Deadlines…cruel and unusual punishment inflicted on writers by editors. Mine calls. By tomorrow, she says. What’s the theme, I ask? Fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ invasion, she says. Write about how their advent influenced high school students.
I remind her that my high school days ended before the mop-haired Brits arrived. Well, she says, write about high school. Who wants to revisit those days, I say? It was prison. We were inmates, teachers were guards, coaches were yard bosses and the principal was the warden. He carried a bludgeon for protection. Nobody escaped unscathed. Lives were ruined. Many remained janitors and librarians.
Were you cool, a nerd or geek, she asks? I tell her James Dean was cool. He wasn’t in my class. My crowd was the zit kids. We bought Clearasil by the gallons and drank Listerine by the quarts. Bad breath was everywhere. Never wanted to miss a kissing opportunity. None arrived.
We ran in packs like wild dogs, gangs-on-bikes going nowhere, terrorizing the town. Mechanical vehicles, mainly tractors, remained on the farm, driven only by the FFA clod busters.
She asks if I played football. Football? Honey, I’m still replacing joints I didn’t know existed. She wanted to see the scars for confirmation. Look, my nose remains an oddity, skewed to a right angle, the result of tackling fullbacks with my face. “Son, use your head,” the coach would say. He should have said “brain,” although it would have made little difference. Mine rattled like nuts and bolts in an empty can. PTSD remains a possibility.
I lost my teeth braces fifteen times. My daddy worked three jobs to pay the six-digit orthodontist’s bill. We got no respect from the football coach. Once, after a humiliating loss he said, “Boys, bus leaves in 15 minutes…be under it.”
Why didn’t you play in the band, she asks? I’m incredulous. Are you nuts? What, parade around in cast-off Salvation Army uniforms for public humiliation? Wear used Shriner’s hats with plumage and tassels? No way. Besides, our halftime shows always consisted of a cross. It usually prophesied our demise. Band was dangerous. Often, after “Nearer My God to Thee,” the clarinet section would get confused, wander off in a swoon. Some were never seen again.
Well, just write about the music of your era, she says. I tell her the Beatles had timing. We were at the end of our glory days. Jerry Lee and Chuck had joined AA and were blacklisted. Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, RIP, left us tragically in an Iowa blizzard. Elvis enlisted in the army and lost his hair. The music business was in turmoil.
Then the Beatles appear, fill the void, setting the stage for the Hippie Generation with the tune, “All My Loving.” They hit the South Georgia sweet spot with, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Holding hands was a big deal, the first step to back-seat escapades, which rarely happened. We dreamed a lot in high school.
My first attempt at romance was while watching a Tarzan movie with my date. Tarzan is wrestling a gorilla, protecting Jane and Boy. They’re wearing loin cloths, an exciting idea at the time. My date is tense. She squirms, grips the seat. Our fingers touch. The gorilla growls. So do I. She grasps my wrist. Tarzan grabs a vine, swings into the jungle with Jane and Boy.
We saw that movie five times. The last time my arm found its way around her shoulder. From that moment on we became Tarzan and Jane. I thought a lot about Boy after that.
Summarize your experiences, she says. Well, mostly music, I say, the ultimate escape from reality. We enshrined our era’s tunes: Jerry Lee’s “Whole Lot of Shaking;”Bopper’s “White Lightning;” Berry’s “Maybellene;” and Elvis’ “Hunk of Burning Love.”
We missed the Beatles, but if I had to choose a song that would have fit our predicament, it would have been, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
Come back to earth, she says. Clean it up; get it to me by noon tomorrow. She’s tough to the end.
I thought about it. High school years are pregnant with promise. Who can summarize them? I’m no longer Tarzan. My Jane moved to Alabama and there was no Boy. Sometimes we all get lucky.