My friend, Denise, and I were out for a walk in our neighborhood of Great Falls, Virginia. It was the end of March, 1968. The forests surrounding the houses were a beautiful light green. The weather was starting to warm up a bit so we were in shorts and t-shirts. We were both fifteen. She was tall, with long ash blonde hair and bright blue eyes. I was nearly five-ten, with auburn streaked caramel colored hair in an Agent 99 bob. Denise had done my hair cut and it turned out pretty well. I had dark brown eyes which, like my father’s, would go obsidian if I got angry. Which was often. Both of us, as per 60s regulation, were tanned to the max.
Denise was dating Allen and I was dating Allen’s younger brother, Wayne. My father didn’t allow me to “go steady.” So every three weeks or so, Dad would say “Time to tell that damned Irish Catholic you’re on hiatus. Call some other guys to go out with.” I always answered with “Arugh!!!” My sister Kathi, ever loyal to me, would shout, “No Fair! They’re in Love!!”
So I’d dial up some guy I knew from Langley High or from Lake Fairfax, where I worked during the summers. Always with the caveat “No sex! Just burgers and a movie.” Most of the boys said yes. My father insisted on interviewing each guy a week before the date was planned. He’d ask questions like: “What are your plans for the future?” and “What is your favorite subject in school?”
It was fun for the guys to see if they could “get past” Mr. Elder. Dad approved some boys who had octopus hands and rejected guys who were perfect gentlemen, based merely on their interview skills. He even approved a twenty five year old park ranger! That guy was the most moral man I ever met. He wanted to marry me but never laid a wild hand on me.
My sister and I would stand at the cracked doorway to her bedroom and listen in on the pre-date interviews. My bedroom was farther down the hall, so it was hard to hear from the kitchen into my bedroom. We’d gasp at Dad’s questions and giggle at the boys’ answers. They all claimed to want to become doctors and lawyers. We knew better. Every guy we knew wanted to travel the world or be in a rock n’ roll band or both. Except Wayne. He wanted to be a carpenter and was learning through an apprenticeship.
Denise and I were killing time walking that March evening until Allen and Wayne would come over to watch “The Monkees.” It was our favorite show, except for Mod Squad, which was groovy, too. Denise had a crush on Mickey Dolenz. I was in love with Peter Tork. His hair was so cute! And he could play guitar for real. The whole show was crazy fun. We had no idea that tonight’s would be the last Monkees episode!
Even Frank Zappa, whose music drove me insane, loved The Monkees. My older cousin Michael was a Zappa maniac. He watched The Monkees just because Zappa was in an episode with them. Zappa’s music was complicated, sort of jazz bee-bop crossed with John Cage. So I could admit he was progressive. But his lyrics were utterly bizarro world. Like “The moon through the prune in June reveals your chest!!” What the heck? No matter how many times my cousin insisted I listen to “this Great Zappa song. Now you’ll get it!” I never got it.
Weirdly, in 1987, I married a Zappa fan named Peter. We even chose a Francesco Zappa song to accompany me down the “aisle” (Peter’s Mom’s back yard). But luckily, the boom box battery died, so only the sound of a neighbor’s dogs barking interrupted our wedding ceremony.
As usual, Denise was bugging me to have sex with my boyfriend. Wayne and I had met while swimming in Lake Fairfax when we were fourteen. His older brother Allen was in the lake, too. He fell in love with Denise that bright July day. Wayne and I were instant soul sister/soul brother.
“He will break up with you and find a girl who’ll have sex if you don’t!” Denise warned.
“Too bad. If he can’t keep our vows, I’ll find another guy and he can have as many hussies as he wants.”
“On to the Next One” was my motto. I often counseled weeping boys at parties, whose girlfriends had left them for other guys, saying “Move on to the next one! She didn’t really love you.”
“Dixie, you seriously do not still have that stupid scroll, do you?”
“Yes, I do. It’s hidden in a shoe box in my closet. I stopped walking and put my right palm on my chest: ‘We, the undersigned, do solemnly swear not to have sex until we are twenty-one or married.’ Signed Wayne Robert Pearson and Dixie Elder. The End!”
I grabbed the Miller Street sign post and did a pole dance, turning upside down, hanging by my lower legs, clutching with one hand, spinning around and around.
“But you made that goofy vow up when you were fourteen! It’s outdated. Everybody is doing it. Love Ins. Make Love, Not War.”
