Halloween was coming up and the teenager's local hang-out was strung up with orange and black streamers, cartoonish creatures and grinning skeletons on cardboard in the windows, both fake and actual pumpkins in abundance and the younger kids in droves running around in their cheap plastic masks and more expensive rubber masks. The rubber masks were more popular, but could cost as much as fifty cents in this economy. That was a bit out of the range of kids who only received as much as fifteen cents for their allowance. The older kids often had to get after school jobs to cover their expenses, either waiting tables or working in garages. Some kids like Richie Cunningham was fortunate to have a dad who owned his own business. His dad got him his first car; an old 1948 Studebaker while dad got himself a 1957 Ford Station Wagon right off the line. It was a good time to have one's business. Roosevelt had helped the country to survive the last depression, Truman recovered the country from the last war and Eisenhower was a man the whole country rallied behind. The last president to have been a major military leader was Grant, but that was only three generations earlier. On the eve of the 1958 Fall Festival, the Dearborn suburb of Milwaukee was pushing forward to the future.
At Arnold's Drive-In, a restaurant drive-in down the street from Jefferson High School at the corner of Maple and First Streets, Richie and his best friends were on the makeshift stage playing their music. They knew all the music from all big stars of the time from Bobby Darin to Elvis Presley, but their repertoire was very limited. They only had about five to eight songs they could play very well. On the piano, Ralph grinned and mugged with funny faces to his friends and the girls near him trying to be popular while Richie with his red hair and All-American looks wailed on the saxophone to Potsie Webber on the guitar. Potsie had supposedly got his name from his father because all he could make from clay were pots. One day, Ralph heard Warren's dad call him "potsy," and before anyone knew it, everyone at Jefferson was still calling him "Potsie." It was still a long time ago, and the guys were all now in college, but he was still known as Potsie. While he might not be known as Warren, he had an incredible singing voice even if he failed at everything else he did.
"Guys, I need a break." He turned to his buddies. "All this singing is making my voice dry out."
"Your head is dried out…" Ralph poked fun at him.
"We'll take a break." Richie acted as the unofficial leader of the group, but only because he seemed the most responsible out of them. Their schoolmates gave them a light round of cheers and claps for the music, but they would not break to give the guys their usual table at the middle of the room. Instead the guys noticed two booths away near the randomly used jukebox. Some of the local girls started playing the latest Elvis Presley song as the guys rested. Richie signaled to Myrna the waitress to bring them burgers and drinks. As they took a break, their extended friends parted for their seats to reveal everyone's best friend. Clad in the leather jacket, white shirt, blue jeans and boots, Arthur Fonzarelli was their local celebrity, a former hood who had turned straight to work with the police to clean up the neighborhood and keep it that way. He fixed everyone's cars, he had ties to just about anything legitimate and despite being a high school dropout, he was the teenage voice of reason among the kids. He also had a reputation as a lover with girlfriend after girlfriend. Girls came to Arnold's to meet him; guys came to meet the girls. Secure and sure of himself, he came in with a beautiful busty brunette on his arm, gave her a kiss before she met her friends and glided across the room to Richie, his best friend.
"Richie," Fonzie came up and leaned in with his boot on the seat. "Six tickets, seventh roll, Ritchie Valens…"
"You got the tickets!" The guys cheered.
"Fonzie, you are so cool!"
"How much?" Potsie asked the question. Blatantly obvious, he sat back from unwittingly offending the Fonz.
"Five bucks, a piece…"
"It's worth it." The guys pulled out their wallets just as Arnold Nakamura came from the kitchen to deliver their burgers, fries and drinks. The Japanese businessman reportedly left Japan just after World War Two to run a business in what he called the land of opportunity. He had a nice business as long as the kids continued coming round, but sometimes he got a bit into their business.
"Why you guys sit down?" He spoke in his stilted Asian understanding of English. "If you guys no play, there no jumping around. No jumping around, no one get hungry. No hungry, I no have business."
"Arnold, you don't pay us." Ralph pointed out.
"What you talk about don't pay?" Arnold looked back at them. "I pay you in hamburgers. You want pay, I stop giving you free hamburgers."
"We'll take the hamburgers." The guys chorused. Fonzie salted and ate from Potsie's French Fries. Fonzie grinned at Arnold's ethics and nodded his head in acknowledging him.
"Another thing…" Fonzie agreed. "I need a favor." He sipped Potsie's soda. "I'm heading out of town to work at a demolition derby. I need you guys to help Jesse out for me."
"Fonzie…" Richie reacted a bit unprepared. The guys were hesitant. "What kind of work does Jesse need?"
