Dance Fever

My blog pal Chesapeake Bay Woman wrote about high school dances recently and the length of my comment made it obvious that I needed to devote some space here to my memories of those fine co-ed traumatic  social events from the mid-1980s.

So many memories came rushing back as I thought about the dances in junior high and early high school. First of all, most of them were held in the school cafeteria, tables folded up and pushed against the walls, access to the cafeteria line area blocked. I remember the panicked feeling of trying to select just the right outfit. Of waiting for one particular boy to ask you to be his date, and, when that didn’t happen, accepting the invitation of an altogether nice boy who wasn’t your first choice.

THEN there was the dancing.

I recall the awkwardness that ensued when a slow dance song turned fast (think Behind Blue Eyes, Stairway to Heaven, Come Sail Away). Do you still dance slow-dance style, or break apart and boogie?

I experienced complete mortification when a much taller date leaned over to embrace me during a slow dance, sticking his butt out in a hideous manner, causing everyone else to stop and point and laugh at us. Pretty sure it was Stairway to Heaven, so we also had that awkward slow/fast dance thing going too.

Deney24wu There was the time when my date turned all Deney Terrio on me. Everyone was gathered around him as he got all Dance Fever on his bad-ass self. Alone. Like a scene out of Fame, all the kids gathered ’round while he did that disco pointing-the-finger thing and attempted to do the splits. Travolta, he wasn’t.

And why was this so embarassing to me? Here was a teenaged boy, expressing himself through dance. As an adult, I look back and admire that he had the confidence to do that. I spent most of my teenage years trying so hard to blend in, to not stand out in any remarkable way. And that was hard enough, because I was The Girl Whose Dad Died, Poor Thing. So when That Girl dates a guy who makes it a point to call attention to himself in a most flambouyant way – well, it’s hard to blend into the woodwork.

To this day, I can’t hear a song by REO Speedwagon or Air Supply or Journey without thinking back to these dances.

And those were just the “regular” dances.  There was a Sophomore Tea each year, and the Junior/Senior Prom. The Tea (why was it still called a Tea? They weren’t serving tea and canapes by the 1980s) was, like, a medium-big deal. I remember volunteering to be a “server” when I was in 8th or 9th grade. This meant standing behind the refreshment table, ladling out punch and refilling the cookie tray. I could dress up, which meant a dress, and pantyhose! (Ladies, was I the only one who remembers being super-excited to be old enough to wear pantyhose? Now I’d rather die than wear ’em.) I was a novice leg-shaver at the time, and as I was bathing I managed to shear a good chunk of epidermis right off of my calf. It bled and bled and really smarted, and then I had giant Band-Aids unsuccessfully concealed beneath my suntan-tinted nylons. Klassy.

Purple rain By junior and senior year, dances were more fun. I remember one dance – was it 1983’s homecoming? Where we managed to play the entire Yes 90125 album, and another – I think it was senior year homecoming, where we played most of Prince’s Purple Rain (skipping Darling Nikki, of course). I’d have to devote a whole other post to the proms – I’ll simply say that as a bit of a late bloomer, I felt I was hitting my stride by the spring of ’85, scoring invitations to two other proms besides my own. I got good mileage out of my Gunne Sax tea-length, mint-green, water-satin dress and dyed-to-match shoes.

Gunne sax 1985
(Dude, where’s my leg??)

So, what memories do you have of your high school dances? Share ’em in the comments!

Uncle Bill’s Store

I have a couple of Uncle Bills. You’ve already met one of them; today I’m writing about the other one,who is my mom’s other sister’s husband.  (Try to keep up; I know it’s complicated.)  This one is known by nearly the whole rest of the world as “Troupie”, and he and his brother owned a country grocery store in a little, rural crossroads of a blink-and-you-miss-it village called Seven Stars. 

Most everyone called the store “Troupie’s”, but its real name was Troup Bros.  The store had everything – produce, groceries, cigarettes and snuff, a nice deli and butcher section,  and our favorite aisle, which was the one with toys and candy. Remember candy cigars? They carried them in green, pink and yellow.  Wax lips and baseball cards, too. One could also browse a couple of rows of hardware items (this was before the days of the giant hardware stores) and I think there may have even been some work clothing and boots.  There was also a display of greeting cards that, as far as I could tell, never really changed.  Outside, you could get bags of ice, lose coins in the Coke machine, and fill your tank with gasoline. For a small middle-of-nowhere outlet, they had it all.

Across the street, they also owned a two-bay car wash that worked most of the time. Also, there was The Country Store, which had gifts and knick-knacks and collectibles and silk flower arrangements and more greeting cards, plus wrapping paper, toys, and more clothes, including Wrangler and Maverick jeans, sweatshirts emblazoned with the high school’s Wildcat logo, and day-glo hunting gear. It was like a countrified five-and-dime.

When I was finally old enough to go to work, I knew I wanted to work at Uncle Bill’s Store, and not just because I had an in with the boss it was really the only alternative to being a lifeguard at the pool. I knew I wanted nothing to do with that nonsense; I preferred being fully clothed while earning an hourly wage.  And so it was that I began working as a cashier and stock clerk a few hours each week.

The first thing I had to learn was how to operate the keypad on the cash register with my right hand while moving groceries down the belt with my left. I’m all lefty, so this was backwards for me, but I got the hang of it.  Note to anyone born after 1980: This was years before all products had a bar code on the packaging; we used “price guns” to apply a price sticker to every item, and I had to key the number on the sticker into the cash register. Using my right hand, did I mention that?

Uncle Bill and his brother were determined to make this something of a learning experience for me, and so for produce and milk, whose prices fluctuated depending on the market, I was required to memorize the correct prices. A head of lettuce, for example, could be $0.79 one week and $0.69 the next. I had to keep the lettuce price in my head, along with the price for tomatoes, celery, carrots and onions.

We accepted manufacturer’s cents-off coupons and redeemed them for face value. (No doubling ever.) Another task of mine was to count the week’s coupons and tally them on a redemption slip. I would separate them into piles by denomination, then list, say, 4 x 5 cents, 8 x 10 cents, 21 x 15 cents, 14 x 20 cents, and so on. Uncle Bill and his brother could look at that sheet, mumble a bit while doing the the math in their head and it would be right every time. They thought it would be swell if I would learn to do the same thing… I never mastered it like they did. I’m a calculator girl.

For bagging the groceries, customers could request paper or PAPER, or opt to reuse boxes in which canned goods had been packed.  I learned to pack cold foods with other cold foods, crushable things like bread, potato chips, and eggs together, and to put heavier canned goods on the bottom and lighter boxed items on the top. To this day, I organize my groceries in this way as I unload them onto the belt.

The employees who worked back in the deli made really good American-style hoagies, by which I mean a fluffy white sub roll topped with bologna and ham and American cheese slices, with lettuce, tomato, sprinkled with secret seasonings (oregano and celery salt).  I would begin my Saturday shift by inhaling a hoagie and a bag of Middleswarth potato chips.

There was a smaller grocery store in the closest town, about 5 miles away, and two larger grocery stores in the town after that, maybe a 15 minute drive. But you could get what you needed at Troupie’s.  My grandma Losch lived up the hill and would call down to have Troupie bring up whatever items she needed to fix dinner.  “Put it on my slip,” she would say, and she meant to write it on her store account. And that was another cool thing: people had account books, kept in the drawer below each register, and Uncle Bill would extend credit to those who needed it. When people got paid, they would come in and bring cash to apply to their accounts.   More than a few people consistently owed more than they ever paid, but as long as they paid something, Uncle Bill was cool about it.

On payday, they would run my hours x my hourly rate on an adding machine tape, subtract taxes, then pay me right out of the cash drawer, placing the bills and coins into a tiny paper bag, the same one we used to hold screws and nails, with the adding machine tape stapled to the outside of the bag. Forget going to the bank – it was instant cash-a-rama!

And that’s the story of my first job. I learned a lot there about good work habits and customer service and honesty and yes, even math.  The store’s been closed for years but I have such fun memories of my years there.

Dear Rick Springfield: Thanks for the traffic!

Dear Rick:

I am writing to you to say thank you. You see, in May, I blogged about how I saw you play at Hometown Holidays in Rockville, MD – a free, community festival (see this awesome photo!), and how you ended up singing Jessie’s Girl but not playing the guitar because you didn’t have a backup roadie who could properly tune your guitar.

Well, Rick, I want to tell you that this post has received over 1,100 views on my blog! It is my most-viewed post. In fact, on my busiest day ever (in the six short months I’ve been blogging), that post about you accounted for 20% of my traffic. That day coincided with your appearance on one of the network morning shows, the release of your new album, and an appearance at a Manhattan record store, so I suppose the InterWebs were abuzz with all things Rick Springfield. Thanks for letting me piggyback, Rick.

I’m puzzled about why curious folks are ending up on my blog as they’re looking for information about you. Because as much as I have been a fan of yours for, like, over half of my life, this blog is certainly not all about you, Rick, or even about aging rockers trying to cash in on nostalgia, or really even about music. So, today I entered “Rick Springfield” in Google, and got through FIVE WHOLE PAGES of searches without seeing my post. Then, I narrowed it down to a blog-only search. Still, I reviewed four pages of results and still didn’t see my post from way back in May. How are your fans finding me?

Meh, who cares? People are reading about you, Rick, on my silly blog! And for that I am most grateful.

Let me bounce an idea off of you, Rick. Can we strike a deal here? I’ll post some fresh links to whip up all six of my readers into a frenzy, which can only help you, Rick, to sell more albums, as you continue to revive your career, and in turn, maybe I’ll get some new readers! Sound like a plan? Awesome. I knew you’d agree.

One last thing, Rick. I really was disappointed about that whole Jessie’s Girl thing that happened in Rockville, so I’m going to include the original, vintage (sorry Rick, it’s over 25 years old, you and I both know that makes it “vintage”) video of the real thing. Now THAT’s what I remember from when I very first saw you in concert, back in the early 1980s. Everybody get ready to sing along:

Thanks for everything, Rick.  The entire staff here at Soup Is Not A Finger Food extends you their very best wishes for continued success in your musical revival!