February 2, 1979
Gimme that night fe-verrr. Clap! We know how to show it. Clap! Twirl-two-three. Clap! Here I am, prayin’ for this moment to last...
The Bee Gees sure had that right. I’d have loved for that moment to stretch out forever. It was the Semester Kickoff Party at Pi Kappa Phi, and the place was packed. Floyd Gillis, Ray Irmer, and I, centering three lines of girls, were each doing our best John Travolta - complete with silk shirts and tight jeans, perfect hair, and aloof expressions - at the eastern end of the basement.
The darker western end held tables full of guys that refused to dance, all sitting alone and drinking. Six months later, nearly all would claim to have attended the Disco Demolition over at Comiskey Park too. But news flash, fellas: The girls are up here with us!
And those girls were really wearing me out. After being passed from Marianne to Shirley to Marie - all with steady boyfriends sitting out at those tables - this was my fourth number in a row and I was getting winded. Once the Bee Gees music faded, replaced by the first faint bars of MacArthur Park, I exchanged pleasantries with my nearby partners and hustled off the dance floor. There was an awkward moment when I neared a pretty young girl, who seemed to be waiting expectantly. “Whew,” I said, mopping my brow, “need a break!” Then, with a smile, I was past.
Jasper Mersereau was spelling Floyd as DJ, and when I pulled up beside him at the turntables, he said, “It looked like she was gonna follow you for a second there. But after taking one step, she changed her mind and veered off towards the bar.”
I felt a little guilty about that, but I was still getting over an ugly break up with someone I’d been with for years. I just wasn’t ready for unattached females yet and I told Jasper so.
“Well, you better get ready damn quick!” Jasper said, spinning on me. “I’ve told you half a dozen times, Sandy talked her roommate into coming here tonight, just to meet you. She’s gorgeous and Sandy says you two are perfect...”
“Alright, alright!” I said, waving my hands. “I’ll be real nice after you introduce us, and maybe dance with her a while, but...” My eyes were drawn to the little black box in Jasper’s hand. “Is that what I think it is?”
Jasper scowled and put the box in his pocket. But I knew what I’d seen. I’d been there when he picked out that ring. “I thought you were gonna wait until Valentine’s Day?” He shrugged. “That’s less than two weeks away, you know.”
He gave me a sour look before extracting a record from its jacket. Donna Summer’s lament was wrapping up, and he had a Disco Inferno to light. So I wandered off towards the bar, hoping there wasn’t an ambush waiting.
While I did get a surprise, it wasn’t what I feared. My Pledge Brother, Jerry Kelly, was hunched over the bar, conversing with the young bartender. He’d recently moved out and I was missing him already, though I’d never tell him that. So I walked over and smacked him on the back, asking, “Couldn’t stay away?”
“There you are,” he said, turning. “We’ve got to talk. Grab yourself a beer, while I go snag us a table.”
That sounded mysterious. And where the heck was his fiancé, Karen? Nevertheless, I followed his instructions.
Jerry and I had just graduated in December. In my case, a ninth semester was needed after switching majors from math to engineering sophomore year; in Jerry’s, it had taken multiple tries to slay the Organic Chemistry Monster. We’d both just leveraged our Bachelor’s degrees to get well paying, yet secretly temporary jobs too. I planned to bank a few bucks, then quit and start grad school at IIT in the fall; Jerry would give his notice sooner, returning to Boston as soon as Karen finished her nursing degree.
Once the youngster handed me a generously full red plastic cup, I took a sip, and thanked him, then sought out my buddy.
“Don’t make any plans for Saturday, May 19th,” Jerry said, as soon as I sat down. “You’ll be at a church in Naperville that day, standing up in my wedding.”
“It’d be my honor,” I said, with a hand on my heart. I raised my cup in salute, and Jerry did likewise, tapping mine to seal the deal. “Billy too, I’m guessing.”
Jerry nodded. “He and Rhonda are supposed to swing by here later and I’ll tell him about it then.” After a sip of beer, Jerry added, “You’re actually booked the whole third week of May. No sooner had I asked my cousin to be Best Man, then he checked the baseball schedules. The Cubs and White Sox are both in town that week, so he’s flying in early and we’ll all be going to a bunch of games. Plus there’s a rehearsal dinner and other stuff Karen wants us to do.”
While I wasn’t certain I could get off for day games, I smiled back and said, “No problem!”
We spent twenty minutes talking and laughing about old times. Then, all of a sudden, Jerry got serious and set down his cup. “You know,” he said, leaning towards me with a grave expression. “I always figured you would go first. I mean, you guys were together since freshman year and...”
