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Once I had obtained my driver’s license and a vehicle was within reach, the next major hurdle, and it was a tall one, was dating. It seemed all the rage and I thought that I too should get in on the fun. There was just one problem; dating required girls! It’s not that there weren’t plenty of them around, there were; but due to my shyness, it wasn’t something in which I would naturally excel. You first had to have an interest in someone, which I did (actually it was a crush), but only from afar, and she happened to be dating a classmate of mine. I was too shy and insecure to approach another girl, so developing an interest in someone would prove to be elusive. My good friend Jim, however, didn’t have any insecurity when it came to girls, and he was an old pro rather quickly. He asked a girl out and they said yes. It sounded so simple.

Double dating was invented for a variety of reasons, of which here are two. First; most guys were afraid to go out on a date with a girl by themselves, so double dating solved that problem. Second;  guys still wanted to keep their “guy” friend relationships intact (we all vowed that no girl would ever break up our friendships, but we were also a bit naive, not yet realizing the power of the opposite sex) and the double date allowed that relationship to continue. We would find out however that double dating could be a nightmare, literally.

Jim noticed that I wasn’t going out on any dates and decided to set me up with someone and promptly arranged for me to join him on a double date. He picked the girl, told her that I would be her date, and all I had to do was formally ask her out. Wow! Even with the setup, I was a wreck. What if she said no?  One such date was with Colleen. Jim was dating her best friend at the time, so it was a natural; best friends dating best friends. What could go wrong? The usual dating ritual incorporated two things; dinner and a movie. Nothing groundbreaking there. Carthage didn’t have a theater and the dinner choices were slim at best, so it was off to Joplin we went. The dinner that night was uneventful (I did notice that the girls didn’t eat much food), however, the movie we were going to see would be anything but.

On the way from dinner to the movie, I was busy thinking about the actual dating process. My date and I sat in the back seat of the car and whereas the two in the front seat were sitting rather close, we were both on opposite ends of the car, planted firmly up against the door. I wasn’t sure, but began to wonder if this date was going to turn out well. I had yet to experience the sparks that can fly when two people hit it off, so at this point didn’t know what I was missing. There was plenty of conversation going on in the vehicle, but not between me and my date; all of the conversation was being initiated from the front seat.

Once we got into the theater and found our seats, the arrangement was not what I had envisioned. The two girls sat next to each other, book ended by Jim and me. If she and I weren’t going to talk, it would be a quiet night indeed. It soon became evident that she only intended to talk with her friend and the two girls became rather gabby, but only with each other. Jim got a few words in, but I sat on the side, presumably watching the movie, but mind racing all the while. Should I try to put my arm around her? Jim hadn’t, and based on the evening so far, the reality was beginning to slowly creep in. This was not going to be the date that I had hoped for or one that I would fondly recall years later. Maybe it would be a good movie.

I’m not sure who picked the movie, I sure didn’t, but we were sitting in the theater about to watch “The Exorcist”. I’m not necessarily a chicken, but scary movies scare me! This one would prove to not only scare me that night, but would come back to haunt me for days. When the really scary parts came on (green vomit, spinning head, flying dresser drawers and strange noises and music were all designed to cause nightmares), rather than grab my date, I was left to close my eyes and hope for the best. When the movie finally finished, we went straight home and dropped the girls off. “Don’t worry Ronnie, all your dates won’t be like that one,” Jim tried to console me. “Besides, we got to see a really good movie!” “Yeah, a really good movie” was my half-hearted  reply.

The next morning I had to get up and drive downtown to roll newspapers. At three-o-clock in the morning, the movie was still fresh in my mind, and being alone in the downtown office was a little unnerving. Every sound caused my heart to jump. As I rolled newspapers, I had trouble concentrating on the job at hand. I kept imagining someone, standing outside the front or back doors, waiting for the right moment to come in and get me. Every so often I would go to the door and cautiously peer out into the darkness, looking for, but hoping not to find someone out there. I avoided going into the next room, thinking there just might be someone in one of the dark corners or closet. I would pay for that double date for a long time.

