Once upon a time in a land far away lived a young girl who in today’s world would be called a geek, but then was just known as a creep. She was tall, very tall, seemingly taller than everyone else in her ninth grade class. This was not actually a fact, given the truth of pubescent growth spurts which were just now hitting a few boys in her class. But it’s the way she felt and that, after all, is what counts the most when you’re fourteen.
She was, our young heroine, a girl who lived a lot in her imagination. One consequence of this–and of the fact that she was known as a creep–was that she had never been on a date. No boy had held her hand or kissed her cheek, and as far as anything else went–well, this was a land far away when such things were unheard of until you were seventeen or eighteen at least.
This did not, however, mean that she had not lusted in her heart, as far as her heart knew how to lust. In fact, she had seen the movie Gidget eight times. This was not, you must remember, a time of video tapes or CD-ROMS. To see the movie Gidget eight times, our heroine had to go to eight different showings on eight different days. But such was her love for James Darren, the Moondoggie of this Gidget, that she eagerly spent hours alone in a darkened movie theatre imagining that it was she and not Sandra Dee that Moondoggie was kissing. There may have been some part of this where she actually wanted to be Sandra Dee, that is, petite and blonde and Protestant, but that is what happens when you give a young Jewish girl an imagination that knows no bounds.
Now it happened that in the summer before her freshman year of high school, she spent some time in Atlantic City, staying with her mother in a rooming house owned by the mother of her father’s brother’s daughter’s husband (this detail is only of interest to those who would like to know that said husband eventually ran NBC, but then, he was just a common lawyer) whose mother ran what was called a cochalein. This is Yiddish for a rooming house where the ice box (yes, ice box) was shared by a number of different women, each of whom had their section of a particular shelf.
Our heroine, who we shall call for expediencies sake, Janie, never knew why this was one of the few she things she remembered from that summer. Another was that her mother shoe polished her white Keds, which you all must know was, is and will always be a fate worse than death. And the last thing Janie remembered from that time was–Fabian.
He was appearing at a concert in Atlantic City and somehow Janie was going. She can’t remember who with, although she thinks there might have been a fix up there by her mother and another woman at the cochalein. She has vague memories of some faceless young man who was, it seemed, the reason why Janie’s mother applied the white shoe polish to Janie’s Keds. But more than that is lost to time, gone with the wind, as it were. What Janie remembers about the concert is screaming. She clearly sees herself standing in a mass of other young girls and screaming. She doesn’t know if she screamed at the sight of Fabian or at the sound of his voice, but she opened her mouth wide and screamed. It was a primal response.
At summer’s end, Janie returned to Pittsburgh with her family to begin her freshman year of high school. She anticipated, based mostly on the YA reading she consumed, that this would be the time when her creepdom would end, and she would become one of the popular girls. To that end, the first day of school, she wore a pale yellow shirt dress, with buttons down the front and a delicate ruffle running down each side of her chest. She imagined they made her bust, as it was then called, look if not formidible, then at least of note.
Perhaps it didn’t or perhaps the stain of creepdom ran too deep within her, but her fantasies of high school popularity remained just that, pie in the sky. There were a few girls who knew her name, the ones she had gone to grade school with, but to the boys, she was invisible. There seemed no way of making even the lowliest of them take notice of her and so she returned to the one boy she believed would never let her down: Fabian.
Now it just so happened that this was the heyday of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Janie would come home from school every afternoon and plop herself down in front of the Raytheon black and white television set for an orgy of watching the cool kids of Philly strut their stuff. Kenny and Justine and the others, they were all Italian. Maybe it was this steady diet of copying the moves of the kids of South Philly that made Janie fall so hard for Fabian, nee Fabian Forte. Those Italian boys, they were something special.
It was the deep of a Pittsburgh winter–bitter cold and deadly gray–when Clark Race, a local DJ, announced that his weekly TV dance program would be sponsoring a contest, featuring none other than Fabian. All contestants had to do was collect pictures of the singer; the person who had the most photos of Fabian would win the date.
Let us cut to the chase here: by hook and by crook and not without some chicanerie, Janie won that contest, and here are some excerpts from her diary on that day:
I couldn’t sleep last night I am just so excited. And nervous too. What if my outfit isn’t right? Mom said I should wear that suit dress with the little jacket and heels–and stockings. She knows I can’t put stockings on without sticking my finger through them, so she said she would help me.
Some help! The stockings she came up with had seams! Seams! No one wears seamed stockings anymore. I’m going to look like such a creep.
When I put the dress on, I realized that the cap sleeves showed my armpits. In all their hairy glory. Mom says I’ll just keep the jacket on and no one will see.
The date is at Horizon Room at Pittsburgh Airport. Dad’s taking me. Why is he driving so carefully? We’re going to be late. We’ll miss Fabian.
We were late. When we got there the show had already started and the place was full of girls my age. I couldn’t even see to the front where the stage was, but we heard someone announce over the loudspeaker, “Has anyone seen Janie Gassner?” Yes, that’s me. Me!
Before I can answer, my father lets out that bizarre yodel my mother and her sisters use when they want to communicate in a public place. “Ah-000-ahhhh,” he bellows, like a cow in heat. I want to die.
I’m wearing my wool coat with the raccoon collar and as I start to make my way through the crowd, I hear some girl say, “Sheesh, look at that coat!” I want to die.
Dad goes to help me take the coat off, but he also grabbed the suit jacket. My hairy armpits are exposed. I want to die.
I finally make it up to the stage and there I am, being introduced to Fabian, who has a very strong grip when he shakes my hand. I’m not really used to my Cuban heels and I start to fall over. He, gallantly, helps me maintain my balance and then he begins to sing to me.
I’m aware of only two things: while the front of his hair is nicely slick with pomade, the back is rough and sticking up all over. Also, he can’t carry a tune.
My “date” is me and Fabian at a table in Clark Race’s suite with about ten other people, including my father. Some date!
We did sit next to each other though and I can tell you Fabian has some appetite. He ate his fruit cocktail and then he ate my fruit cocktail. The same with his club sandwich and my club sandwich. I ate my own orange sherbet.
Here’s the sweetest thing he said to me, “Boy, you sure do eat like a bird.” And I replied, “Well, if you were sitting next to Marilyn Monroe, you wouldn’t eat very much either.“
I’m home now. And thinking about today–I guess I’m over Fabian pretty much. Besides, since I won the date, everyone in school knows who I am. They talk to me and point me out. Maybe one day I’ll have a real date with a real boy.
This post is part of a Valentine’s Day Blog Hop on GenFab. Here are some other’s doing the dance: