Growing up as a teenager in the home of my grandparents, some things were quite difficult to pull off as easily as others my age. Dating, for example. The day I moved in, at fourteen years of age, the rules came rolling out:
“Telephone calls will not be longer than ten minutes. The timer is next to the phone. You will not give our number to boys. You are not allowed to ask for theirs.” I stared at my grandmother, trying to make sense of that one. “We will approve anyone you want to run around with.” And there went my social life, crumpled on the floor all over my pointed-toe flats. The Madonna-like bow in my hair and rubber bracelets drooped.
I was just starting high school. As if that didn’t terrify me enough, transferring to a new school and leaving all of my friends behind across town, which may as well have been in the next state, but now I was going to be even nerdier than I’d already anticipated..
It was in the tenth grade that I met Joe. Tall, stocky, nice looking. The kind of boy I could bring home to Grandma and Grandpa. It was my first real date, one where he came to my house to “pick me up,” (Grandpa was the chauffer, however) not just a “meet at the school dance” kind of date. I was wearing my mom’s velvet gray track-style jacket with white accents, a pink sweater and jeans, with my hair pulled back in a banana clip, and low-slung boots that were straight out of an MTV music video.
If this were only a few months earlier, Mom would have been alive to see it. I shoved my hands in the pockets of the jacket after brushing away at my eyes for a brief moment. Didn’t want to stand there with Electra Blue mascara running down my cheeks!
We were going to Chuck E. Cheese’s in the
. I had friends who worked there, and it was a pretty big teen hangout on a Friday night, all of us playing arcade games on free tokens if you had the right hookup. Games were played by the minute, and not all of them on the machines. It was a sea of gossip, of mid-80s fashion – an arena of love and heartbreak, all while the big puppets popped out of the wall singing endless birthday songs. Willows Shopping Center
After getting our fill of sweaty angst, and the chimes and dings and dongs of the games, we cashed in our tickets for silly prizes, and awkwardly made eyes at each other over soda and pizza. Then we decided to take a walk in the night air. The shopping center was an outdoor one that sprawled out, with trees cascading all around, wood-structured buildings giving off a teaky scent that still takes me back to a time of young romance. Wandering with no set course, our hands awkwardly found one another’s and fumbled in the dark.
“Can you believe what Sarah did in PE class today?” I asked.
“I know it. She’s kinda weird.”
“Really? I think she’s okay.”
Through the buildings we walked, slowly. I released his hand long enough to wipe my palms on my jeans, hoping he wouldn’t notice.
“I have so much homework this weekend, it sucks.” Joe complained.
“I know! Me too.”
As we turned a corner of one of the large buildings, I saw a light shining through a window. It was the local radio station, KKIS. Tugging on his arm, I hurried over to press my face excitedly to the glass.
“Check it out! We can see the DJ working!” Even then, my fascination with broadcasting had firmly taken root. I knew precisely who was in there, I’d spent many hours listening to his show at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. We stood peering in at the jock as he pulled the microphone towards him. I looked above at the tinny speakers embedded into the wood.
“My name is Rick and I’ve got plenty of love songs ahead for all you young lovers, so keep your dial right here on 92.1. We’ll jump right back in after these messages.”
Then a commercial came on, and he looked over to see us staring in. Nervously we started to walk away, but then the door opened and Rick called out to us.
“Hey, what are you two kids up to tonight?”
“Uh, we’re out on a date. Our first date.” Joe stammered.
“That’s awesome. Want to come in and see the place?” I could not believe our luck. Was he serious?? Following him, I took in everything. The office, the studio – the things called “karts” that lined the walls, and record albums everywhere. I knew about the karts – they were like 8-tracks but shorter, each held a commercial and had to be played in a special player. I’d spent a little bit of time with my sister in the production studio at KVHS, a student station that I’d later grow up to manage.
Holding up his hand to silence us, he grabbed at the microphone again. Introducing the next song, he pushed a button and the record began to spin, needle already in place. Then I just about fainted at his next words.
“How’d you kids like to be on the air?”
Joe looked over at me, turning red – something I came to discover happened quite easily with him.
“Are you serious?!” I gushed. “What would we say??”
“It’ll be easy. I’ll ask you a couple of questions, and we’ll introduce the song together, okay?”
The next two minutes were agonizing as he placed a bulky headset on each of us, so that we could hear what the listeners would. We moved in close to the second microphone across the console from Rick. Joe’s leg twitched nervously.
“What songs you guys like? Got a favorite? How about Air Supply?” Our heads nodded up and down as the current song came to a close. Rick put his mouth up close to the spongy mic, as I’d seen my sister and her friends do. “I’ve got Joe and Kymberlie here in the studio with me, a couple of young lovers out on the town. What brings you kids here to the Willows tonight?”
Joe couldn’t find his voice to speak, so I stepped up. “We’re on a date.”
“Our first date.” he offered.
“Where did you go to?” Rick looked at us with a smile of encouragement.
“Chuck E. Cheese. With our friends.”
“Great place to be on a Friday night! So, your first date – how old are you two?”
“Fifteen.” came out in unison.
“Are you in love yet?” We both blushed profusely and stared downward. “Ah! The nervous pause. Well here’s hoping it’s just a first date of many.” And as he trailed off the Air Supply song Lost In Love was already playing. Turning off the microphones, we removed our headsets. “That was fantastic!”
Afterward, he showed us a few things, mainly answering my questions about things I saw around the studio. We finally excused ourselves when I looked at my watch and noted the time.
Stepping out into the night air, I chattered on and on about our adventure. As we stood in the moonlight with another love song serenading us, Joe leaned forward and kissed me. Innocently, I wasn’t sure how to react. My head was swimming from all of the exhilaration of the night. We sank down to a grassy knoll to sit until my grandfather pulled up in the blue Ford Monarch. Sliding in to the white leather back seat, I spilled it all out.
“Grandpa! We were on the radio!” and I told him everything.
“Huh. Well, that sounds like fun!” Unlike my grandmother, who would have lectured us for leaving the pizza parlor, Grandpa was much more lenient about these things.
Our hands found each other again on the ride home, quietly so as Grandpa wouldn’t see. My smile was bigger and brighter than the moon, I was sure of it.
© Kymberlie Ingalls,
March 3, 2011
Lyrics: “Lost In Love” – Air Supply