Today, I'd like to discuss my experience with a seemingly innocuous, even festive, holiday garnish. It hangs in corners of ceilings or doorways, passively beckoning those who stand under it to celebrate the season with a kiss.
Obviously, I'm speaking of mistletoe. It signifies whimsy and spontaneity, cheer and warmth, but for me, it hearkens to darker emotions, most notably—fear.
Back in May, I wrote about my inaugural attempt at dancing at an after school sock hop. I was a thirteen-year-old seventh grader at Olympic Junior High, and as I think back, this adolescent ritual more closely resembled a simian social gathering, where the genetically favorable male apes are rewarded with equally desirable partners in their rites of revelry. That first dance taught me that most girls would dance with me (except for slow dancing; only a few agreed to that). I simply needed to ask.
I concluded during my post dance analysis that I could dance passably, as long as I didn't try anything rash or Travoltian, and walking into the evening air, I felt confidant that the next experience would be much more enjoyable.
Dance number two was a more intimate, nighttime affair, held in the same multi-purpose facility at the school, but with a live band and holiday trimmings. I entered the venue solo, as usual, but feeling buoyant and sharp. My clothing choices epitomized men's style of the mid-1970s: a tan silk shirt with long, pointy collars, dark green corduroy flare legs and a freshly coiffed "butt cut" (parted in the middle, feathered on the sides, no earl lobes showing).
Due to school regulations, I removed my shiny brown platforms, and in doing so, shrunk two inches to my customary height of five feet, six inches. The crowd was still filing in with a smattering of couples already dancing to the house band, "Crossfire."
As I gazed upon the psychedelically lit gym floor, I watched an eighth grader (I think his name was Lonnie) approach a pair of dancers and hold a small sprig of vegetable matter above their heads. As if on cue, they abruptly stopped dancing, converged and lip locked with a vigor worthy of a conjugal prison visit.
They had been "mistletoed."
As the dance floor slowly filled, more couples were visited by random mistletoers. Where did these people acquire this stuff? Who knows, but that familiar, metallic taste of fear flooded my senses. Oh, my God, I thought, I can't get mistletoed. I've never kissed anyone on the mouth (except my grandma, after she'd been drinking), let alone for ten full seconds.
I still wanted to dance and talk to some girls, but what if we were descended upon by one of these evil holiday messengers? What if...hmm...what if?
I guess I'll have to try it, won't I?
The first three co-eds rejected my timid dance offers, which, although disappointing, wasn't unexpected. The fourth accepted and we danced mistletoe-free. Okay, that's cool, I rationalized. Maybe I can avoid these mistleterrorists all night. With my confidence notched up a peg, I hit the floor with another gunny-sacked beauty. As I immersed myself into the vibe of Crossfire's signature cover song, "Slow Ride" by Foghat, a shadowy figure approached from four o'clock.
It was my neighborhood friend, Jeff. He smiled a toothy smirk and hoisted a stalk of the now familiar plant between her and me. The act ensued in slow motion as we approached each other. Our heads repeatedly tilted in the same direction as we performed a jerky, yet well choreographed neck dance. I finally held my angle as she shifted hers, and what happened then is a little murky. It was warm, kind of soggy and since we both had braces, we luckily avoided a jaws of life event.
However—I had done it. I jotted a big check mark on the mental list of things to do right next to "first kiss.' At that point, it took no time to acclimate myself to the junior high version of throwing your car keys into a bowl, and by the end of the night, my mouth harbored more human bacteria than Richard Dawson's after an entire season of Family Feud.
As the evening ended, I slowly exited the building, joining a few friends for the short walk to the after-party at Pizza Hut. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, yet one thought still lingered:
When's the next dance?