A wrong of passage

The word “adulation,” meaning excessive admiration, is fairly common.

The word “adultation,” meaning excessive desire to be a grown-up, isn’t just rare — it’s unique. In fact, it’s only been recorded once, in today’s column. Of course, that’s because I just made it up.

But even if it’s a fake word, it describes a real condition, namely me as a kid.

At the tender age of 12, rock and roll had taken over my life. Bobby Darin gave me a finger-snappin’, jazzy strut. The Everlys taught that the more romance got out of hand, the more behavior stayed in check. Jerry Lee Lewis proved rebellion was an art form. Connie Francis was a damsel in distress – in a ranch house in the burbs, rather than in a castle in the hinterlands.

And Elvis? Well, while there were boatloads of pretenders to the throne, I always knew there was only one King.

So rock became my school, my rec room, my dream machine and my pacemaker. I was never far from it; it was never far from me. Still, one thing prevented me from being a genuine, full-fledged rocker – years.

I may have grooved on rock and even known more about it than most peeps twice my age, but that, of and by itself, wasn’t enough. Not by a long shot – 12 months, to be exact, because that’s when I’d turn 13.

Ah, 13! Considered bad luck by many, it was the Magic Number to me. For once I turned 13 I was officially a teenager and thus would hold the Key to the Kingdom. To Saranac Lake teens, the Kingdom was the Teen Canteen, and the key was its membership card.

The Teen Canteen vanished from this Vale of Tears at least a generation ago, so most current residents probably know nothing of it. But those of us who grew up with it can never forget it.

The Canteen was something you’ll almost never see, in that it was brilliant in both theory and execution.

The theory was if you gave the teens of My Home Town a popular safe haven on weekends, they’d flock there and stay out of mischief.

The reality is that’s exactly what happened.

The town hall nirvana

Sponsored by the Rotary club, it was started in the 1940’s and held in the Presbyterian church hall, but by my youth it’d moved to the town hall’s basement. It was run by Mona Fobare, a brown-eyed beauty who was always dressed to the nines. But beyond being a vision of loveliness, Mona had the rarest of gifts — she liked teenagers.

“Oh, lots of people like teens,” you say.

To which I say, “Bumpf!”

Many adults get along with adolescents, many more tolerate them. But precious few truly like them. Mona was one of the precious few.

Why she had that gift is anyone’s guess. She might’ve come by it naturally since her mother, Mrs. Walsh, had run the Canteen in the ’40s and ’50s. No matter, the fact remained she liked the kids, and in return the kids adored her. As a result, the kids in the Canteen were almost always on their best behavior, as much for Mona’s sake as their own. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the police station was just down the hall …

Canteen was simple affair. There were card tables for future riverboat gamblers, a ping-pong table for adrenaline junkies, and a concession stand for sugar freaks. And best of all was a Rockola jukebox. It was donated and maintained by the local vending machine kingpin, Duke Huntington, and he changed the records every week so the air was filled with only the latest, hippest hits.

The trinity and me

My actual experience with the Canteen was almost nonexistent.

I’d spent over a year chompin’ at the bit to go there, and finally, in January 1960 I hit the Big One- Three. The first Friday after I did, my boon companion Ralph Carlson and I headed out to its hallowed halls.

Canteen started at 7:30, but we weren’t a couple of peewees so crazed about getting in Canteen that we were gonna show up when the door opened. Or if we were crazed pee-wees, at least we weren’t gonna look it.

At 8:00, we went down the stairs and went to the table where Mona and her mom were sitting. They gave us a warm welcome, which we returned. Next, we filled out our cards and then, as official Teen Canteen members, we strutted our stuff into the hall. And as soon as we did, the strutting stopped … and so did my heart.

I stood there, slack-jawed and paralyzed. My gears were stripped, my tank was empty, and I was sitting on four flats. Only by God’s good graces was I not leaking oil.

I’d walked in expecting to be welcomed into the Inner Sanctum of Teenhood with the open arms of my peers. Instead, I felt like an escapee from day care. The joint was packed and every kid looked like a senior — at least.

They could be divided into three groups.

First there were the jocks. They had flattops, varsity sweaters and muscles on their muscles.

Next were the hoods. They rocked DA’s, homemade tattoos and sneers (and of course a pack of Camels rolled up in their T-shirt sleeve).

Every guy there, other than us, looked like he was either headed to a tryout for the NFL or the yard in Dannemora.

Then there were the girls.

Almost all of them were senior high girls, but even then they looked like 35 year-old divorcees from The Big City.

Actually, there were also some girls our age, but they didn’t look it. They also didn’t look at us. And why would they? They were in the spotlight running with the pack; Ralph and I were skulking in the corner, peeing with the puppies.

I looked at Ralph and gave him the high sign.

He nodded and looked at the exit.

Without a word, we peeled out of there as fast as our wounded egos let us. We headed to Boynton’s candy store, where we’d drown our sorrows in a Royal Crown Cola … maybe two …

Actually, I was a root beer man by preference, but had switched to RC for the most salient reason: It was the only soda in a 16 -ounce bottle, while the others were 12 ounces, but they all cost 15 cents. So for the same three buffaloes you got one-third more sugar, caffeine and belching — the trinity of adolescent boys.

To an adult, one-third more sugar, caffeine and belching would be ridiculous, if not repulsive. But to me and Ralph, it was one-third more comfort.

And believe me, that night, being the pathetic little dweebs we were, we needed all the comfort we could get.


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