...It was nearing dusk. The mercury vapor lights had slowly brightened the tennis courts at Kingwood Country Club near Houston. The golfers were either in the locker room or at the bar. I had just lost a tough first set tie-breaker to Jerry, 7-6. Preparing to serve, I became aware of millions of delicate, lacy, white Mayflies dancing in the light. This was to be their night; their only night. Mayfly anatomy does not include a mouth because they do not eat; they don't have time. The night was for dancing in the air and mating. By morning all would either be dead from exhaustion or eaten by bats... |
The Mayfly dance distracted me and I recalled another time, a time when I wanted to join their number...
Have you ever longed to experience an overly-hyped, hormone-driven, so-called life-changing event just because of the build-up and lore? Initially you hear exagerated second-hand accounts, which captures your imagination and makes your stomach do little flip-flops. Then you read about it; maybe even catch a glimpse of whatever it is--always scarce enough to provoke your curiosity, but never enough to satisfy it. All of this is, of course, "tribal knowledge", which is my euphemism for bullshit. (I can hear the drums beating; see the human sacrifice being readied...)
From my sixth through eighth grade years, the anticipation of a high school event called the May Dance had a hypnotic and brain-numbing effect on me. Fueled by movie images of Victorian, Continental, and early American days about grand balls, and my own covert observation of May Dance preparations, I eagerly awaited the day I would come of age. Girls in formals and boys in white-jacketed tuxedos paired up and arrived in shiny sedans and convertibles to enter the high school auditorium where the white-clad May Queen and her court presided over a musical program. After the program, the throng sauntered en masse into a gaily decorated gymnasium to dance to the sultry, harmonic tunes of a local dance band. The prom (juniors and seniors only) followed a week later, but played second banana to the schoolwide extravaganza called May Dance.
Why was I so captivated? I guess the May Dance hit a sweet spot in my personal quirk zone in several areas. First it meant I would have a girlfriend (seemed desirable at the time), and secondly, I liked to dress up. Still do. Even now I enjoy donning a tux and escorting my wife to the Rainbow Room in Manhattan and attending a Lincoln Center black-tie event. And none of those clip-on bow ties for me! No sireebob! I tie my own. See, I like to kick it old school.
In a similar vein, as a child Christmas and Easter caused me incredible anxious anticipation, which I relived year-after-year. It wasn't the gifts; it was the season, the aura. The world and everything in it seemed wonderful to a naiive youngster. As adults, many people become cynical and lose their child-like joy, what a Zen Buddhist calls a beginner's mind. Might as well be tucked in by a spade when joy is lost. I mean, what's the point of life? Trust me: joy is all we have during our short time on this rocky orb. We're not much different than Mayflies. (I have joy, and my Jewish business partners have oy.)
When I was a tweener dorking around a small town in Ohio the coming of spring caused new feelings to stir, a metamorphosis. The May air was balmy and perfumed, and girls became strangely attractive. Boys noticed things about girls like the shape of their calves and fannies, and of course, strange bumps growing from their chests. Coming of age was somewhat magical, but confusing, and even a bit painful; painful in that we wanted to take some kind of action, but didn't know what to do. Here we had become captivated by these giggling, round, nice-smelling creatures, and desired to do something with them (or to them), but what? Then to cap it off we'd look in a mirror. Back came an image of an unattractive, unsophisticated duffass who still looked mostly like a child, but gawkier. Why did the new season make girls more attractive and boys less so?
With respect to boys, teen years were kinder in that we filled out and tended to look less goofy, but the period also came with an occasional pimple that popped up in the most inconvenient place at the most inconvenient time. Then there was the wispy, fuzzy facial hair to be removed, smelly pits, ear wax, and halitosis; all attributes that had to be managed if one was to attract one of those exotic creatures who had managed to become even more comely. Though I knew how to tame the outer physical changes, I had not a clue how of to handle the inner changes. Neither did I know how to approach a girl without looking like an idiot. Plus, if one made a move and failed (most of us assumed we would), and your failure was observed by your buddies; they'd ride you unmercifully making you feel even less adequate.
At the beginning of freshman year, I made the decision to remove myself from the girl-chasing game, and concentrate only on playing basketball. This after a few inept, unsuccessful trial ventures at approaching the fair sex. How inept? Check this out: When it came to being friendly and yakking it up, all was well. However, if I fell under a spell and became attracted, and (gasp) she showed interest in me, I became tongue-tied. I knew NOT what to do! My only defense was to either avoid her and/or act out in some ridiculous manner--like loud belching (always a crowd-pleaser with the guys).
My inane, immature behavior worked quite well in repelling the ladies, but a strong hormonal desire remained. What irony! The major dances held at school were mostly girls-ask-boys affairs, which removed male rejection anxiety. In retrospect, I surmise that's exactly why the adults designed the system that way. Years later, I discovered women are attracted to confident guys so I developed that persona in spades. Wish I'd known it then (sigh).
Nevertheless, I became comfortable with being out-of-the-game except when spring (specifically May) rolled around. The third week, when the month was at its hormonal stirring best, our high school held the Big Kahuna of all school activities: The May Dance. After eagerly anticipating the gala for years and then self-destructing, I was the epitome of screwupness. Remember, girls issued the invitations, and I had successfully alienated most. An apt title for a book comes to mind: Just Desserts: Memoirs of an Opinionated Smart-Aleck.
