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Oh, Carol! Childhood Wounds and Vindication

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As a 15-year-old I was a disaster, una frana as we say in Italian. Tall and thin, not even the barest hint of curves, long spidery legs and nondescript brown hair (described in my father's charitable words as ugly as spinach). I never stood a chance to be part of the inner group of Livorno's kids, let alone be invited to dance at our weekend parties.

My girlfriends -- or how shall I put it: my schoolmates, because I really wasn't that popular -- already had their bras and permission to straighten their hair and, on top of everything, they walked to school in a pack. Every morning, at 8 a.m., I perched like a hawk behind the heavy door of our house and waited for the popular group of boys and girls to appear in the distance. Of course it would never have dawned on them to stop for me, or to greet me, they just walked by. But I was quick to jump in and pretend to belong, even though I was really just tailgating.

During the 10 minutes it took to reach the school, I invariably tried to summon the courage to chat, desperate to interact with the coolest of the cool. I imagined that, by sharing the same air space, I would somehow gather their magic, as if I were sprinkled by Tinker Bell's dust. But I was invisible.

It didn't help that I wore atrocious dresses (in a dull blue hue when really lucky) and even had to appear in public with a red kilt, adorned by a huge, gold safety pin on one side. The knee socks my family insisted on completed the sartorial wrecking of my social life. And let's not even talk about my shoes! Solid is the world that best describes those unfortunate accessories, since my wish to appear in black patent-leather ballerinas was never granted.

It was clear from the beginning that no one would ever invite me to dance during those humiliating Saturday afternoons. I perennially sat on a chair, changing records. Had someone told me that DJs would become popular and important in the future, I would have felt better. But, relegated as I was to the corner, I was forever hoping to disappear into total oblivion, all the while deciding what to play next.

And that's when I employed all my ingenuity to dream up a strategy. I calculated the minutes of each song and selected the longest ones, hoping, should luck assist me, that one of my love-targets would eventually invite me to dance. Neil Sedaka's You Are My Destiny lasted for exactly two minutes and 49 seconds, an eternity for a wallflower like me.

Little Devil followed immediately in the list, with its two minutes and 43 seconds -- not bad at all -- but unfortunately my favorite was, Oh! Carol, with only two minutes and 16 seconds. (Since I played it incessantly, I doubt I had the skills of a successful DJ. Nobody seemed to complain, though, busy as they were holding tight and even, ohmegod! kissing... )

The sad truth is that no one, and I repeat: No One, ever invited me to dance. Nothing! Zip! Zero! Week after week I sat, spinning my favorite music and trying to hide my embarrassment.

Fast forward to the early seventies and to the Jackie O, the most exclusive club in Rome, famous for that scary peephole in the door which allowed the management to brutally reject the majority of those begging to be let in. By then a well-known model, I spent endless hours there, chatting, drinking, eating and especially dancing.

One night, as I sat with my friends, the familiar first notes of Oh! Carol, started rolling out the DJ booth. That song? A revival of my youth? Within seconds my mouth turned dry, my shoulders dropped and suddenly, instead of my fashionable clothes, I saw myself with the old red kilt and solid shoes. It took me a good, long moment before I was able to shake away that annoying insect -- the past -- and that's when, remembering the length of the song and demanding vengeance, I abruptly turned to my right, grabbed poor Manfredi's knee and hissed: "Ask me. Now."

Astonished, but quite pleased, he got up and mockingly made a flourishing gesture with his right arm: "At your service, ma'am," he bowed. Moving slowly around the room, nestled against his body, I savored each word, every second, and all the notes that Sedaka's metallic voice delivered, so many years later and so unexpectedly.

"Don't ever leave me, say you'll never go ..."

When the music ended, poor Manfredi stared at the triumphant look spreading over my face like an instant message on a giant billboard. "What was that all about?"

"You wouldn't understand..." I kissed him on the cheek and slumped down, with a thump, on the plush, red sofa. I had been vindicated.