Friday, March 08, 2019

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Gary Ladd Danced The North Adamsville High School Be-Bop Hop Dance Night Away

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Gary Ladd Danced The North Adamsville High School Be-Bop Hop Dance Night Away 

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

YouTube film clip of The Shirelles performing their 1960s teen angst classic Mama Said

[As of this introduction negotiations between Sam Lowell and current site manager Greg Green around full credit attribution, including 2018 updated introductions and reflections, for previous site manager Allan Jackson are still on-going. There has been something of a groundswell by both older writers who have longtime relations with Allan going back to high school days in their collective 1960s growing up and coming of age in the working class Acre section of North Adamsville and the younger writers who led the charge to have Allan replaced after he lost a vote of no confidence. Probably all are, not unimportantly, worried about their attribution status on a site that is committed to free usage, fair usage and common copyright. In the meantime old high school friend Allan had asked me to respond to any rumors that might surface, have surfaced until he can respond on his own (assuming Greg does the right thing after having done the wrong thing by having somebody else “front” for the series.       

I have already mentioned in a previous introduction rumors that Greg Green had somehow done Allan in, done to him what was characterized as physical harm after the internal struggle which led to Allan’s demise. That far-fetched notion like this was some Stalin-Trotsky fight flight of imagination probably fueled by the older writers who lived and died for such drama back in their 1960s radical pasts. It turned out Greg had put the word out to the media world that Allan was “hard to work with” almost as much a kiss of death as any physical action. That blown-up rumor led to another which proved to be partially true that Allan was out in American Siberia in Utah and that he had sold out to the Mormons and to U.S. Senatorial candidate Mitt Romney to get a job after Greg had “black-listed” him in the major markets. That turned out to be pretty true as Allan did to make his daily bread attempt this end-around. The close-knit Mormons kind of laughed it off given Allan’s reputation for skewering old Mitt back in in 2008 and 2012.       

Allan never had a reputation say like Josh Breslin and Sam Lowell despite his three ex-wives as a womanizer, as a skirt-chaser and especially not as a chaser of younger women so the rumor that he had been holed up in La Jolla out in California with some twenty-something part time waitress met at a diner who was teaching him how to surf and who knows what else did not ring true. When, concerned about his whereabouts in the aftermath of the internal fight, Sam and I tracked him down to old haunt Bar Harbor in Maine we were incredulous when he confided in us that he had done so and that once he raised some cash he was going to bring her out to Maine and see if she liked Eastern surfing. Yes, you can say we were dumbfounded although Allan’s respond was “what of it” both parties were of age and that was that. Christ he has daughters older than that.

What happened as Allan was at pains to lay out once he saw our discomfort was that after the Utah stuff fell through he kind of had given up hope. He knew that Mormon- Mitt Romney thing was a longshot, he knew they took care of their own in such matters and he had heaped as much scorn as anybody on the perfidious Mitt who would say anything, do anything to take his main chance as he saw it. We laughed when Allan, gallow’s humor Allan, mentioned that had he fallen under the wheel and gotten a job he very well might meet some Stalin-like end from those sanctimonious bastards, hell, their whole history of survival in Utah was by running everybody else off-by nay means necessary. Once he saw the writing on the wall and not wanting to head back East he headed to Southern California, toward Carlsbad where he and one of his wives, Mimi Murphy if I recall, had had a time share. Once he got to Carlsbad though he saw too many old memories on the waves and headed further south to La Jolla.  

One day, hungry, he went into Dave’s Diner, a locale we all know both from back in the 1960s when we were all riding on the yellow brick road bus in the Summer of Love, 1967 with Captain Crunch (that whole thing is a long story and one of the sketches in this series will deal with it so let’s move on) and from later golfing outings at near-by Torrey Pines. Dave’s was the spot to get a good meal and look at the eye candy for waitresses (now wait staff but still eye candy) who were classic Southern California corn-fed blondes who a couple of generations before had forbears from places like Oklahoma and Iowa when things where bad there and were strictly from hunger. Now these sleek blondes had lost that look and had the surfer girl look we remember from back in the Beach Boys days except now the surfer girls don’t wait on the beaches for their surfer boys to get that perfect wave but go for it themselves. Make enough to stay alive and surf at jobs like wait-staffing to pursue the dream. Dave’s in any case a good tipping crowd-or else per Dave who still hustles hamburgers on the back of the house stove once in a while.   

