How Sock Hops Worked

To some, thinking about life in the 1950s harkens back to a golden age of wives in heels and pearls. To others, it symbolizes the rise of suburbia and the infiltration of TV into the living rooms of those far-sprawling abodes. To still more, the decade smacks of the Cold War and rising tension in race relations

Salvatore Ferragamo Hollow Out Ballerina Flats Orange

Salvatore Ferragamo Hollow Out Ballerina Flats Orange

BUY NOW

$371.35
$136.16

. But for many, nothing characterizes the ’50s more than the sound of rock-and-roll, the swirl of skirts, the crinkle of lettermen’s jackets and the soft scuffle of socked feet across a wooden gym floor.
For the 1950s was the height of the sock hop — a pop culture phenomenon similar to the informal high school dances of today. The hops got their name because of the requirement that the frolicking teens remove their shoes so they didn’t scuff up the wooden floors of the school gyms that hosted the mixers.
Not everyone thought sock hops were great fun, however. Despite the fact that schools condoned such activities, many parents were horrified by the idea since sexual taboos appeared to be shattering right and left: The music and the dances made popular at sock hops were considered far too sexualized by the older, more conservative set. Many of the most popular songs were also the work of black musicians

Salvatore Ferragamo Penny Leather Lace-Up Mocassin Navy

Salvatore Ferragamo Penny Leather Lace-Up Mocassin Navy

BUY NOW

$660.17
$190.83

, and racial tensions were starting to simmer to the surface during the 1950s and in the years to follow.
The new music and dances were coupled with an ongoing cultural phenomenon — in part fueled by movies and other entertainment medium — that deemed fun-seeking youths as dangerous. But if you were lucky enough to be allowed out of the house, what was it like to attend a sock hop? Find out about the sights and sounds on the next page.

