After reading Kid Radical`s post on Michael Jackson, which so elegantly summed up his youth in relation to the phenomena that was MJ, I got to thinking about eighth grade.
I did not grow up in a mill town like KR, but in a small commuter suburb, Rutherford, about 30 minutes outside the greatest city in the world, New York. The town was, in some ways, millions of miles away from the Behemoth Apple, however. For example, Rutherford is a dry town, meaning that, even today, alcohol cannot be served. Some restaurants have cleverly worked ways around that ordinance, but that is beside the point. Rutherford`s nickname is the City of Trees. There are quite a few. And the public schools, while not idyllic, are sheltered to a large extent from the tensions of a major city.
I grew up in a small town on the edge of a really big one. But it was easy to forget that the really big one, New York, even existed...especially at a school dance.
In eighth grade, was going to Pierrepont School, which was about seven blocks from my home. I would walk there every day, and was usually late. (one month I got in-school suspension for my oft-repeated tardiness and had to perform hard labor, lugging sand bags for the kindergarden sand boxes. ) I really don`t remember how often we had school-run dances, but I do remember, I think, that we had Halloween dances. And it was at one of those yearly affairs that I remember the legend of Michael coming into play.
Walking into the school gym was, at the time, a nerve-racking affair. I was 13, starting adolescence, and overall, a nerd (still am). I don`t remember my costume, but if I was 13, it was 1990, and Jackson-fever was in full-effect. I do remember feeling like everyone was staring at me, and I quickly searched the room for some familiar face to sidle up to. That of course being another guy, because the one thing I will never forget is how segregated these dances were.
Of course, I did not grow up in a small town in Georgia, so that segregation was not along race lines. It was completely along gender lines. Boys and girls you see, at least at the outset of any school dance, never, never, grouped together. It just didn`t happen. And that meant I headed immediately into the growing lump of boys stading by the bleachers, trying to look cool, while the opposing lump (the girls) pretended not to stare over at the boys.
It was so simple, when I think about it. There was a formula to it all. As the dance started, some brave soul, like my friend Roland, who was probably dressed like Michael, and was probably the most popular guy in the school, would start to dance. he really could dance, including the Moonwalk. Then, slowly, other guys would attempt to copy him, moving toward the middle of the gym floor. Slowly, the girls would do the same, with minimum eye contact between either group. As everyone loosened up, the numbers grew.
Until a slow song. When any romantic tune was played, both sides would quickly return to their home bases, and the few, the proud, the cool would go ask a girl to dance.
That was hardly ever me.