It was kind of a slow day when Allan stepped up to the counter stools which are a god-sent for singles when Damask, his blonde, blue-eyed wait person who was tending the counters which truth be told was where in the real tips came from by single guys mostly and not that six person booth with about a three dollar tip for a hundred dollars’ worth of meals asked him if he would like coffee before making his meal selection. He told her that while he once loved coffee he couldn’t deal with it anymore because his system couldn’t take it. That got Damask started on her own inability or desire to drink coffee and made Allan laugh when she said they would put Starbuck’s out of business. That kind of back and forth went on throughout the meal. Along the way Damask mentioned although Allan already had an idea that she loved to surf and did he know how. No, Jesus, no he blurted out although that only elicited a response from her about wouldn’t he like to learn. One thing led to another and out of the blue he flat out asked her if she would like to have dinner with him giving her the sad story about his being down in the dumps and could use the company.(Allan would mention that he now knew how old friend “forever young” Phil Larkin felt a couple of years ago when he wound up with some young thing which formed the basis for a few stories in this series). Just for the company, that was all. To his surprise she said that it would be nice to go to Scudder’s, another local hot spot although very pricey. Done (thank god for credit cards and 401ks said Allan).       

As it turned out Damask was both a surfer and a graduate student in physical therapy at U/Cal-San Diego up the road and while totally clueless about many things, many 1960s things which Allan had the good sense to not  go on and on about she loved literature and they had a grand old time that night. As they went their separate ways from Scudder’s (a good idea on Allan’s part showing that he still knew a thing or two after three marriages about keeping woman feeling safe around him) Damask mentioned that she was going surfing the next day and maybe he could come by the beach around nine and she would show him some surfing stuff. Bingo. (Neither Sam nor I had the heart to look askance at Allan when he mentioned her name without a bit of irony since when we were growing up Mary, Betty, Janice, Sandra and maybe something as exotic Mary Beth formed the female names world).

As for what happened to have Allan once again foot the bill for some love interest and Damask accepting his invitation East (where she had never been unlike us who were all crazy to go to California when we were younger) outside whatever surfing tips she taught him that will have to wait until he can “tell the tale” himself (our old neighborhood expression concerning exploits with women based on each and every one of us lying like crazy about what did, or did not, happen under the covers). Jack Callahan]
Saturday night from seven to eleven, any third Saturday of the month from September to May, every red-blooded teen boy and girl in the 1961 North Adamsville High School be-bop, be-bop night could only be in one locale, or want to be. That was the night of the monthly seasonally-themed high school hop. The Fall Frolic, Pumpkin Ball, Mistletoe Magic, Frozen Frolic, and so on themes with hop at the end to give the old-timey innocent high school feel to the night in a town which had had such dances since the school’s founding in the 1920s, although the term “hop” had been of more recent vintage reflecting the effect that such cultural phenomena as the afternoon television program American Bandstand and Danny and the Juniors classic song At The Hop had invested the word with significant teen meaning. More importantly this monthly hop, unlike the more exclusive Autumn Leaves, Holly Hock and Spring Fling dances which were meant solely for juniors and seniors and their guests and which were not designated hops or any other such shorthand reflecting the new rock and roll breeze that had been stirring through the nation for some time by then, anyone, even freshmen and sophomores, could ante up the dollar admission and dance the night away.