“In The Neighborhood” by Jon Stewart Mosman

TOPICS IN THIS POST

RECENT POSTS
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Red Pill You Asked For
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
The Best Stuff We’ve Read This Week
I.
Martin was surprised, but ‘surprise’ wasn’t the best word for it. The neighborhood was bigger than he remembered. Four new, nearly identical houses sat off the road poking out from behind the stop sign up ahead. He must’ve driven past a dozen times taking cardboard boxes to the dumpster by the front entrance-he didn’t even notice until the fourth day. Looks like they built some new houses since Christmas. His parents moved to this subdivision a few months after he went off to college; until now he’d only visited.
How could anyone tell? They all look the same. Three distinct floor plans with minor variations repeated throughout the neighborhood in rows that branched out into other sets of rows, all the streets named Hortland-Hortland Lane, Hortland Court, Hortland Avenue. Martin figured there must be about a thousand neighborhoods just like this one. He imagined Old Man Hortland sitting on a wraparound front porch with big fake Greek columns, looking out over what used to be a plantation field, cackling maniacally at the ease by which he came to his fortune in real estate.
It hadn’t even been a week, but already Martin hated this place and longed to return to his old apartment and the Grand College Life in general. The damn truck-if it had only lasted a little longer he could’ve gotten another job somewhere. But the truck did not last a minute longer than it did, and he found himself a recent college graduate forced to move into a strange new house with his parents. Damn truck.
Without transportation, without money, without a career, Martin felt dislodged in time viewing the stages of man out of order; as if all the adulthood he’d scrounged up in the years away lost its currency the minute he dragged his duffle bag through the garage door.
His family had become odd in his absence. ‘Odd’ was the best word for it. They were rarely at home together. Martin struggled to remember what they did all day. His parents formed a family unit that functioned fine without him, and he found himself at a loss as to who these new benevolent roommates and landlords were exactly.
The people living in the subdivision were odd, too. They kept tightly to themselves, but through brief glimpses Martin was able to compose a short descriptive list: The Scowling Redhead Lady next door with the Pitt Bulls who said, “keep sure not to flash your lights in my windows at night” when he’d introduced himself; Her Occasional Boyfriend with prison muscles and tattoos who mowed the lawn; The Enormous Church-ish Family hiding behind their blinds across the street; The Redneck Guy down the way who sat in his garage and drank milkshakes in the dark glow of an electric bug zapper, with whom Martin tried to start up a conversation the night he moved in. He’d explained that he didn’t know anyone or have a car. The Redneck Guy stared slack jawed and wordlessly walked inside.
Even if he had a car, it took thirty minutes to get anywhere-ten just to make it out of the subdivision, whose roads spread out homogenously in all directions from the sole entrance and exit. There was no one to know-and even if he had any friends, there was nowhere to go, nothing to do-just sparsely distributed orange streetlights, a gas station, and a grocery store fifteen miles down the highway. The neighborhood squatted down in the middle of the thicket, as if suburbia forced itself between the mosquitoes and pines without zoning or asking anyone’s permission. The people there cast a shadow as enigmatic and primeval as the landscape, as if civilization had only recently found them hiding out stubbornly underground and forced them up to the surface.
II.
The fourth morning it was dreary, but never rained. Martin woke up in the darkness of his basement room and conducted his goal setting ritual, repeated at least weekly for the last year and a half: he listed the possible career paths for an English major who hadn’t been able to afford an unpaid internship, and then before any progress could be made he consciously chose to think of something less depressing and seemingly impossible. It usually lasted about three minutes, but every time he could shave off a couple seconds of despair, it felt like progress. After that he’d work on his resume.
Visions of the coffee shop back on campus teased him-as many afternoons as he wished sitting there, sipping coffee and reading, lazing in the sunlit past; waiting for him to come back to where time was organized around a structuring principle.
As for jobs, there weren’t any. The gas station and the grocery store both said they’d get back to him, but no one ever called.
