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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

The Countdowns No One Asked For, 1979-80: #30-#21

30. "Lonesome Loser," Little River Band

The hallways were splattered one day with fliers, which was nothing new per se. Fliers filled the walls regularly reminding people of club meetings and events. These pre-social media outlets served as a valuable communication platform for keeping students informed and a convenient outlet for aspiring artists and satirists to hone their budding craft through graffiti. I entertained the notion of joining a club or other activity, The Spanish Club seemed so exotic because at that moment in my life I'd never even had a taco. Future Homemakers of America was exclusively female, though I'm sure they would've welcomed me. But, who would've wanted to deal with the endless homophobic slurs that would've surely been hurled at me because I was in FHA? Of course, the irony would be that I was straight and the whole attraction of joining that club was to be the only male among all those girls. The fliers on this particular day advertised something I was sure I'd enjoy. A school dance. Specifically, a Valentine sock hop. My moment had arrived. I would procure a date for this sock hop and experience my first romantic evening, which surely would include not only dancing and hand holding, but also a candlelight dinner at Pizza Hut.

29. "Coward of the County," Kenny Rogers

Fear is both a crippling obstacle and a powerful motivator. For example, my fear of letting down adults in positions of authority and thus incurring their wrath motivated me to do what they asked. A fear of wasps made it impossible for me to enter our front porch whenever the evil pests swarmed around the door. You see how it works. Thus, my venture to procure a date for the upcoming Valentine sock hop could have gone either of those directions. One night I compiled a list of girls I thought I'd like to ask. The tally approached three dozen before I decided I might need to narrow my scope. Keep in mind, I never considered the odds of any of these girls accepting. I just assumed that all I had to do was ask. On the morning bus ride the next morning, it was clear to me who I should ask. My chosen one was pretty and kind and feathered her hair just right. The notion of physically asking this girl face-to-face knotted my stomach with fear. My only logical course of action was to ask her via a note.

28. "Cruisin'," Smokey Robinson

The key to writing an effective dance invitation note lies in its smoothness. Wooing a girl with words to convince her to attend your very first sock hop and possibly start the greatest romance known to mankind requires words of deep tenderness and shattering vulnerability delivered with the cool of a Motown crooner. I ripped a piece of paper from my notebook and scribbled the following:

I like you. Will you go to the dance with me, please? Y N

Note the use of 'please' at the end of the question. This is polite and strikes the right tone. If I had written please, will you go to the dance with me, I sure would've sounded needy. Also, the inclusion of the Y for yes and N for no, underscored the fact that there was no pressure. The bus lumbered into the school parking lot as I sat with a cat-with-the-canary grin, secure that I had penned a surefire hit.

27. "Longer," Dan Fogelberg

Sometimes you just know. I held the note in my hand, confident in the outcome. I sat waiting for my turn to exit the bus. My heart leapt and soared as I considered the daydreamed about this girl saying yes and what our night at the dance might entail. Certainly we would have dinner at Pizza Hut. A pan pizza with cheese only, as I wouldn't get into toppings on pizza for another couple of years. We would arrive at the dance fashionable late so that everyone could admire our glamour and chemistry when we entered. We would laugh and boogie and enjoy a slow dance. The evening would end with my mom driving her home, then I would stay awake all night anticipating the next time I would see her. A childhood immersed in television and movies assured me this would be the outcome.

26. "Lost in Love," Air Supply

The object of my desire was in my first hour class. I dropped the note on her desk as I passed by and spent the next hour planning our senior prom, even though I had no appreciation for what a prom was. A few seconds after taking my seat, the boy who sat behind me tapped my shoulder and handed me the note. My stomach fluttered. My heart raced. This was it. This would be the moment a romance was born. My trembling hands opened the note and my eyes fell on her response.

She had circled the N.

