The 70s were not a stylistic nor culturally kind decade, and certainly not at all to 4th grade suburban me.
The grade school I attended had one day a year set aside called ‘Electives Day’, where we joyfully got a day’s reprieve from confusing multiplication tables and hand cramping cursive lessons and got to indulge in fun, but utterly useless little extracurricular activities like pottery, lawn bowling or making brownies that somehow took 6 hours to cook.
To rewind a bit here, aside from the 70s being unkind to me, my parents also made the decade that much worse by always sending me to school in some unfashionably overdressed outfit. While all my friends got to wear sneakers, blue jeans and Rat Fink t-shirts, I was confined to an ensemble of tan hush puppies, itchy grey wool slacks and turtlenecks with herringbone blazers. I didn’t resemble an 8 year old so much as I did the guy from the Mastermind box, sans the beard and his Parker Brothers groupie. Needless to say the popular girls, ie Gina and Tiffany, avoided me like a wet hairball on dirty linoleum floor.
But this year, with the help of Electives Day, I was determined to seize control of my destiny.
As I read down the list of activities; Solar-Cooked Hotdogs, Fun with Popsicle Sticks!, Earthball…and You, I boldly checked off what I thought would advertise ‘The New Me’; Fashion Design 101 and Disco Dancing (For Fun and Exercise). I would certainly show Gina and Tiffany, that beneath my disheveled college Ethics professor demeanor, lurked an unbridled 4 1/2 foot John Travolta who was also sensitive enough to design his own clothes.
How did it go you ask? Well, those of us who turned up expecting some sort of pre-pubescent Project Runway were hoodwinked into what turned out to be nothing more than a hippy tie-dying class (Tim Gunn: ‘Designers! Please choose your rubber bands carefully…’). The tally so far; three hours of my childhood I could never get back and two blue, Rit-stained, hands. And, oh yes it only got worse.
So for the lunch/break in between activities we got treated to a local band who set up shop, complete with multicolored rock concert lights, on our beloved kickball field. Well midway through an ill-advised cover of Afternoon Delight, yours truly like the bored, dimwitted little moth that he was, went over and decided to touch the lights. Honestly to this day I still haven’t forgotten that pain. They were so hot that for a good 5 seconds it didn’t even register they were practically singeing the fingerprints off my purple stained fingers. Many tears and much Neosporin later, they sent me and my now bandaged-tipped paws to my Disco lesson, which had started a full hour earlier. Looking around it was apparent that everyone in the class, 5 girls (indluding Gina and Tiffany) and the boy with the lisp and the Farrah tee, had already gotten the basic ‘Hustle’ down. It was then, during the second portion, that I got thrown into the class to do the next step, the hand-jive-rolling bit. All pride boogied out the class window as I stumbled to keep time to Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell blaring from a nearby speaker blown ghetto blaster.
My attempts at ‘The Hustle’ were more like a drunk man trying to cross an icey road. And combine that with trying to hand jive with tie-dyed purple hands and white tipped bandaged fingers while wearing another of my parent’s unfortunate handpicked outfits, I looked less like Saturday Night Fever and more like an offensively diminutive Al Jolson impersonator.
To cap it off at the end of the day I was made to change into my now dry, tie-dyed, eyesore of a tee shirt and sent home. As I sat at the back of the bus I could see Gina and Tiffany cackling away at the front, staring at space between us with a look that said ‘you could double the amount of rows and it still wouldn’t be far enough.’
When I got home my mom greeted me at the door, How was your Electives day? Did you learn anything new? Sigh…
For those that doubt karma there is a bittersweet end to this story. Funny enough, many years later, a now much more dapper me came back for a visit home from my senior year at college. At some point after dinner with the parentals I was sent to the local supermarket to pick up more wine. As the woman was ringing me up I couldn’t help but noticed she looked familiar. As I glanced at the name tag I quickly realized it was my unrequited childhood crush Gina, and as if on cue, as the bottle slid past the swiper and down to the end of the checkout there was Tiffany. “Paper or Plastic sir?”
So departing from what has got to be my longest Versions Galore yarn ever, for the Hustle-traumatized I’ve got four non-disco covers of Ring My Bell by Anita Ward. Most reggae/rare groove hipsters may know this one, but if you haven’t Jamaica’s Blood Sisters do a mean uptempo roots version. Short, but no less stunning, is a human beatbox rendition by French hip hop collective Saïan Supa Crew. And ending the night are two lounge versions from Brazil’s Eldissa as well as one from a delightfully unexpected Hector Zazou (with Barbara Eramo & Stefano Saletti).