22 September 2009
Ted Webster was good with girls. Or at least, better than me, which wasn’t hard then, when I was 15.
For some reason – perhaps it flattered his own wobbly, high-school ego – he took me on as project, sort of a Casanova Junior, to pass along his romantic wisdom.
We went on double dates, he in the front seat. At 16, he had his license, a huge advantage since having a car meant freedom and a place to make out.
He’d sit in front, his date beside him with me and my girl in the back. I’d put on a shimmery, polyester shirt and a corduroy jean jacket and matching blue pants, and we’d go to movies, mostly, end up eating French fries at the Azar’s Big Boy, and then we’d go driving for a little while. And, if we we’re lucky and the mood was right, we’d park in a secluded spot – vacant yards, with the short-grass hills rolling back to the city lights, or a church parking lot that overlooked some bluffs and a highway.
Ted had a secret weapon: a tape of Nat King Cole. This was relic, even then. It was his parent’s tape, I guess, and even for the girls we dated – nice girls in drama and choir and band and ballet – even for them, it was old fashioned.
But in the warm summer nights, with the air moving through the car fragrant with sumac or lilac, and the streetlights slowly ticking by, that tape was magic. The music made me, even in my polyester bellbottom pants, feel like someone entirely suave and ready to make his move. I don’t know how it made the girls feel, the girls smelling of White Shoulders perfume, usually, their hair done up just like Farah Fawcetts’.
But Cole’s voice, so smooth, so rich, touched with melancholy and yearning made them ready to have their hands held, and later, under the starlight, to be kissed and caressed, however clumsily.
I didn’t have stardust memories back then. You can’t really at 15, you only think you do.
I'd move on to different soundtracks, other scenes, less dreamy but more carnal, and other girls, girls who didn't need Nat King Cole to set the mood.
Now, those early dates will come back once in a while: the moonlight on her hair, the rustle and catch of breath, the sudden roughness of fabric after skin, a smile in the shadows of a Chevy Nova.
Thanks, Ted. And thank you, Mr. Nat King Cole.
image (c) carl wooley