I went on one other double date with Jim that I would classify as a disaster, but for a different reason. Jim arranged for me to ask out Vicki, a fellow classmate of ours. She was a very nice girl, pretty and quiet. Distinctly different from me; she was mature, refined, and very proper it seemed. Unlike the first date, this one would require a few formalities that not only was I not familiar with, but didn’t really see as necessary. I was driving this time, and due to the occasion, I thought the family station wagon inappropriate. I timidly asked my older sister, “Vicki, can I borrow your car for a date Saturday night?” Vicki had a cool 1965 Mustang, dark green with white vinyl top. I don’t know what was going on, but she remarkably said, “Yes you can. You need to have it full of gas when you get back. And, no peeling out.” She must have figured out that dating wasn’t being all that kind to me up to this point and she wanted to give me all the advantages I could get.  I vacuumed and waxed the car that day and it looked really sharp for the date.

When we arrived at Vicki’s house to pick her up, I was told by the other two that I had to go to the front door and meet her parents. What?! When it came to dating formalities, my attitude was more like that of Sean Thornton in “The Quiet Man”. Sean (played by John Wayne) had lived his entire life in America, but a boxing incident led him to move back to Ireland, the family home. When he arrived in the little village of his family’s origin, he met a beautiful red-haired girl, Mary Kate (played by Maureen O’Hara). One thing led to another and it was arranged for them to go on a date. This date, however, was nothing like Sean was used to. They would be accompanied by a chaperone, and when Sean was told of all the other formalities of the traditional Irish courtship, his impatience and exasperation finally came to a head and he blurted out, “Back in the states, I’d drive up, honk the horn, the gal’d come runnin’….” Well, I soon found out that my date wasn’t going to “come runnin’” and I would have to steel my resolve and go get my date. It turned out that meeting the parents wasn’t all that bad after all.

The date was similar in sequence to the other one; go to Joplin, get something to eat, and then go to a movie. For some reason, the details of this date are not clear in my mind, at least not until the end of the night. When we arrived back in town, we decided to drop Vicki off first. Once at her house, I pulled into the driveway and turned off the car. We all sat and chatted a while, discussing the evening’s events, and then it began to get quiet and I became uncomfortable with the silence. I seemed to be waiting on something to happen, and the other three seemed to be waiting for something to happen, but what they were waiting for wasn’t anything like what I was waiting for.

Vicki finally broke the silence and said, “Well, I guess I’ll go inside now.” She seemed to be disappointed. “Okay. Have a good night. I had fun.” was all I could come up with. She exited the car and began walking up the front walk. As I sat there, I realized that there were two sets of eyes staring a hole in the back of my head. As I turned to address Jim and his date, they blasted me, “You’re supposed to open the car door for her, walk her up to the front porch and kiss her good night!”

I sat there for a moment in stunned silence. I was embarrassed as well as dazed. Why wasn’t I told? Where was the dating manual? At this point I had to do something, so I jumped out of the car and quickly made my way to the front porch. Fortunately, Vicki hadn’t entered the house yet. I awkwardly fumbled around and thanked her for the night and then, as expected, we kissed good night. Since I had blown every other part of the date, I decided to put all I had into the kiss. If duration were the key consideration, that kiss would probably rate on the high-end of the scale. Overall, even though neither of us felt any unusual electrical currents between us, it was a nice date.

Upon entering the car, my two companions congratulated me on the recovery, but teased me nonetheless. Jim later shared, “Man that was a pretty long kiss. You did great!” Jim always had a way of making me feel good about myself. I felt like a taxi driver on the way home, what with my two passengers in the back seat, but I had time to reflect on the evening. Based on my only two experiences, I was trying to decide if double dating was the way to go. The jury was still out.

This story is an excerpt from Always a Little Heathen, to be released in the fall of 2014.