Steaming the windows.

Grosse Pointe is a community that honors tradition. (Sometimes to a fault. That’s for another day.) Lots of people who live here as adults grew up here, went away to college, and came back like homing pigeons, because they like the continuity of the place, its small-town feel, its bedrock of lifers and rotating cast of newcomers, drawn by the beauty, the schools, the lake.

What that means is, when the Grosse Pointe War Memorial (a community center) announces the dates for its middle-school dances, many of the parents you know will remember attending them when they were 12 years old. Or, like my friend Michael, whose son grew up here with his ex-wife, will have a different memory:

“I remember how scantily clad the girls were,” he told me as I prepared to drive Kate to her first one. Michael went to Catholic school, so he has a certain Catholic-schoolboy idea of what constitutes scantily clad. That’s what I thought, anyway.

Five minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot, and beheld two girls shivering by the door. On a chilly October evening, they were wearing shorts and tank tops. I immediately wondered if the other thing I heard about the dances, which everyone calls War Dances, was true — that they were cesspools of drinking, smoking and oh-my-god-I-can’t-even-imagine. I hadn’t believed that, because I thought how stupid can the people who run these things be? The procedure for just buying a ticket made in loco parentis sound like dangerous permissiveness. There was a special ID only a parent could buy, after swearing your child was a lawfully enrolled student of the school system, and you couldn’t buy a ticket without the ID. There were strict hours, pickup and dropoff policies. No one would be allowed to leave before 10 p.m.; there were no ins-and-outs. I think you’d have an easier time getting into the White House.

On the other hand, there were those girls, dressed for the Fourth of July in October.

Kate was no help. I insisted she dress appropriately, but she never told me why, month after month, I was picking up the only girl in long pants and sleeves. She said shorts and tanks were just what everyone else wore, and I chalked it up to one of the quirkier sub-traditions, one that, needless to say, I would hold the line against.

Well. This year I finally got to set foot inside the place, when I offered to chaperone. It immediately became clear why summer outfits are the uniform, and I smacked my forehead for stupidity: When you put a couple hundred sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders into a ballroom and crank up the tunes, it takes about eight minutes for the room to reach the temperature of a sauna. The ballroom looks out over the lake, but the million-dollar view is gone by the third song, as condensation covers the floor-to-ceiling windows. At the stroke of 7:30, the doors open and the kids pile up at the check-in tables, where they must display the special ID and have it checked against the computer-generated list of names. No ticket sales at the door. If you haven’t paid for a ticket by noon on dance day, you are turned away — no exceptions. Lady Gaga is already blasting from the ballroom, and they’re eager to get moving. Within 20 minutes, nearly everyone is there, the lights are down, the light outside — what you can see of it through the condensation — has faded into gray, and we’re war-dancing.

What that means is, and this will be familiar to anyone who ever attended a middle-school dance of any sort, clots of three to seven girls dance together in constellations, while boys talk in similar-size knots, or else sit in the chairs that line the walls. And that is pretty much how it goes for the next two and a half hours.

After everyone checks in, we set up the refreshments, which consist of ice water and lemonade. The one parent-volunteer holdover from last year rolled out a cart with what seemed like an excessive number of water pitchers. We refilled them all three or four times through the night, and for a solid hour, all we did was pour, pour, pour. As soon as we could set down a dozen cups, a dozen kids would pile out, red-faced, throw down the ice water like marathoners, discard the cups and head back into the heat. Lady Gaga gave way to Beyoncé, who gave way to Mylie Cyrus, who gave way to half a dozen artists I’ve never heard of. When I got tired of pouring I would circle the perimeter of the floor, careful always to avert my gaze from my own kid, to whom I’m promised I would give no indication of our relationship. Girls dancing, boys watching — check. Then I’d leave, because I was dressed in long pants and long sleeves, and brother, it was hot in there.

I asked the man who, along with his wife, organizes these affairs, how the drugs-and-alcohol rumors got started. He said the only incident he’d known of was about three years ago, when some eighth-grade girls showed up drunk, got past check-in and promptly barfed on the dance floor. Two police officers monitor the doors and occasionally do a perimeter trot-around. The bathroom is a two-stall affair with the door left open to the hallway. The no-entry-without-ID policy eliminates drop-ins, and things have gone smoothly pretty much forever.

