Cool is as Cool Does

[What with someone younger still referring to me as ‘cool,’ and the recent passing of Davy Jones, the following ‘story,’ possibly an excerpt from a novel I’ve been writing since I was in the 4th grade, just sort of wrote itself.]

As luck would have it, the first student to arrive after recess was Nathalie. She nodded at Davis and headed towards her seat.

“Nathalie. . . .”

She kept moving but answered, “Yes?”

“Happy Birthday.” His back was to her as she looked his way. He appeared to be examining what he had already written on the board, while he was really hiding his wry smile.

“Mr. Stringer, How’d you know?”

Turning, now with his face straight, he replied, “I’m a teacher. I get paid to know things.”

“Thanks, Sir.” As she sat she added, “You’re so cool.”

Davis just nodded.

Other students arrived but Davis was not really aware of them. It had been awhile since anyone had termed him ‘cool.’ Not that that mattered to him, since he knew his was cool. He had known that since the fall of 1966.

A sure sign that summer was coming to an end and high school and another school year was near was the arrival of the fall issue of TV Guide. Davis would peruse the pages and read the write ups of the new shows, paying particular attention to the new comedy offerings. Sit-coms were always his favorite, now that at the ancient age of 16 he had outgrown cartoons. Hell, he’d been to Canada, made out with a girl, taken up smoking, so the days of Top Cat and the Flintstones were numbered. But comedy had always served him well; his sense of humor had kept from a couple of bloody noses. And those shows were on early before his official bedtime of 9:30.

One show caught his attention, one that seemed different and in with the times. He noted the time, 7:30 Monday.

Once school started, Davis set his sights on 7:30 Monday evenings. Intramural soccer had not started yet, and even once it did, it was held on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons. Both Monday and Friday were early days for him. He’d take the early bus home, get his homework done, and have the evening to himself. Who knows, maybe on Fridays he’d even go out. Maybe he’d get a date or some such thing. Not that he’d had one in over two years, but he was getting old enough now to understand women. Ok, to pretend to understand women.

Monday night was reserved for this new show. On the evening of its premier he got lucky. His father had not come home yet, probably had a date of his own, and his mother had one of her migraines so she had taken to bed. Davis was able to sit in the living room with the big TV, get his personal ashtray ready, light up a Parliament and watch The Monkees. After the first segment he was hooked. These four guys were campy, fearless, funny, and could sing. The songs were all new so no one else could know them unless they watched the show.

Over the next few Mondays, The Monkees became a ritual to him, each time the show aired he was ready and waiting. He knew the lyrics to the theme song and another song that got played often, Last Train to Clarksville. This show had become his secret love, or as he termed it now, his guilty pleasure. Of course, liking a show as silly as this, and songs as simple as these, when they were not the Beatles, the Stones, or some other acceptable popular group was best kept a secret. He was square enough to the locals, and no one on the school bus, his private school bus, had mentioned them. To like The Monkees, therefore, was to be king of the squares. Best keep it to himself rather than be officially crowned.

He bought the album in the Family Circle and played it to death in the safe confines of his bedroom.

On a Saturday in late September the local high school was having a home football game. Davis had walked with his friends, all of whom attended it, the two miles to the school. Before heading to the football field, it was apparently the thing to do to go to Jack’s Soda Shop for, well, a soda. And he could light up and maybe pretend to look cool, for, as his phys ed teacher used to chide those who got out of line, “I’ll ship you off to Freeport High, where you can go for a smoke and a Coke at lunch.’

’When in Rome . . .’

As Davis and his friends entered the packed place he was amazed at all the bodies, guys and girls, jammed into the small room. Even the cheerleaders were there, in uniform and dancing, dancing to a song on the juke box, the juke box which was blaring . . . . blaring . . . . the familiar sound of . . .  ‘Last Train to Clarksville.’

Davis tried not to shake or get excited. He kept moving towards the counter where the old guy who answered to Jack sold him a coke. With smoke and Coke in hand, Davis leaned back against the counter and took in the reality of the situation. The cheerleaders of Freeport High, the hottest babes around, were dancing to a song that Davis had discovered all on his own, his secret song. And so were most of the other girls in the place.

Davis drew the only conclusion possible. He was cool. He never forgot that and never let it be an issue in his life again.

Mr. Stringer.” Silence. “MR. STRINGER.” Davis looked at the many students  before him, some of which were looking at him. The boy’s voice continued. “Are we gonna have class today?”

Davis returned from his reverie. “Yes, we are. Now as you should recall from yesterday . . ..“

He was still cool.


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