We poured out of the dark cafeteria and into the clear sunlight of the playground. Another junior high school dance had passed; I still hadn’t danced with Tammy.
I buttoned my Green Bay Packers jacket to the top and waited for the bus. My best friend, Bill, stood next to me with his blue nylon jacket zipped just like mine, to the top. We were far from being the studs on campus, but we had our dreams — and mine was to dance with Tammy Neff. I think Bill’s dream might have been for me to dance with Tammy also.
When the bus came Bill and I got a seat near the front. Bill took the window, because I had it yesterday, and we waited for the announcement that the bus driver made daily, we would be sitting three to a seat. Being on the bus waiting for someone to sit next to us was always a time of great excitement. Since Bill was sitting next to the window he was hoping that an ugly girl would sit next to me, and since I was in the aisle, I was praying for a foxy chick. The wheel of fortune was spinning and I could either be a lucky stud or a bankrupt pud. It looked like pud for me today as the Goodrich “Blimp” was positioning herself for a landing on my seat. I left my leg daringly on the part of the seat she was about to land on to discourage her from plopping down in my neighborhood. I quickly jerked my leg back home as I saw her huge butt making a rapid descent towards my frail looking leg and would soon turn it to a pancake if I didn’t move fast. I imagined myself trying to explain to my mom why I was missing one of my legs when I got home and hearing her tell me that if I wouldn’t have been playing those dumb games I would still have two legs.
I looked at Bill and his grin was almost as big as the blimp’s butt, which made me feel a little worse, as if that were possible. I told Bill he had black stuff on his teeth even though he didn’t, thinking that would shut his yap for a while.
The bus jerked to a start and Bill whispered in my ear that I should put my arm around “my date”. I told him I would but I don’t think my arm would reach around her. Bill started to laugh, but closed his mouth quickly so no one would see his black teeth.
As we neared my drop-off point, I looked down at my leg next to the Blimp’s. Her thigh made my leg look like a broom handle. I started to wonder if all the fat on her leg could suddenly turn to liquid fat, float through my jeans, by way of osmosis and end up on my leg. I could see myself getting off the bus with one super fat, jiggly leg and one normal sized one and trying to walk. Everyone on the bus would laugh as I wobbled down the street with a fat leg and a skinny one. When the bus finally stopped, I squeezed out of my seat and hopped off the bus. Just to make sure, I looked down at my legs to check that they were both the same size as when I got on the bus. They were. I walked home thinking about Tammy and how she would be mine soon.
Tammy was in my English class. She sat right in front of me and on good days she would even pass papers back to me. Not that she ever looked back, but she knew I was there, ’cause she had to be handing those papers back to somebody.
I don’t know if it was her long blonde hair that would fall on my desk as she fluffed it up with her fingers or the flowery smell that she always had as I passed by her to sharpen a pencil or turn in work, but there was something about her that just drove me crazy. The best thing about her was that no eighth grade guys were after her; most of the good-looking seventh grade girls had been snatched up already. I knew that my luck might run out if I didn’t act soon.
The weeks between the next dance passed quickly and I thought out all the ways I could ask Tammy to dance. I settled on, “Do you want to dance?” I also decided that if I acted cool and had just a little deeper voice it would be much more effective. So I practiced in front of the mirror for hours saying it over and over again in my new cool deep voice. When I tried practicing my new voice around the house my mom took my temperature and my little sister said I was being weird. I took these as good signs.
The final touches to my boogie down plan were moving forward. Next on the list was clothing. Light-blue, flare-legged Toughskins may get you through elementary school, but what I needed was something that screamed “far out”: Angel Flight slacks. They were the kind of pants John Travolta wore in Night Fever; if I had those on I would be noticed.
The next time my mom took my sister and me to the mall, I made a bee’s line for Miller’s Outpost and there they were, two racks of Angel Flight slacks. I hurried over to the rack with the tan colors and searched for my size. A pair of champagne (not tan) pants marked 28×32 vaulted out and I grabbed them and headed for the changing corral.
Once in the changing room, I quickly jerked my pants down and slid them over my tennis shoes, one of the greatest benefits of bell bottoms was never having to take your shoes off when changing. I grabbed the polyester slacks and slipped them quickly over my shoes and zipped up. Standing in front of the full-length mirror was one groovy looking dude. Whoever said, “Clothes don’t make a man”, never put on a pair of Angel Flight slacks.
Now came the most important part, I did a few poses like John Travolta: right hand pointing up, left hand on the hip. It worked, I looked great, and my dream was going to come true. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the price tag dangling from a belt loop during one of my more expressive poses. I grabbed the price tag and turned it over. It read $40.00.
Tears welled up in my eyes; my mom would never buy these for $40. Just this year, she bought me football cleats for $9.99, saying, “I’m not going to spend twenty dollars to watch you sit on the bench!” She always knew just how to say the right thing.
The pants might as well have said one billion dollars, it was the same thing. I slowly slid the pants back off and crumpled them against my face. My tears streamed into the finest polyester fabric known to man. I breathed deeply and tried to get control of myself. I pictured myself trying to ask Tammy to dance in Toughskins; it was not a pretty picture. I wanted her to see the really groovy dude that I was, but in Toughskins it was an impossible task.
I did my best to hang the slacks back on the hanger, but for some reason my hands were retarded when it came to putting stuff on hangers. I took a good look at myself in the mirror to see if it looked like I had been crying, I decided it didn’t. I opened the corral door and there stood my mom and sister. I knew my mom would ask about the slacks, and I knew what would happen when I told her the price, but I tried anyway. My mom flinched, kind of like when you have a dream about somebody throwing a ball at you. She looked at my bloodshot eyes, paused and asked if I had seen the Super-bells that were on sale.
