Tag Archives: bruce springsteen

Dancing In The Dark

21 Jun

Seventh grade has been a complete mess. Everyone goes through rough patches, I suppose. Even cool people. Look at Bob Dylan. He’s pretty much the coolest, and even he had that period where he painted his face like a mime. I’ll bet people made fun of him, too, otherwise he probably would’ve just kept on with it forever. I never knew my clothes or hair were stupid until people made fun of me for it. At some point, someone must’ve said to him ‘Hey, Bob, you look like a faggot.’ That’s what Rick Huntington said to me when I wore my dad’s leather jacket.

I was trying to look like Bruce Springsteen on the ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ album cover. He looks tough, and he’s sneering and he seemed like someone Jenny Parker might like. But it turns out she likes guys who wear Abercrombie clothes, like Rick, and he called me a faggot, and I didn’t really feel like Bruce Springsteen on the album cover, so I tossed the jacket back in the storage room and got a job to save up for some Abercrombie clothes.

I wash dishes on the weekends at Mazarra’s near the mall. Mr. Mazarra is a friend of my grandfather’s, and he pays me twenty dollars in cash at the end of every shift. The dish tank is like a hundred degrees, and it makes your skin wrinkled and spongy. There’s usually four of us back there – me, Ramon and Luis, who don’t speak much English, and Monte, who has Down syndrome and only works until seven. There’s another guy, Wayne, but we’re not allowed to work together because he went to prison for touching kids.

It can get kind of boring because there’s no one to talk to. Sometimes Ramon and Luis will teach me dirty words in Spanish, but most of the time I just sing songs in my head. There’s that one R.E.M. song, ‘Stand’ – I like to sing that but change the words to be about what I’m doing, so in my head I’ll go ‘Stand in the place where you work, now clean forks’, and stuff like that. It helps pass the time.

When I’m not in school or at work, I like to sit in the basement and listen to my dad’s records. There are loads of them in the storage room, packed away in wooden crates, all dog-eared and faded. At first I used to play them based on what the covers looked like – I listened to Pink Floyd for the first time because they had the man shaking hands with the other man who was on fire, and the Rolling Stones because they had the real zipper on the cover and Billy Joel because he always looks sad and lonely on all of his album covers, and I feel that way a lot.

I don’t ever remember meeting my dad. Mom says I did, but he left when I was little to live with some other lady in California. I’ve never been to California, but everyone’s always singing about it, so there’s got to be something to it. One day I want to go out there and find him and talk about records. Maybe he could help me sort some of this stuff out. Mom’s great and all, but she’s not really much help. She just sits on the couch after work watching T.V. and sometimes she cries, and if I tell her about any of my problems she tells me how great I am, which I don’t really believe, because no one else seems to think so.

I’m kind of like Simon. He sings a song about how he’s alone and he doesn’t need any friends, and he seems like he’s doing OK, so maybe it will work out. He has his poetry and books, and I’m kind of like that with my dad’s records. He’s also kind of short and puny looking and has a dumb haircut, so we have a lot in common. Except that Simon probably doesn’t get a million boners and zits and I bet his voice doesn’t crack all of the time. And he says he doesn’t have friends, but then what’s Garfunkel? If he ever got too lonely he could always just call up and say ‘Hey, it’s Simon, want to write a song?’ I don’t have anyone like Garfunkel.

Tonight is our school’s Spring Dance. I didn’t want to go, because I went to the winter one and the music was crap and I just stood by the punch bowl the whole time. No one wanted to dance with me, and after a while I just waited outside the gym until my mom came to pick me up. But she says she always had fun at school dances and made friends and that I should go. Plus, I got an Abercrombie shirt last week. It was $60, which adds up to three shifts in the dish tank. Mom said that was ridiculous, and that no one should pay that much for a shirt, but when I told her that the dance was coming up and everybody wore them, she paid for half of it. She told me to save the rest and maybe use some to buy a girl ice cream after the dance. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that girls don’t like me, so I just said that I might. She’s always sad, and it would probably make her sadder to find out that I’m not as handsome as she thinks I am.

After I get out of the shower, I put on my Abercrombie shirt and try to style my hair all sorts of different ways. I make it like Sting’s, all pointy and messy, but I figure that Rick Huntington would make fun of that, so I try Rod Stewart hair, but that ends up looking just like Sting, and so I try to comb it down like the Beatles, but it’s not long enough, and even if it was Rick would probably make fun of that, too. He’s been on my case all year, ever since I wore the leather jacket. Whenever we pass in the hallways he does this thing where he jerks forward like he’s going to lunge at me, but he doesn’t, and when I flinch he laughs and knocks my books on the floor. Sometimes I really wish I was a tough fighter like Elton John or Mick Jagger, so I could just pop him square in the nose and tell him to leave me alone.

I end up doing my hair like I always do, and my mom says that I look really handsome. On the way there she asks me if there’s any girls I was thinking of dancing with, and I say maybe Jenny Parker, because the idea of me dancing with a girl seems to make her happy. She says that if Jenny and I wanted to get ice cream after the dance she could take us and even wait out in the car until we were done. I know she’s just trying to be a good mom, but it makes me want to cry because the idea seems so nice, and it will never happen in a million years.

