The Great Plotnik

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis

Part 2: Luci and Ray

People are afraid of High School reunions. The Tenth is OK, because nobody expects much of you yet. By the Twentieth your youthful good looks are receding with your hairline. Women are already coloring their hair. Guys are holding in their guts. You are supposed to have begun achieving.

By the Twenty-Fifth you need name tags. By the Thirtieth you can't read the name tags and the Fortieth gets worse. Hair, followed by skin, followed by teeth. Alcoholism. Serious diseases. You might be dead. If not, your career has hit its peak. You have written the best song you'll ever write. You stopped listening to music. Pretty soon you'll start going on cruises.

But Fifty is cool: we made it! We graduated from High School and were thrown into the ocean of life. Fifty years later we have washed up on this island with a bartender. Not all of us -- but enough of us. It's an accomplishment. 

Of course, when you first get the emails from the Planning Committee you think: Are you kidding? Do I want to be in a room with a bunch of sixty-seven and sixty-eight year olds? No Fucking Way!

But then -- you're at the Marriott -- your wife has dressed you -- your old girl friend has kissed you -- your friends remember you -- and you find that when you are surrounded by your classmates you are seventeen and eighteen again. 

I had hoped Luci K. would come. She's in the picture above, on the bottom, along with the guy she eventually married. I really liked her.

I was the youngest kid in our class, so the Delirian 1963 women were beyond unapproachable. They wanted guys with cars. But it was possible younger girls might -- might -- find us older men enticing.

Luci K. was Luci H. then. She was in the class behind me. She was beautiful but not scary, sharp but not biting. When I would pass her in the hall she would smile. Smile! A Buckingham girl!

I had discovered soul music. Sam Cooke and Barbara Lewis started me off and Ray Charles sealed the deal. In eleventh grade Ray came to town. He and the Raelettes were going to play at the Shrine Auditorium downtown, so I took baby-sitting money and bought two tickets, anguished for a week, then finally found the courage to phone Luci and ask her to come with me to see Ray at the Shrine.

She said yes.

The Shrine was not a place that kids from Buckingham High went. Our city was not Jackson, Mississippi or Montgomery, Alabama, but there were white schools and black schools, white music and black music, white radio stations and black radio stations, white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods, white churches and black churches. There was only one law and it was unwritten: "You? Here. You? There."

The Hollywood Bowl was "Here." El Monte Legion Stadium was "There." (Mexicans.) The Shrine Auditorium was not only "There" (Negroes) but I would have to borrow my Mom's car and could under no circumstances tell her where I was going.

It was enough to tell her Luci was Jewish. At least, I guessed she was. She had molten eyes. She was prettier than the other Jewish girls, but her last name, "H.," seemed to imply Eastern European origins. It was enough for my mother so it worked for me. I told Mom we were going to the movies. 

Neither Luci nor I had any idea what we were getting into. The Shrine was Central L.A.'s Apollo Theater. A concert there was an exploding color wheel. I never realized how beige my world had been up to now. People wore orange dresses and green suits. They were on their feet screaming long before the Ray Charles Orchestra fired them up even further. Then, when Ray walked out and exploded right into "What'd I Say" the building launched heavenward, the hard old wooden seats turned into trampolines, the sound system assassinated Pat Boone and the Crewcuts, the Jewish downbeat soul-mogrified into the Baptist Backbeat, one and three became two and four, and I discovered God.

My, it felt good to be alive. On my feet and freshly baptized into the Church of Righteous Ray, I looked down to see Luci still clutching her purse. I held out my hand and she put her purse into her left hand and her right hand into mine.  She stood up. But the song was almost over.

Timing has never been my strong suit and in those days Ray sometimes needed to get backstage in a hurry. The concert ended just as he, the Raelettes and I had gotten Luci to her feet. She and I held hands walking back to our car, but that may have been because she was terrified.

All the way home, up the Harbor Freeway, out the Hollywood Freeway, onto the Ventura Freeway, off on Havenhurst and up Balboa Boulevard towards Luci's house, we said nothing. I couldn't speak because I was working frantically on my move to kiss her goodnight at her door. All that music, and the holding hands, and the long drive, and the bond I had felt with Luci, in no small part because she was the only girl in our school who would be willing to drive with me from "Here" to "There," paled before the potential prospect of me bending to kiss her and her turning away.

She made it easy for me. We got to her house, I parked the car, and before I could get out to open her door she leaned over in the front seat and pecked me on the cheek, said "thanks, I had fun," opened the car door and walked quickly up her walkway towards her front door. She opened the door with her key, turned and waved, went inside and shut the door.

Busted. The bills were all due and the baby needed shoes and I was busted. Cotton was down to a quarter a pound and I was busted.

Still, I had peered over the mountain and glimpsed "There." Now I was back in Van Nuys which could scarcely be more "Here." I hated "Here."

"C'mon Baby, don't you treat me wrong
Come and love your daddy all night long, ahh huh.
What'd I Say?
All right.
Uh huh."

Easy for Ray to say.

Tomorrow: Part Three: The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis


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