The large attendance of wallflower-like freshman, girls and boys alike, all red-faced, all sweaty palms, all trying to look nonchalantly like they had been going to these things for ages to hide their wallflower fears who were hanging off the walls in the transformed festooned gym and of sophomores, a little more self-assured and hovering around the bleachers which had been extended to provide some seating, but still worried about whether they, the boys, had put on enough underarm deodorant, had swigged enough mouthwash, had combed enough parted Wild Root-infested  hair, and the girls, whether that stolen mother’s perfume would seem too strong, their permed hair was still in array and that that padded dress showed their figures to good effect were witness to the fact that anyone, sweaty palms or not if they had enough moxie could dance the night away.  

Well almost everybody in attendance had the chance to dance the night away. And that had been the dilemma confronting one freshman, Gary Ladd, he the “wallflower” way off to the side of the gym almost into the wall if you didn’t think you had seen him on one of the third Saturday nights in question. And right next to him is another guy, me, hair-slicked, underarm-protected, Listerine-inhaled, his best friend since junior high days when I moved to town from Clintondale and we have since tried to defend each other against the hardships of American wayward youth times, times when we both would have rather just that moment had cool sunglasses on to stifle our fears. But let’s get back to Gary because the night I am referring to was his night after some many failed efforts and my story can be simply stated. I will wind up going home at intermission kind of defeated since nobody, nobody at all had asked me to dance, believing that I had not put enough deodorant on, enough Wild Root or swilled enough mouthwash and had been defeated by the ever-present bane of the wallflowers-personal hygiene.

[I would find out a couple of days later when I mentioned my defeat to Emma Wilson in History Class that most of the freshman girls that she knew kept an arm’s distance from me not for personal hygiene, some girls thought that I was “cute,” but no girl, no self-respecting girl could permit herself to be barraged by the two thousand odd-ball facts that I would spew out in order to impress them during the dance. I have seen decided to take her comment under advisement. But back to Gary.]   

What had been bothering Gary, though, we might as well have our moment of truth right up front since this is a confessional age and the truth would have come out anyway, is that he can’t dance. Can’t dance a damn, to hell, heaven or any place in between. Couldn’t dance in junior high when I tried to shadow-box teach him a few steps and when the moment of truth came he almost broke poor, beautiful Melinda Loring’s big toe. Such a reputation in a small town is hard to break. My corner boy’s problem: two- left feet. Two left-feet despite the more recent best efforts of one Agnes Ladd, North Adamsville Class of 1961 Vice President, whose own feet have taken a terrible beating, and has earned some kind of medal for service above and beyond the call of duty, trying to teach little brother Gary the elements of the waltz, the fox trot, and hell, even two feet away from your partner rock and roll moves and the twist to no avail.

All of this teaching done under the cover of tight security since Gary had sworn Agnes to secrecy about their doings. Agnes, for her part, one of the smartest and most popular girls in the senior class, had no intention of telling anybody that she was talking to, much less teaching dance to a freshman even if it was her own brother. Those are the school conventions, and nobody, nobody who is smart and popular is going to defy conventions like that. The freshman, as Agnes told Gary, would have their day in a few years and would in turn snub their subordinate freshman. That is the way it is. But Gary, no twerp under his two left-footed exterior, has always, as he put it, exercised his democratic right as a freshman in good standing to be at these universal dances, come hell or high water.

But that night, that warm April Bring Spring Hop night I am talking about, things were destined to be a little different as Gary has already staked his place against the far wall (the wall farthest away from the girl “wallflowers” just in case you wanted an exact location. Mostly wallflowers, boy or girl, although not me, were keeping their respective distances on the odd chance that someone may actually come up and ask them to dance. First off this month, unlike most months when some lame student DJ from Communications class spins platters on a feisty school record player, the local craze rock band sensations, The Rockin’ Ramrods, were performing live on the makeshift bandstand and were guaranteed to have everybody who gets to dance rocking before they are done, including Gary and me who are scared but still hopeful. Just that minute as Gary shifted his weight and places his back to the wall they were tuning up before their first set of three with the appropriately named Please Stay by the Drifters. Secondly but in line with that Gary hopeful, a new girl in town, Elsie Mae Horton, had told Gary that she would be coming to the hop, her first since moving to town a couple of months before. Naturally the mere fact that she said she would come was an added reason why Gary was there  all that exercising democratic rights stuff be damned (and also why he had tortured his sister Agnes to try, try in vain, to teach him some dance steps). See Gary has the “bug” for Elsie Mae, Yeah, as I well know since I had taken a failed and fruitless run at her with my two thousand facts in Civics class and had gotten  the deep freeze, he is smitten.

