Seventh grade sucks. I would list all the adjectives that could the levels of its suckitude, but you’ve been through it. You understand it. There should be an “It Gets Better” series just for 12-year-olds, regardless of their sexuality.
It does get better, by the way.
Fortunately, at the end of the long, dark hallway that was seventh grade was a glorious escape that will surprise none of you Lerlines out there: theater. I auditioned for, and was awarded, the role of Mammy Yokum in our high school’s spring musical “Li’l Abner,” and I spent the last three months of that awful year in the company of seniors. Seniors! These were the elder statesmen, who’d been through junior high and come out the other side not just alive, but popular, even. (My school was so small that seventh graders were cast in the high school musical, and even the popular kids did theater.)
That was my actual costume, down to the corncob pipe.
I could talk about Marci (Daisy Mae) and Kenny (Li’l Abner), who were THE couple of the day, and how they wasted valuable I-love-you-no-I-love-you hours counseling me on the awfulness of frenemies. I could mention how wonderful it was to escape into sassy Mammy Yokum’s bonnet and boss around people a foot taller than me–I was still only 4’8″, having not hit my growth spurt that would rocket me up to 5’4″ inside of eight months–and how the applause, o, the applause! washed over me and officially made me an audience addict. How Earthquake McGoon thanked me for saving his ass when he forgot his lines, how the music cut out during “Rag Offin’ the Bush” (seriously) and we danced an entire number in silence, missing not one beat, and making our terrifying 70-year-old choreographer weep with pride.
I could go into far more detail about those things. But this is not just about those things. This post is about Salt’n’Pepa, and Johnny G.
Johnny G. was a senior, too, and he was Marryin’ Sam. Not literally, of course, although my stage-managing sister Samantha’s favorite line was when he introduced himself, saying, “I’m Marryin’ Sam!” Marryin’ Sam was the preacher of Dogpatch, and had some swell songs and hilarious lines (“Girl, what you got left over’s more than what most folks starts out with.”).
Johnny wasn’t much of a singer, but he could belt, and he was very funny, unlike the fellow in this clip, he was really, really, really hot. So you do the math. Johnny’s the star of the show, really adorable and funny, and was kind enough to not blow off a hangdog, shrimpy 12-year-old who was clearly madly in love with him. He was my first crush, my first love; I’d be standing in JCPenney’s and think I heard his voice over my shoulder, and my heart would flutter, and I’d turn and see a dumpy security guard whose voice sounded nothing like my true love’s. Johnny listened to Motown with me, and agreed that Gladys Knight’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was totally better than Marvin Gaye’s.
One night, at a middle school dance, Johnny was there–not sure why, I think he was friends with the DJ–and Salt’n’Pepa’s Push It busted out. Along with “Pump Up the Volume,” it was THE dance song of 1987. I was hanging around Johnny’s side, as usual, when he started dancing–kind of a two-step hop to each side, then a little hop in a circle. I echoed it to him. He did another move. I danced it back. He burst out laughing–not at me, mind you, but in surprise.
And then Johnny and I had a full-on dance-off for the rest of the song.
Pretty sure this is what I looked like in that moment, only with choppy short hair and unplucked eyebrows.
Of course, my love for Johnny G. did not end in me being swept off to marry him in his full Marine dress blues; it ended with me crying behind sunglasses while my mom gently explained the reality of crushes.
A few years later, a Doogie Howser, MD episode featured a girl in love with Doogie, and he got a speech (I think from his mom) that he should be very nice to her, and I had a revelation that Johnny’s niceness was not just an illusion of my bedazzled puberty; that really was him. We all learn the hard lesson of falling in love with a superstar doesn’t usually work out, but a good guy will dull the pain.
I thought of Johnny last Saturday, when we headed over to my neighbor’s house for an impromptu outdoor dance party. Their 8-year-old was demonstrating some of her dance moves. I demonstrated the Roger Rabbit and and running man (both featured in this video). She demanded I teach her.
The running man.
In closing: show a kid a dance, they have fun for a second. Teach a kid to dance, they can boogie down for a lifetime. Additionally, all you fly brothers, get on down here and dance; and Spinderella: won’t you please cut it up, this one time?