Excerpt from Spinning Sideways

Charm School

August 1967 Lincoln, Nebraska

By the last class in August, they had gotten to the chapter on how to interact with boys. The instructors, who were middle-aged matrons, had drafted a couple of college girls and their boyfriends to lead a discussion about what boys wanted from teenage girls.

“If you all would turn to Chapter Twelve in your handbook, we’re going to talk about ways to talk to a boy, especially a boy you like,” a peppy little brunette named Gretta explained. “First of all, don’t necessarily pick out the boy you think is the most handsome or charming in a group. You need someone to practice on, so pick out a boy who looks like he is a little nervous, just like you are. Be sure your voice is soft and sweet.” Gretta walked over to Rick, one of the college boys they’d brought to help demonstrate.

“Hello there. What brings you here today?” she cooed to Rick.

Rick played his part well. “Oh, I thought I’d come to the mall today. I was bored at home. My name is Rick. What’s your name?”

“My name is Gretta Malone. I came to the mall with my family. We saw that movie about the Martians. Have you seen that?”

“Yes, I saw it last week with my brother.”

“How nice. I wasn’t quite sure I understood the ending. Can you explain it to me?” Gretta said this to Rick in a sweet voice, moving in closer and studying his face. Then she turned to her audience. “Now, of course, I understood the ending of this movie. But it is a good way to get a boy to talk to you for a few minutes, and it might make him feel like he is a little smarter. He’ll find out soon enough that you’re not really dumb.”

Linda’s hand shot up, and Gretta nodded to her.

“Why would you ever want a boy to think you are dumber than he is?”

Gretta smiled. “It’s a ploy to get him talking. No harm in it. Go ahead, Rick.”

“Well, the ending of the movie was all about what might happen to the earth if we don’t take care of it. If we continue to dump garbage into our oceans, life might not survive. If we continue to waste water, we might run out. It is really a warning to be more careful.”

“Really?” Gretta said, leaning closer to Rick. “Tell me more about how we can save our planet.” She looked back at the girls. “The idea is to keep him talking. Even if he changes the subject, he’ll feel good telling you his opinions and he will think you are a great conversationalist.”

Linda snorted loudly. The other girls turned to look at her. She shrugged.

Another young girl raised her hand. “What if you want him to kiss you?”

Gretta turned back to Rick. “What should a girl do to indicate she’d be interested in kissing you?”

Rick blushed. Before he could answer, one of the instructors, Mrs. Mattingly, spoke up. “I don’t think that is a subject for our curriculum. These girls are too young to be kissing boys.”

“Not all of us,” Linda piped up.

Mrs. Mattingly glared at her. “Gretta, why don’t you move on?”

Gretta called on the other college coed, Sharon, who joined her. Then she motioned to a few of the girls sitting in the front row to come up and stand with them.

“Okay, ladies, now let’s say you are at the mall or even in the school hallway, and you are forever surrounded by your friends. They are always chatting, and you are paying attention to what they are saying.” She turned to the girls standing there, “Pretend you are all talking together about something or someone.” The girls giggled and acted as though they were gossiping. “So, then a boy you like comes along.” Gretta beckoned for Rick to approach. “How does it make a boy feel when he sees a girl surrounded by all of her friends?”

Rick stuck his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “I wouldn’t want to interrupt. I’d probably wait to talk to her another time.”

“What if you never find her without friends around?” Gretta cocked her head.

“I’d probably find some other girl to talk to.”

“Exactly. See, that’s what you want to avoid. Make sure you aren’t always with a crowd.” Gretta smiled and motioned for the front-row girls to sit back down.

Sharon took the floor then and signaled to her boyfriend, Hal. “Okay, now let’s talk about things you might do that would drive a boy away. No one likes someone who is sarcastic, a smarty pants, or crude. That is not very attractive on a girl. What else do girls do that turns you off, Hal?”

Hal appeared to be on the intellectual side. He was thin and wore glasses and long hair. “You want a girl to look like she takes pride in her appearance. She doesn’t have to be a raving beauty; not everyone can achieve that. But anyone can be neat and clean. Somebody who has wild hair or kooky clothes is not attracting the right kind of attention. No one wants to be seen with a girl like that.”

Linda stood up. “What are you saying? You wouldn’t date a girl unless she looked like every other girl in school? What if she wants to show her individuality? I’m not sure I’d want to date a boy who looked so boring.”

Gretta jumped into the fray. “I think you can tone it down while you are looking for a boyfriend. Once you are dating, that might be the time to experiment with unusual styles.”

“It sounds wrong to think a girl should change who she is just to attract a boy who might not be her type. Maybe he should change to catch her attention. Girls aren’t so desperate.” Linda was enjoying taking a stand.

“The point is that it is up to the young lady to show that she has been raised with good manners and has class,” Mrs. Mattingly said. “Those are qualities any young man would appreciate.”

Linda smirked and sat back down. These ladies have escaped from the 1950s, disciples of Emily Post. Catch up to the real world where women are claiming their rights.

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