"Lawn mowing, bushes trimmed, haul some stuff off… You know, yard stuff." He looked at them. "The kind of stuff I don't do."
"What if we do a lousy job?"
"Fonzie…" The busty brunette returned to him. "Are these the guys to clean up my yard?"
"And we'll do a really good job!" Richie and the guys suddenly volunteered. She was incredible! She had long dark hair, soft brown eyes and the sort of incredible figure that only movie stars had. Fonzie rose to take her by the waist and guide her to his usual table on the end of the row of booths. The guys were stunned. Only Richie among them had a serious girlfriend of his own, but as cute and winsome as she was, she compared to Jesse in a different way. Amidst subtle laughs and buried male fantasies, they marveled at how the Fonz got these girls and finished up their snack. They rose to return to the platform in the corner against the kitchen. Ready to play again, they turned to huddle about playing a different song. Richie liked the Big Bopper, but Potsie wanted to try Fats Domino. Ralph preferred anything with a beat. Mostly they followed Richie's lead.
"Richie…" There came a voice that make the All-American boy tense up. He turned round to his sister in the pink sweater and light blue skirt coming in past the kitchen entrance. Her hair pulled tight into a ponytail, Joanie Cunningham was irresistibly cute with big blue eyes and rosy cheeks with a figure quickening into womanhood. All the guys in high school noticed her, but to Richie, she was the little sister from hell with a big mouth and an evil mind. She was constantly in his business, sneaking up on him and his girl, taking what she needed from his room without asking and reporting everything he did to their parents. Every time he heard her voice, there was a price to pay…
"What do you want, Lizzie Borden?" Richie looked down from the bandstand, Ralph and Potsie leaning in to back him up if necessary.
"Dad wants you to go home and rake the leaves like you promised." She reminded him. "He says if you don't, you're grounded for the weekend."
"Joanie…" Richie smirked, chuckled as he as looked to his buddies and looked back to her. "I'm in college. They can't ground me as if I was a little kid."
"He can take away your car!"
"Guys, I got to rake those leaves!" Richie pulled the strap of his saxophone off over his head before stepping off the stage.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" Both Potsie and Ralph began reacting as Ralph planned the solution. "Richie, wait…" He turned to the bratty sister grinning to her friends. "Okay, Lucrezia Borgia…" He looked back at Richie with a wry grin as Joanna pictured her curled up fist in his stupid face. "We need Richie here. What's it going to take for you to go get someone else to rake those leaves?"
"Well," Joanie hesitated, posed a bit in her poodle skirt and white shoes with a twist of her hips and looked back. "You can let me sing with the band."
"No, not going to happen, never in this lifetime…" The guys mumbled over each other.
"Did I mention grounded?"
"She does have a nice singing voice." Potsie gave in first, helped hoist Richie's little sister up on stage and backed up a bit. Elvis was ending on the jukebox in the corner, and Joanie was beaming ear to ear to be singing on stage. Richie set aside his saxophone for his guitar and plugged it in to play. Ralph rolled his eyes and turned begrudgingly to his piano. Joanie lightly giggled as if she were thirteen again. She knew Richie was annoyed by her slipping into his world through the cracks but to her, she was grown up alongside him. She could pretend to be one of the older kids. She could be twenty-years-old at least in her mind and be a part of his world with him. She could be his peer instead of just his older sister.
"One song." Richie held his first finger up to her.
"It could be none."
"One a day for a week?"
"Fair enough…" Richie took his place behind her. Her grin lighting up as bright as the sun, Joanie looked to her friends and schoolmates gathering round to encourage her. She stood at the microphone in Potsie's regular place as felt a little dizzy, closing her eyes and trying to shrug it off. Her head felt lighter, her hands tingled from within. Her left hand reached up and palmed her hair back as her demeanor changed. Her movements slowed, her eyes lit up and she took a defiant stance at the microphone.
"What do you want to sing?" Richie asked.
"Just play…" Her voice sounded different as the guys started playing a recent Sandra Dee song. Richie looked to her to start. She missed her mark as couples forms and swayed to the soft romantic song. Potsie looked at the brunette cutie and wondered if she had stage fright. Joanie's hand glided over the microphone as if she were worshipping it. When she completed shaping the air around it, the room twinged as the lights flicked in unison and another sound came from behind her in the form of more musical sounds from the restaurant speakers.
"Strike a pose…" Joanie whispered provocatively into the microphone. Her brother strummed his guitar and looked at her.
"Strike a pose…" Joanie said it again a bit more defiantly. "Vogue…" She whispered to the music.
"Look around…everywhere you turn is heartache…" She started singing lyrics to a song in her head. "It's everywhere that you go…"
Her friends and classmates started slow dancing to this new love song.
