Friday, April 29, 2011


by Rob Watson

I have been in genuine fear of my life before. The memory of that event is as clear today, more than 30 years later, as when it was happening. I was riding with a drunk with one good arm, driving up the side of a mountain, sheer dropoff on either side. He had a beer in his good hand and drove with a stub of his left arm. I remember earnestly  praying to God, asking forgiveness for my sins, and preparing to die. The fear that I felt, and remember so clearly, from that event would barely hold a candle to the fear I felt when asking for my first date, nearly 50 years ago.

Our high school had eliminated the Junior-Senior Prom because of repeated indiscretions of some previous student bodies. This lead to our Football Banquet becoming the social highlight of the year. All of the football team, managers, and coaches, along with their dates would have a dinner and dance at the country club. The dinner would feature a speech by a former HomeTown football hero.

The fall of that school year I was a football team gofer. Also called manager. The speaker was H. T. Hero, leader of HomeTown's State Football Championship team, Heisman Trophy winner, and star running back for some professional football teams. It was to be the hot ticket item for the girls of HomeTown High School. The boys were under a fair amount of social pressure to bring a date.

One guy even asked his sister. At the time, my relationship with my sister was such that I would not have taken her to a dog fight, much less the social event of the season. (presumably, her social consciousness would not have allowed her to accept anyway) This left me in the unlikely position of surveying all the girls I knew and picking one to ask for a date. My first date, ever.

Actually, I don’t recall there ever even being a question in my mind as to whom I would pursue. There was a cute little girl in my fourth hour class that held my interest at the time. Now the pressure was on me to ask this target of my affection for the privilege of her company at the Football Banquet.

Step one was to learn the rules for asking a girl out. My mother had an old Amy Vanderbilt book on manners. That became my guide. A fair amount of what I read has drifted into the dark shadows of long ago, but I remember that for a big social event it was important to give the lady a week or more notice so that she could procure the necessary... whatever. And the guy needed to order the corsage.

Also, it was very uncool, at the time, to be driven on a date by one’s parents. I had no driver’s license. I was old enough, 15. That was back before all these repressive laws stressing teen safety. However the fly in the ointment was my parents requirement that I pay the $160 dollar boost in our car insurance before I could take the drivers test. I was earning 25 cents an hour working in the family store. $160 was a long way into the future for a less than frugal soul such as I was at the time. A $5 flower was to be a stretch. This unresolved issue was to haunt me throughout.

Asking for the date was a daunting and fear filled task. When to ask had a drop-dead date of one week in advance of the event. Anything more than two weeks was too early. How to ask confused me far beyond my planning and organizational skills of the time. Do you just blurt it out? Write a note? Start a conversation and casually drop in “Say, Would you like to attend the social highlight of the season with me?” At the time I had never even been so bold as to meet a girl at the movies.

Two weeks before ‘The Event’ anxiety gripped me every time I got near the object of my interest. Just saying “Hi.” brought on dry mouth and sweaty palms. Casual conversation sent my overtaxed brain into a dizzying spin and set my heart to pounding in my chest. If I said anything to her during that week, learning that what I said made any sense would be one of the big surprises of my life.

As each day lurched past, I tried to maneuver into a position to ask “the question”. My courage failed me every time. Opportunity after opportunity slipped from my grasp with ego pounding effect... until the last second of the last hour of the last day, exactly one week in advance of the event.

You may ask what was so awful to be feared? Rejection? Humiliation? Death? My brain never went so far as to analyze that question. Fear of the unknown has to be the retrospective conclusion.

With the clock ticking, I stalked the girl from the classroom. With pounding heart and addled brain I was almost completely disabled. By default, blurting out was going to have to be the only viable technique I could manage. Catching her at her locker, exchanging her books, I approached. I could hear no sound beyond that of my own heart. My peripheral vision had compressed into looking down a narrow silvery tube. All I could see were her eyes and part of her face. The clock had run out. the buzzer was about to sound. Boom! I blurted it out “... would you go to the Football Banquet with me?”

“Why, yes, I would like that.”

Yep, flying up the side of a mountain with a one arm drunk at the wheel... What do they say now? NO FEAR!

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