Daily Archives: April 19, 2012

I Was Rat Pack When Rock Was Cool

And I have my eighth-grade physics teacher to blame. His name escapes me, but let’s call him ‘Elmer’. That’s because the very first song I ever heard blasting from the speakers he had mounted on either side of his blackboard was a little ditty called “Elmer’s Tune”.

Elmer was decidedly off-kilter, just like Mr. Swartz and Ms. Floro.

As I’ve stated before, my entire junior high school was like the M*A*S*H 4077th of schools.

They were all nuts. Totally.

Elmer would blast big band and swing tunes every morning before school and during breaks between classes. He’d leave the door to his classroom open and since it was a pretty small building the sound really carried.

And carried.

After a while, I swear even the floorboards reverberated with the strains of Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”.

This, mind you, was in the days of rock ‘n roll.

I was finding angst in Alice Cooper and cool in Fleetwood Mac. I dressed like Stevie Nicks, except for the funky hats…I mean, after all, my hair was a work of art – all straight-as-a-board and parted in the middle. A hat would have totally ruined it. I had the gossamer-winged ensembles in black down, though. I just skipped the heroin-vapid look, thankyouverymuch.

I did not get the appeal of the Dorsey Brothers or the aforementioned Glenn Miller.

 Then, one day, I heard something different.

 I’d heard the voice before.

 He was one of my totally uncool Mom’s favorite singers, which by definition, meant he had to be someone I’d detest.

It’s a moral imperative – when your square parents just ‘love’ some kind of _______________ (fill in the blank) you must, as a teenager, instantly hate said thing with every fiber of your being. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that in the “How To Drive Your Parents to Xanax-Land” teenager handbook.

The unmistakably cool and smooth sounds of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” came booming down the hallway at me, and I found myself smiling and enjoying that voice.

I guess that’s where I broke with my friends over music and embraced all that was cool – Frank, Dino, and to a lesser degree, Sammy and Tony. Not that those last two weren’t cool, I just preferred Frank and Dino.

If you are uncool I’ll wait here while you go figure out who I’m talking about.

*turns up the volume on her Pandora ‘Rat Pack’ station*

Those cats were, hell they still are, cool as ice and smooth as glass and I suppose I have Elmer to thank for providing this teenager a safe out to make such a claim.

I never told my parents, though.

That much of a traitor I wasn’t.

Another thing that Elmer did was come up with creative ways to spell the word ‘hell’. He couldn’t say it to his students, but by damn he would spell it!

We, being adolescents, would do our level best to push him to the brink every day. He was pretty tough though, and wouldn’t crater too often.

This just made him more fun to challenge.

Of course.

He’d invariably say something like, “What in the H*E*double-hockey-sticks is going on?” Or “What in the H*E*double-crooked-letter….?” Even though anyone who has ever had to spell Mississippi knows that the ‘crooked letter’ is an “S”, which meant he was asking us just what in the Hess was going on, and that made him a Communist.

And, if you don’t know who ‘Hess’ was, go look it up.

*considers asking Wiki founder for royalties for all the traffic she sends that way*

Sufficiently edumacated now?

Anyway, that last one would always bring a huge laugh from the class and a confused look to the face of Elmer.

Several years later I asked a neighbor who’d just started going to our junior high about Elmer and his fondness for music from the 40’s.

She told me he’d retired and then died recently.

Just like that.

I was sad, but glad too that Elmer had introduced me to something I would love the rest of my life.

And, I’m betting that in heaven there’s a doorway somewhere and from inside come the lovely strains of “Moonlight Serenade” even as the angels cover their ears and ask Elmer just what in the h*e*double hockey sticks he’s trying to do, deafen them?