The Wonder Weekend
We talked up at storm. The shocker was learning moi was her first official date. I had no idea and never thought of myself being anybody's first anything. I began to reflect on that episode in my life and the circumstances surrounding it.
At that time I was attending Assumption High School, a boarding school for boys in Windsor, Canada. I was in 9th grade and terribly shy around women. I mean, seriously petrified.
The only co-ed class I had attended ended in 6th grade. Last time I was even near girls was at the class photo — me standing next to Miriam and Lorna, the two hottest babes in our class. That was the closest I had been to anything female.
After that the folks packed me off to a military boarding school in Monroe, Michigan. Nuns and guns for two years in the hometown of General George Armstrong Custer.
Then it's off to Canada and Assumption High school — great for the formal education but not so good for developing socially. They had periodic school dances and social functions meant to acclimate us to our budding hormones. I couldn't cope. So every time there was one of these functions, I would retreat to the safety of the recreation hall and play ping-pong or to practice guitar. I had a few friends. Craig O. who traded me his electric guitar for a hunting jacket I had. And, Pete K. who had a really cool red Gibson guitar and amp. Plus he could play a mean Johnnie Rivers lick. Anyway, these "Sock Hop" nights were always pretty bad because anyone who didn't go was considered a "nerd". Some had the obvious excuse of being way over weight or sportin' goofy looks. I wasn't a tubby and at 15, did anyone feel good about their looks?
Plus being an Armenian kid from a lily-white Detroit suburb schooled in Canada didn't help much either. So, I became a rec. hall recluse. We were the school's social rejects and the fodder for much teasing.
One day my roommate Dan was razing me how I never went to any dances, that I never had a girlfriend or even been on a date.
There must have been something wrong with me — perhaps I was "queer". After all, Dan was fifteen years old and HE had seen and claimed to have done it all.
The sad reality was, he was right — except for the queer part. I was WAY too shy. Couldn’t imagine touching someone let alone dancing. And what about slow dancing…. It was impossible, even talking was too much. Would rather die than talk to a girl. None of this, I couldn't tell to Dan.
Tried b.s. sayin' my parents sent a letter to the school headmaster, which forbade me from attending dances. Dan didn't buy it. He was having a field day with it and began telling others I must be queer. I had no idea how to shut him up.
As fate would have it, I was home for a weekend and bro tells me about this party line on WKNR. “Keener” radio was the local AM pop radio station second only to the behemoth KCLW out of Canada. Anyway, we had to try it out and called from my parent's bedroom hoping they wouldn't know what we were up to. After a couple of tries we got on. It was a jumble of voices from all around the Detroit area — everyone yelling, trying to be heard. We shouted a bunch of times "Who's from Dearborn?" Eventually there was a faint female voice responding, "I'm from Dearborn!" You're from Dearborn; I'm from Dearborn — a perfect match!
I got her phone number and called immediately. Her name was Paula. She was chipper — very upbeat and lived in East Dearborn, which was at the other end of town. We talked and talked covering topics like Stones vs Beatles. Are you a Greaser or Frat? What school do you go to and the biggie — what do you look like? There were several friends with her, Sue and Kathy, and we all took turns yakking. Sue had no problem explaining what she looked like however it was a tougher for Kathy. She had a timid voice and hinted she was a large person. I kept saying, " Awe come on… it's what's inside that counts" even though I wasn't sure I meant it. Anyway, went back to school with my chest all puffed out telling Big Shot Dan how I met a "girl" over the weekend. He didn't believe me and issued a challenge to prove it. I, like a fool, accepted. So I insisted he come home with me for a weekend and let me prove once and for all how amazing my social life is.
So that was the plan, Operation: Shut Dan Up. He was bearing down hard and I couldn't take it. In the meantime Paula and I wrote letters to one another. I would always make a point to let Dan know when one would arrive. Her letters were precious. Written with an intellect beyond her years and always ending with a drawing of a little bird next her signature. During one exchange, we agreed to swap photos. This was a major dilemma.
There were times I thought my looks could pass muster however no current photo existed. That weekend I purchased “The Swinger”, a Polaroid style camera. I did several shots however the best one had my roommate in it.
I was styling with my faux turtleneck sweater and tan colored sports jacket. My hair was at it’s longest and worn it typical frat style. No glasses so I’m blind as a bat but this was as good as it’s going to get. I had duplicates made, cut roommate out, as I didn’t need the competition and sent it off to Paula.
Then there was the return letter with her picture — oh man… that was the mother load!! She was really pretty — long hair and bangs. People wanted to see her picture. I’d show them however one had to be careful it wouldn’t get ripped outta my hands so someone else could claim she was their girlfriend. Dorm status so related to the wallet-sized girlfriend photo and my stock was rising. Guys would check out the picture with a variety of reactions — "She's very cute!!!" However most of the time it was, “She’s writing you???” I was beaming... But Dan wanted more.
Dan was coming home with me for the weekend and Paula was going to set him up with her blond friend, Sue. Finally I was going to meet Paula and at the same time — SHUT DAN UP FOREVER. This was shaping up to be the biggest weekend of my life.
We rendezvoused on their side of town at the corner of Michigan and Schaefer. It was a freezing sunny winter Saturday afternoon. Paula was a super doll — really cute with long dark Cher hair with bangs to match. She wore a buckskin style jacket with fat corduroy pants. Totally hip!! Her friend, Sue was no slouch but not as cute as Paula. The four of us did a bit street corner talking happy to finally meet. To get out of the cold we wandered into Wonderland Music.
I was so nervous it was easier to play guitar than to talk face to face. Besides, what better way to impress then to strum a few cords of "Gloria" and "Louie Louie". Except, one seemed to pay attention and Dan used the opportunity to chat up both girls. Still I kept playing thinking they'd notice how cool I was. It didn't work. I played myself out and rejoined the group. Eventually we left opting to go to a slot car racetrack around the corner. After watching kids play "slots" for a while we called it an afternoon. But not before agreeing to meet later for a movie at the Carmen, a classy old art moderne movie palace built in '41.
Big problem — the Carmen was on their side of town and how were we going to get there? How were the girls going to get there? I contacted my childhood neighbor, Greg. We grew up together several homes apart playing army and riding bikes. Now as a teen, he had developed into a big fellow and also bit of a know-it-all. However, Greg could drive and he had access to a car except, what was in it for him? To cement the ride, Paula set him up with her other friend Kathy. Problem solved — it would be a triple date. One of the girl's parents wouldn't allow them to be in cars with boys. We worked out a secret rendezvous — someone's upstairs apartment that lacked adult supervision. Dan was impressed, as I appeared to be quite the player!
Except it didn't work. Us guys came over to pick up them girls. Greg took one look at Kathy and decided there was nothing in this deal for him. Kathy took a look at Greg and decided she didn't want to see the movie. Being both rather large people I thought it woulda worked. Greg was even a bit disgruntled 'cause Paula and Sue were really "tits". Still he agreed to give us a ride and we piled into his VW bug. He dumped us off at the theater and we sat thru some lame comedy du jour "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". Anyway, the real show was actually sitting next to Paula. I couldn't believe it, me — on an official date.
However the really big issue on my mind was what happens after the movie? I had no idea. I would take my cues from Big Shot Dan. Suddenly the movie was over and we started leaving during the credits. The theater was still dark. Dan and Sue were closer to the isle so they were first to leave. I kept my eye on Dan and would do what he did.
He got to the end of the row and began to make his way up the isle. Sue was a half step behind. Then it happened, in an instant — Dan turned, extended his hand and Sue grabbed it. They were "handholding" while walking up the ramp. I was horrified, mortified and completely petrified. It was my turn. I had studied couples holding hands in anticipation for this very moment. Should it be the simple palm-to-palm style or the more intricate, interlocking fingers style?
The pressure was on. Paula and I got to isle and started walking up the ramp and just like that, I turned and grabbed her hand. She grabbed back. OH — MY — GOD!!
My arm stiffened up like a 2 x 4. It felt totally awkward and exhilarating at the same time. From my shoulder to my fingernails — everything stuck in one position. My hand must have felt like a frozen fish. We walked out of the theater palm-to-palm and waited out front for their ride. I carried on with the conversation as best as possible — not easy with all that physical contact. We continued holding hands until it was time to part. I think a parent or older sister drove by and picked them up. Dan and I took the bus back to Michigan Ave expecting to transfer to another bus going to our side of town. The bus never came. We were stuck outside the Honky-Tonk Saloon listening to bad country music in the icy cold night. Finally we thumbed a ride home. It's a bus stop forever etched into my memory as the freezing end to my blazing hot first ever date. However as far as Dan knew, I did this every weekend. He never teased me about dating again.
That was the one and only time Paula and I ever met. We communicated by mail until school was out in June. We talked once the morning after Paula had been to a Jefferson Airplane concert at Ford Auditorium. She sounded really tired. That may have been the last conversation. After all, the distance between East and West Dearborn was several miles. With no drivers license and bike riding viewed as totally uncool — it was an impossible situation.
In the years following, I often thought about her — curious as to what happened. While attending community college, I got to meet people from her high school. I asked one guy if he knew her. "Yeah... I know Paula, she's a little hippy girl".
I remember being pleased at hearing that since I myself aspired to a bit of the hippy thing myself. I always thought we were more similar than not. Would have liked to have run into her however it didn't appear she was attending the local C.C. Besides, the social atmosphere of the time seemingly had new friends at the rate of one a minute.
Kept her picture in my wallet as a reminder of the special weekend. A few years later the wallet was stolen while at a youth hostel in Montreal. Losing the picture pissed me off more than the wallet. Well, maybe not — it did have my I.D., all my travelers' checks and I was a long way from home.
I think about that weekend from time to time — up to that point it was certainly the biggest weekend of my teen years. As for the players, no idea what ever became of Dan — in Canada somewhere? The Carmen, the location for many a coming of age moments became an auto supply store before being torn down in the 90's. The Honky Tonk Saloon is now an Arabic deli. My childhood friend Greg died few years back after a long bout with a degenerative disease. I see his mom from time to time telling her how her loving son ditched us in east Dearborn on my first ever date. She smiles.
As for Paula, she's happily married and living in Nevada. We talk from time to time filling in the blanks. She's managed to avoid the PC craze and still sends her thoughtful blend of handwritten letters to those close to her. So much has happened to each of us since then. Yet in the beginning, there we were booked on the first flight of our sexual awareness. Fortunately, things went well, otherwise I'd be looking back, feeling as if it were my first trip to the baggage line… That would come later!!
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