Suburbia: Tales of Affliction
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing
[Previous chapters here: as noted before, these are non-sequential chapters which will tie together eventually with a story line. I'm sure a lot of you recognize some of these stories. I guess I'm fictionalizing parts of my glory days for the book.]
It’s 1978, beginning of junior year. That’s when we start to feel frisky. We’re not seniors, but we’re not “the kids” either. Seniors treat us a different attitude. Instead of making us their slaves or ridiculing our fashion sense, they take us under their wings. It gives us all a sense of power, a feeling of righteous smugness, like the world is ours and all we have to do is make a grab for it. Very often, our idea of “grabbing for it” consists of hanging out. That’s it. Just...hanging out. The school lawn. The abandoned house next to the school. The sump. The park. The mall. Oh yes, there is nothing that smacks of suburbia as much as hanging out at the mall does. Roaming the aisles in packs, we have no money to spend and no specific place to be. We are the mall security’s worst nightmare; kids pumped up on a combination of sugared cereal, 7-11 coffee and Saturday afternoon adrenaline. The rent-a-cops keep a close eye on us as we parade up and down the promenade, giggling in front of Frederick’s of Hollywood, drooling in front of Record World. The security guys react to us like we’re there to wreck the place. We’re teenagers, not marauding zombies. But you would never know it from the look of those chubby men in uniform. I think they’re scared of us. The funny thing is, we never caused any trouble. No fights, no shoplifting, no vandalism. We just...hang.
Today, there's me, Kevin, Paul and Tim, as always. We go nowhere without each other, we make no convoluted plots to take over the world without all of us present. We move like stealth bombers in the night, all army jackets and dirty jeans and Genesis t shirts. We are the cutting edge of a white-bred community, which really isn't saying much, but we think we are the coolest people on the face of the earth. We listen to prog rock and punk rock and never pop rock or disco or, rock gods forbid, Journey or Bruce Springsteen. We think guitar solos are passe but drum solos rock the house. We think Peter Gabriel is a genius and bands like Styx and Fleetwood Mac need to be silenced. We secretly listen to Van Halen but no one tells the other until years later, when we can admire David Lee Roth from the safe distance of many years.
When we’re not marauding through the mall like zombies, we hang out in Kevin's room with the black lights and Emerson Lake & Palmer posters, or we hang out in Paul's garage, with the drum set and the Ramones "Road to Ruin" playing over and over. But every Saturday, we get on a bus to the mall. We are drawn there, because Record World owns us. It is the only reason to get on public transportation. It is the only reason to beg someone's older brother for a ride: to buy records and look through the stacks of vinyl and pray that you will find some obscure punk rock album in the cut-out bin for 99 cents, and all you can find is Heart and Blue Oyster Cult, and a 45 of Nazareth's "Love Hurts" that you play 50 times in the next three days.
We decide to that today we’ll pool our money together to buy an album, and we’ll still have enough left over to ask Kevin's brother to buy us quarts of beer when we get home. Perfect day.
We get to the mall and the first thing we notice is there's more security guards than usual. This is suburbia. There's not much trouble at the mall. We figure there's some kind of protest going on. You know how those college kids are, always protesting the fur or the man or whatever gets them out of the dorms. So we make our way through the mall, wanting to just get to the record store and get the hell out of there without encountering any cheerleaders or football players or the giddy junior high girls that always flirt with Tim. We’re about two feet from Record World when we’re stopped by a short, fat security guard and a velvet rope going across the length of the mall.
"You cannot get through this way. You must go around the other entrance to the mall and wait on line." The guard stands with his hand in his pocket, as if he is believing his own lie that he's a real cop and there's a gun hidden away there.
"Wait for what?" I ask him. "What's the line for?" He rolls his eyes at me.
"The show. The concert." I can almost here the "Duh!" coming out of his mouth.
We look beyond the velvet ropes, past the throng of the most hideous group of middle-aged women and giggling teenagers forming what looked like a huge conga line of patheticness. There's an amplifier set up on each corner of the square the ropes have formed. There's a makeshift stage in the middle, really just a few planks of wood. A concert. A show.
"So, who's playing?" Kevin asks the guard. Chubby man rolls his eyes again.
"Only Leo Sayer!" He says this with pride and arrogance. As if we should have known that the most untalented white boy to ever grace pop music was playing in our very mall today.
"Leo Sayer," I say.
"Leo Sayer," The other three say.
We look at each other in the way that only friends who have performed sinister acts of rebellion together in the past do. The look. The glance. The unspoken words that pass between us. The guard senses something going on. He looks us up and down, sees the clothes and the hair and the patches on the jackets and you can just about see the light bulb go on over his head.
"Hey! You're not here to see Leo!"
"Duh," I say. "We're here to buy some records. Can we go in?"
"No. Come back tomorrow. And don't make any trouble. I know your kind."
"Sure," Tim says. "Sure. We'll be on our way now. You take care, ok?" His words are the equivalent of patting the guy on the head.
We walk around the other side of the mall. We stake the place out, eyeing the set up of the amps and the positioning of the security guards. We synchronize our watches and hatch our plan and wait. We wait patiently. Fifteen minutes until Leo Sayer bounces on to the stage, white boy afro and squeaky voice, ready to rock the world with "You Make me Feel Like Dancing." Wanna dance the night away? Nope. Not with you, Leo.
We must do this. In the name of good music. In the name of Robert Plant and Joey Ramone.
Five minutes til Leo.
Finally, we hear a squeal rise out from the crowd. The sound of 200 or more tone-deaf women swooning at the site of a guy who looks like the poster child for geeks. We assume our positions. We wish each other luck in our mission. It's time.
Leo is escorted on to the wooden plank stage by his manager and two mall security guards. The women swoon. The music cues, ready for Leo’s lyp-synching machinations. We run in four opposite directions. Within thirty seconds we have done it. We have unplugged all of Leo's speakers. The music stops. Leo is just about to "sing" the first words into the mic and everything goes dead. He's mouthing words to dead air. Silence.
The security guard who spoke to us earlier spies me as I am swiftly walking away from the northeast amp. "IT"S THEM!," he shouts, pointing in my direction, and then swings around to see Kevin running the other way. He points at him, at me, yelling at the other security guards, his face red and sweaty and alarmed. I'm having fits of laughter while I'm running, thinking that the guard is acting as if we just killed the president. I keep thinking about book depositories and grassy knolls and this too fat mall cop running after me because some disco pop boy had his amp unplugged.
The four of us meet outside, at the bus shelter and we decide it's too risky to wait another ten minutes for the bus to come so we start the long walk home, stopping every once in a while to roll around on the sidewalks in fits of laughter.
We get home, tell Kevin's brother about our exploits and he buys us beer and let's us drink it in his room. This is the big time. The older brother's secret sanctuary. He holds up his quart of piss warm Miller and toasts to us. "To rock and roll!"