The poster read, “Welcome Seventh Graders! Homecoming Hoedown!
Friday, September 21, 7-9, Girls’ Gym. Y’all come!”
It’s finally Friday – two hours away from my first dance, with boys and everything, unless you count that lame square dancing in PE, which I don’t.
I feel fairly confident about my skills, having studied American Bandstand since I was eight. I also practice at slumber parties and improvise to tunes on my transistor radio alone in my room.
I don’t feel that great about everything else, so my appearance is extremely important. I want to look cuter than in school, but not like a slut.
I give myself plenty of time to get ready, because the process is complicated. My toilette – I love that word – always begins with my hair because it’s so horrible. This gigantic cowlick that looks like a bald spot, shoves everything forward. In order to plaster it back, I squeeze a wad of gel the color of antifreeze onto my skull, comb it all to the rear, and secure with a headband. Then I pull down some wispy bangs and scotch tape them to my forehead so that they don’t WAVE and shrink up and expose the hideous zit lurking between my ample brows. I’m pretty sure that in the dim light of the gym, though, my hairdo will look just like that darling pixie in last month’s Seventeen.
I dash back to the closet and select a hip-hugger skirt and matching poor boy sweater. They’re both in my favorite color, ochre, so luckily, that little stain on the sleeve won’t show that much.
Shoes are problematic. At twelve, I already wear a size nine-and-a-half, so I can never just pop down to Leeds and pick up a pair of the cute ones that my friends are wearing. Mom and I drive all the way to downtown L.A. to Karl’s Long‘n Wide and pick through a million boxes of ladies’ shoes trying to find something vaguely age-appropriate. This takes up my whole Saturday because the store is always jammed with big women – and colorful men too, which I can never figure out.
Anyway, I dig around the floor of my closet and yank out a pair of ochre flats with T-straps that matches my outfit. I sadly note an unsettling tightness in the big toe area. I pray they’ll be comfortable enough to Frug in.
Back in the bathroom, I peel off the headband, run a comb through my now crispy pixie, and bobby pin a tiny silk bow at the part.
My biggest worry concerns purse and sweater. Where do I put them while I’m dancing? I decide to 86 the sweater. I’ll just be running to the gym from the car, and anyway, it’s not all that cold in Pasadena in September. I tuck two emergency quarters into my T-straps and yell, “Ready!”
Mom peruses my ensemble. A brief look of horror darkens her face when she fully takes in the pixie situation. “Don’t forget your sweater,” she remarks absently. “Daddy’s waiting in the car. Have fun.”
I grab my sweater, which, of course doesn’t match my outfit at all, and which I intend to “forget” in the back seat of the car.
As I buckle my lap belt, I wonder what Daddy does while he’s waiting for me. I suspect he sneaks down to Van De Camp’s for a chocolate-chocolate sundae. He’s always very enthusiastic about driving me places.
When we get to school, I vault out of the car and head for the gym, hair bow bobbing and quarters shifting.
I can’t wait to show off my dance moves.
I’m practically the first one there. I walk around a bit. My social science teacher is selling Cokes in the ball closet. Around the corner I see four tables set up for ping-pong. Stupid.
I hear music overhead. Stomach excited as Christmas, I stride upstairs. A whirling disco ball spits bright spots of light onto the dance floor. “Purple People Eater” blasts from somewhere as the room quickly fills with seventh graders. It’s so neat - just what I imagined - kids laughing and Jerking and having a great time. They all seem to know each other. I remain at a safe but eager distance. When I hear a slow dance, I run to the window and look outside. Then, when a fast one starts, I drift back, and kind of sway back and forth smiling in a friendly, welcoming way.
Nobody asks me to dance. It’s probably my awful zit or my retainer.
I decide to pretend like I have something really important to do, and skip out of the room laughing wildly. I clomp downstairs and peel a moist quarter from my instep. I buy a Coke. This takes up about five minutes.
Looking for somewhere to go, I duck into the girls’ lav. I squeeze into a stall, close the door, and sit down. What I hear makes my pimple hurt. These girls are a totally different species. One of them shrieks, “Your doctor bag is so darling! Where did you get it? I love that lipstick!”
“Isn’t Chris cute?” “Oh my God! Is that Jeff’s St. Christopher? You are so lucky. He is so bitchin’! Can I borrow your nail polish? I have a run in my stocking.”
I drop my head into my hands, sigh, and flush the toilet. I nudge the stall door open and venture out into an alien world whose atmosphere reeks of hairspray, acetone, and Tabu. Who are these girls? These are the girls who get asked.
Ever hopeful, I make my way back upstairs to join the revelers on the dance floor. My cheeks twitch from the effort of smiling, and my toes spasm. I hang out for about ten more minutes and disappear when I hear “Surfer Girl”.
I shuffle downstairs and idly observe the dorks at their table tennis. The games have disintegrated into an insanity of ping- pong balls ricocheting off walls, ceiling, heads, and butts. I giggle in spite of myself. I laugh – a real laugh, not a fake one. I laugh until I forget my cramping toes. I laugh until I forget my pimple. I laugh until my bow falls out of my hair and onto the polished wood floor.
I laugh until I almost forget not being asked to dance. Almost.
One of the chaperones flicks the lights on and off. I guess that means the end of the hoedown.
I hear the popular girls and the rest whooping their way downstairs. I pick up my wilted bow, aim for the exit, and pray that no one sees me with the pingpongers.
Outside, the chill autumn air feels heavenly on my sweaty forehead. My once-straight bangs have shrunken up to expose the glistening “headlight”. Who cares. It’s dark, and besides, I’m pretty sure no one’s paying any attention to me and my stupid zit.
I see Daddy pull up to the curb. I get into the car as fast as I can and slam the door.
We drive for a while. I don’t really feel like talking.
At the light, he turns to me, a memory of Hershey’s on his breath, “So, Kiddo, how was it?”
“Your first dance.”
“How was it?” he repeats annoyingly.
“Fine,” I mumble.
“Fun. It was - fun.” I shiver.