“Even little tiny fleas do it” I loved Cole Porter’s lyrics. “And, by the way, Not everyone is doing it. Only three girls I know at Langley have and they’ve been going steady for over two years.”
“You and Wayne have been together for almost two years. You’re old enough. Almost sixteen.”
“Except on and off, due to Dad’s regulations. So that doesn’t count. Plus! I am only fifteen and I am an Immature fifteen. I’d go crazy if I did sex now. I’d get addicted to it. Dad told me that once you start, you can’t stop. Like heroin. Besides, pregnancy. VD. Et cetera!! If you’d seen the photographs of VD in Mom’s Merck Manual, you would never do it again!”
“The British have The Pill.”
“Which we might get but not yet. America is So behind the times! Plus, The Pill doesn’t fight off VD. Anyway. It sounds gross. We had a unit on it in Health Class. Bleagh. The guy’s doo hickey gets massive. Huge! Macy’s balloon size. Oh my God. And the other parts sound equally as disgusting. No thank you. Anyway, what’s it like?”
“At first, it’s awful. It hurts. But then when you get used to it, it feels better than anything! And it shows love like nothing else can. But guy’s balls. They feel like rotten apples.”
I let out an F#7 shriek and ran at full sprint forty feet. Denise caught up to me in no time flat.
“Every time the subject of sex comes up, you run away. It’s like you cannot face real life.”
“Pardon me for not wanting to touch rotten apples!! My hands will stay safely outside the zipper, thank you.”
“It is a human need, every human being needs sex.”
“Nope! Not at my age!” I ran another twenty feet. “You start out in Maslow’s hierarchy with food, clothing, shelter. Safety. Then you move up to self actualization.”
“I helped you study for that test. Sex is in the basic needs category.”
“Not for Me! Forget it. You are So obsessed!”
“And none of those other guys you’ve dated ever tried anything?”
“I always tell them upfront ‘no sex’ and then if they get Odyssean hands, I jump out of the car. And scream. Plus, Bob taught me some karate kicks.” I mimicked my brother’s lunging back kick. “So that’s that.”
“But Wayne adores you. He worships you.”
“You just want somebody else to be doing it so you don’t feel weird about doing it. Can we Please talk about something else!” I crouched down into a supplicant’s posture. “Anything! Like what if we save up all our Lake Fairfax pay and coat check pay and move out to California? Live on the beach in a VW bus? Get jobs waitressing but then try out to be on The Monkees? We can both dance great. I bet we’d get in. Mickey would fall in love with you and Peter Tork would fall in love with me.”
“And they’d expect sex. They are grown men. Famous Rock stars! They could all date Julie Christie or Twiggy or Aretha.”
“I’m running!” I ran around our neighborhood, down Ellsworth Avenue to Carol Street, up Miller Avenue, past Mary Beth’s house, past the Sorg’s, down to Georgetown Pike. Back to Ellsworth. Up Carol, down Miller. Over and over for six times. Then finally to Denise’s. Her Mom had dinner ready. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob with iced tea.
We all ate heartily. Then the brothers knocked on the door. Both were dressed in windowpane slacks and black turtleneck sweaters. Allen and Wayne worked trimming trees and doing construction. Part of their pay went to their parents for rent. The rest of it was for groovy clothes and gas for their Anglia. Wayne and I had the same haircut, thanks to Denise.
Down to the den. Monkees on, full blast. Mr. Lively had sound proofed the den after my fourteenth birthday party. Jesse from The Incredible Fog had played his electric guitar that October night and even though Denise’s parents were cool, they weren’t psychedelically cool.
We danced the Frug, the Boog-a-loo and the Monkey. Judy Gray had taught me the Boog-a-Loo one day after school while we were watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Gladys Knight and the Pips were singing “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Judy could truly, seriously dance. I was all long, skinny arms and knock kneed legs. It took her an hour to teach me simple boog-a-loo moves.
That dance came in handy for nights at the Herndon Rec’ Center and the McLean Teen Club. Dates with boys I didn’t love, guys who passed the “Mr. Elder” test. Dressed in the mock Twiggy outfits Mom sewed for me. She always put together the shortest mini skirts. I’d insist on wearing shorts under the skirts. “Don’t be such a prude,” Mom would tell me. I think she wanted me married off and out of her hair by age seventeen!