I waved him off. Then, ironically, the latest Bee Gees hit reached the part I considered my own.
Tragedy! When the feelings gone and you can’t go on, it’s tragedy...
“Wasn’t meant to be,” I said. “Let’s talk about something else. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, glad to hear it,” Jerry said, snatching up his cup and leaning back. After taking a quick look around the room, he turned my way with a perplexed expression, and asked, “When did we become the old farts?”
It was two weeks after my twenty-second birthday and I knew Jerry had me by a few months. Indeed, we’d be the oldest present until either Billy or our RA showed up. But before I could share that thought, Jerry’s eyes opened wide as he said, “Jesus Christ Almighty! Who the hell is that?”
He was staring over my shoulder, and as I turned, I noticed guys at other tables were looking behind me too. But I could only make out Sandy, walking towards the bar with four other girls. So I stood, turned to fully face them, and waited. Two took seats at the east end of the bar and swung their legs my way, but the other girls blocked any view of their faces. Until Sandy finally moved.
And the sun came out at 9PM. She absolutely glowed. Dazed, I spun away, blinking to restore night vision.
The next thing I knew, I was out on the dance floor with Marianne. I vaguely recalled her at the next table, giving Dennis such a whack for staring, then grabbing my hand and pulling me out here. But I’m used to following Marianne’s lead. She’s taught me every dance move I know. Well, her and Floyd. But when I danced with him, everyone looked at us funny. How else were you supposed to learn? My ex wasn’t much of a dancer, but she liked Marianne, and didn’t mind our dancing. What were we dancing to right now? Sounds like corn popping. Oh, Do The Hustle. No wonder. I could do that one in my sleep. I guess I kind of had these past few minutes.
That girl is on the other side of the little wall jutting out from the east end of the bar. Can’t see her from here. Ruth. That’s her name. Was she really nineteen? She didn’t look it. No, I mean, she’s extremely well-proportioned and everything. But her face looks so young!
Where the heck was Marianne going? Oh my god, the song is over.
I fled to Floyd and safety.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Floyd asked, placing a platter on the second turntable.
“Never mind,” I said. “But I need you to do something for me. Let me take over as DJ, while you to go find Jasper and drag him over here.”
“Is he somewhere in the basement?”
“Not sure.” Floyd set off, but returned quickly. Empty handed. “Well go upstairs and find him!”
“Why don’t you go yourself?” But I had no intention of showing myself until Jasper made an introduction.
“Please?” But he just folded his arms, sucked in his lips, and stared at me. What did I have that Floyd wanted?
“You know how you’ve always wanted to go to the Cape Cod Room?” I asked. “Well, we’ll go soon and I’m buying.”
“Do I get lobster?” Floyd asked, unfolding his arms. I agreed. “And dessert?”
“Yes! Just don’t come back here without Jasper.”
It seemed like Floyd was gone forever. I’d cycled through six or seven records, and one by one, the girls that Sandy came with made their way out to the dance floor. Not Ruth yet, but that was just a matter of time. Especially if Irmer spotted her. The guy was rich and looked like a Greek god. I’d even have trouble saying no to Irmer.
Holy cow! What if Jasper had popped the question? If so, he’d be locked in his room with Sandy. Floyd would never consider knocking. Would he?
Then finally Floyd returned. There’d been no sign of Jasper or Sandy anywhere.
“Okay,” I said, thinking fast. “Go over and check out the bar. Tell me if there’s still a blond sitting in the nearest corner. Long hair, a few inches below the shoulder. Real pretty face. Cute little upturned nose. She’s got a sort of blue-green top on.”
Floyd was there and back in a flash. With a quizzical look, he pointed at his collar and said, “She’s got a little hood on the back of that top. Is that some new fashion thing?”
“Get back here,” I said, rifling through albums until I found the one I wanted. “Do me another favor,” I said, setting it by a turntable and pointing out a title. “Play this one next.”
Floyd craned his neck down to see what I’d selected, then pulled far back, eyeing me over his glasses. “So, we’re planning on getting ourselves in trouble again, are we?”
“We just might be,” I agreed, tucking in my shirt and smoothing down my hair. Once Floyd had spun up my song, I started towards the bar, trying to arrive at just the right moment.
“Excuse me,” I said to one of Ruth’s girlfriends, who cleared a path for my approach. The nearby motion make Ruth turn and we locked eyes. I’d timed it beautifully, just as Yvonne Elliman belted out the refrain.
If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody, baby.
“I’m Barry,” I said, extending my left hand. I swept my right towards the dance floor and smiled. “We’re supposed to be perfect for one another.”
And as it happened, we really were.