real Asian craze going on at this time, and I probably wore a t-shirt with Chinese lettering I didn’t understand emblazoned across my barrel chest and thick gut. If the translation didn’t spell “hopeless douche,” perhaps it should have. 

Do I really need to tell you how the evening went? I hugged the wall like a vinca vine all night, looking forlorn as the swim studs and track stars swooped onto anything with a skirt. 

It was fortuitous that the red terrycloth number on my head came with matching wrist bands because they caught my tears as I watched my future wife do “The Safety Dance” with anyone else but me. 
  
All’s well that ends well in the dance of life. Even though the love of my life was in the same room during those dreary high school sock hops and we never got a chance to slow dance, I have been enjoying a passionate tango with her down the road of life today. 

Many of those jock types now fix my car and make my sub sandwiches. I know I shouldn’t take pleasure in that, but God forgive me, I do. 

I wouldn’t change things for the world today, but I sure wish I had the good sense to trade in those ridiculous MTV accessories for an ounce of my daughter’s natural confidence and enthusiasm! 

(Mike Farragher’s torturous life of Irish Catholic guilt is available in a book of essays just like these. Log onto www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com for more information.) 

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