25. "The Main Event," Barbra Streisand

The rest of first hour biology crept by and I sat in a stupor trying to determine what to do next. I determined to remain undaunted in my quest, so I composed another note and gave it to the girl who sat to my right in second hour English. Same polite question, same two options of Y or N. Same response: N. Third hour produced the same result. Fourth hour lunch was spent sulking in bewildered silence. My peanut butter sandwich had no taste. The thermos of green Kool-Aid offered not comfort. I moved on to fifth hour PE, but chose not to offer a dance invitation to any of the guys in the class because Poplar Bluff Junior High School in 1980 wasn't exactly a bastion of social progressiveness. Instead, I immersed myself in a game of kickball wherein I took a ball to the face because the universe is a cold and uncaring place with no regard to 12-year old boys needing a date for their first dance.

24. "Biggest Part of Me," Ambrosia

In sixth hour, I passed a note to a girl I will only refer to as B. here. She sat in front of me and she turned in her chair and shot me a what-the-hell look. I just put my head down in silence and pretended to listen to the teacher the rest of the hour. She and I usually cut up a lot in class and passed notes back and forth. Today, we would have been texting, but back then it was note-passing. A single sheet of paper with a discussion question such as "How are you?" or "What's up?" would lead to an in-depth discussion of current school events and pop culture. She became someone I trusted to share my writing with and even though she didn't always "get" what I was doing (her word), she encouraged me to keep going. She was nice and kind and funny. I thought we hit it off. So, I used our note passing exercise as a way to ask her to the dance. Her glance back at me and quick shake of her head told me all I needed to know. Looking back, I realize it was one of my first experiences with a platonic female friend in pubescence. Growing up I had girl friends who played ball and rode bikes and goofed off. But B. showed me that a guy needn't look at a girl as a potential romantic interest. It was a lesson I struggled to learn throughout junior high and high school.

23. "Sail On," The Commodores

I didn't even try in seventh hour. My civics teacher, Mrs. Harrell, must noticed my brooding because she nudged my foot with hers at the start of class and asked if I was okay. I sighed and nodded, sat up a little straighter in my chair, and lyrics from The Commodores' "Sail On" popped in my head:

Sail on down the line Ain't it funny how the time can go on a Friends say they told me so But it doesn't matter

It was plain to see that a Small town boy like me Just a wasn't your cup of tea I was wishful thinkin'

The bus ride home was an exercise in quiet contemplation. I had struck out and couldn't figure out where I had gone wrong. I suppose that's what I get for asking for a date the same day as the dance.

22. "Dim All the Lights," Donna Summer

When I got home, our house was empty. Neither Mom nor Dad was home yet, so I had a few moments to myself. Usually, this latchkey existence afforded me time to have a snack and enjoy reruns of Happy Days, The Andy Griffith Show, or Star Trek. This time, though, I grabbed my Donna Summer cassette, put in my portable cassette player, and had my own little dance right there in our living room. I opted out of attending the Valentine Sock Hop stag, a mistake I would never make again. My oldest brother Joe called and asked if I wanted to go the Mules basketball game with him. They were playing in another town. I said sure and he told me to be ready to go when he got home. Mom gave me some cash for my ticket and concessions and Joe bought me dinner at Sonic on the way out of town. It wasn't a sock hop, but it was still a nice evening. I watched the varsity team take down their opponent and wondered if perhaps I would one day be wearing a Mules uniform.

21. "London Calling," The Clash

I didn't know much about punk rock beyond what I saw on the news, which tended to focus on how it would bring about the end of Western Civilization. I was skeptical of all the scuttlebutt, but also didn't want to take any chances. The first time I heard "London Calling" was in a record store. Some guys were talking about The Clash and The Sex Pistols and The Ramones while I was looking at Billy Joel albums and some 45s. My mom had ducked into a shoe store and I wasn't about the shoe store life. I loved spending time with my mom, but I had to draw the line at shoe stores. We agreed to reconnect outside and go to Newberry's where I would beg her to buy me a burger at their lunch counter and she refused. Punk rock spoke to that no shoe store policy of mine and the angst of not getting to enjoy the lunch counter. I realized it tapped into a bubbling cauldron of anger that lie beneath my laid back persona. I don't know why I was so angry, but I learned that songs like "London Calling" were cathartic. I could rage listen and then relax and go back to trying to write song lyrics while listening to Barry Manilow records.

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