This is about two things that we did as ‘teens in a small town’ that ‘teens in a small town’ don’t seem to do anymore.
Movie late shows. Gosh and golly, I saw so many movies at the late shows when I was, like, sixteen and seventeen. I think it was an innovative thing then, at least in our town. Previously, the eight o’clock show would finish at about half ten or eleven and then the cinema would close up and everyone would go home.
Then some bright spark had this novel idea. Why not do another show at eleven o’clock, running until half one or two? I bet somebody laughed and said it was a bloody ridiculous idea. Who would want to go to that?
But we did want to go and we did go. In some numbers.
It wasn’t for everyone, of course, this 'late show' lark, but it worked for my friends and me. We would go to the pub, you see, on a Friday evening. I didn’t drink and none of my mates did to excess. We’d just enjoy being out and chatting and having a bit of social time together. Come elevenish, the pub would be calling last orders and it still felt like way too early to go home. It was Friday Night, after all.
The Late Show was our redemption. It was a place to go. It made you feel like it was the weekend because you were out late but it also felt pretty safe too because… well, because it was The Movies.
I saw lots of the movies of the day at those late shows. Rocky 3, For Your Eyes Only, Welcome To LA (left early) but the most memorable one, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, was ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’. I think it was because it was more ‘actiony’ than we thought it would be. We feared a unadulterated love story but there was an assault course too. As Kung Fu fans of old, we all thought that Louis Gossett Jnr looked a bit 'pants' doing his moves and I know that I still do.
The Late Show was a great addition to our extraordinarily limited social calendar. It allowed us to prolong our evenings for little expense and it also allowed us to stroll home in the almost-dawn of high summer without having really gotten into any trouble at all.
Slow dances seem to be gone too. This is more serious. When we were teens, at the dances, the slow sets were your only chance for a fleeting moment of female proximity. The fast songs would stop, the DJ would exhort the gyrators to ‘take a break’ and the floor would empty. But gradually people would ease back out to repopulate it. Like with Russell’s Ark, they came in two by two. People who knew each other well and, much more importantly, people who hardly knew each other at all.
It’s hard to talk about the value of the slow dance without sounding faintly pervy but there was really nothing dodgy about it at all. You got to hold on to a girl. Not too tight, not too intimately or, for sure, not too ‘gropily’. In a world where proximity to a girl was largely unattainable for a spotty teen with an unthinking haircut, the slow dance became a warm, innocently-sensual experience.
I say ‘became’ because, initially, I was terrified of the prospect of the slow dance and I would run and hide in the toilets as soon as one was heralded. I didn’t feel equipped to steer a soft girl around the floor without some international incident breaking out.
I remember my first slow dance was with a girl who had been a friend for some years. Perhaps she felt sorry for me. I remember it well. The sensual aspect I referred to earlier came largely through the nose. She smelled so amazingly clean. There was shampoo and soap and God knows what else. I don’t remember the song. I closed my eyes and breathed in the ‘Head and Shoulders’ and allowed myself to be transported to a nicer place than that damp and beer-sticky hall.
After that, slow dances were easier. It’s a difficult thing to pin down exactly. It was rather like a compliment. A girl might not want to let you walk her home or go out with you or she might not even want to bear your children but she would have a slow dance with you. It was a compliment, you weren’t the best but you weren’t the worst either. You were okay for a dance. There was a little self-esteem to be harvested there.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are Late Shows and Slow Dances still going on out there in the world for the hard-pressed teens of today. I rather hope so.
If there’s not, I think it’s a bit of a shame.
But, hey, what do I know?