My Date With Fabian

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.imgres-24 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.

FabianHe 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:

  • Laurie Kennedy

    Amazing. Your date was extraordinary. And with your father no less. Loved the detail about your stockings and what a pig that he ate everything except the orange sherbet. I too watched American Bandstand every DAY religiously but the guy I fell for was James Dean. I used to weep after he died and i bought every movie magazine to help me understand this complicated man. This weekend we’ll have to discuss our various crushes when we were 14. Really enjoyed seeing him sing. He didn’t sing well did he? Much love laurie

  • Generation Above Me

    What a great post capturing the excitement of youth. It’s so hard to have that kind of single-focused clarity through the layers that come with moving past mid century. But this is great to see the world through younger eyes. A good travel through time.

    • janegassner

      I’m finding that it’s the early days and feelings that are still strongest for me. All that living that followed has kind of murkied the waters.

  • Yvonne Wray

    You WON! Boy I could feel all of the determination that must’ve gone into pulling that off. The details of your story give such clear images of what it was like to be Janie. I can especially relate to the primal experience at that Fabian concert and the isolated feeling of being a girl geek way before any geeks were cool. Thank you.

    Yvonne recently posted Three Things My Celebrity Crush Taught Me About Menopause.

    • janegassner

      My parents always told me that if I wanted something badly enough and was willing to work for it, I’d get it. You know what–they were wrong! And I think that has been one of the hardest lessons of my adulthood.

  • Kim Prince

    Maybe one day I’ll have a real date with a real boy! Oh, precious. I love Janie’s diary.

    • janegassner

      And one day I did. But that’s a tale for another time….

  • lisaweldon

    NO WAY! You ate at the same table as Fabian??? Oh, I thought I was the only one who’s Keds were polished.

    • janegassner

      Did your mom polish your Keds too? Will these mothers never learn?! (And what’s the equivalent that you did to your kids?)

      • lisaweldon

        nope, she made US polish them. The equivalent? I made my kids iron – yes, I said iron – their clothes for church. Just recently I watched a little boy walk down our church aisle totally decked out in his Batman costume. What a smart, smart mom he has!

  • Kiki Dunigan

    Ahhh, your words paint such a picture in my memory! Replace “creep” with “Clutz” and fantasies of love with fantasies of adventure, and you’ve just described my teen years! Great story, thank you so much for sharing it so beautifully and with humor, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

    • janegassner

      Thanks, Kiki. I guess I’m getting to the age when memoir is an acceptable genre to work in.

  • Karen Wendy Irving

    Janie, this was so sweet! And I identified with the whole “creep” thing…and being the tallest.


    • janegassner

      Life is tough, Karen, when you’re the tallest kid around. It left me with some body image issues: I still don’t believe there are any women taller than I am. Even when I’m walking next to a friend who’s 6’…and I’m only 5’7″.

  • Brenda Hook

    This post totally takes me back to the way I felt in junior high… and my shoe-polished Keds. Great story!

    • janegassner

      High school was such a funny, dramatic, tragic time. Probably best viewed in retrospect!

  • Helene

    Janie Gassner! I LOVED this! You are too funny. Did you go to Taylor Allderdice? My mother’s from Pgh. :)

    • janegassner

      No, Helene, I went to Peabody. Allderdice were our sorta rivals. Not at sports but among the girls–the Jewish girls, that is. Allderdice was the equivalent of the Upper West Side and Peabody was Brooklyn. Did I know your mother? More to the point–did we like each other?!

  • Ellen Dolgen

    I can feel the butterflies you had throughout the entire experience. Thank you for sharing and good for you!!!

    • janegassner

      I don’t really remember being nervous, Ellen, so much as excited. Nervous was what I was when I started dating. My mother actually had to push me down the stairs when my date was at the door. Talk about stage fright!

  • Carpool Goddess

    Great story! So amazing you still have your diary. I probably threw out mine.

    • janegassner

      Ummmm, that was a bit of poetic license. But I’ve got a good memory!

  • Ginger Kay

    Jane, you were a funny writer, even in your girlhood diary!

    • janegassner

      Thanks, Ginger. My strong suit–and my weak suit–has always been that I see the world in a somewhat askew way.

  • Donna Highfill

    Wonderful story – best line for me: “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.” I thoroughly enjoyed this – thank you!

    • janegassner

      That hair has stuck with me all these years: it was awful. I think that was the first time that I got a sense of the make-believe behind stardom.

  • longhollow

    What a fantastic story!I love your remark to him about Marilyn!

    • janegassner

      I still shudder when I remember saying that. I meant it, too.

  • Chloe

    How exciting! And gosh, he really could not sing, could he?

    • janegassner

      Nope, he really couldn’t carry a tune in a basket. He was one of the first of the manufactured pop stars.

  • Connie McLeod

    This is just a wonderful story. I hope this made you the most popular girl in the school. And if not, it has given you a great story that I’m sure you’ve been able to tell all your adult life.

    • janegassner

      It did not make me the most popular girl in the school, but it did make me known. Even today if you talk to people I went to high school with, they remember Janie who won the date with Fabian.

  • Bonnie Dingus

    Oh what a wonderful thing to have happen! Love the dear diary excerpts!

    • janegassner

      Thanks, Bonnie…someday I’ll tell the story of meeting Fabian 30+ years later in the produce department of Vons Supermarket.

      • Chris

        Oh, now you must! And, shows how truly persistent you can be – something to be proud of as well.

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