Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"C'mon, Pull My Finger"

Most Catholic churches in the fifties held what were called "Confraternity Dances", usually on Friday nights. They were for teens, mostly from the local parish, but some became so successful that outsiders frequently attended. The dances usually featured a live band, and the better-known places like St. Fortunata's church on Linden Blvd. had great Latin bands like Tito Puente and Prez Prado that went on to achieve fame. My friends and I traveled as far as Manhattan and the Bronx to go to places that had the best music, and therefore the best selection of ladies. Oh yeah.

We usually traveled in groups of four or five guys. True, it was a dance, but when you ventured outside your home turf, it was nice to know that somebody had your back. The social dynamic at these functions was most interesting. Usually the girls would sit on one side of the dance floor and the boys on the other. Asking a girl to dance required a long walk across the dance floor (in full view of all assembled) and running the risk of getting shot down in flames. This is the true meaning of courage. Guys tended to set their sights low early in the evening, and only if they were rewarded with some success, did they aim higher.

One of the biggest assets in our group was my buddy Phil. He was not only tall and good looking, but unlike the rest of us, had taught himself how to dance from watching American Bandstand on television. (This was a great show with Dick Clark that featured Philadelphia teens dancing on-camera, with guest appearances by the up and coming rock and roll artists of the day.) The kids on the show were regulars, and soon became so popular that they had a following all their own. Anyhow, Phil was our babe magnet, and the rest of us were like the fish known as "remora" who attach themselves to sharks and feed off the leavings of the shark's meals.

Once Phil had established a beach head, the rest of the landing party would bring up the rear. Usually the girls he danced with had friends who mistakenly assumed we could all dance like Phil. Imagine their surprise when they discovered what "spastics" we were. It required some fast talking and no small amount of charm to overcome our "terpsicorically challenged" performances on the dance floor. Phil was our "Trojan Horse", there to lure the unsuspecting ladies into our waiting arms.

We dressed in jackets and sometimes neckties for these dances. (This was back before people appeared in public in pajama bottoms and ratty t-shirts.) Being on limited budgets, there was one shameless fashion trick we used to make our wardrobes more appealing; when men's crew-neck sweaters came into vogue, we simply took our old V-neck sweaters and wore them backwards. This clever deception was never noticed since we typically wore jackets over our sweaters, Hey, it's a meat market out there, and we had to compete, damn it.

Our feelings and behavior toward the opposite sex were so naive and klutzy. This was a whole new universe for teen boys with raging hormones and absolutely no clue about how to talk to girls. Nothing in our experience prepared us for socializing with young ladies who, for some reason, were not bowled over by our sure-fire "pull my finger" gag. Luckily, the girls knew what freaks we were, and treated us like wild beasts who could be tamed with kindness and soothing words. Schools should encourage classes in social interaction starting in fifth grade....not so much sex education, but just how to behave in the presence of the opposite sex.

It's too late for my generation, but have mercy on our grandchildren.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

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