I could always get a Masters, that’s always an option. He missed school. He was good at it. He missed working too-clocking in every day and doing something, waiting tables, making pizza anything whatever, he enjoyed working-but he knew that didn’t make him special. Especially not out here. He was slowly coming to the realization that college is something you’re expected to sober up from.
Later that afternoon, Martin sat in his garage, thinking about buying a chocolate drink. It was a trifle of an emotion, but the impact was sudden and strong if only for its immediate attainability. It was neat and simple; it was direct. He finally had the agency and capability to do something, anything-to satisfy even a trivial desire. Enthralled, he asked his mother for her car keys and scrounged up a dollar-fifty out of the change jar.
As he approached the first stop sign, finally nearing the subdivision’s entrance after what seemed like hours, he noticed The Redneck Guy about to pass, driving a big black truck with a rebel flag bumper sticker. Martin waved but The Redneck Guy was again unresponsive. All Martin could see was his own reflection in The Guy’s tinted wraparound sunglasses-he couldn’t even be sure if they’d made eye contact.
The surprise didn’t dawn on him until he reached the second stop sign. But not surprise exactly. Dижjид vu doesn’t do it either. More like the feeling of making a mistake while you’re busy-something you don’t notice until long after it’s already happened. He checked the rearview mirror. He adjusted the seat. He couldn’t remember there being a second stop sign before at all.
III.
Weird. I have to pay better attention to things. Or maybe they put up a second stop sign when they built the new houses. But he didn’t remember the houses either. Jeez-they can really throw these things together.
The houses looked the same as all the others on the street, but sat down in a cul de sac off the road. Perhaps it was the light or the way they hid in the kudzu but they looked ominous to Martin, even aggressive. Their windows seemed like bared teeth and their fake keystones looked like furrowed brows.
He thought about it all the way to the gas station where he roamed the aisles aimlessly; lost in trying to remember if he’d noticed the houses before. The attendant looked at him as if he was emitting a fart with every step- a look that expressed disgust and displeasure by way of some distant black sheep cousin to civility. Well aware that the local countrified concept of masculinity did not extend to bespectacled English majors, Martin couldn’t help but notice the encroaching Deliverance-y vibe broadcast from everyone he met here, like he was a mere lamb for the slaughter but didn’t know it yet.
He bought his chocolate drink and went on about his day-he simply forgot about the houses. Fleeting, creeping moods are so easy to dismiss with the aid of mounting pressure and tension within oneself. He went home, filed some applications online, watched a movie. He worked on his resume, seemingly fruitlessly. He didn’t think about the subdivision again for weeks.
IV.
On the 4th of July, his parents threw a barbeque and invited the neighbors. The Churchy Family across the street, the Flemings, arrived early and Papa Fleming cornered Martin in the kitchen by the macaroni casserole.
“So how do you like the neighborhood so far?” Papa Fleming salivated as casserole oozed between the prongs of his plastic fork.
“It’s great. Everyone’s nice,” Martin lied.
“We just love it here. We’ve been here a year and the community really seems to be growing.”
That’s what made him think about it. It had been weeks, but now all of a sudden-growing.
“Yeah, it seems bigger.”
“It’s great to be part of something from the ground up-housing market the way it is. Have you seen the pool?”
“There’s a pool? It’s not on the main drag.”
“Oh you gotta go-it’s off behind some houses on Hortland Court Southwest, third right off Hortland Lane. You can’t miss it.”
Later that night, Martin looked online for a satellite picture of the neighborhood pool but when he tried to zoom in the image became blurry and out of focus, a formless blob taking up an indeterminate amount of space.
V.
A month passed. Martin found the pool at the suggestion of Mr. Fleming and enjoyed it on a daily basis. It took a good thirty minutes to get there on a bike, but Martin liked the exercise. He wondered how much of the total landmass of the city limit’s the subdivision took up-it’s gotta be close to a ? of the whole town.
One afternoon Martin’s mother left for a dental appointment and he spent the day swimming. Riding home on his bicycle, strangers waved from behind their watering hoses and lemonade stands. He smiled back and tilted his head. His spirits were high riding up the driveway to his parent’s house when he noticed the front door swinging open. Papers were scattered across the lawn. The window by the door was shattered.
His good mood betrayed him and he tossed his bike onto the driveway in a panic. He ran upstairs surveying the damage and shouting for his mother. Her appointment was early this afternoon. How long had she been gone? The television was gone. The microwave was gone. The family computer was gone.
