I was only 13 and barely reaching puberty.
We had moved to East Africa in 1976, year of the disco bicentennial, the year I entered 8th grade. Amidst the multi-culti smorgasbord of my new international school (in the middle of a coffee plantation), I encountered my female Scandinavian classmates. I still wanted to play with toy cars; but they were women already (8th grade is strange that way). This was an entirely new species to me—unfathomable amazons and angelic emissaries from the unknown northlands. Previous points of reference were gone—I was in Africa, there were flowering jacarandas in red dust clouds, huge acacia trees, different food, unfamiliar smells, and too many new stimuli to process; too many new languages, new sights, new shades of human being, sudden downpours, big skies, new constellations, wild animals and suddenly now the music of these extraterrestrial women. I saw them on the school buses and they sat next to me in class: Nordic blondes—they talked to each other in birdlike lilting tongues beyond their classmate’s comprehension. They were good students, they were gifted athletes, and they were even friendly! I didn’t so much have crushes on them—I beheld them in amazement and glimpsed new horizons: disco vistas to eternity.
When they smiled at me from so far above it felt like . . . . glossolalia:
Slow-dancing to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road at late night parties, I clasped some of them around their knees—they were so much taller than I was. Or it seemed so at the time . . . Sometimes they even TALKED to me with their beautiful Scandinavian accents. One fateful day in 1976 Inga Johannssen lent me her ABBA cassette and every aspect of eighth-grade life was instantly mythologized in three minutes of pop music, every uncomfortable adolescent yearning was forever catalyzed in flawless studio harmony and sheathed in plastic—a viking time-capsule in silver platform shoes. I can never recover. I wouldn’t want to anyway. Here’s my ABBA poem: