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Wrong Side of the Tracks
It’s the fall of 1977. I’m an overweight, shaggy-haired 14-year-old eighth-grader trying to fit in.
"Hey, Fat Camera Kid," is what they call me.
Could be worse, right?
Yes, it could be much worse. And it is.
Because it's well after 10:00 pm on a school night, and I should be home by now.
But instead, I'm hanging off the side of a box car, speeding down the wrong side of the tracks screaming, "We gotta jump! We gotta jump!" and I’m pretty sure I’m going to die.
See, it all started in journalism class.
There were only two of us, just me and Becky Smith. We were the school photographers, but Becky was a ninth-grader, so she was the lead.
Leads get all the good assignments, so everyone naturally assumed Becky would get to shoot the ninth-grade dance.
But Becky had other plans.
This was the ninth-grade dance, after all. And she was in ninth grade.
Do you know how long it takes to get to ninth grade?
All the homework and assignments and gross, greasy boys hounding you up and down the halls, and besides...
John Stelma had asked her to the dance, and Becky couldn't dance with a camera swinging around her neck, now could she?
Mr. Smith, our journalism teacher, he couldn't argue with that, so the assignment was all mine.
It really got rollin' at the dance.
So there I am on borrowed bravado.
Fat Camera Kid with Dad's 35mm Cannon Ftb slung over my shoulder, hand-me-down bell-bottom jeans clanging away against my older brother's scuffed-up platform shoes, and the whole ensemble topped off with my brand new ruby-red polyester shirt with collars tall as birthday cards.
Not that anyone noticed.
The girls were busy toddling the halls in their ridiculously high heels and perfectly feathered hair. Clip-clopping back and forth to the bathroom, mostly. Heads down, hands to mouth in whispered giggles, giving each other the dirt on which boy said what, why boys are stupid, and which boy they'd never make out with even if they were the last two people on earth.
You can bet none of them want their picture taken–least of all by me.
And the guys... well, the guys are acting like long-haired circus chimps, primpin', pumpin', grabbin', jabbin', jumping in front of my shots, being dorks.
Then it got interesting.
Then this smooth-talking ninth grader, Mike Swan, he just swaggers up and reaches for my camera.
"Hey, lemme see that real quick," he says. "I'll give it right back, I promise."
"No way!" I jerk back.
But Mike Swan, Suwanee, they call him, Suwanee's not the kind of guy that takes "no" for an answer – especially from a chubby little eighth-grader like me.
See, Suwanee is the star quarterback, the student council president, his dad's chief of police, AND his mom's the high school principal.
I mean, the Swans pretty much OWN this town, right?
I'm way out of my league even talking to this guy – let alone telling him what he can't do.
"Look," Suwanee leans in.
"You’re wasting a golden opportunity here."
"Let me show you," he says.
"Just follow my lead."
Suwanee smiles and stands, his head twisting like a turret.
"Boom!" he says, and just like that, Suwanee's smile takes over, hips in tow.
Man, you shoulda seen it.
Suwanee had a swagger that'd make Elvis blush. It was all I could do to keep up.
Linda Myers. Suwanee's first catch. "Hey," he drawls with more confidence than care, "me and my photographer here; we're getting some shots for the yearbook."
Suwannee looks left.
"You want to be in the yearbook, right? A cameo shot? I mean, c'mon..."
"Who doesn't want that?"
Suwanee settles back into his wide, devilish grin.
"So what do you say? You in?"
I swear I saw his left eye twinkle. Ting! ✨
Of course, all the girls swoon when Suwanee sings.
The other guys even had a name for it…
Swooned by Suwanee.
One by one, Suwannee shoots and scores – any girl, any song, any time he wants. And he wants it all the time.
"Baby Come Back" with Becky. "Lay Down Sally" with Linda. "Stayin' Alive" with Cherise. "Shadow Dancin" with Donna.
Suwanee's unstoppable, and it's the same move every time:
Suwanee swings in, the girl twirls out, and onto the dance floor they go, his hands on her waist, his lips in her ear – god only knows what he says there, but each and every one of them drape their arms over his shoulders, and they both glide off together, nice and close.
They rock back and forth while Suwanee's hands dance up and down their backsides. They mug, shine, and shimmer for the camera like they're having the time of their lives.
And I'm capturing ALL the action–fantastic shots, too! Everything is working just like Suwanee said it would—until he sets his sites on her.
Anjanette Baker was famous, if for nothing else but her laugh. Angie's loud, energetic outbursts echoed through the hallways. A siren of audacious, inimitable spirit.
The cool kids sneered and wrinkled their noses, lost in their world of pretense and popularity. But Angie never bothered to care.
In a world where conformity was the unspoken law, Angie was a delightful brand of chaos you just couldn't help but admire.
Shoulder-length hair, dark brown, always down, but tonight she's got it up in a bun. Dark chocolate eyes, a splash of freckles across her nose, and the deepest of dimples, one on each side of her forever-moving mouth.
Suwanee was all smiles as he reached for her hand, expecting Angie to swoon.
But oh, sweet Suwanee, not so fast.
Miss Angie has other plans.
...to be continued 😉
More to come in just a few days.
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