He sat on the sofa and dialed 911. The pleasant operator calmly asked if the perpetrator could still be in the house. Martin hadn’t even considered that eerie possibility and he sprinted back outside. The operator told him to wait for the police.
He waited.
After an hour he dialed the non emergency line-the operator explained that their jurisdiction covered the whole county, and it takes time, but someone was on the way. He called again after the second hour. After the third hour they told him not to call anymore, they’d be in contact. The sun began to set and his mother’s van appeared up over the hill. She’d been gone nearly all day. Where has she been?
The two of them waited in silence outside until his father arrived, and then they walked through the house together room by room. Nobody was hiding in the closet, whoever it was took off long before Martin even made it home. It was probably kids. Martin’s parents seemed strangely nonplussed. His mother said she’d had a long wait at the dentist’s office, that was all-and it seems to take longer and longer to get anyplace from all the way out here. No police ever showed up.
The next day, Martin called the non emergency line again, and was informed that multiple officers were dispatched to his address and had determined it was a false alarm. Martin was outraged-he’d been there all night and never saw a single cop! He repeated the address and insisted they come back to file a report. He was informed that it was a crime in the state of Georgia to call 911 under false pretenses.
That night Martin paced in the driveway under the cloudy moonlight, once more in need of conversation or at least a good chocolate drink. Off in the distance he could barely discern the glowing ember of The Redneck Guy’s bug zapper in the open frame of his dark garage. Martin mustered his courage and walked down the street.
“Howdy neighbor. Again.”
Nothing.
“Listen I know you hate socialism and everything, but I could really go for a milkshake right about now.”
A plastic cup rolled out of the darkness on the pavement and bumped into Martin’s feet. He fumbled to pick it up. It was followed by a spoon, a tub of chocolate ice cream, and a half gallon of organic 2% milk.
“Thanks.”
“Saw your house got busted into,” The Darkness spoke.
“Yeah. Earlier today. I was at the pool,” Martin juggled words while he concocted his milkshake; “The cops went to the wrong place though-they think I’m pulling a prank.”
“It’s happened to a couple of us. Cops don’t really come out this way.”
“Oh yeah? Well that explains the break-ins. Somebody’s probably watching these houses.”
Martin’s voice trailed off and shivered. The intrusive feeling refused to settle and his stomach turned, thinking about eyes peering out from behind the darkness of the woods that surrounded the subdivision.
“Ain’t nobody watching these houses, except these houses.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
But Martin did know what he meant. The leering windows. The furrowed brows. The absent police.
“You ever been much further past the pool? Down Hortland Court Southwest?”
“Well I’ve lived here for almost six months, I’ve driven around.”
But that was half true-in fact, Martin had never made it any further than the pool. He figured the road couldn’t go on much further, the pool must be near the end.
“Go a little further next time. It turns to gravel. Took me a long time to figure it out.”
“What do you mean?”
The Redneck Guy slurped up the last bit of milkshake from the bottom of his cup, and said,
“Past my bedtime buddy.”
“Thanks for the dessert.”
“You owe me one.”
Martin watched as an interior door opened, the light from inside briefly illuminating his neighbor’s frame, then it shut and Martin was alone in the stranger’s garage.
VI.
The next afternoon curiosity overwhelmed him and Martin finally drove past the pool on Hortland Court Southwest. The Redneck Guy was right-the road went on quite a ways. Houses bumped along in a rhythm. After ten minutes the concrete gave way to fresh, chalky gravel. Martin felt the chill of being alone in the wilderness, and checked his gas gauge-still nearly full. He pressed on.
After twenty minutes of driving the radio signal flickered out. Martin assigned the different floor plans numbers and figured out the pattern they repeated down either side of the road. 3-3-1-2-3-1-2. Over and over again. The colors had a different pattern. He noticed it after thirty minutes of no intersections, no stop signs, just a ceaseless series of repeating houses on either side. The further he drove into the neighborhood the lawns turned brittle and brown, like they hadn’t seen rain in months-there was a draught here not long ago, but that was way before I moved in-it must be over by now. As he drove on, children riding bikes in the street became increasingly scarce; cars with flat tires and empty cans of gasoline proliferated. Eventually all the driveways and lawns and houses became vacant for miles. Finally after forty-five minutes

