Most teenagers look forward to turning 16 so they can drive, but for me 14 was the magic number. Turning fourteen made me old enough to start attending church dances. Most of these festivities were held 40 miles from our home. With a collection of 7 or 8 units from our church joining together, these large youth activities had the reputation for being a ton of fun.
My stomach was in knots that June Saturday evening Mom, Dad and I drove to my first youth dance. As there was no one in our congregation my age, I was on my own walking into the dimly lit gym. A D.J. flanked by a pair of black oversized Peavey speakers was playing a Lionel Richie ballad. Kids mingled on and around the dance floor as shots of light from a disco ball dotted people, walls, and the floor.
Suddenly feeling very lost, I ran out to the hallway, found my parents, and said simply, "Let's go." My parents were not going to let me off that easily, so with Mom by my side I was coerced to return to the gym where I stubbornly played the part of wall flower. After two songs I was ready, once again, to make the hour drive back home. Mom insisted we needed to stay a little longer. She pointed out a kid named Paul that I supposedly knew when I was a toddler. Her suggestion that I go ask him to dance was met with flat refusal. After two more songs, again, I assured her, it was time to go.
Before talking her into leaving, some guy asked me dance. We danced. Then grabbing my mom's arm, I dragged her out of the gym, found Dad by the refreshment table, and at my unusually adamant insistence, we all headed home.
Having left so early it was still light outside as I sulked in the back seat of the car all the way home. In my best martyr voice I told my parents I was sorry we drove so far for something so dumb, but not to worry, I'd never ask to go to one of those dances again.
A few days later I received a letter in the mail from the one boy that had asked me to dance that night. It turns out he was a friend of Paul, the kid my parents said we knew. I was flattered that he would write, and with my parents encouragement, I attended the July dance.
This dance was very unlike the first. Having exchanged a couple letters by this point, I had an acquaintance, as well as the supposed friend from pre-school. I spent much of the evening dancing with the letter-writer and Paul, and hanging with their crowd of friends.
On the way home, (in the dark this time) I excitedly leaned forward from the back seat to relay to my mom every detail of the evening. My dad then turned to her, "Can you believe on our way out tonight Paul tried to collect on his quarters?" Mom smiled, and Dad continued, "I told him, no way. That was a deal we made for last month, not this month."
Completely confused I asked what Dad was talking about. Matter of factly, Mom replied that since he was worried about my first dance in June, Dad had bargained with Paul early during the dance last month that he would pay him a quarter for every time he danced with me.
I was shocked! How humiliating to spend an entire evening with this guy, not knowing about the prior month's business arrangement. More upsetting was the incredible fact that my parents found nothing wrong with making that kind of agreement. And why hadn't Paul found a quarter price enough to ask me to dance in June?
As if I could not get someone to ask me to dance on my own, my father was walking the halls looking for anyone he remotely knew to strike a deal. And a quarter? Yes it was 1983, but still, a quarter?