At 10 p.m. sharp — you could set your watch — the lights come on, the music stops, and the whole crew piles out like puppies to meet the line of parents lined up for the trip home. I made one last pass through the ballroom, which, though emptying swiftly, still retained its heat.

I wished I were wearing shorts, too.

Bloggage? Some good stuff today:

An interview with Maurice Sendak (HT: Laura Lippman) about his enduring children’s classic, and the upcoming movie adaptation. Some great evidence of why editors aren’t always right:

The entire staff at the publishing house were keen on my changing the word “hot” to “warm” on the last page. Because “hot” meant “burn.”

(For some reason this reminds me of the time on the old Dick Van Dyke show, when Laura wrote a charming children’s book, and Rob, the envious professional writer, wanted to work on it. He changed “sad” to “morose.”)

A long segment from Rachel Maddow, but she just nails the Nobel and is smarter than everything else I read about Friday’s news, and that includes Tom Friedman’s stupid “the speech he should give in Oslo” paint-by-numbers kit. (If there any column-writing trope more stale than “the speech he should give”? Yes: the “open letter.” Now you know.)

Finally, for Stratford fans only: Douglas Campbell died recently. The Scottish-Canadian actor was 87 and a founding member of the greatest Shakespeare company in North America. Robert Fulford explains why he mattered, in the National Post.

Posted at 9:22 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

27 responses to “Steaming the windows.”

  1. coozledad said on October 12, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I just have to remember that these are the same people rooting for another terrorist strike to send America back into the manly arms of Unka Dick and his ilk. The only ones who still bother me are the bootlickers at ABC and the Atlantic who are posing as journalists. Stephie posted his favorite Nobel jokes the other day on his execrable blog, and you’d think he was dismayed that there was no category before the selection committee for height-challenged Bush enablers. ABC closed comments to everyone but the flying monkeys at Red State.
    Over time, it may sink in with these people that the award was given to Obama for attempting to get the world’s most powerful nation out of the clutches of imbeciles, racists, and throwbacks to the Nixon administration. For Jonah Goldberg and Megan McArdle to say he was somehow too callow to get the award demonstrates the absolute lack of self awareness of the American Right, and why the world despises them.

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  2. brian stouder said on October 12, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Rachel is a treasure, isn’t she?

    If one is angry and wants to have their anger validated, Olbermann is what to watch. But anger wears one out; it gets old; by and by, it’s no fun and it’s not satisfying anymore.

    Rachel has an engaging demeanor and a down-to-earth good humor; her intelligence and incisiveness is always at the ready – especially when she conducts interviews with people who sincerely (or insincerely) disagree with her point of view. Aside from that, good to hear that the dance went well. And – you didn’t even need to “go nuclear” (and shake the booty on the dance floor)…although that might have made for an interesting Youtube, too

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  3. moe99 said on October 12, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Grosse Pointe War Memorial sounds similar to the Skylark Club in Defiance, OH. It was open both Friday and Saturday nights, but I was only allowed to go one night. Saturday was the usual choice. We had the same arrangement where girls would dance in circle and boys would sit on the sidelines for the fast dances. Unless you were going steady with a guy who was brave enough to do the fast dances. Slow dances were coed and consisted of big bear hugs done to a modified 4 square/step.

    But long about sophomore year, the guys in my class started something different. During the fast dances they would swoop, like red tailed hawks, into the center of the circles of girls and wave their arms like wings as they made figured 8s inside the circle–then they would dash out, only to return some time later. Us girls were thrilled to have them involved.

    Only thing is I could never figure out how to do “the skate” despite hours of practice in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom.

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  4. Deborah said on October 12, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Back before the spoon was invented when there was no such thing as middle school, only junior high, we had miserable events called “socials”. We girls would always be hopeful that someone would ask us to dance, but alas for me at that age it never happened. Girls wouldn’t be caught dead dancing with other girls, that was just not done. I hated every single minute of junior high.

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  5. Julie Robinson said on October 12, 2009 at 11:45 am

    There was a huge expanse of gym floor between the boys side and the girls at our junior high dances. Only a few very brave souls would risk making that long walk.

    Saturday night we attended the DH’s 35th reunion and nobody danced at that either, despite much urging by the organizers. People were more interested in talking, and besides, the blame music was too loud!!