Salvatore Ferragamo Hollow Out Ballerina Flats Orange

Salvatore Ferragamo Hollow Out Ballerina Flats Orange

BUY NOW

$371.35
$136.16

, Hortland Court Southwest came to an end at a cul de sac.
But another road, Hortland Pointe, branched off from the circle and stretched out into a comparable forever. The yards on this street hadn’t even been sodded and bulldozer tracks crisscrossed between the unfinished houses. Buzzards leered down from a disconnected electricity pole. There were no signs of human life. It was like an abandoned theme park. This place has to be at least half the city limits. God, maybe more. I should be in another county by now.
He drove on down Hortland Pointe until his headlights were the only illumination. No streetlights; no lights in any windows; just his mother’s car and the dark sleeping neighborhood, empty and silent. After an hour he started to see parked cars on the street again, but they were stripped of their doors, windshields, tires. The road, or what was left of it between the craters and weeds, was peppered with what looked like makeshift lemonade stands, some covered by tattered plastic tarps. Household items littered the yards, dangling plastic trash bags covered in dust replaced front doors, and the smell of smoke hung thick like fog in the air. What the hell happened here?
Suddenly a figure stepped into the middle of the road from behind a car. Martin slammed on his breaks. The figure stood still, staring past the headlights through the windshield in a cloud of dust. Martin stared back, frozen. The man looked like a cartoon hillbilly-he had a long shaggy beard, matted dirty hair, and torn jeans. He bared his teeth. Martin inched the car into reverse and three more figures appeared from behind, illuminated red in the glow of his brake light. They held crudely bent metal pipes in their hands.
A second stretched out into an eternity. The man in the headlights whistled and all the figures converged on the car.
Martin revved the engine and prayed. He didn’t want to kill anybody. The back windshield took a mighty blow and suddenly someone was on the roof. There was no language, only snarling and pounding. Martin hyperventilated. His hands shook. He straightened the wheels and accelerated, throwing the man down onto the pavement.
I can’t believe I just did that. I could’ve killed that guy. Martin almost asked if the wild man was okay but he didn’t have time. Something shattered the passenger side window. Martin screamed and kicked the gas to the floor, hopping the curb and taking out a lemonade stand. The steering wheel shook as he drove and veered to the left. Martin didn’t stop to think what it could be. Maybe a bent wheel. He turned the radio up and listened to the static to drown out the wild men’s screams.
Once he made it back to the intersection at Hortland Court Southwest, he stopped to assess the damage. The buzzards were now perched on an adjacent lamppost. He hoped it was just a flat. God.
Clutching onto the bumper was certainly once a man, but now seemed more like a side of blackened meat. His wrist bone had broken through the skin; his shoulder bulged as the rest of his mutilated body limply dangled behind it, barely connected. He was handcuffed to the tail pipe. Martin vomited.
He tried to call the police but there was no signal. He knocked on every door, but the houses were all empty. It took an hour to regain his composure, but he finally snapped the corpse’s wrist loose and, not knowing what else to do, lifted him into the backseat. The buzzards flapped their wings and descended. Sorry fellas.
VII.
Halfway down Hortland Lane, the car sputtered out of gas. This is impossible. By then it had already taken twice as long as it had to get there-impossible. It couldn’t be his speed-the houses were flying past in a blur; the speedometer never read below fifty-five. Trying not to think about the dead body in the backseat of his mother’s car, he turned on the emergency lights, rolled down the windows and began the long walk home. He figured it would take an hour.
VIII.
He walked until sunrise, finally collapsing exhausted in a well manicured patch of lawn by the side of the road. It can’t be this long-I rode my bike every day-it can’t be.
IX.
He slept but didn’t dream, and woke with a pounding headache sweating in the harsh uncloudy daylight. His breath rattled in his chest like he’d been camping next to a hickory fire. He expected to be roused by an irritable gardener’s hose but there was no one outside in any direction. Disappointed by the lack of water, he pressed on again.
X.
He walked for hours. Not sure how long exactly, his phone was dead. The sun had moved, it was setting. None of the houses looked familiar yet he knew they had to be, and he still hadn’t seen any evidence that people actually lived in any of them-several cars had passed by in a hurry, but none in the driveways. They were all heading out of the subdivision and no one so much as made eye contact.
A few mailboxes up the hill, a patch of upturned gravel stretched across the road, like a utility company was replacing an old buried pipe. As Martin drew nearer, he noticed that the path ran up over the curb, across the sidewalk, up the lawns and between the houses in both directions. Except it wasn’t gravel at all-he could see up close-it was tar. And it was moving. Growing.
The tar lapped and moved in uniform waves like fish scales, and the ground around it rocked and swayed like a boat on the water. It was as if the entire subdivision was built on plates floating over a nest of giant writhing snakes, and the snakes were pushing up towards the surface. It’s getting wider. The oozing tar strip bubbled and undulated not like a liquid but like a body full of blood, and it pushed the houses and yards on either shore away from one another, widening into a creek. It can’t be. Martin fell to the ground. He felt a strange dual sensation-like a rational and sane person observing another who has lost all touch with physical reality, both of them agreeing on what they see.
The ground rumbled and shook as the plates drifted apart from one another. He heard the houses around him creak and sway. Then they began to fall-first the vinyl siding then the windows then the outer fa?ade, the ground hungrily sucked them up into piles of splinters. Martin jumped to his feet and with a running start leapt across the stream. His shoe landed with a wet suck on the opposite shore and he scrubbed the tar off his heel on the pavement as he ran through the debris. He didn’t look back but could hear them crumbling behind him as he ran.
It took all day to get home. There were no cars in the driveway when he arrived; all the houses were dark and empty. The two youngest of the Churchy Flemings from across the street ambled down the driveway unaware of him. The bigger one had Martin’s laptop in his hands.
“Hey!”
They looked up in shock. They were no more than twelve, both their ages combined.
“What the hell are you doing here? That’s my laptop.”
The big one dropped the computer and they ran home.
“That’s right, beat it!” Martin yelled after them.
Well I’ll be damned.
Martin sat on the front porch waiting to see if his parents ever made it home, or maybe they were passengers in one of those fleeing, willfully blind cars he’d seen earlier near the snake pit-Snake pit? I dunno what else to call it.
He stared off into space as the crickets chirped and the ground underneath him slithered and hissed, into the thicket through the lightening bugs in the neighbor’s back yard, the Scowling Redheaded Lady with the Pit Bulls. Through the hedges he noticed a house he’d never seen before-pastel blue vinyl siding, floor plan number 3.
The neighborhood was growing.

Print | Citation & Date