Last week, My Ol’ Army Buddy, Corporal Rikard Arthur wrote about his days, many years ago, throwing the Westport Reporter in Midtown neighborhoods.
Now he’s back with another tale from the same era, and it, too, has its roots in his newspaper experience.
Here’s his story….
The Reporter was a source of quite a few friendships during the two or three years that I threw the little paper. When they picked pairs of boys for each route, you rarely worked week-to-week with the same person. There were older guys who threw the paper, and you would see them at school quite often. Eighth graders and freshmen like me rarely mingled with guys above us. So by throwing a three- or four-hour route with a guy, you would often create a rudimentary situation that resembled friendship, even if they didn’t have much use for us guys in the lower ranks. Some of those friendships would later prove to be very valuable.
Westport High had a twice-a-month dance – called Tiger Den (since we were the Westport Tigers, of course) – which was held at the school in the girls’ gym. I rarely missed that event. Eighth graders and freshmen must have looked like little kids hanging around in that gym with juniors, seniors, and the like. But that didn’t deter me in the least. The gym would just overwhelm you with the aroma of dime-store cologne and bubble bath, and there was simply an electric atmosphere that permeated every square inch of the huge room.
This was a place where you wore your H.I.S. Blades, which were the super narrow slacks with no belt loops, and the pockets were hidden horizontally along the waistband. Pair those up with a candy-stripe, oxford, button-down shirt (ironed and spray starched to total perfection) an inch-wide black tie with fake pearl tie tack (the tie tack absolutely had to have the little chain that hooked into the buttonhole behind it), and your best pointy-toe Flagg Bros. shoes, and you were ready to hit the big time.
Splash on some English Leather, Canoe, Jaguar, or Hai Karate to slay the babes, and carefully tuck away the fresh roll of peppermint Certs for up-close insurance. Put the unbreakable ACE comb in the back pocket and slide on that gold and onyx signet ring like every other guy on earth had. No gum allowed at Tiger Den, and no taps on shoes…gotta protect that nice oak floor in the gym.
There was a Tiger Den Committee, which I later joined, that decorated the gym with copious amounts of crepe paper streamers (blue and gold) and many of the Tiger Den events were themed such as Homecoming, Dream Girl, King and Queen of Hearts, etc. My favorite was Sadie Hawkins Tiger Den, a once-a-year event where the girls asked the boys to dance and sometimes even asked boys to take them to the dance. At this event, the “brutal truth” really became evident. You might be asked to dance by a girl you never dreamed even knew you existed…wow! Also, if some girl that you thought might have an interest didn’t ask for a dance or two, you might as well cross her off your hopeful list.
At all Tiger Den events, a disc jockey – usually a parent – played 45 rpm, Top 40 records on a stone-age rollaround setup probably produced in shop class. About every fourth or fifth record was a slow song. I can still conjure up the tunes of “Theme from a Summer Place,” “April Love,” “Earth Angel” and “Oh, Donna.” Critical strategy came into play here, because you needed to get into position one song early to ask the girl you wanted to slow dance with, or miss out when some guy who was nearer beat you to the punch…bummer. I perfected this move by the second or third Tiger Den I attended and never shared the secret of the song timing, and it rarely varied.
Anyway, somewhere along the way at one of the Tiger Dens, I got crosswise with a member of the very small hoodlum element that, sadly, populated a very small part of the school. A few words were exchanged and he informed me that we would be seeing each other after the dance outside. This guy was pretty well known as a bully, and his friends were all there egging him on, as if he needed any encouragement.
Luckily for me, I had thrown the Reporter several times with a guy named Joey and had always deferred to him on the paper routes and had bought him a few Cokes along the way. He was a good paper thrower and we always finished very early regardless of what route we were given because we worked well as a team and really pushed it along. When I threw routes with him, it raised my performance to much higher levels of speed because I wanted to keep up.
Joey had the “hair” and the dark mood; he was the complete thug package, including sleepy eyes that were truly scary. He lit up a cigarette at any opportunity and carried a hair brush in his back pocket. I found out later what a horrid life he was living with the deadly combination of an alcoholic mom and dad and every other disadvantage imaginable. Although he was just a sophomore, I could see that he had tons of street sense.
So Tiger Den concludes, they push the crowd out the door, and I’m face-to-face with the guy from the dance who thinks he needs to boost his creds by going after me. I’m trying to concoct some defense or strategy to minimize my injuries that are most certainly going to be administered by this punk, when, with impeccable timing, Joey slides right in there after apparently reading the situation from afar. I’ll never forget the punk’s menacing demeanor fading when this game-changing event took place.
It was almost like something you might see in a movie. The punk immediately gets real friendly and turns into a teddy bear in the presence of Joey. He forgot all about mixing it up with me and concentrates intensely on verbally massaging Joey, who was obviously way above him in the thug pecking order. Joey slipped me the “get-out-of-here” look with those sleepy eyes, and I didn’t need a second clue. I was gone in a flash, and escaped certain death!
We threw the Reporter several times after that, but neither of us ever mentioned the Tiger Den incident. I’m sure that to him, it was just business as usual. Joey quit school on the first possible day that he could sign himself out, and I later heard that he caught a good job with KCPL or the Water Department, or some utility. I always hoped that he did well, and I’ll never forget how a fellow paper thrower saved my ass that night at Tiger Den.
Man, buddy, can I ramble on, or what???