I remember where I was when I heard that Alex Chilton had died:
reading the news at lunch yesterday, skipping over the article because I didn’t recognize his name.
I remember where I was today when I finally read the story:
back in 1967, attending the Wednesday night Crozier Junior High School dance.
I don’t even have to hear the song to be transported; I just read the words, “As the (lead) singer for … the Box Tops, Chilton topped the charts with the band's song ‘The Letter’” and I am back at the Inglewood Recreation Center, doing an awkwardly flailing dance, with Linda.
I can hear the song. I can see Linda’s brown eyes looking up from just below mine. I can feel the cool chill of the Southern California evening. I can taste the paper cups full of fizzy fountain Coke that I bought for the two of us. I can smell the petrified, sweaty stench of puberty.
I remember that Linda loved “The Letter”, so we kept requesting the DJ to play it; I guess others did too because I remember we danced to it at least 5 times. I remember having no clue what to do with a girl at a dance besides dance to “The Letter” and then buy Cokes and mill around the lobby. I remember guys trying in vain to help me out.
I remember my friend Kevin, during the third time through “The Letter”, leaning over and whispering to me, “dance better,” and being bewildered as to how I would accomplish that by just wanting it. I remember Mike Maris (a semi-thug who was not even a friend of mine) telling me to “take her outside and kiss her,” and being bewildered as to how I would accomplish that by just wanting it.
I just can’t quite remember her name. I’m 99% sure about the Linda part. For the last name, “Smith” keeps popping into my head. However I think her parents were, or at least her father was, Mexican, so “Smith” seems wrong. Her possibly-Mexican father was very strict, she told me, so, after the dance, I couldn’t stand with her and hold her hand while she waited for him to pick her up.
I clearly remember, though, what happened a couple days later. She asked me to walk her home after school. Her house was in the opposite direction of mine. I would miss my bus or possibly spend hours finding my way back from whatever mysterious paradise she lived in. I don’t know if it was those fears or fear of her strict father catching me with her that caused me to turn down her invitation. Maybe I doubted that she actually liked me.
It was Linda who initiated the conversations we had in English class that got us in trouble. It was Linda who suggested we meet at the dance. It was Linda who asked me to walk her home. It was me who blew the chance to have a girlfriend. I probably blocked out the obvious conclusion that she liked me because I didn’t know, if a girl likes you, what’s the next step?
Whenever I hear “The Letter” the entire experience oozes back, in a bitter-sweet sludge of stomach acid and nostalgia. I want to return to that day, smack 12-year-old me in the head and scream, “Idiot! The next step is to walk her home. The next step is to learn a dance. The next step is to step outside and kiss her.” (PDA would get you kicked out of the dance, so kissing had to occur behind the building, with the smokers.)
I don’t remember anything about Linda after that day of not walking her home. I know I never got another invitation. But mainly I don’t remember her being in our school any more. I have this feeling that her family moved away. Maybe that’s just how I resolved my whole stupid, pathetic behavior in my head.
Give me a ticket for a time machine,
I must go back and change that sorry scene.
Although those days are gone, they still live on
Every time I think of “The Letter”.