Ten minutes later, I was the proud owner of a pair of Levi Super-bells, the biggest bells made. That certainly helped soften the loss of the Angel Flight slacks, but I would need to be twice as cool in Levis.
The day of the dance arrived and I got up ready to ravish the women of the world. I bathed for a second day in a row, a rarity, and even washed my hair like the instructions on the bottle tell you to. Wash, rinse and wash again. I splashed on my dad’s Old Spice and brushed my teeth till my gums bled. The final touch was my green mesh Kawasaki shirt, and my new Super-Bells, unwashed so that they would be a stunning blue and not faded.
After ignoring the stupid things my little sister said at the breakfast table I made my way out the door and towards my bus stop. Bill met me there and immediately noticed my pants. He said that they looked a little stiff and wanted to know if they had been washed. I lied and told him that they had been washed but I took them out of the dryer before they were completely dry, which I thought was a pretty good lie considering my time limitations.
I wasn’t so sure if my grand plan of wearing unwashed pants was so wise now. I did notice that they rubbed on my thighs a little more than my other pants and they looked a lot like that cardboard robot outfit I had to wear for the elementary Christmas pageant.
Trey Street, an eighth grader, was the next to ask me about my pants and I stuck to the company line, washed but not dried totally. Trey then struck up a conversation with Bill, which I thought was kind of weird because Trey hadn’t really talked to either of us about anything since fourth grade. It didn’t take long for me to figure out why though. Harold Steele was sneaking up behind Bill with a lighter and was about to light Bill’s hair on fire. I was caught between my loyalty to Bill and my wanting to be in the in-crowd, so I said nothing. Harold moved the lit lighter closer and closer to Bill’s dirty blonde hair until smoke started to rise and then small flames drifted up the back of Bill’s hair. Harold immediately started swatting Bill’s head, which came as quite a surprise to Bill, since he was involved in a deep discussion about his week with Trey. Harold violently beat Bill until the flames were all out, at which time the surrounding crowd broke out in laughter. Bill laughed too, but I knew he felt like an idiot. He took out his brush and tried to comb his hair, but it was a big glued-together mess. The worst part was the smell; burnt hair has one of those most distinct smelly smells.
Bill was okay and seemed to handle the whole situation very well, even the part where I watched the whole thing. When we got on the bus, Bill’s hair was the topic of conversation with everyone but me and Bill. It was hard to ignore the smell, but we had business to tend to. Bill and I plotted strategy on the way to school hoping to find that final angle that would put me on top of all the rest of the idiots that asked Tammy to dance. I had to do it, I could wait no longer for fate to put us together, and I had to act on my own.
Bill and I decided that I should wait for the last song since it was always a slow one and that would give her a chance to be next to me for a while and see just how much she was going to like it. By waiting for the last dance she would also have the memory of dancing with me for much longer. And it would give her something to giggle about with her friends after we had been going out for a couple of years.
When it was time for the dance the entire school piled into the cafeteria along with one very nervous and sore person, me. The insides of my thighs had been rubbed raw by my pants and I could only walk stiff leggedly and slowly, I guess I looked like a seventh grade version of the Frankenstein monster.
Bill was no help, asking me this and asking me that, getting me into a state of nervousness only experienced by people about to be put in the electric chair. The songs seemed to drone on and on. I played the scene over and over in my mind. Walk up, pose, present my hand to Tammy, pull her to her feet and ask seductively, “Care to dance baby?” We would then spin across the floor together as the disco beat drove us to boogie ecstasy. The whole school would step back and clear the floor. When I finally snapped back to reality I realized the dance was almost over.
Fly, Robin, Fly was the last fast song before the final slow song would begin. I started to make my way over to Tammy, slowly, stiffly I shuffled so I could get the last dance with her. My hands started to sweat; the milligram of confidence I had built up to this point was now gone. Fly, Robin, Fly, was now winding down as I approached Tammy, I caught her eye and my heart jumped a beat. I walked within talking distance and began to open my mouth. She looked at me, waiting for me to speak, I looked at her waiting for something to come out of my mouth, but nothing would. I sounded like I had something caught in my throat that prohibited me from talking. Finally I got out a raspy syllable of a word; I think it sounded something like,”Huhhhnn.”
She said, “What?” and her friends started laughing like I just told the funniest joke ever told. But not Tammy, she waited for me to gather myself and finally ask her, “Would you dance with me?” It felt as though a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I held my sweat covered quivering hand out to her.
Tammy smiled sweetly and said, “No.”
My heart was crushed. I said, “Thanks.” I wasn’t all that thankful, so I don’t know why I said that. I turned towards the crowd of boys; I could see Bill looking at me as I tramped back to the darkness of our seats. My thighs didn’t hurt anymore, nothing hurt anymore. I was numb.
When I arrived back at my seat Bill asked why I wasn’t out there dancing with Tammy, I just told him that she simply wanted to rest and not dance. Just as I finished my sentence, I looked up and there was Tammy, out on the dance floor, with fat Robert Bass. I’m sure Bill saw them too, but he didn’t say anything. I buttoned my jacket to the top and started to walk towards the door, tears started to well up in my eyes. I could hear Peter Kris singing Beth as I opened the door of the cafeteria and walked out into the bright playground.