Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Chaparral Etiquette

Our Chaparrals club had been together for several years and now we had graduated junior high (9th grade) and were headed to high school. During one of our regular Friday night meetings we were told that we'd soon be taking "etiquette lessons."

Etiquette lessons?? Why the heck did we need etiquette lessons and what the heck did that mean, anyway?

Further explanation told us that we would be taking them jointly with one of the girl's clubs. Of course the first question out of all our mouths was, "which one?" That hadn't been decided for sure yet, so we began speculating, or hoping, actually, which one would pair up with us.

There was no girls club that was our exact match age-wise. One was a little bit older and one was a little bit younger. You can probably guess we were all lobbying for the one that was little bit older, if not the club above them. Names of these older girls were being bandied about, serving to raise the excitement level of those who knew them.

Then we were informed of who the lucky girls would be. The Starlites. The younger ones.

"The Starlites???" we exclaimed. This was unacceptable. Some of our club members started ridiculing their name by doing charades making a star and then a flashing light. Some protested that they would refuse to attend unless we got the older girls club instead. I really didn't know what to expect since I knew none of the Starlites but based on the way they were getting dissed by everyone else, I wasn't expecting much.

But in the end, we all showed up. Our lessons were held in the upstairs utility room of the now defunct Santa Barbara Savings and Loan building on.. Santa Barbara Blvd. that is now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. "Etiquette" turned out to be partly lessons in how to behave with the opposite sex, but mostly dancing lessons.

Naturally I checked out all the Starlites at our first lesson. They didn't look so bad to me. Some were better than others, of course, but then none of us ever stopped to ponder the question, what did they think of the Chaparrals? Maybe they howled too upon learning who their partner in etiquette would be, and dissed us by pantomining weeds tumbling around in the desert.

By dancing lessons, I'm talking not about whatever was popular at the time for rock and roll, but stuff like the cha cha, and dances where you held your partner's hand with one hand, and put your other hand gently on her waist. Being that I am not at all a dancer, I don't remember the names of any of these dances except for the cha cha.

Our instructor was this old (at least he looked old to us young 'uns) prim and proper white man. When it came time to pair up for dancing, he had the girls form a circle and the boys form a circle outside of them. He played a record; the girls walked clockwise and the boys counter-clockwise in a sort of musical chairs, and when the music stopped whoever was opposite each other were partners.

Well we did our speeding up and slowing down as the desirability quotient of the girls went down and up respectively; breathing a sigh of relief as we passed some, and hoping the music would stop at other times. And there were also disputes when someone was "on the line," i.e., a girl was in between two guys.

As much as we had howled in protest at the beginning, we had fun at these lessons. I only remember the names of two of the Starlites, mainly because half the guys had googoo eyes for them: Cynthia K. and her friend Carla F. I remember their last names as well but I'll leave that out of here.

The other thing I remember is that our instructor became terribly flustered from having to keep reprimanding a couple of guys because they were not observing proper dancing etiquette; instead of holding one hand and putting the other lightly on the waist, they were putting both hands around the girl's waist and vice versa. I think the instructor might have been better off spraying them with a hose.

Etiquette lessons ended and we had an "end of lessons" party with the Starlites at one of our member's homes. Sans instructor, of course.

I don't think I ever had the chance (privilege?) of dancing with either Cynthia or Carla and I always thought they were out of my league anyway. They always danced with the most popular guys in our club and that's just the way it was. It was no different at our party.

But there was one Starlite who seemed to like dancing with me. The reason I say this is because during the slow dances she held me really tight. And I was flattered because I thought, well, I must not be that bad if she's willing to dance with me like that.

I don't remember her name (I'm not even sure if I knew it back then). I don't remember too well what she looked like, either, but I do remember the smell of her hair - the shampoo or conditioner she used. And I never saw her again after that evening. Shortly after our etiquette lessons and our end of lesson party, the Chaparrals disbanded.

Our initial protests to the etiquette lessons got buried long ago. Sometimes I guess you just have to try it - you just might like it! The following song takes me back to that party, mainly because it got played so much that night.

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