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Her Name Was Lola, His Name Was Donald

July 13, 2008

The National Writing Project in Vermont’s Invitational Summer Institute started last week, and continues for the next three. I’m on the leadership team, and it’s exciting, exhausting work. The NWP brings together K-12 teachers from across Vermont, and across the spectrum of academic disciplines, to intensively focus on how, when, and why we teach writing.

As part of our daily work, we do a lot of quick writings. Here’s one of those from last week. The prompt (devised by yours truly) was “I heard that song on the radio…”

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I heard that song on the radio: Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” It was the first song I had tuned to when I got my first portable radio, appropriately enough, from Radio Shack. Around the time our aerial antenna started failing and we finally got cable, the family made at-least-weekly trips to the local ‘Shack for replacement and upgrade supplies. I remember getting it on one of those trips, though not what I’d done to deserve a treat. I’d been told I could pick something out if it wasn’t too expensive, and I knew exactly what I wanted. My radio was shaped like Donald Duck’s head.

ddradio.jpg

I never really liked Mickey Mouse, but I’d been crazy about that duck with the rage issues as long as I could remember. Now he could go anywhere I went. He did.

I put the 9v battery in the back of his head and clicked the volume dial from off to three or four. I expected to hear music, something like what the cool older kids listened to. From the speaker in the back of Donald’s head all I heard was static. Slowly thumbing the tuning dial, I heard that voice. “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl,” and I was hooked. Obsessed, even. When the song ended I spun the dial wildly, desperately trying to find another station playing that song about the hottest spot north of Havana. Luckily, it was the mid-1970s, and Lola’s yellow feathers in her hair (and her dress cut down to there) were all over the airwaves.

It was the only song I wanted to hear, and wherever Donald and I were, chances were you’d hear static, a snippet of non-”Copacabana”-song, static, a snippet of non-”Copacabana”-song, static…

My parents tired of the song surprisingly quickly. I remember hiding in my bedroom closet with the door closed, the back of Donald’s head to my ear while well-trained fingers worked the tuning dial in the dark, searching, searching for someplace that wasn’t suburban Dallas. Searching for a crowded floor where music and passion were always in fashion.

I was too young to really understand what the song was about, but perhaps the message was as true for me then as it was for Lola and Tony in their faded past. Don’t fall in love. Because even in the mid-70s, “Copacabana” wouldn’t last forever. In a few weeks the local stations would start putting other songs into heavy rotation, eventually dropping “Copacabana” altogether. And like Lola, Donald and I would have to learn how to deal with a changed world that had left us behind.

Categories: Media, Narrative