That 70s Show
Roger Daltrey is dead.
If he isn’t, he’s gotta be pissed. The Who singer was, after all, the one who hoped to die before he got old. Now look at him. Mumbling “My Generation” and waiting for senility to set in. Pining to become the pinball wizard of Shady Pines Nursing Home.
That’s OK. I feel ya, Roger. Aging sucks. But senior citizens are people, too. And that’s why I found myself in the lobby of American Legion Post 21 on a stormy Saturday night in Independence.
I can’t say exactly what brought me there. Fate. Intuition. Taking the wrong exit off Interstate 70. But there I was. Staring at a placard touting “country dance” night with Chris Redding and the Reddymen.
American Legion halls frighten me, partially because they reek of old spaghetti and Vicks VapoRub but also because I inexplicably lump all fraternal orders — the American Legion, the Moose Lodge, Shriners — with Hare Krishnas. So I imagined that “country dance” night would be swarming with decrepit, fez-wearing bald men in togas, shaking tambourines and speeding around a bingo hall in go-karts.
Other than that, I didn’t know what to expect. My only previous experience with an American Legion hall was a wedding reception in which the bride let lecherous drunks pin greasy dollar bills to her wedding dress in a bizarre ritual seemingly native only to certain trailer-park tribes of central Oregon.
But I was certain this would be a more elegant affair. The lecherous drunks would shell out at least $5. Plus, Post 21 has been hosting these boot-scootin’ sessions for years. It’s a hot ticket for two-steppin’ septuagenarians who flock dutifully to the events even though a bout of Saturday Night Fever could easily be fatal.
Predictably, I stuck out like the Olsen twins at a pederast convention.
The room was awash with a sea of swaying silver-hairs, and the stronger pacemakers in the room undoubtedly picked up my awkward vibe. I was conspicuous not because most people had goiters older than me but because I was just about the only person not in a wheelchair who wasn’t dancing.
Couples were spinning and dipping to John Anderson, moving and grooving to Jerry Lee Lewis, osteoporosis be damned. The group was rather sprightly given that they were collectively older than Socrates.
I was surprised. I had no idea the elderly were awake after Paul Harvey‘s afternoon broadcast. But the assembly was still going strong at 10 p.m., romping to George Strait‘s “The Fireman” and the Oak Ridge Boys‘ “Elvira.”
And these people could dance. Even the men. You can’t get most guys my age to come within 100 yards of a dance floor without a Wild Turkey IV drip. Yet these golden girls and boys had their orthopedic dancing shoes cinched tight as they happily cut rug and gave the Grim Reaper the finger.
The dance floor ebbed and flowed as the Reddymen channeled Willie Nelson or George Jones. Herman and Betty wiped me out on the dance floor, and I suspected they could outdrink me, too. Empty cans and plastic cups littered the tables as people swung to “Chattahoochee” and swayed to “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
Everything was graceful. The dancing. The drinking. The kissing. Just because Agnes drives 25 miles an hour in the carpool lane and 55 through the Hy-Vee parking lot doesn’t mean she can’t have fun. And, dare I say, Agnes was looking fly for an extra from Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” video. Damn, Gladys, you got it going on. Hey, Gertrude, those clothes are very becoming on you. Then again, if I was on you, I’d becoming, too.
Yeah, I said that.
Independence Mayor Ron Stewart even hopped onstage to sing three songs. Simon Cowell might have ripped the mayor’s performance, but I thought he did a fine job crooning about cows and champagne.
It was refreshing to see no pretenses, no egos, no obvious social hierarchy. Just decent music, cheap booze and friendly people. And Mr. And Mrs. Don Somebody’s 54th wedding anniversary. The Reddymen congratulated the couple on their accomplishment between songs, and the pair smiled and gave each other that little twinkling look reserved just for them.
The party raged on toward midnight as a dwindling but dedicated group of revelers held fast. I wondered if there were bottles of Cristal chilling in bedpans for the afterparty. But I wasn’t going to find out. I had to call it quits.
It was past my bedtime.