The radio just now played the song Tequila by The Champs and carried me back to a much earlier time - 1958.
The new Dhahran school had just been built on 3rd Street and I lived on 11th Street which unveiled all kinds of opportunities for an unsupervised lifestyle. It was a proper school with a gym and a library and I’m sure that there was a great education to be had there.
When the school first opened I started Fourth grade. Our teacher introduced herself to this class of squirming ten-year-olds by saying. “Hello class, my name is Miss Hill. I want you to take out your paper and crayons. Ok, now I want you to draw the ugliest picture of me that you can imagine.”
Wow! She threw down the challenge and I went right to work scribbling her hair as a bird nest, and drawing big oval eyes, elephant ears and a long nose. I was entranced putting scars on her cheeks, when she came by and said, “Oh Tim, maybe you want to draw a big, nasty wart right on the end of my nose.” She got me with that remark and I was putty in her hands for the rest of the year.
Miss Hill had a genius appreciation for the core principle of education – win their grubby little hearts and their minds will follow.
Still school was okay and all that, but the best part was that Tommy M. lived on 3rd Street, directly across from the school. Milt and I would hang with Tommy in his room after class. He was an excitable kid with an enviable brush-cut that stood up about three inches high.
Enthusiastic about life, Tommy was the only kid in camp who had a mini-motorbike and, better yet, his parents weren’t home during the day. We’d lounge around his room and discuss the world seen through the eyes of a nine year old. We talked about the latest war movie or the kids at school and gross teachers but mainly we discussed the fact that girls were from another galaxy. Completely mystifying. You wanted so much to amaze them and hear their laughter, but they were working from an entirely different script.
Take for instance, one of those big green hedge worms that apparently thrived on Aramco’s DDT as much as they did on the company’s hedges. Show that caterpillar to Lana and she’d go “Yuk!” and get mad at you. Show it to Milt. He’d be delighted and say, “Boy, that’s wicked. Let me see it! Can I squish it?” How could anyone think that those caterpillars weren’t fascinating? Sometimes we even put them unharmed back on the hedge. We probably understood them better than we did the opposite sex. It was just that we couldn’t stop talking about certain girls.
Tommy had an older brother who never seemed to be around. He always had the latest 45 records, so one day Tommy comes up to me just before the end of class and says, “You’ve got to hear this.” “What?” “You’ve got to hear it.” And then dashes off. Minutes later, Milt and I breathlessly knock on Tommy’s door. He opens it with a giant grin, “Gentlemen, right this way.”
The air conditioning is humming throughout the house as we silently pass by the classic company maple furniture in the living room and follow Tommy into his room. He goes over to the dresser and intently drops the needle on the record player. And there it was for the first time in Saudi Arabia! A hand clapping rhythm, a guitar, a building Latin beat, a blasting saxophone that couldn’t be resisted and then, “Tequila!”
After the first riff, we were all up moving around in some unidentifiable dance. Laughing and gyrating, getting ready to shout “Tequila!” at the right time. We had no idea what tequila was, but it sure sounded like a good idea. We must have played that song dozens of times before The Champs had us sweaty and worn out.
Walking home through the deserted alleys of Dhahran that evening I finally realized that girls might not be so mysterious after all. It sure would have been fun to rave on to Tequila with Lana.