Now this Elsie Mae is maybe, on a scale of one to ten, about a six so it is not looks that had Gary (and about six other guys, five and me), well, smitten. An okay body, fair legs, nice brown hair and eyes, a so-so dresser like I say a “six” (and Gary agreed with me although in that department although if you see Elsie Mae I never said that, nor did he). See what Elsie Mae has is nothing but smarts, book smarts which is how I made my approach to her in Civics class talking about this book we were reading about President Andrew Jackson and how he broke the back of the aristocrats like the Adams family who wanted to keep political power in the hands of some self-selected elite, themselves and forget the guys going west, yeah I know not exactly the smoothest move. Idea smart too which enthralled Gary since he likes to talk about novels and such which is what Elsie Mae was into, talk smarts you name it smarts and one of the sweetest smiles this side of heaven. And, as Gary found out early on in one of their shared classes, very easy to talk to about anything, if she wanted to talk to you. Yes, he is smitten; the only unknown in his mind is whether she can dance good enough to stay out of his way if it comes to that. That is if he gets up the nerve to ask her. And as the Ramrods started their first set with Gary Bonds’ School Is Out (praise be) he noticed her coming in the door. Heart pounding he started sinking into the wall again. As they finished with Brother Bonds the Ramrods start in on The Impressions’ Gypsy Woman before Gary realized that Elsie Mae has drawn a bee-line straight for him and was standing right in front of him, turning a little red after he did not greet her. “Oh, my god,” Gary whispers under his breathe, “she is going to ask me to dance. No way.” The usually easy to talk to Elsie Mae though said nothing, nothing but turned a little redder as the Ramrods covered the Pips Every Beat Of My Heart (nicely done too). She stood there waiting for Gary to ask her, if you can believe that. Well, two-left feet or not, he did ask her. And she smiled a little smile as she “accepts.” Relief.

Needless to say when they did their dance, The Edsels’ Rama Lama Ding Dong, it was nothing but a disaster. A Gary disaster? Yes. Although you can use fake moves galore on such a tune Gary, maybe nervous, maybe just trying to show off started moving all his arms all over the place so he looked from my wall position like one of those devilish Hindu gods with a ton of arms. And while in motion he hit Ella Mae a couple of times, not hard but not cool either. Once she came close to him and he moved back into another couple, a senior couple and I thought the senior, Bill Daley from the football team, was going to level poor Gary but he just moved away with his date with the meanest look of scorn I had seen in a while. So disaster was the right word. But here is the funny part. Elsie Mae Horton, formerly of Gloversville, a town in farm country a few miles away and known for the Gloversville Amusement Park on Route 9 and nothing else really, and new to North Adamsville so of unknown dance quality, had two-left feet too. When she had been closing in on Gary it was because she had lost her balance and was ready to careen into him. Get this though. When the dance was mercifully finished, and the two had actually survived, Elsie Mae thanked Gary and told him that he was a wonderful dancer and said she wished that she could dance like him. Whee! Here is the real kicker though. Elsie Mae had also been taking dancing lessons on Saturday mornings at the YWCA, unsuccessfully. Dancing lessons solely so that two-left feet Elsie Mae Horton could dance with Gary Ladd. See, she was “smitten” too. And so if you did not see Gary or Elsie Mae at the Mayfair Dance last month you have now solved that mystery. That night they were sitting, sitting very close to each other, on the seawall down at Adamsville Beach laughing about starting a “Two-Left Feet” Club. With just two members.

[As for my fate that night I went to the hop with Emma Wilson. See after she clued me in to what was what I ran into her at the library and we talked, or rather she talked, not two thousand facts, talked but talked. And I let her. And she asked me to escort her, her word, to the hop.]   

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