    My overwhelming impression was that everyone looked sooooo old. We’ll see if that happens again in two weeks when we head off to my reunion, also the 35th. I haven’t been to one in awhile but a couple of good friends are going to be there so I’m looking forward to our shared time.

    And I’m continuing my semi-boycott of the news and all the angry shouting heads. I seem to be much more content. Bring on the show tunes!

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  6. John said on October 12, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Class of ’74 Rocks! Julie, your impression should have read “everyone else looked sooooo old.” No reunion for us this year but five years ago I had a blast at the 30th. We had a DJ and some dancing but most folks just wanted to talk. We ended the night with a group circle/sing of American Pie.

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  7. brian stouder said on October 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Julie – we did my 30th recently; in some ways it was like a funeral without the body. You make conversation with folks and say “Hi! Howarya?” etc etc – and then, at the right moment, hit the doors!

    Say – Wednesday evening we have James Galbraith at IPFW, in the latest round of the Omnibus Lecture Series. He’ll be addressing our late crash, and the banksters and so on (I bet healthcare makes a cameo, too)

    PS – as for the news, didja see Rachel the night she showed the greatest Moment of Geek ever? It had to do with two British naturalists tracking a flightless bird in New Zealand, and it was the single funniest thing I’ve seen in 2009

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  8. coozledad said on October 12, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Brian: Would that be this?

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  9. brian stouder said on October 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    That’s it!

    After recovering from laughing myself off of the sofa and into a coughing fit – I couldn’t decide whether the forthright (not to say ‘forward’) actions of the bird, or the unflappable stoicism of the naturalist was funnier!

    Monty Python couldn’t have scripted it better!

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  10. Rachellou said on October 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    That BBC video was hilarious. Well, maybe not for the photographer! I remember going to school dances and I have to say, the rumors you heard about Grosse Pointe are exactly what dances were like in my junior high. I’m glad there are some wholesome dances to be had, out there somewhere.

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  11. Danny said on October 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I remember a dance from my youth where some “merry pranksters” opened up the gym/dance floor to expose the swimming pool beneath. My date and I were doing some crazy dance, Foxtrot or Charleston … I can’t remember. Anyway, because we were both in the full grip of the powerful psychedelics Mary had brung (she dealt acid by the sheet), we failed to notice the floor opening up and fell into the pool.

    On the way home, I said some crazy stuff … something about lassoing the moon.

    At least that’s my recollection.

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  12. Joe Kobiela said on October 12, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Pilot Joe

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  13. Julie Robinson said on October 12, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    John, it goes without saying that moi doesn’t look that old. But I just heard from a friend that she broke her ankle this weekend and may not be able to come. Can you say osteoporosis?

    That was Stephen Fry narrating the hilarious humping video. He’s an actor and author and could easily be in a modern day Monty Python.

    On a cold and dreary October day the last thing in the world I want to think about is the bank crash. *puts fingers in ears, sings la-la-la-la*

    Deborah, I thought everyone hated every single minute of junior high. Even the ones that pretended it was great.

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  14. Sue said on October 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Julie, you can’t tell me that the people who were making my life a living hell in “junior high” weren’t having a great time.

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  15. basset said on October 12, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Mine either… but, on a more positive topic, please note that today’s Nobel winner is a professor at IU-Bloomington.

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  16. MichaelG said on October 12, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Junior high? I went to a Catholic school. We just had eighth grade. I used to envy the public school kids.

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  17. Dorothy said on October 12, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Me too, MichaelG. Went straight from eight years of Catholic school to a public high school. All those “awkward” years squished into one long experience.

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  18. Joe Kobiela said on October 12, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Michel G And Dorthy,
    Same here. We were told by the Nuns we should go to Dwenger in Fort Wayne or we would lose eternal Grace. To anyone that left Catholic school to go to public school before their Freshman year? Damnation. When we went to the high school to visit during our 8th grade year we were told not to talk to anyone. Of course these kids were our neighbors and we had known them our whole life and played and stayed over with them forever, but I guess the penguins didn’t think of that.
    Pilot Joe

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  19. Deborah said on October 12, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    My mother died when I was in 9th grade, my last year of junior high and she had been sick the whole year before that. So that is probably a huge reason why junior high was so miserable for me. But why in the world did young people have to be so cruel to each other? Is it still that way? If girls are allowed to dance with each other, I think we’ve made progress. It’s sad to think about how much we tormented each other back then.

