***On The 50th Anniversary Of The Voting Rights Act-Blowing In The Wind - With Bob Dylan And The Generation Of ‘68 In Mind-Take Three
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Scene: Girls’ Lounge, North Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, late September, 1962. Additional information for those who know not of girls lounges, for whatever reason. (And not necessarily just guys who might wonder why they needed the extra space, silly guys, but girls from high schools who did not pamper their older girls and who had to put up with broken mirrors, cramped toilets and nowhere to dispose of their “friend.”) The North Clintondale High School girls’ lounge was reserved strictly for junior and senior girls, no sophomore girls and, most decidedly, no freshmen girls need come within twenty feet of the place for any reason, particularly by accident, under penalty of tumult. It was placed there for the “elect” to use before school, during lunch, after school, and during the day if the need arose for bathroom breaks, but that last was well down on the prerogatives list since any girl could use any other “lav” in the school. No queen, no lioness ever guarded her territory as fiercely as the junior and senior girls of any year, not just 1962, guarded the aura of their lounge. (In the age of co-ed college dorms, unisex bathrooms, and baby changing areas in both men’s and women’s bathrooms this may seem rather quaint and worse rather condescending but that was the ethos of the time, the time just before the great women’s liberation break-out that some of those same young women who guarded the lounge like that previously mentioned queen or lioness would participate.)
Needless to say the place was strictly off-limits to boys, although there had been recent talk, 1962 talk, if talk it was, about some girls thinking, or maybe better, wishing, that boys could enter that hallowed ground, after school enter. Unlike the cigarette smoking rumor this one while persistent never seemed to have gone anywhere. Moreover after school most junior or senior girls were either working part-time jobs at local slave labor department stores or restaurants, heading home to help mother take of younger children (and getting a heads up on what their future might look like), playing lady-like intramural sports far away from boy eyes (in those awful bloomers they wore while playing restricted no-contact basketball or swatting volleyballs ), or, most likely already with some boy in his latest homemade automobile (homemade after hours spent in the garage working out the kinks to made the damn thing go faster, but don’t tell the parents that, the parents of the girl) after a quick run over to North Adamsville Beach. Still that boy rumor possibility was much more likely than entry by those forlorn sophomore and freshman girls, lost or not.
Now the reasoning behind this special girls’ lounge, at least according to Clintondale public school authority wisdom established so far back no one remembered who started it, although a good guess was sometime in the Jazz Age, the time of the “lost generation,” was that junior and senior girls needed some space to attend to their toilet and to adjust to the other rigors of the girl school day and, apparently, that fact was not true for the younger girls. So for that “as far back as can be remembered” junior and senior girls have been using the lounge for their physical, spiritual, demonic, and other intrigue needs.
Certainly it was not the décor that they were fierce about. Now the physical set- up of the place, by 1962 anyway, was that of a rather run-down throne-ante room. Your standard school, heck, for that matter any public building Ladies’ restroom (remember as well this was situated in a public school so erase any thoughts of some elegant woman’s lounge in some fancy downtown Clintondale hotel, some Ritz-ish place); stalls, three, three sinks complete with oversized mirrors for proper preening, several paper towel dispensers and a couple of throw away waste paper baskets (and of course a place to dispense with those monthly napkins) all set off in bland public building colors.
Beyond that though was the lounge area maybe twice the size of the bathroom area which this year as almost any of the previous ten years contained two old time sofas, a couple of easy chairs, three end tables filled with magazines, mainly girl fashion-related magazines from various years and a couple more waste paper baskets. On one long green wall photographs of previous years of junior and senior girls who were privileged to sit in this very area. On the other providing some fresh air in season three very large glass windows with latch opening for ease of use. (Those windows rumored but only rumored to allow an errant young woman or seven to puff cigarettes and blow the smoke out into the airs. If the school authorities ever discovered that such practices went on, or if they did, did anything about it is unclear however those rumors persisted until long after 1962.)
The “charm” of the place was thus in its exclusivity not its appearance. Come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that counted after hard social weekend of fending, or not fending, off some sidewalk Lothario, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every girl with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. If this had been a Catholic school rather than public it would have required the full-time services of a senior cleric to absolve all the lies told on any given Monday morning. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, no one studied in the tribal norms, in the angsts and alienation, to figure it out in even such an elitist democratic lounge which apparently took it model from ancient Greek civic life except ruled by young women rather than old men that a certain pecking order, or more aptly cliques existed aplenty.
