In 1976 I tried to play basketball for the Christ the King Knights’ seventh grade. I was one of six players on the “B” team. The jersey was so big on me that the bottom of the arm holes tucked into my maroon gym shorts. I stood about 4’ 10” but, if anyone asked, I tried to allege that I was “just over 5 feet.” What I lacked in athletic ability I made up for in enthusiasm. So not only was I bad, but I was a ball hog. In practice, that is. I rarely ever played in games.
The first game of the season the coach sent the starting five onto the court. I took a seat right next to him on the bench, eagerly awaiting my chance to shine as “sixth man.” When we sat down the coach looked at me and asked: “What are you doing?”
I smiled confidently. Here it comes. He already realizes his mistake and that I should be out there among the starters. I straightened up and said: “Waiting to go in Coach!” He said: “Well you can’t sit here. Where will the starters sit when it’s a timeout? Move down.” So I scooted down the bench far enough to make room for my 5 teammates when they needed a place to sit during breaks in the action. And that is where I sat the entire season. I played just a few minutes once when one of my teammates fouled out; but I swear that the Coach gave serious consideration to playing with just four. In fact his instructions to me as I ran onto the court were: “Don’t dribble or shoot. If the ball comes to you, pass it right away.”
After that experience, I needed a little bit of a confidence booster. Enter disco. My Mom signed me up for “Junior Assemblies.” This was the Oklahoma City version of “Cotillion” where 13 and 14 year olds went to learn proper social behavior. The best part was that we also learned the latest dance moves. And to top it off there were going to be kids from other schools in the area. Since I had already run off every girl in my class, I was looking for some new blood.
I went with my neighbor, Rod Hedges. This was perfect. He was from Casady so he could introduce me to the girls from his school. Little did I know he was widely regarded as a sociopath by his classmates. As we approached the gym for our first session I heard the familiar strains of “The Hustle” by Van McCoy. “I found a home,” I thought to myself.
The instructors lined the boys and girls on opposite sides of the gym. I knew what was coming next so I scanned the long line of girls standing against the opposite wall. I thought I was judging a Miss America contest. They were all so beautiful. The instructors then advised that this would be a song where boys would ask girls and it would be impolite to refuse to dance.
Unburdened by the weight of self-respect, I practically sprinted over to Lesia Foerster. She was tall and alluring and she had mastered the art of playing hard to get. You know what they say: Opposites attract. My friend Rod had already declared her to be the “hottest” girl at his school. She politely accepted my invitation and we danced to the strains of “That’s the Way I Like It” by K.C & The Sunshine Band or “Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer or some hit. It was magic.
That would be the last time I ever danced with Lesia but the first of many times I danced to Donna Summer or the Bee Gees or Gloria Gaynor. I still hum along to those tunes now and then and I revisited them this week after hearing that Donna Summer and Robin Gibb passed away. I’m not ashamed to admit that I grew up on disco music. I even learned a few valuable lessons from my experience with disco.
1. Life may be easier when everyone has to tell you “yes,” but it’s not necessarily better. What a concept. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every request you made was met with acquiescence or permission? Not really. Perhaps Junior Assemblies sowed the seeds for my career as a lawyer. No one tells me “yes” in this profession. In fact, it is an endless parade of “no” until I am able to persuade my opponent or a judge or a jury to tell me “yes.” But this is much more fun. And I’ve learned a hell of a lot more by pushing the boundaries of “no” than by being told “yes.”
2. You can always re-invent yourself. Even in seventh grade it was pretty apparent that I did not have much of a future in basketball. But I did have two traits that have served me well since then-curiosity and an abject lack of humility. If you are willing to try new things and you don’t care what others think, you can be whoever you want to be.
3. When the melody is good enough, the words don’t matter. Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Listen to the video of “The Hustle.” The only words in the entire song are “Do the Hustle.” But if you’re listening to disco music for the lyrics you are missing the point.
The iconic disco hit “Night Fever” starts: “Listen to the ground, there is movement all around, there is something going down and I can feel it.” You couldn’t turn that in as a poem for a middle school creative writing class. But it doesn’t matter because it’s about the music.
Isn’t that life? When all is said and done, we will reflect more fondly on the number of times we sang a song than the number of times we spoke a sentence. And if we can dance to it, well that’s just an extra bonus.