"You try everything you can to escape the pain of life that you know…"
"Life that you know…" Girls at a nearby table chimed in behind her.
"When all else fails and you long to be, something better than you are today…" Joanie looked out from a trance across the room of teenage couples dancing romantically in each other's arms. "I know a place where you can get away. It's called a dance floor, and here's what it's for so, come on, Vogue. Let your body move to the music. Hey, hey, hey…"
The room liked Joanie's song. The dance moves were both romantic and fun combining the slow grace of Sandra Dee with the pulse of Bill Haley. Richie and Potsie kept playing not knowing what they were playing. Joanie seemed to be making up with the music they created. In the kitchen, Arnold was bouncing to the beat as he chopped tomatoes. Clarence was dancing and swaying as he fried burgers. The kids out in their cars in the parking lot raced in to meet the hot new singer and were stunned to see Richie's little singer with the hot voice.
"Come on and Vogue. Let your body go with the flow…." Her voice honeyed and seductive, she seemed to be casting a spell over the room with her eloquent gestures and twisting graceful movements of her hands. "It makes no difference if you're black or white, if you're a boy or a girl. If the music's pumping it will give you life. You're a superstar! Yes, that's what you are, you know it."
"Richie?" Potsie leaned over to him.
"Just go with it." Richie answered.
"Vogue…" Joanie gasped seductively. Her body swaying up and down as she seemingly reawakened her classmates and audience into her own personal coven. "Greta Garbo and Monroe, Dietrich and DiMaggio…" Her voice developed a frightening vibration as if she were in a trance but still in tune to the music. "Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean on the cover of a magazine… Grace Kelly, Harlow Jean… picture of a beauty queen. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers dance on air. They had style, they had grace; Rita Hayworth gave good face…
"Lauren, Katherine, Lana too, Bette Davis… we love you. Ladies with an attitude, fellows that were in the mood. Don't just stand there, let's get to it, strike a pose, there's nothing to it. Vogue…"
Ralph found himself playing notes he'd never heard but somehow knew. It was as if he'd heard the song once, but from where?
"Ooooo, you've got to let your body move to the music." Joanie spun round once behind the microphone as if she were a professional entertainer and caught the microphone again. "Ooooo, you've got to just let your body go with the flow. Oooo, you've got to… Vogue." She came to a sudden stop with the music, breathing heavily, stunned and looked back at her brother and friends in shock. Was that just her?! The gang in Arnold's Restaurant had loved it. They cheered loudly at the invocative and innovative new sound.
"Where did you get that song?!" Richie wrapped his hand over the microphone and confronted his little sister.
"I don't know!" Joanie was terrified and stunned. "That wasn't me!" She looked at him scared and worried, her eyes widened from fear. Her feet jumped off the platform and she raced from guys reaching to her and her female classmates, her feet racing from the restaurant and drive-in to carry her home as fast as she could. Left behind, Richie started after her then looked back to his friends. Ralph's hands were trembling a bit. Potsie had hurried pulled off his guitar unsure how he got that new music out of it. Across the room, Fonzie sat up on the back of his booth and gave them a look to get their attention. He reached out if but only to pull Richie close like a brother. Around them the room was grinning and excited to have experienced something new.
"Where did Shortcake learn that song?" He asked the guys.
"Fonz…" Richie was confused. "Where did we learn that song?!"
"It felt like I already knew it." Ralph answered. "It was as if I always knew it."
"Is it just me or did I hear other music from the sound system?" Potsie was even a bit unnerved.
"Guys, question…" Fonzie looked up to them with that solid look of authority. "Where did the sounds of those other instruments come from?" The guys looked back to the stage looking for an answer. They had created that music, but was there something else with them. It was almost as if something had taken control of them, but what could it have been? Beyond them, a figure unique to the teen hangout sat in a corner booth out of the way of the young adults and postured with his cigarette. Clad in a clean suit and loosened tie, he lowered his newspaper, sipped his coffee and tapped out his cigarette to watch the events unfold. He furrowed his eyebrows a bit, cleared his throat and looked toward unseen parties he envisioned watching him.
"An interesting question and one which can be answered…" He spoke aloud to invisible listeners. "How does a teenage girl in the innocence that was the late 1950s know a song at least forty years and two generations after her time well before her own children and her children's children. Submitted for your approval, Joanna Louise Cunningham, eighteen years old, a lovely and effervescent student at Jefferson High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Young Miss Cunningham has just tasted the ambrosia of immortality, grasped upon the brass ring and peered into another world, which she does not understand. It's a vision of a world that both excites her and terrifies her. She has just looked into… The Twilight Zone…"