A parched throat, sweaty palms, shaky fingers — I usually dialed the wrong number at least once — all were hallmarks of one of the more memorable practices of my teenage years. Calling a girl.
I can remember the trepidation that came from calling a girl on the telephone like it happened yesterday. And understand, the nervousness had little to do with what to say to the girl and everything to do with her parents.
Back in the day, you just didn't dial up and immediately connect with the girl. You had to meet parental expectations and survive the gantlet her mom or dad set to weed out overheated boys or fast girls with bad intentions.
First of all, you never called after 9 p.m. Second, you were wise to introduce yourself because failure to give your name set off alarms.
You also had to speak clearly and use "please," "sir" or "ma'am" as many times as humanly possible in a two-minute conversation.
Your initial greeting needed to come out in a respectful manner, but you couldn't sound too eager.
"Can I speak to Gladys, please?"
After that, you frequently had to answer a couple of questions.
One father said to me, "Who your people?"
"Excuse me, sir."
"Who are your people?"
It dawned on me he wanted to know the name of my parents, and to this day I'm grateful that Ann and Gerald Hooper were well-regarded in the community.
Another childhood friend tells the story of a father who answered the phone not with hello, but with a question.
"Why are you calling here?"
"I wanted to speak to Sharon, sir."
"What you want to talk to her about?"
"Uhhh, ahhh, I don't know, sir."
"Well call back when you figure it out."
Such errors caused young men to lose the trust of the parents. Sometimes forever.
Once, I had to resort to my 6-year-old sister making calls to escape the ire of weary parents. It didn't really work, but we won't talk about that.
These days, we old men sit around and share these stories like war veterans. Surviving the inquisition of the gruff dad or overbearing mom — or both — earned us a kind of badge of courage.
My sons, however, will possess no medals. And the girls who call to speak to them will never know the fear we endured.
That's because cell phones — with their silent text-messaging capabilities — and Facebook and My Space allow today's kids to conveniently circumvent parental interference.
And it's wrong.
I'm being denied an inalienable parental right handed down through generations. Directing ire toward our children's potential suitors — be it real anger or faux outrage — was guaranteed to us in the Constitution.
Well, at least it should have been.
My son graduates from high school next year and I've yet to ask one girl, "Who your people?" I live for the moment when they call the house or better yet — try to come by.
Sure, I could check cell phone records or comb through the texts to see what's being said, but it's not about knowing whom they converse with on a regular basis.
It's about putting the fear of God into some unsuspecting teenager.
Just once, I want to bear down on some quivering voice and say, "What's your intentions with my son?"
And then I want to go in the back room after watching the young lady squirm through an answer and have a good laugh.
Okay, I jest. But in all seriousness, I really believe those moments when me and the fellas stood tall before a probing father or mother built character, intensified our resolve and in some small way helped us later in life when we had to go in for job interviews.
We learned the value of respecting our elders. We learned the importance of good telephone etiquette.
And we learned whom never to call.
That's all I'm saying.