The Hula Hoop Girl Twirls Again-2

Here’s another very nice (in my opinion anyway) image from the Jessica shoot last Friday. You may remember my wife Joanie, wanted to try out Jessica’s hoop. Watching her spin the hoop got me to thinking about a period in my life I’d almost completely forgotten about—and of course—a hula hoop figures in the story.

In the summer of 1966 I was 21 years old and stationed at Fort Hood, Texas—yes—the same Fort Hood that was in the news in November of 2009 where one more lunatic carried on the ancient tradition of homicide in the name of God.

I was counting down the days to my discharge coming in the first week of September and after nearly three years in the military I was fairly depressed. Very often I’d go to bed at at 7 P.M.

Despite doing well as far as making rank and commendations I was very unhappy in the service. I was desperately ready to return to civilian life and begin college. In so many subtle yet fundamental ways the military was simply more of the same authoritarian, working class, narrow-cultural-focus perspective that defined the community and family I grew up with—and was never comfortable with.

This is not to in any way disparage the military. Every culture has its warrior-class and there’s no way around it—a strong military is necessary to insure security in the international arena and maintain our position in the world.

But the Army just wasn’t for me.

Those last 4 or 5 months in the military—from April to the end of August, were made more tolerable because I decided to fight the depression and find something that I could enjoy. I had a buddy—Al—who had just returned from Viet-Nam. We would hang out at the NCO club where the beer was always cold and they had a great Tex-Mex menu.

One afternoon Al asks me if I want to go roller-skating with him—something he’d done since he was in elementary school. I think I once had a pair of those junky little skates that you clamp on your shoes and flounder around trying to skate on the broken and uneven sidewalks around your neighborhood. All I remember about that was falling down a lot.

I’m not sure why I decided to try it—most likely I was hoping to meet girls. Anyway I began skating at least twice a week.

I will now indulge my geriatric propensity to digression. In our culture the so-called wisdom of the elderly is not especially respected but at least younger people are encouraged to tolerate or humor the old farts they have to put up with so here’s your chance to humor an old fart. I’ll thank you in advance for your patience.

I don’t know how it is these days but when I was in the service, with no popular war going on (like WW-2)—GIs at big military bases have a very hard time meeting girls. The impression I remember is, in the communities on the peripheries of bases in this country, young enlisted men are seen as the human equivalent of something between feral dogs and rats—a kind of borderline predatory nuisance—when it comes to young women.

Most young GIs at big bases like Fort Hood back in the ‘60s had cars and I can remember driving around the streets of Killeen and Copperas Cove—just looking and hoping somehow, someway—something would happen. You didn’t dare drive by the local high school—the cops were always watching for that “white-sidewall” haircut and the bumper sticker that was required to register your vehicle on base.

So you had to find ways to fit in—be a part of things. I attended a couple of churches in Killeen and found out pretty quickly enlisted men were not seen as part of the community. They were superficially welcomed but ultimately just tolerated. For some time I attended a small country church about a half hour from the base in the town of “Little Creek” and that went somewhat better. The congregants did seem warmer and more interested but what age-appropriate girls there were, were taken. Even so, they actually treated me—an ordinary enlisted man—as though I were a real person—just as good as any other the other young men that went to that church. In fact it was at that church one evening at a pot-luck supper I came within shouting distance of getting my first date in over two years.

Mary Anne was one of the prettiest girls at that church. I had been told (by the pastor, no less) she had broken up with her boyfriend—and so at the first opportunity—I pounced. She and I were cleaning up the downstairs rec. room/dining hall/meeting room after the meal and I nervously asked her if she ever went skating. Well—to cut to the bottom line—it turns out yes—she had broken up with her guy but they’d gotten back together again. If that wasn’t enough, her family was moving from the area.

It wasn’t a total loss. She said she would love to go skating with me if she weren’t involved with “so and so” and wasn’t moving. She seemed sincere—genuinely interested—I could see it in her eyes. It wasn’t much—but it was something—the thought of a pretty girl being attracted to me was comforting. By this time in my life I was wondering if I really had anything to offer a desirable young woman.

I spoke briefly with her a few more times. One morning after church I saw her in the church parking lot spinning a hula hoop wearing a long skirt and jacket. I remember thinking she looked incredibly cute. I watched her for several minutes until she stopped and handed it to another girl—apparently it belonged to her. Not long after that I quit going to that church—seeing her there every Sunday with “so and so” was just too depressing.

So—any way to meet girls was pure gold—I’m pretty sure that was why I started skating. It took an embarrassingly long time to learn to just stay on my feet and circle the rink but eventually I was able to. By the time I was getting close to discharge in late August I had gotten to the point where I was starting to skate backwards. I remember quite clearly going skating the night before I was discharged—the night of September 2nd, 1966. That would be the last time I ever had skates on—44 years ago.

OK—I’m done with my digression.

I don’t remember how many rinks there were in the vicinity of the base I just remember going to the same one every night. What goes on in roller rinks these days I don’t know but back then they had little contests or novelty events—like playing the usual music and seeing who could skate under a limbo bar the lowest. They also had these relay races where you skated to one end of the rink holding an egg in a spoon, passed it to the next team member who made the return trip. They did things to make it harder and harder—like skating backwards or holding the spoon handle in your mouth (you had your own spoon—you didn’t share) until only one person was holding an intact egg.

This rink had hula hoops you could check out. I can still see kids—and some older people—skating around the rink with spots of colored light from the disco ball scattering across the walls, floor and skaters while twirling hula hoops. I never checked one out—I never was able to keep one spinning. But as a kid in high school I did learn how to throw one with a backward spin so it would roll back to me—I was the best in the neighborhood.

The last night I went skating before I left the Army to start college on the east coast there was a new contest—whoever could throw a hoop the farthest and get it to roll back to him or her would win a new hoop.

Once the rules were explained and contestants organized into ranks the hoops were brought out—and the person who carried out the hoops was Mary Anne—apparently she had just started working there. And yes—she had moved alright—to within a few blocks of the rink. I had recognized her coming across the floor so I had time to collect myself and be cool. I smiled at her as I took the hoop and said if I won the hoop I’d give it to her. She must have been really shocked and off balance. Instead of just smiling or saying, “neat” or “OK” or Good luck” she blurted out, “I broke up with “so and so.”

It wasn’t much of a contest. I won hands down. I took her the new hoop. She pulled the tag off of it and started spinning it standing there in the equipment check out area.

I remember thinking she looked incredibly cute.

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