When I was in 5th grade our family moved a town over, traveling one mile south from Westchester to LaGrange Park. It wasn’t a huge relocation but the students at my new school were a different breed from the ones I had become accustomed to at Westchester. Like most transplanted kids, I found it hard to adapt. By the time I finished grade school in LaGrange Park, I realized that the new group of friends I had made were a bunch of hot dork sandwiches so I divorced them like Gingrich and decided to fly solo when I got to Park Jr. High (Authors Note: I actually never had any dork sandwich friends to divorce in the first place).
Like most typical junior high schools, we had three or four area grade schools funnel in to create one disgusting super class. Because of my relative obscurity and timidness in the social scene, my older cousins suggested that I join Friday night dance class.
“Dancing? That is soooooo gay and sucky,” I told my cousins and my mother.
“Why don’t you want to do it? You will meet people and I bet it’s fun!” my mother chimed.
I avoided the topic the best I could for the first few weeks but everyone was right. If I was going to make friends then I had to do something social. So with very little enthusiasm, I signed up for dance class. They had already finished week number two so I would certainly be behind in my training but what did it matter? I wasn’t there for the technical aspect of the box step. This was an exercise in socialization.
My first two Friday classes went by without incident. I picked up on the Cha-Cha and something else that I never used and obviously forgot, pretty quickly. My only issue with the class was that it was held in the school’s cafeteria and with 250 plus bodies it quickly became an oven. By the time class was over it stunk of sweat and self-esteem issues.
On what was to be my third week of dance class, my mother was absent from the house. She had taken a trip to China with my Great Uncle Steve. In turn, my father was now running the show. Every night my brother and I were cooked something with steak or ground beef. This was a huge departure from the regular fare that my mother cooked with great zeal.
That Friday, however, I was feeling sassy. The summer before class started I happened to be down in Texas visiting some relatives. One day we were shopping at a Ross (dress for less!) when I saw a shirt that I just needed to purchase.
Now, I need preface this because currently this product is as lame as hell but in 1994 this shit was the rage. It was a red silk shirt. And while you are laughing at that, I say fuck you, kids were all about silk boxers at the time so silk shirts were the next step in the evolution of things.
Anyway, when I came down stairs all dressed to go to dance class my father looked at me quizzically.
“You shouldn’t wear that.”
“Well, I’m gunna.”
Suggestively he pushed, “Well, you should wear an undershirt with that shirt.”
“Look, you’re not my boss and I want to wear the shirt.”
Dad looked at me again, “I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Well you’re wrong.”
Argument over. Me – 1 Dad – 0. I was 12 fucking years old and it was about time I got my way.
We got in the car and he took me to the school. It was about a mile away. When he dropped me off I told him thanks and he said he’d pick me up when the class let out. I walked inside and approached the bathroom that connected to the cafeteria. I hit the urinal and then took a look in the mirror. My hair was a bit mussed so I splashed some water in it and combed it around. When I was done I walked out and found some of my peers – Bill, Joey and Alex. We all sat down and started jawing for about 10 minutes. Soon the teachers came in and we all stood up to go look for a dance partner.
As I got up my friend Bill pointed at my shirt and asked, “What’s that?”
I looked and there was a small water droplet by my stomach.
“Nothing. Must have gotten water on my shirt when I was combing my hair it in the bathroom,” I said.
But the nothing was something. It was the first bead of sweat in a Congo line of many to create a nightmare of epic proportions. There was a storm brewing and I was too stupid to see it on the horizon.
The dancing began and we went through the regular bag of shit; box stepping and Cha-Cha and the likes. We all circled through the dances and then picked new partners with each new dance. This went on for about 25 minutes and it wasn’t until long that you started to see ties being loosened and people wiping their foreheads on their sleeves. When I went to do it I noticed that my shirt was starting to turn from a bright red to a dark burgundy. Even more revealing was instead of the shirt being light and breezy it was starting to stick to parts of my body.
With every passing minute I could feel the group’s warm stares on me. My face started to redden and I was now dripping with sweat. I kept looking at the clock noting that I had at least 45 minutes of class left. I tried to relax as I was passed off to the next dance partner. I took a deep breath and suddenly during a lull in the music I heard a familiar voice scream out, “JIMMY OSTERHOUT PISSED ALL OVA THE BACK OF HIS SHIRT!”
It was my friend, Joey.
Nix that. My former friend, Joey.
The proverbial record screeched and the eye fucking commenced.
Every single ocular ball not clouded by teenage onset-cataracts was trained on me, searing and pointed. We were all sweating like we had just escaped from a Hanoi prison but I was the one being made of as an example. I could hear a few giggles from the crowd but the nail in the coffin was one student named T.J. yelling out, “What a fag.”
That was the bomb. The groups laughter surrounded me and I was eventually shrouded in my own shame.
My dancing partner looked at me. My eyes were welling up with tears and my face was burnt red with embarrassment.
“Are you … are you okay?” she whispered.
I couldn’t even look at her eyes. I lowered my head and my fingers slipped through hers. I slowly walked out through the same bathroom door I had walked so confidently through just 45 minutes earlier.
In the pocket of my Dockers was a quarter. I walked over to the payphone and dialed home. My father answered the phone and I told him I needed a ride.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“You were right. Just come get me.”
I hung up the phone and walked out side of the school. I slumped down on the hard concrete steps. Eventually, Dad’s green Volvo pulled up. With my heavy shoulders, I slowly walked up to the car and slumped into the leather seat.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
“No,” I mumbled.
He hit the gas and the school disappeared into the distance.
Dad looked at me, put his hand on my knee and said, “And we’ll never have to. We’ll never have to.”