In the mid 1980s, I spent many Saturday nights at Mormon stake dances around Southern California. There were several to choose from each Saturday, and the better ones would pack in several hundred kids from all over Southern California.
This post was a journal entry dated February 1986, when I was sixteen years-old, but I wrote it several months later, and I seem to be writing in my Kerouac phase. I’ve taken out some embarrassing self-awareness and changed the names, but I’ve tried to leave the spirit of it intact.
I come home from work and call Baz.
He says, ‘Tonight. Arcadia?’
I say, ‘No, Upland. Paige called me, called me, to say she’s going to Upland. It’s her stake.’
He’s disappointed, but he says, ‘She called you? OK, Upland.’
‘Should I call Todd?’
‘Yeah, call him. He’ll be happy to see Whasername.’
I call Todd, and he’s as happy as he gets to go see Whasername.
So I eat, shower and get dressed, and dad gives me the old one-two. ‘Remember who you are and what you stand for,’ mom calls from the living room.
‘I’m Superman, and I stand for truth, justice and the American way,’ I call back.
I go to Baz’s, and his dad walks out to the car with him and gives us his own one-two, and then off to Todd’s, where he’s waiting at the curb.
We take the freeways to Upland, the Box [a 1975 VW van] struggling to keep up with traffic but the radio pounding. We’re earlyish, so we stop at AM/PM for Cokes and Cornuts, hanging out in the parking lot by the freeway overdressed in ironed shirts, skinny ties, thrift-store slacks and Docs.
Just after 9:30 we hit the Upland stake center. As we pay and show our dance cards, we hear the rhythm of the music and see a few bodies in the dark doorway, but when we get inside the heat is intense. The place is packed — jocks, punks, Madonna wannabes, youth committee members, little brothers, shitkickers, break dancers, wallflowers, burnouts, mods, geeks, new wave trendies and of course the chaperones, against the walls, arms folded, looking bored and suspicious.
With Duran Duran playing, I say hey to some familiar faces, look for Paige, but I don’t see her in the crowded darkness. Then The Buzzcocks are playing — The Buzzcocks at a church dance! I ask a willing-looking girl and we go. The girl looks bored but I don’t care — I want to move. I see Paige while dancing and after the song I go over.
We spend the whole dance together — talking, having punch and cookies, dancing and especially laughing. Paige laughs at everything, including herself. While slow dancing, I say, ‘I really like the way you laugh.’ She looks right at me, serious, and I realize I could kiss her right there. But this is a church dance, and there’s been hassle for dancing too close.
I only see Todd a few times, in the corners or dancing with Whasername. She’s more depressed looking than usual, if that’s possible. I see Baz working his System* and he comes and asks where we’ll go after the dance. Paige suggests Norms, and I agree. Baz makes a face — the cool kids go to Cocos — but he nods and takes off.
Just before 11, someone announces the closing prayer to be followed by the last song. During the prayer, I peek and about half the kids are looking around, scoping out for the last dance. Paige elbows me, and I smile and close my eyes.
After the prayer a Lionel Ritchie songs starts up, and Paige and I put our hands on each other and dance, mostly looking in different directions, for when our eyes meet it is too much, too close. In this moment, it seems unlikely that it’s happening, but here we are, and I’m not sure what is here to believe in, but I believe.
The song ends and the lights come one, and as we stand blinking at each other the adults immediately start folding chairs. Todd comes up and says he’s going to Denny’s with Whasername and could we pick him up there when we’re done? Sure. Baz asks if we can take a girl he’s met and her sister and drop them off at home? Of course. The girls needs to use the pay-phone to half-lie to their parents about where they’ll be, so we shuffle out to the parking lot, where we sit in the Box listening to the radio feeling wildly cool and full of anticipation, working out our curfews and exchanging plans with the other carloads. When Baz’s new friends arrive, off we go.
Part 2 will appear in a few days.
* I had to email Baz and ask what his System was. He remembers it well: ‘Use fast songs to set up slow songs, use slow songs to set up last dance, use last dance to get number.’ He wants the record to show that it ‘TOTALLY WORKED, just ask my wife.’ I didn’t change Baz’s name as he says nobody has called him that since 1988.