A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're sayin'.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb".--Pink Floyd song
When I was thirteen, Summer evenings got spent at small country wood frame houses, where kids played records and danced. The music spanned genres--a session of Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack to "Superfly" might follow Alice Cooper's "Love it to Death" (n.b.: "I'm Eighteen" is not at all a bad dance song). You have not lived until you see a kid doing the Frog to "Superfly". The Frog is a hopping dance, which is anatomically impossible except for Rumanian gymnasts and women in south Arkansas.
Slow dancing might flow to Three Dog Night's "Pieces of April" ("April gave us Springtime--and the promise of her flowers, and the feeling that we both shared, and the love that we called ours") or Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze" ("blowin' down the jazz lines of my mind"). I loved Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" ("give me the beat, boys, that freed my soul"). I love "Drift Away" even yet.
I danced, sometimes, but my mental picture of myself is of someone more on the wallflower edge of the spectrum. As I think back, I cannot believe that anyone would forego the pleasure of dancing with Carrie Sligh, who not only was cute but knew the same obscure rock musics that so few of us knew (she later charted in Nashville, if I remember right, with a traditional country single. I wish I had that kind of fame--Number 42, for two weeks in 1985). For that matter, why miss the chance to dance with anyone?
We were innocents. We did not smoke, drink, take drugs, or move much past the base path to first base. In my case, I don't even recall getting much out of the batter's box, and I actually felt on deck most of the time, waiting to even bat.
I know the feel of wood paneling on my back, as I leaned and watched people dancing. I remember sometimes the fellow with the great voice might pull out a guitar and sing a bit, although this rarely happened. I even remember the night I sang a note or two of Black Oak Arkansas' "Gravel Roads", to the amusement of all. I always was more a figure of fun than a fun figure in those days.
In the mix of fun music and people who try to be kind, the alienation does not set in. Later, though, the moment comes when one realizes that one is out of one's era, out of one's depth. It's like being a trilobite in a barrel of sea monkeys. How does it happen? Nobody really tries to introduce this distance. Everyone is so nervous, and so anxious, and so self-centered.
But it happens. One goes from space cowboy to space alien, overnight. It's like, one minute, you're dancing with all the kids to Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft", and the next minute, you're all alone in your room, listening to virtually the same riff, but it's Bowie's "1984", not "Shaft", and you're distanced from everyone.
When you're 17, you're convinced you have the plague. When you're 24, you wonder about inamorata not met. When you're 35, you wonder what the 20s might have been, if you'd been more social. In point of fact, though, you turned down perquisites of the "social life", because as flattering as that midnight "let's play Trivial Pursuits" call can be, life still remained too short to accept a drunken invitation, and you resisted being with anyone you didn't want to "be with". By 43, you don't wonder at the loneliness you felt, but you wonder why it ever bothered you at all.
I don't pay the phantom tollbooth tags of middle age in many of the conventional ways. Insomnia is really the only major middle age vice I've acquired, other than perhaps bifocals and self-reflection. My self-reflection tonight makes me wonder if the rumble of a hi-fi reverberating through a wall, coupled with the deep thoughts that a lonely boy can think, don't compensate somehow for everything.
I had a cheap JC Penney reflecting telescope in those days. On winter nights, I'd stand in my parents' side yard, and look at the Moon and the M42 nebulae. I've never really taken my eye off M42. Maybe if I had, I'd have dated more, and settled in the mill town I grew up in and loved. But through a cheap telescope, with a plastic tube and a simple mirror, the nebula, though tiny, is so very intricate. I've seen that same kaleidoscope of sights I can't make out, as I watch kids cooler than I am dance. I've heard the quasar noise, beeping on the edge of the song "Diamond Girl".
The time comes when you stop fretting about the distance, and just live with yourself. When that happens, you're off the wall, and you're dancing. It's a quirky, individual dance, but it's yours. You're dancing, and you see the stars, and it's all just fine.