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  20. Jen said on October 12, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I also hated middle school. It was awkward, and I was an awkward kid – a chunky, short-haired girl, kind of clumsy, nonathletic, and smart. And we still had to shower after gym class, which was the worst thing in existence. Add to that the fact that my grandmother died and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through a very, very, very tough round of chemo while I was in middle school, and you’ve got a recipe for a terrible, horrible three years of my life. I was much more suited for high school, and college was even better.

    I loved the BBC video – I nearly dropped my laptop off my lap from laughing. Then, just after I recovered I read Danny’s comment and the laughing started all over again.

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  21. brian stouder said on October 12, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Note 1: We* got this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, which features David Letcherman with his pants off, and with a big headline on the cover that says simply “OH, DAVE!”. Where have I seen that before?

    Note 2: Jen – I absolutely detested having to take showers in gym class. I believe this started for us in the 5th grade at Weisser Park – which had been a junior high before it became a 5th-6th grade school (circa 1972). At the risk of over-sharing, I will say that in those days, I HATED taking my shirt off; it seemed to me that my nipples were “outies” – and a source of great embarrassment. Looking back – I think this was mostly in my head, but it did confer upon me an understanding about how self-concious our young folks might be, about things that I cannot readily see or understand.

    Note 3: my heart goes out to anyone who lost a mom or dad when they were young. My dad didn’t punch-out until 1983, when I had already slid into adulthood. I recall that a kid down the street lost his dad when he was about 12, and from when he was 16 onward, he always had the newest, coolest cars of anyone…something to do with Social Security benefits. Some of my colleagues thought he had it made, but it didn’t look like a very good deal, to me

    Note 4 – Julie, no stomache for macro-economics and a review of the fouled up public-policies and private greed that got us into our latest crash? For shame! (only kiddin’; I don’t think I can bribe even Shelby into this one!)

    *and by “We” I mean Pam!

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  22. Julie Robinson said on October 12, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Jen, ditto except the hair was long and curly when all the cool kids had straight hair. Awkward is a good description. My own kids had an easier time of it, partly because they were in a small parochial school that went K-8. The older kids got to be the leaders and mentors for the younger ones. I’m not sure that middle school serves the development needs of kids all that well. Professional educators, feel free to diagree.
    This afternoon I was helping our kindergarten teacher and got a high compliment from one of the little boys, who told me that I smelled good. A five year old Romeo.

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  23. Danny said on October 12, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Speaking of showers after gym class (something I never liked, but got by with little trauma), I’ve noticed something odd in the locker rooms over the past 18 years that I’ve been a lap swimmer. None of the high school boys fully undress in front of each other. They are very careful to keep towels around their waists and do what we call deck changing in aquatics parlance (changing on the pool deck) even when in the men’s locker room. These are the swim team and water polo guys I’m referring to.

    Back in the day, we never worried too much about keeping ourselves covered in the locker room. Maybe it’s just this generation has to worry about weird crap like other dudes snapping pictures from their cell phones and then posting to the social networking websites with accompanying humorous/disparaging remarks. Being an adolescent is tough enough without that sort of thing.

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  24. beb said on October 12, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Danny, one thing about the late, lament and totally flattened Tigers Stadium was that instead of urinals they just had these six long troughs you peeded into. No “modesty” barriers or anything. You either whipped it out or you held it till you get home. I learned not to drink heavily as ball games.

    In grade school we had to shower after gym class. Again none of those towels wrapped around youself at all times. Because of our age we were heckled depending on where we had hair down there or not. Not a pleasant age to be. The hit song of the day was “The Lion sleeps tonight,” which was held as commenting on the aforemoention growth issue.

    And thus today I conclude this episode of “Too Much Information.”

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  25. Rana said on October 12, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I have long considered anyone who avows that they liked junior high to be someone to avoid. Hormones and peer pressure, all in one hot house environment – ugh.

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  26. Danny said on October 12, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Hilarious, beb.

    Rana, you’re right about junior high. Though there were some good times, it was generally an ordeal. Now high school was different. Much more fun.

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  27. Joe Kobiela said on October 12, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    I think you and your sister turned out pretty good.
    Pilot Joe

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