Little circles of light bounce around the dark gym, and there are a few green and white streamers taped up in the doorway. A few girls are out in front of the DJ booth that’s set up under the basketball hoop, but they’re just kind of swaying, not really dancing. Everyone else is leaning against the walls or standing near the refreshments table.

I don’t really know what to do or who to talk to, so I duck into the bathroom for a minute, even though I don’t need to go. After that, I sort of take a lap and wind up at the DJ booth. The guy has big hoop earrings and when I ask him to play Fleetwood Mac he laughs a little. He says junior high kids don’t want to dance to Fleetwood Mac, but I tell him that I’m a junior high kid, and I dance to them all the time. He laughs again and says he’ll see what he can do. I head over to get some punch, where I run into Jenny. She has on a blueberry dress and heels with straps and her hair is swooped up. She looks really pretty.

‘How are you?’ she asks with the same chirpy sing-song voice she uses when she cheers at the football games.

‘I’m fine. You?’

‘Glad not to be in science class,’ she says, emphasizing the word ‘science’ as if it were our little secret.

‘Yeah,’ I say, and then it gets quiet for a minute.

‘I really love Third Eye Blind,’ she says, pointing towards the ceiling.

‘They’re great,’ I say, though I don’t know who Third Eye Blind is. It gets quiet again, and I start to think about the idea of dancing and ice cream and how happy my mom would be. ‘Hey, um, I asked the DJ to play a song, and he said that he would if I got people to dance to it, so maybe you could help me get some people?’

‘Sure. What song?’

‘Yeah, what song?’ Rick says as he bumps his shoulder into mine from behind.

‘Rick,’ she says with gritted teeth, stamping her foot and narrowing her eyes.

‘What? I’m just playin’, he says with a smirk, putting his arm around her shoulder. I start to walk away but Jenny follows me and grabs my wrist.

‘We’ll dance to your song, OK? Just tell me when it comes on and we’ll get people out there.’

It takes about four or five more songs, but when I hear the first few piano bars, I signal to her, and she grabs two of her friends’ hands and a bunch of others follow. At first when the song kicks up, everyone is jumping around and hollering, but when it starts to settle in people just kind of sway a little and don’t seem so excited anymore.

‘What the fuck is this?’ Rick asks with a crinkled face.

‘Fleetwood Mac.’

‘Who?’

‘Fleetwood Mac,” I say again, this time looking at the floor, a film of heat covering my face.

‘More like Fagwood Mac,’ he says with a laugh. ‘You can’t dance to this shit.’

He walks off and most everyone follows him. Jenny stands around for a second, and it looks like she might say something, but her friend pulls her away. After a minute or so the DJ changes to a different song and looks at me with a shrug. I get another cup of punch, and Mr. Michaels, my English teacher, says that he likes Fleetwood Mac, so we talk for a minute. He tells me I should listen to them before they had Stevie Nicks. I tell him I will, though I don’t know which one Stevie Nicks is. I hope he’s not the singer, as I like him, and the girl, Lindsey. They sound nice together.

The next song is a slow dance one – Janet Jackson, I think – and when it starts the bouncing lights settle into a steady carousel around the room. Everyone partners up except for a few of us, but I’m the only one who doesn’t have friends around they can pretend to talk to. Jenny dances with Rick, and puts her head on his shoulder while I stand against the wall, wishing that I hadn’t spent so much on a stupid shirt.

I wait until the dance is over before leaving, wanting my mom to think that I had a good time. As I’m walking past the line of idling cars Jenny calls out to me from behind, wobbling in her heels as she tries to catch up to me.

‘I’m really sorry,’ she says with a frown. ‘Rick is a jerk, and that was mean. I should’ve danced with you.’

‘It’s OK.’

‘I like that song,’ she says, swiping a strand of hair behind her ear. ‘They played it when the president got elected. He played saxophone.’

‘Yeah, he did.’

‘Seriously, though, I’m really sorry. I promise to make it up to you some time.’

‘Well, um, if you want, we could go get ice cream? My mom can take us. She’ll wait in the car. I can pay for it.’

‘Oh,’ she says, her eyes falling to the sidewalk. ‘I, um, we’re actually going to hang out in Rick’s friend’s basement. He lives down the street.’

‘Oh, yeah, no, that’s OK.’

‘Maybe another time?’ she asks, returning to her cheerleader voice but still frowning.

‘Yeah, sure. I’d like that.’ She kisses me on the cheek and my guts stretch and twist like boiling silly putty. She smells like green soap and perfume. I feel a little like Bruce Springsteen.

‘Bye.’

‘Bye.’

‘Was that Jenny Parker?’ my mom asks when I get into the car. I can’t remember the last time I saw her smile so wide, her cheeks bunching against her eyelids.

‘Yeah.’

‘Does she want to go for ice cream?’

‘She can’t. Her mom says she has to go home. But we might go, another time.’ She puts a hand on my knee, shaking it a little. ‘Can we please just go home?’

I’m not dumb enough to think that the kiss meant anything. I know she’s into guys like Rick who play football, and she just felt bad for me. But it made me feel nice, and maybe she could end up like a Garfunkel, and that would be a good start.

When we get back my mom turns on the T.V., curling up on the couch, and I head down to the basement and listen to songs about California.

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