In many ways, I trace the whole downward spiral of my life to an incident in ninth grade and a girl named Sandy Hanson.
Sandy had the face and body of a goddess and a voice like Alvin and the Chipmunks.
The total effect was disconcerting; you could spend five minutes in her presence mesmerized by those sea-green eyes, yet convinced she was somehow secretly inhaling from a tank of helium.
Nevertheless, one evening at a school dance, when the gymnasium lights dimmed and the band launched into a dirge-like rendition of "Yesterday" by the Beatles, I approached her and asked if she cared to dance.
"No thank yewwww," she said in a squeaky, chipmunky voice that could be heard in the next area code.
Even though her decision not to dance with me probably showed uncommon good sense, I was mortified.
For a brief instant, I considered whispering: "I have a gun. Please don't make me use it" and guiding her firmly onto the dance floor.
Instead, I slinked back to where my friends were standing, only they weren't standing anymore, having slumped to the floor convulsed with laughter after watching Sandy shoot me down.
This was my first brush with rejection. There have been many, many more, as you can imagine, although Sandy's dismissal remains burned into my memory like the mark from a branding iron.
I bring up this incident not to elicit sympathy -- although God knows it wouldn't hurt to receive some every once in a while -- but to illustrate why so many men dislike dancing and eventually find themselves, as I do, dancing-impaired.
The dancing-impaired can be recognized by their utter inability to put two graceful steps together -- or even one, for that matter -- instead reacting to the music rather like a person being attacked by hornets.
Fast dances, slow dances, polkas, jigs . . . all provoke the same kind of gut-wrenching anxiety in non-dancers.
Unfortunately, no national campaign exists to highlight the problems of the dancing-impaired.
There are no telethons featuring a weeping and exhausted Jerry Lewis, slick hair now mussed and tuxedo bow tie askew, thanking callers for pushing pledges for the dancing-impaired over the $140 million mark.
Nor are there any public service announcements with, say, Barbara Bush, her arm draped affectionately around a man in a Navy blue blazer while she stares at the camera and quietly says: "This is Fred. He can't dance -- not even a little bit. Won't you help? Please send your contributions to . . ."
No, for the most part, the dancing-impaired suffer in silence, bound by the twin chains of ignorance and apathy.
Wedding receptions, of course, are the worst time of all for those who can't dance.
Fueled by an open bar and further whipped into a frenzy by the exhortations of a satin-jacketed band such as Lenny Tortino and the Teardrops, most guests quickly pair off and spend the evening gyrating furiously to the requisite mangled versions of "Satisfaction," "Proud Mary" and the like.
The dancing-impaired, meanwhile, sit quietly at their tables, sipping their rum and Cokes and gazing wistfully out at the dance floor while discussing, oh, bathroom fixtures with any other non-dancers nearby.
And then it happens.
Before long, some well-meaning but doltish person, breathing heavily and slick with perspiration from 10 minutes of doing the Electric Slide, will stop by and chirp: "Hey-y-y! You should get up and dance!"
I have never understood this.
Nobody ever says to a person in a wheelchair: "Hey-y-y! You should get up and walk!"
Nobody says to a person with a hearing aid: "Hey-y-y! You should really listen up!"
Yet people feel compelled to say "You should get up and dance!" to the dancing-impaired all the time, as if it were simply a matter of getting to one's feet and knocking off a quick Latin Hustle.
Do people even do the Hustle anymore? Or that other dance, what was it, the Bump? It shows you how out of touch I am with the dancing community.
Well, I . . . I guess so.
Granted, I still have a lot of feelings to work through. But I can't help but blame so much of this on Sandy Hanson, who taught me to approach prospective dance partners with all the confidence of a man on his way to the electric chair.
I hope she's happy with herself.
This is probably neither here nor there, but I hope her voice has changed, too.
God, it was annoying.