In case you’re wondering what that means, it’s a line from the onsite live reporting by Herbert Morrison when the Hindenberg disaster occurred. The quote has since been widely used in a satirical manner to indicate faux horror at a happening or circumstance; which, is how I just used it. The horror I am about to discuss with you is the much feared, albeit much looked forward to, eighth grade dance. It was without a doubt one of those events every young boy anticipated with a gut-twisting eager dread.
By the time we reached the seventh or eighth grade, you see, we were a mass of roiling testosterone driven pubescence. We knew we liked girls, but weren’t sure why and what we should do about it. Most of us had kissed one by the time we got to the “dance”, but only in the clumsiest way, having been coerced into it by a coy young neighbor or the friend of a sister.
It seems to be common knowledge that girls mature faster than boys, so it is my suspicion that they took advantage of us in our early years of discovering them. While we were playing marbles, making stink bombs out of ink pens, and twirling yo-yo’s from our middle finger, the lasses were plotting our eventual enslavement. In fact, looking back on it, I am of the opinion the girls in the eighth grade class of 1964 were the instigators of the women’s movement.
Eight grade dances were a part of the plot, designed to turn us into frightened, blubbering fools. The training would begin once we were all in the school cafeteria. They say the teachers made the rules, but I’m not so sure; I think the girls did it. In any case, the tables were removed from the cafeteria, and all the boys congregated on one side of the big room, and all the girls were huddled in sets of four or more on the opposite side of the floor.
The girls would be giggling, laughing and talking about the silly fools across the room, while the silly fools—that would include yours truly—would be stumbling into one another, occasionally mumbling the name of the girl they intended to dance with. It usually took about thirty minutes and nine or ten 45 RPM records before one of the boys would get the nerve to walk slowly across to the other side and ask his true love to dance. True loves, by the way, lasted about two weeks when you were in the seventh or eighth grade.
Once that first couple hit the dance floor, it was like a stampede. The slap of shined up loafers clattering across the floor was thunderous, and the girls on the other side would shrink back against the wall, wide-eyed, as the herd rushed in. If one of the girls saw she was about to be approached by a boy she didn’t “like” or want to dance with, she would bolt for the ladies room. Or, grab one of her friends and dance girl-girl. That was the ultimate put down, and scarred many a young man for life.
Unless, of course, it was a fast song. Under no circumstance would an eighth grade boy be caught on the dance floor during a jitterbug tune. We wanted the encounters of the closest kind only, and the flopping around stuff was left to the girls. Our thought process was there was no way we could jump around out on the dance floor with any semblance of coolness, so it just wasn’t gonna happen.
At any rate, those dances were some of the best worst nights of my life. I swear I never felt so good and so bad at one time at the same time. I mean, it was horribly devastating and wonderful! Know what I mean?