Enter Ray. Ray had been a neighbor and friend since before kindergarten. As I entered sophomore year and Ray junior year, for some reason (that I think was flashy clothes and a cocky, unabashed manner), girls flocked to him like Mayflies to light. He had three to four on a string at all times. At our youth center when a romantic, slow dance number piped over the speakers, Ray (nose in the air) would approach one of our princesses. But did he make eye contact? Did he ask for a dance? No! He merely tapped her on the shoulder without looking, and with his back to her, strutted to the center of the floor. Damned if they didn't always follow. I kept hoping one would shoot him down by leaving him stranded, but it never happened. Ray taught me a great lesson. Even though females were reputed to be several years more mature than boys, they couldn't seem to resist a confident, fast-talking male. After college, I put that lesson to good use. My resume included flight attendants, actresses, and Las Vegas show girls. Thanks, Ray!
As early as March, girls began asking Ray to escort them to the May Dance. With great arrogance he told each he'd think it over and let them know. In addition, when he met a young lady from a nearby town, he'd casually drop a hint that he might ask her to our big event. See, with out-of-towners the the girl-ask-boy schtick was off the table.
Then Penny asked him.
Penny was drop-dead gorgeous with a pleasing smile and personality, and just the right spray of freckles across her nose. (I called them boy-catchers.) Her tenth grade form had already matured into a woman's curvaceous yet athletic body. All of us, including those of us "abstaining", would have done just about anything to date Penny, but she was WAY out-of-reach for us dipshit mortals.
Ray accepted Penny's invitation.
I was angry. Not at Ray, but at Penny. How could she not see through his phony act? I mean, I was an admitted whack-job, but Ray was outright insincere and insolent. Not an ounce of substance behind the bluster, but the ladies ate it up. For the first time, I experienced a kind of jealousy. Why couldn't I be that lucky? It's not that I coveted Penny: it was more that I thought Ray didn't deserve her; him being such a dirtbag. Yeah, he was my friend, but still a dirtbag.
Sometime about mid-April, Ray confided to me that although he had accepted Penny's invitation, he intended to escort someone else. For the moment I was glad.
"Who's the lucky girl?" I asked dripping sarcasm that was lost on Ray.
"Rose," he replied matter-of-factly, almost yawning.
"Rose!? What kinda name is that? You dating somebody's grandma?"
"No, dumb-ass! She's from Jewell. Met her at a carnival. You met her too."
"Wait a minute! Not that short-haired, tall, blonde by the Tilt-a-Whirl?" As I recalled, Rose was skinny, shapeless, and well, rather ordinary. Ray had smiled at her and dispensed a unbelievable line-of-crap that she fell hard for. All I could do was roll my eyes.
"Yeah, that's her!"
"You gotta be shittin' me. You prefer her to Penny?" Man, that was like preferring a Ford over a Ferrari.
"I think she's really cute, and she's a great kisser." He was definitely excited.
Oh well, there's no accounting for taste, and I always knew Ray's was flawed. Too bad local females couldn't see through the smoke and mirrors.
"You gonna tell Penny?" Even though I was glad, I didn't want Penny to get hurt.
"Yeah, sooner or later." The dismissive way he said it led me to strongly believe he was going to stand her up; let her get gussied up and no-show. I'd watched him dump numerous girls only to see them trash their self-esteem by pursuing him anyway. Ray got off on it.
"Hey, man, you gotta tell her while she can get another date." That wouldn't be a problem for her. Hell, we'd all jump at the opportunity.
"I'll get to it when I get to it!" Ray was pissed off at me butting in.
"Bullshit! You gotta do it now!"
"Hey, shithead, mind your own bee's wax!" Ray took off in a huff.
I made a mental note to keep bugging Ray or maybe tell Penny myself. On the other hand, it would break the guy code of not ratting out your friends. Besides, I barely knew Penny. She'd probably be angry with me; accuse me of starting trouble. What to do?
I had a conversation with myself...
Ego with halo: "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if she asked me? It'd be a rebound, mercy date, but I wouldn't care."
Ego with horns: "Nah, I'm too close to Ray. She'd lump me in the the same sleazeball category as Ray or worse, be pissed because I'm not Ray; just plain ol' me."
I decided I should stay out of it, but kept pressuring Ray, hoping he'd do the right thing.
And so I maintained a fullcourt press on Ray, until one day in early May he told me he squared it with Penny. But the bastard was lying!
Two days before the dance I stood in front of the school with Ray waiting for the after lunch bell. Penny approached us with a huge grin.
"Ready to go to the May dance?" she cooed playfully.
Ray didn't meet her gaze. Instead he said quietly, "Yes (pause), with Rose," and left quickly. You know those cartoons where the character zips out of the panel? Like that.
I wanted to disappear, do the cartoon fadeout too; like maybe she wouldn't notice I was there--you know, I don't think she did. The look on her face is still burned into my memory. As bad as I felt for her, I felt worse for myself. Not because Ray hoodwinked and sandbagged me. MY concern was that she would think I had been a part of it, but like I said, I don't think she even knew I was there. Whatever, I slunk away furtively.
The night of the May Dance I went bowling with my closest buddy, Dennis. I wondered what Penny was doing for a moment, but then the pins were set, and I was in a different carefree world and had not another thought about the May Dance. During the remainder of our high school years, I don't believe Penny and I so much as exchanged a single word.
And Ray? I never associated with him after that. Before his senior year I heard he was sent to a reform school for charging up thousands of dollars worth of clothes and not paying for them, but I could be wrong. After that school year ended, I never saw him again.
Oh, and I finally attended the May Dance my senior year. Dennis and I double-dated with two cheerleaders. It wasn't such a big deal after all.
I think I preferred bowling.
EPILOG: I made contact with Penny about this article. She said she knew about Ray all along and wasn't at all taken in by his so-called charm. Good on ya, babe!
Copyright 2010 by Gene Myers author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN, 2009 (Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY), and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE, 2010 (PublishAmerica, Baltimore, MD).
Related Articles -
life-changing event, May Dance, anticipation,