The most vocal one, although the smallest, was composed of the “bad” girls, mainly working class, or lower, mostly Irish and Italian, fathers working in the local shipyard or the factories that dotted the river, cigarette-smoking (allegedly okay), blowing the smoke out the window this September day as the weather was still good enough to have open windows. As if the nervous, quick-puff stale smells of the cigarettes were not permanently etched on the stained walls already, taking no bloodhound to figure out the No Smoking rule was being violated, violated daily. (Again no action by school authorities was ever taken while a junior or senior girl was in this sanctuary.) Oh yes, and those “bad” girls just then were chewing gum, chewing Wrigley’s double-mint gum, although that ubiquitous habit was not confined to bad girls, as if that act would take the smell of the cigarette away from their breathes. One girl, Anna, a usually dour pretty girl, was animatedly talking, without a seeming hint of embarrassment or concern that others would hear about how her new boyfriend, a biker from Adamsville who to hear her tell it was an A- Number One stud, and she “did it” on the Adamsville beach (she put it more graphically, much more graphically, but the reader can figure that out). And her listeners, previously somewhat sullen, perked up as she went into the details, and they started, Monday morning or not, to get a certain glean in their eyes thinking about the response when they told their own boyfriends about this one. If they did.
Less vocal, but certainly not more careful in their weekend doings talk, were the, for lack of a better term, the pom-pom girls, the school social leaders, the ones who planned the school dances and such, and put the events together in order to, no, not to show their superior organizing skills for future resumes as one might think, but to lure boys, the jock and social boys, into their own Adamsville beach traps. And not, like Anna and her biker, on any smelly, sandy, clamshell-filled, stone-wretched beach, blanket-less for chrissakes. Leave that for the “bad” girls. They, to a girl, were comfortably snuggled up, according to their whispered stories, in the back seat of a boss ’57 Chevy or other prestige car, with their honeys and putting it more gingerly than Anna (and less graphically) “doing it.”
And, lastly, was the group around Peggy Kelly, not that she was the leader of this group for it had no leader, or any particular organized form either, but because when we get out of the smoke-filled, sex talk-filled, hot-air Monday morning before school North Clintondale junior and senior girls’ lounge we will be following her around. This group, almost all Irish girls, Irish Catholic girls if that additional description is needed, of varying respectabilities, was actually there to attend to their toilet and prepare for the rigors of the girl school day. Oh yes, after all what is the point of being in this exclusive, if democratic, lounge anyway, they too were talking in very, very, very quiet tones discussing their weekend doings, their mainly sexless weekend doings, although at least one, Dora, was speaking just a bit too cryptically, and with just a little too much of a glean in her eyes to pass churchly muster.
And what of Peggy? Well Peggy had her story to tell, if she decided to tell it which she had no intention of doing that day. She was bothered, with an unfocused bother, but no question a bother about other aspects of her life, about what she was going to after high school, about her place in the world than to speak of sex. It was not that Peggy didn’t like sex, or rather more truthfully, the idea of sex, or maybe better put on her less confused days, the idea of the idea of sex. Just this past weekend, Saturday night, although it was a book sealed with seven seals that she was determined not to speak of, girls’ lounge or not, she had let Pete Rizzo “feel her up,” put his hands on her breast. No, not skin on skin, jesus no, but through her buttoned-up blouse. And she liked it. And moreover, she thought that night, that tossing and turning night, “when she was ready” she was would be no prude about it. When she was ready, and that is why she insisted that the idea of the idea of sex was something that would fall into place. When she was ready.
But as she listened to the other Irish girls and their half-lies about their weekends, or drifted off into her own thoughts sex, good idea or not, was not high on her list of activities just then. Certainly not with Pete. Pete was a boy that she had met when she was walking at “the meadows,” For those not familiar with the Clintondale meadows this was a well-manicured and preserved former pasture area that the town fathers had designated as park, replete with picnic tables, outdoor barbecue pits, a small playground area and a small restroom (a facility that made the girls’ lounge at Clintondale High look like one in a downtown hotel by comparison). The idea was to preserve a little of old-time farm country Clintondale in the face of all the building going on in town. But for Peggy the best part was that on any given day no one was using the space, preferring the more gaudy, raucous and, well, fun-filled Gloversville Amusement Park, a couple of towns over. So she could roam there freely, and that seemed be Pete’s idea, as well one day. And that meeting really set up what was bothering Peggy these days.
