The summer of 1960 arrived and much to my delight landed me in the youth center for the whole summer. This would turn out to be the door to no parental guidance, just the freedom to play, do art, music and whatever you wanted to do for the whole 9 hours you would be there. It was my first introduction to group activities in large numbers. They were more exciting than the activities that I so detested in school with the same droll classmates all neatly forced to be together for nine months. The groups at the youth center were from all over the city and made it even more exciting as there were people that you could connect with and who thought the way you did and appreciated you for who you were. I connected with some great kids and decided that I would become the cool guy. It came to me quite easily as I was all over the counselors and would volunteer for just about everything that did not include sports. Consequently I gravitated to the music and art departments. In the youth center there was an area that was designated for the "older" crowd , you know the TEENS! Wow ....Cool...they had a jukebox and a coke machine and a dance floor. I would stand at the door and hunger to get in there as I could hear Brenda Lee's voice seeping beyond the door. I made it my solemn vow to get in there somehow. I observed the entrances and knew when it was empty and when it would get busy. Needless to say I had seen and conquered the room and in less than 10 days was happily invited in to play the jukebox as the older crowd had a money patsy who was forever putting money in to play the songs. They did not have money to play the jukebox and I very happily accepted their invitation to come in and drop the coins. I would rather listen to the records than use the lunch money for food. While in the room I also became aware of the coming and going between the boys and the girls. This area had a janitors room that was not locked and was not used during the day. The janitor arrived after 6 when the center would begin to close for the evening. This made for a great kissing and necking room for the "Teens". One to never miss an observation and an opportunity, I studied with great detail who went with who. Who went in and who came out and who's neck look the most abused or the most lipstick smeared. It was the boys who came out adjusting their pants and the girls were trying to put their hair back in place. I soon realized what a goldmine of information I had stumbled on. I thought that I would keep this to myself and not share this with my new found friends, BUT I would use it all later...........all in good time.
I had an amazing ability to recall the names of singers, lyrics, even the damn letters and number on the jukebox which song corresponded to the singer. Bizarre as this may seem , it came in handy to have that kind of memory trait.
As the summer progressed so did my knowledge of teenybopper trysts and the youth center gossip. I had a hot lead on something that would be occurring at the center. It was my first foray into what they termed as a "Talent Show" and I was all for that. They would be holding tryouts and I would have to have my shot at this and there were no holds barred, I was going to take this and win it. But first I would have to decide what I would do. It was not hard to figure out that I would sing a song or two but then I would have to make the decision as to which songs. IT was pure agony I knew so many but of course would settle on something from Miss Lee.
The tryouts seemed to take forever and there was some great people there. The talent ranged from acrobats to pianists,singers to juggling and everything in between. They were held per the age group and only five would be picked from the three groups. FINALLY they called my name
and as if I had no care in world, marched up there and belted out "Sweet Nothin's" right along Brenda. I remember looking out beyond the youth center stage and saw many of the counselors in shock as this little kid was just letting it rip. I had no idea that I could not do it and consequently I did it. Ah...... the age of innocence before life's realities changes everything. You will be happy to hear that I made the top five, but I still had to defeat the other two groups and this would be the beginning of my journey into the anxiety stratosphere. The show had to be "rehearsed" (that was a new world I learned) and would be held at the end of the summer season. Phew! I at least had plenty of time to get it together. In order to win you would have to have another piece of talent that would be your last attempt to outshine the others so now I had two songs to perform. The other song was needed in case I made the top three.
Days seemed to merge into one another and everyday brought about mind images of how I would feel if I won, or the way I would do my songs. I would toss and turn at night before falling into an exhausted sleep. I could hardly eat and that would only aggravate my mother who stressed that I had not eaten. I could have cared less about the food, I needed to be prepared for my debut.
As the days drew nearer, the rehearsals began. I would learn a lot about the staging, lighting and the order of things that would make a show go smoothly. I may have been young but the whole scenario was amazing to me for my first time. We rehearsed daily for three hours for one week. I grew to have crushes on the counselors who lovingly took me under their wing. I tried to act grown up and behave maturely but at times I gave way at times to my eight year old attitude.
That week of rehearsals flew by and the day of the show arrived so quickly. By this time I looked like a refugee from a concentration camp. When the parents of the other kids saw me they would give my poor parent's a hard stare as if they were starving me. The evening started off with an open house and food and then the talent show. It would start with one from each age group and there would be fifteen acts to perform. There were six judges who would decide the fates of the main Winner, and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners.
I can only tell you that when it came my turn I swear it was my first truly acknowledged out of body experience. I remember the lights and viewing the spotlight directly in my eyes and then I cut loose. I could barely hear the music of "Sweet Nothins" and the microphone suddenly felt so heavy but I clung to it for it held my fate and I was not backing down as I was determined to pull this off. The cheers and applause was deafening but incredibly exhilarating. And then....it was over. The people were whistling and cheering and I was overwhelmed at what had just happened. I bowed and ran off stage. The other contestants finished their performances and then it was announced who the finalists would be. While it seemed like forever I panicked finding out that I had made it to the final three. Then it was time for a 15 minute break before the second round and the three final performances. It was seemed like an eternity. Panic ensued throughout my whole body. While I practiced and practiced the first number I lightly practiced my next song which was "My Baby Likes All the Western Guys" OH MY GOD! How would I do this? How could I top the first song, I had absolutely no idea I was only eight years old for gods sake.
The lights dimmed and since I was the youngest I went first. On the way to the center of the stage I saw a cowboy hat that was used by another performer and borrowed it. I told them I was ready and then the music played and I ad libbed the whole thing, but instinctively knew what to do and gave another rousing performance. It was not in my hands anymore. the other two acts followed and then came the moment of reckoning. I viewed my Mother and Dad in the audience and the huge smile form Mom's face made me a winner already and my Dad I think was in shock as my name was announced Winner of the 1960 NW Youth Center Talent Show. I began to cry and was in a state of shock as they gave me my trophy. I could hardly speak I was overwhelmed that I had pulled it off. I did not have a clue what I was doing , I only knew that I had to do it and let nothing stand in my way. I was sad that the season of summer was ending so soon, but now I had trophy which would inspire new hope for next the summer's talent show.
I could hardly get off the cloud I was on for several weeks. I was aware that when you set your mind to something and you ask your personal genie to grant your wish ,the rest is up to you to believe in yourself enough to make it to the finish line. I took my first step into the dark portal and emerged into the light on the other side. It was the first of many steps into the darkness of the unknown and with each step up I would make another reservation toward my life flight to destinations unknown.