Back in 2005, I had just started this blog, and I wrote a posting about the sock hops in our school gym. I received a lot of positive feedback about it, and that encouraged me to continue. It went viral, or as viral as anything could in those early days of the Internet. It still affects me as I read it. It is still one of my best. It describes a time so vivid, so substantial, it seems impossible that sock hops, those sock hops, long ago faded into the past. Here it is:
Posted on November 22, 2005
‘Till we meet tomorrow . . .
I’m an old softie, and that song brings back more high school memories than any other.
Yes, kids, we actually had sock hops. Those were the days before polyurethane varnish and no one was allowed to wear street shoes on the fragile gym floor. So, to have a dance, everyone had to take off their shoes. We left ours on the bleachers as we entered by the boy’s locker room.
A sock hop was a school social event, usually every Saturday night, always casual. You didn’t take anyone, you just went. There was no big decorating effort, we dressed in our usual school clothes, and the cost was trivial, maybe $1 in today’s money. They stamped everyone’s hand as we went in so we could come and go.
Phil Herr, one of McClure’s boys, was the DJ in a tiny audio booth on the far side. Barely enough room for Phil, the record player and a tiny light, and forget about standing up. The records were pretty much whatever was on “Your Hit Parade” that week. Harbor Lights was popular then and still turns me to mush.
The gym was dark, and all the girls looked terrific. Anything could happen, even if all you usually did was stand around mapping out your strategy. In the hallway across from Phil Herr’s cave, near the girl’s locker room, was the brightly lit soda sales area. You could reconnoiter with your buddies there, and a soda bottle was a necessary prop as you stood in the darkness.
Asking a girl to dance took an incredible amount of courage and planning. You wanted to dance with the best possible girl without getting rejected. Like a moth and a flame, it was a fine line and the sting of rejection was deadly. “Best” was not just looks, but a social ranking, a complex combination of many things, looks, personality, style, intelligence, and more.
We knew we also had a social ranking that had to match the girl’s. I know, I know, it was only a dance, but we were searching for our place in life and a lot of self-esteem was involved. It was a ritual of social posturing worthy of a peacock. Guess wrong and you would get an answer like, “I’m a little tired. I think I want to sit this one out.” BOOM! Shot down in flames with no parachute. Right out in the open for everyone to see. Nothing to do but slink back to a dark corner with your tail between your legs.
One of the ploys was to pretend you were only there to plan for something better to do. The movie “Marty” became a classic by catching that spirit.
“What do you want to do?”
“I donno, what do you want to do?”
“Let’s go over to Jerry’s. Maybe his sister is home.”
No wonder kids today don’t marry until their late 30’s. It takes them that long to figure out what we knew in the first minute of slow dancing. You could be talking quietly about the last Civics test but her body language would be shouting that you were the answer to her dreams, would never be more than just a friend, or were downright repulsive. There were a hundred shades of subtlety in between, and what you heard was unmistakable and the absolute truth. Body language could not be hidden or faked. If it was not what you wanted to hear, suck it up, that’s the way it is.
Sometimes, you would be surprised. An ordinary dance with an ordinary girl would suddenly become a revelation as she melted into your arms and rested her cheek on your shoulder, her hair smelling sweetly of shampoo and tickling your neck. Throw in a revolving mirror ball that sweeps polka dots of colored lights across everyone’s face and, it may sound corny, but, as Doris Day would sing, “It’s Magic!”
Of all the sock hops, the only girl I definitely remember dancing with was Linda Johnston. We both knew, everyone knew, she was out of my league. It was probably only once, and that’s probably why I remember it. I got signals. Nothing came of it, but, on that night, I got signals. By Monday, at school, she had second thoughts, just as I expected.
The important dance was the last one, the “Goodnight, Sweetheart” dance. You would take home whoever you were with. Everyone understood that. Walk home, mostly. If you were lucky, she would say her friend’s dad was driving a group of them home. That was easy for her to back out of. It was hopeless if her dad was driving them home. She would politely say he would be glad to drop you off, too, but, of course, getting home wasn’t the point.
But, occasionally, everything would click. You got signals from a girl you had only known as the squeamish one in Biology class, and you got to walk her home and stand out in front of her house in the dark and talk and talk and not even feel the cold.
Gooood . . . Niiight.
Thanks for the memories.