Pete was a freshman at the small local Gloversville College. Although it was small and had been, according to Pete, one of those colleges founded by religious dissidents, Protestant religious dissidents from the mainstream Protestantism of their day, it was well-regarded academically (also courtesy of Pete). And that was Pete’s attraction for Peggy, his ideas and how he expressed them. They fit right in with what Peggy had been bothered by for a while. Things that could not be spoken of in girls’ lounge, or maybe even thought of there. Things like what to do about the black civil rights struggle that was burning up the television every night. About the awful way that whites treated the blacks down there (and the way that her father, a full-blooded Irishman who had grown up in South Boston and who could find no better word for the blacks than n----r and there were plenty in all-white Clintondale who used that same word without a second thought). Pete was “heading south” next summer he said. (That term of youthful political art signifying that he would be taking a bus, or maybe as part of a carload, and head for hellish Alabama or goddam Mississippi to aid the besieged black civil-rights fighters in one of the programs drawn up by one of the increasingly active Northern campus activist coalitions.) They also as youth will talked of things like were we going to last until next week if the Russians came at us, or we went after the Russians. And behind that threat the big one, the big red scare Cold War nuclear holocaust threat that was unspoken but which she had serious dreams about, and dreams about joining with others to stop the damn madness.
Also mingled in aside from that that not then pressing sex question, for she was a young woman of her time and upbringing as well, though why was she worried every day about her appearance and why she, like an addiction, always, always, made her way to the girls’ lounge to “make her face” as part of the rigors of the girl school day. And if not pressing then sneaking in every once in a while whole sex thing that was coming, and she was glad of it, just not with Pete, Pete who after all was just too serious, too much like those commissars over in Russia, although she liked the way he placed his hands on her. And she was still thinking hard on these subjects as she excused herself from the group as she put the final touches of lipstick on. Just then the bell rang for first period, and she was off into the girl day.
Scene: Boys’ “Lav,” Second Floor, Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, September, 1962. (Not necessarily the same Monday morning as the scene above but some Monday after the first Monday, Labor Day, in September. In any case even if it was the same Monday as the one above that coincidence does not drive this story, other more ethereal factors do.) Additional information for those who know not of boys’ lavs, for whatever reason. The Clintondale High School boys’ rest rooms, unlike the girls’ lounge mentioned above at North, where that old time rule applied to the girls’ lounge, was open to any boy in need of its facilities, even lowly, pimply freshmen as long as they could take the gaffe. Apparently Clintondale high school boys, unlike the upperclassmen girls needed no special consideration for their grooming needs in order to face the schoolboy day.
Well, strictly speaking that statement about a truly democratic boys’ lav universe was not true. The first floor boys’ lav down by the woodworking shop was most strictly off limits, and had been as far back as anyone could remember, maybe Neanderthal times, to any but biker boys, badass corner boys, guys with big chips on their shoulders and the wherewithal to keep them there , and assorted other toughs. No geeks, dweebs, nerds, guys in plaid shirts and loafers with or without pennies inserted in them, or wannabe toughs, wannabe toughs who did not have that wherewithal to maintain that chip status need apply. And none did, none at least since legendary corner boy king (Benny’s Variety Store version), “Slash” Larkin, threw some misdirected freshman through a work-working shop window for his mistake. Ever since every boy in the school, every non-biker, non-corner boy, or non-tough had not gone within fifty yards of that lav, even if they took shop classes in the area. And a “comic” aspect of every year’s freshman orientation was a guided finger to point out which lav NOT to use, and that window where that freshman learned the error of his ways. No king, no lion ever guarded his territory as fiercely as the “bad” boys did. Except, maybe, those junior and senior Clintondale girls of any year, and not just 1962, as they guarded their lounge lair.
That left the boys’ rooms on the second floor, the third floor, the one as you entered the gymnasium, and the one outside of the cafeteria for every other boy’s use. A description, a short description, of these lavs is in order. One description fits all will suffice; a small room, with stalls, sinks, mirrors, etc. the same as found in any rest room in any public building in the country. Additionally, naturally, several somewhat grimy, stained (from the “misses”) urinals. What draws our attention to the second floor boys’ room this day are two facts. First, this rest room is in the back of the floor away from snooping teachers’ eyes, ears and noses and has been known, again for an indeterminate time, as the place where guys could cadge a smoke, a few quick puffs anyway, on a cigarette and blow the smoke out the back window, rain or shine, cold or hot weather. So any guy of any class who needed his “fix” found his way there. And secondly, today, as he had done almost every Monday before school since freshman year John Prescott and friends have held forth there to speak solemnly of the weekend’s doing, or not doings. To speak of sex, non-sex, and more often than seemed possible, of the girl who got away, damn it.
