Every year that I was in high school, five 10th-grade boys and five 10th-grade girls were chosen to be “workers” at the seniors’ Winter Formal. The group was eclectic, chosen from all walks of school life–sports, student council, cheerleading, etc. At an organizational meeting, the group was split into couples according to task. I was paired with Suzanne, and we were to work the punch bowl then move on to the coat-checking room, ticket-taking, etc. One point was clearly defined at the meeting, however. We were underclassmen and not there to “enjoy” the dance. That was the seniors’ privilege. We were there to work.
On the day of the dance, the ten of us arrived early to set up. We ordered pizza, decorated the cafeteria, flirted, and laughed the way 15- and 16-year-old kids do. Around 5 p.m., we headed home to dress in tuxedos and gowns that had been selected and paid for by the school. All the guys gathered at my house so our moms could snap pictures. When the new 10 friends arrived at the school, the mothers were still in tow, taking more pictures and teasing us all accordingly. We were young and innocent and, man, we looked great.
Dangling The Carrot
The dance began and the work ensued. We were distracted by the music and dancing, but reminded not to engage in the festivities. I recall gazing at the dance floor and identifying the wall flowers, the studs, the flirts, the general awkwardness of being at a high school dance and trying to make an impression for the gossip that would be released on Monday morning.
As my co-workers and I changed stations, snuck a piece of pizza, and downed a quick glass of punch when the chaperones weren’t looking, it became clear to me that we were having much more fun than the seniors. The guys were with their dates, unsure whether they should get too close or stay with the safe group of guys they knew well. The girls collectively went to the bathroom (women still do, which I never will understand) and giggled, but no one seemed to be cutting loose and just enjoying the moment.
Over the PA system, a chaperone introduced the workers as music played in the background, like a band introducing a wedding party. One at a time, we filed onto the floor and without any previous plan, we gathered in a group and began dancing. Laughing, happy and comfortable, we were getting away with the very thing we weren’t supposed to do. Soon the floor filled and we danced the rest of the evening. When the lights came up, we changed clothes and cleaned the place. As we were leaving, one girl’s mom suggested breakfast, so we all headed to a local pancake house from where we saw the sun come up.
For the next three years, I went to every formal and prom my school hosted, but (sorry, girls) I don’t recall having as much fun as I did that night in 10th grade. As time has passed, I realize why that was. Everything has more value when it doesn’t come easily, when it is denied or kept from you, and you have to find a way to it.
Consider The Facts
Think about it. As a kid, and even now as an adult, did you like Christmas Day or the weeks before Christmas when the anticipation of what lay ahead was in the air? I still experience a certain depression after the holidays, but oh, man, I used to love the rush of the first cool breezes in October. Everything that the summer had denied lay ahead: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, family, friends, great times, amazing food–all the affairs of the heart.
Jerry Seinfeld says he loves “going to the movies” much more than “being at the movies.” It’s all about denial and anticipation. When the race is run and the goal achieved, there is an absolute release of energy that people attempt to rekindle but never quite find.
When Humphrey Bogart completed the film Casablanca, and it was a huge success, the director and other actors tried several times to recreate that magic in other films. Bogart later wrote that he could feel the success and energy as the Casablanca scenes were being shot, and he knew the release of the film would be great. He also knew he might complete other successful projects, but the experience right then he would never have again. His anticipation of the success drove the spirit of the film, which is still a successful piece of American history today.
Consider how some couples are embarrassingly in love when they are first engaged but complete duds when they finally get married. Have you ever set eyes on a couple expecting their first child? That glow can provide energy for the entire Vegas strip. But even that word for pregnancy explains so much. Why are they so lit up? They are expecting.
On A Personal Note
My dad never really cared for pets, but once in a while, he would kneel and give my childhood dog Scruffy a scratch or pat. On those occasions, Scruffy would melt, ears pinned back, tail slamming into the oven door, falling to his back, paws stretched forward, looking like he was attempting a hug. It was a grasp at something long denied.
I find that every great romance novel deals with denial. Every successful dramady on TV lost ratings when the couples that were flirting finally consummated the relationship, e.g., Moonlighting, Cheers, Friends. The spectacle of overcoming the odds and achieving what should not come easily always has a draw.
When my kids have sleepovers, one of the best ways to ensure the event stays fun is to break up the time before it gets boring. In other words, two straight hours of video games and popcorn need to be interrupted by a dad who says, “Come on, guys, let’s shoot some baskets, or walk with me while I take the dog around the block.” As they are halfway around the block, they plan what to do next. “When we get back to your house, let’s watch a good movie. After that, we’ll finish the last round of that video game.” Anticipating has such power.
A Thirst For Life
So what about your life? Are you just inside that wire-wheel marking time, or are you looking forward? Do you have a mate or kids? Does your hard-working staff look bored and worn out? What type of intrigue are you providing for them to look forward to? Perhaps think about what they have been denied, and fill that gap.
When I was on the recreation staff grooming baseball fields in the summer, we worked in the hot sun until noon and settled under a shade tree for lunch. My buddies laughed at me, because while we were completely drenched in sweat, instead of guzzling the contents of my thermos like they did, I would first eat a bag of salty potato chips. They told me I was nuts as I made my throat drier and drier and built the anticipation of that cool jug of water. When I could wait no longer, I’d pop the spout and drink steadily for minutes, the cold water splashing down my throat and trickling over the dusty corners of my mouth.
My supervisor said, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you do that?”
I just shrugged and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, “Oh, man, because that payoff is sooooooo good.”
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail email@example.com