Lost Journal: Reel Men Don’t Jig

Journal entry: March 17, 1983 (age 13) – Reel Men Don’t Jig

As I watched the Irish jig being performed in the gymnasium of St. Patrick’s Middle School in Binghamton, I noticed that something was missing.  The girls from my eighth-grade class looked cheery enough, but their male counterparts were listlessly going through the motions, downgrading the hops and kicks to a kind of “I need to use the lavatory” shuffle.  The boys’ eyes, however, were anything but disinterested.  They were all aflame with intense anger.  More disturbingly, they were all trained on just one person in the audience:  me.

A few weeks ago, one of our teachers, a nun, assembled our class and asked for volunteers to learn the Irish jig.  The girls who immediately raised their hands were not surprising.  With names like Elizabeth Mahoney and Ann O’Rourke, they were genetically predisposed to want to jig.  I imagined that the rapid repetition of another volunteer’s name, “Heidi Nye,” could provide the metronomic rhythm for the proceedings.

But I was a bit surprised when I saw Ellen Cheevers raise her hand.  In addition to being the tallest kid in our class, with a mane of wavy brown hair down to her waist, Ellen is the funniest girl I know.  Every week, she and I share some laughs about the comedy sketches we saw on SCTV, which we agree is the best thing on television.  If fun-loving Cheevers was volunteering for this, what was the worst that could happen?  We would get to spend a few minutes in front of the class, cracking them up with our purposely goofy attempts at ethnic dance.

I nudged and whispered to the guys around me, telling them it would be funny if we volunteered and acted like we were really into it.  After several fruitless minutes of pleading for a single male volunteer, Sister was about to give up.  Suddenly, five hands shot up at once, accompanied by cries of “Ooh, me!  Me!”  Flummoxed, but thrilled by the sudden surge of support, Sister asked the volunteers to come forward.  As we got up from our desk/chair hybrids, all of us were snickering.  “This oughta be good…”

Our self-congratulatory humor was brought to an abrupt end by Sister’s detailed explanation of what, in fact, we had just gotten ourselves into.  We, or at least I, had thought this would be a 10-minute lark.  Instead, an after-school rehearsal schedule was laid out, promising to turn the following two weeks into a shamrock-shuffling nightmare.  The intensive rehearsals would culminate in a St. Patrick’s Day performance for the entire school.

The unity of my little band of volunteers instantly fell apart.  Joel Moran grabbed my arm.  “Boy, this is hilarious, Tim!”  Despite his name, even Pat McCormack seemed upset at the prospect of compulsory jigging.  “I’m going to kill you, Mollen.”  Their moods didn’t improve when I came into school the next day with a note from my parents, saying a family vacation in California would force me to miss all the dance rehearsals.

Today, I said a little prayer of thanks to St. Pat, as I watched my hapless pals flounder onstage.  “Sorry fellas,” I said to myself, “but we can’t all have the luck o’ the Irish.”

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