Of course, egalitarian democratic or not, even such drab places as schoolboy rest rooms have their pecking orders, and the second floor back tended to eliminate non-smoking underclassmen, non-smokers in general, serious intellectual types, non-jocks, non-social butterflies, and non-plaid shirt and loafer boys. And Johnny Prescott, if nothing else was the epitome of the plaid shirt and loafer crowd. And just like at that up-scale North Clintondale girls’ lounge come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that count, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every plaid-shirted, penny-loafered boy with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, to figure it out in even such a smoky democratic setting there was a certain standardized routine-ness to these Monday mornings. And that routine-ness, the very fact of it, is why John Prescott draws our attention on this day.
And if Johnny was the king of his clique for no other reason than he was smart, but not too smart, not intellectual smart, or showing it any way, that he was first to wear plaid and loafers and not be laughed at, and he had no trouble dating girls, many notched girls, which was the real sign of distinction in second floor lav, he was nevertheless a troubled plaid-ist.
No, not big troubled, but, no question, troubled. Troubled about this sex thing, and about having to have the notches to prove it, whether, to keep up appearances, you had to lie about it or not when you struck out as happened to Johnny more times than he let on (and as he found out later happened to more guys more often than not). Troubled about political stuff like what was going on down in the South with those black kids taking an awful beating every day as he saw on television every freaking night. (And like Peggy’s father his father casting aspersions down on the “nigras” the only term he knew, or cared to know coming for backwater Kentucky and not fully aware that a civil war had been fought to decide that question of black equality). And right next store in Adamsville where some kids, admittedly some intellectual goof kids, were picketing Woolworth’s every Saturday to let black people, not in Adamsville because there were no blacks in Adamsville, or Clintondale for that matter, but down in Georgia, eat a cheese sandwich in peace at a lunch counter and he thought he should do something about that too, except those intellectual goofs might goof on him, might wonder about his motives since he made it his business to goof on them at school. But, damn, those kids down south had right to eat that freaking cheese sandwich in peace, although the Woolworth’s cheese sandwiches even grilled were awful to eat.
And big, big issues like whether we were going to live out our lives as anything but mutants on this planet what with the Russian threatening us everywhere with big bombs, and big communist one-size-fits- all ideas. Worst, though were the dizzying thoughts of his place in the sun and how big it would be. Worse, right now worse though was to finish this third morning cigarette and tell his girl, his third new girl in two months, Julie James, that he needed some time this weekend to just go off by himself, to go “the meadows” maybe, and think about the stuff he had on his mind.
*******Scene: Clintondale Meadows, one late September 1962 Saturday afternoon. The features of the place already described above, including its underutilization. Enter Johnny Prescott from the north, plaid shirt, brown loafers, no pennies on this pair, black un-cuffed chinos, and against the winds of late September this year his Clintondale High white and blue sports jacket won for his athletic prowess as a basketball player in sophomore year. Theodore White’s The Making Of A President-1960 in hand. Enter from the south Peggy Kelly radiant in her cashmere sweater, her just so full skirt, and her black patent leather shoes with her additional against the chill winds red and black North Clintondale varsity club supporter sweater. James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain in hand. Johnny spied Peggy first, makes an initial approach as he did to most every girl every chance he got, but noticed, noticed at a time when such things were important in Clintondale teen high school life the telltale red and black sweater, and immediately backed off. You see never the twain shall meet as far as those two cross-town rivals went, starting with the bitter football rivalry between the two schools like they were Cold War opponents. There was an unwritten law, not easily transgressed then that one did not speak to, much less date, a member of the opposing school. (And enough stories about the “shunning” of such dalliances existed so that at least publicly it was not done. Later times would find that such laws were breeched as much as honored). Peggy noticing Johnny’s reaction puts her head down. A chance encounter goes for not.
That is not the end of the story though. Johnny and Peggy will “meet” again, by chance, in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City in the early summer of 1964 as they, along with other recent high school graduates and current college students- “head south.”