Remembering what was 'cool'
On a recent trip, my son, Paul, and I had just finished one of several of our long philosophical discussions when he turned to me and said, ``You know, Dad, for an old guy, you're pretty cool."
I was startled, because I stopped worrying about coolness a long, long time ago. Isn't it curious, though, I thought, many terms and phrases have come and gone in the intervening 55 years since I was a cocky teenager, but "cool" still has the same general slang connotation today as it had then, although the essence of coolness is much different.
The notion of coolness has been closely associated with fashion-conscious youth who are well-attuned to freshly emerging trends, according to Matthew Garite, who teaches a course at Drake University in Iowa called The Hipster: A Cultural History of Cool.
The term ``cool" had its origins in the jazz age of the 1920s and '30s when music was so hot that it was ``cool." I remember as a 5-year-old kid that I had a T-shirt that had a picture of jazz and big-band drummer Gene Krupa with the words ``Cool Cat" emblazoned in big letters.
When I became a teenager, I wanted to sizzle on the Cool Meter. My goal was to ooze coolness. Whether I was sporting my blue-tinted sunglasses (shades) or my stand-at-attention crew cut, the name of the game was to attract attention without making a jerk of yourself.
"Cool" then was pegged pants, sometimes with a stripe down the side, turned up collar, chartreuse jacket and white bucks or blue suede shoes.
"Cool" was putting a Camel behind your ear, tamping it on the back of your hand and lighting it by cupping your hands to prevent the wind from snuffing out the match or Zippo lighter,
"Cool" was rolling up your T-shirt sleeve and carrying around your pack of Luckies in it.
"Cool" was taking a bus to Philly to appear on Bandstand. If you were able to get a dance with one of the show's regulars, you hit the ``cool" jackpot.
"Cool" was being able to ``walk" a Slinky down the stairs or make a Duncan yoyo ``walk the dog."
"Cool" was being able to weasel your way into the poker game at Leonzi's gas station on West Ludlow Street in Summit Hill.
"Cool" was racking up the pool balls quickly and with showmanship at Dickman's Pool Hall in Summit Hill.
"Cool" was sneaking into the Capitol Theater in Summit Hill without the owner, Jacinto Lagos, catching you and calling your parents.
"Cool" was walking with a strut and moving your neck, arms and shoulders in a certain way that dripped just the right amount of arrogance without being obnoxious.
"Cool" was listening to radio stations WARM in Scranton and Cousin Brucie on WABC in New York play the Top 40 songs while making out with your girl in your car parked in some secluded spot.
"Cool" was being able to sing the lyrics of Witch Doctor ``oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting, ting, walla-walla bing bang" in a falsetto voice.
"Cool" was slow-dancing so close to the prettiest girl in your class that it brought a rebuke from the teacher chaperoning the school sock hop.
"Cool" was calling up one of the local grocers and asking whether he had Prince Albert in a can. When he said he did, you would say, ``Well, you better let him out," followed by hysteric laughing.
"Cool" was getting served at Chubby's Bar and Grill in Summit Hill by looking a lot older than you really were.
"Cool" was being one of the first to ``bum" a ride to Summit Hill after seeing a movie at the Palace Theatre in Lansford.
"Cool" was imitating Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) on The Honeymooners: ``One of these days, Alice, POW, right in the kisser."
"Cool" was going steady and seeing what base you could get to with your girl at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.
"Cool" was hanging out at Nick's, our favorite haunt in Summit Hill, for as long as you could without getting kicked out for not buying something within the time limit.
"Cool" was having a great car to drive. Thanks to mom and dad, mine was a red-and-white '55 Buick Roadmaster, two-door hardtop that was a guaranteed chick magnet.
"Cool" was being able to climb the greasy pole at the St. Gabe's celebration in Summit Hill and claiming the ham, bottle of whisky and $25 at the top of the pole, and, best of all, winning bragging rights for the rest of the year over your less-agile friends.
(Bruce Frassinelli is a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School who lives in Schnecksville with his wife, the former Marie Macaluso of New Columbus. Frassinelli is an adjunct instructor in the Social Sciences Department at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)