7 minute read

Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.


A popular radio show in Akron, Ohio during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was “Dial a Date.” The nightly broadcast showcased callers, usually in their teens, who would call in to the show to be interviewed as a guest. The host conducted the interview for about 10 minutes, took a commercial break, and played some romantic pop music. When the show resumed, the host introduced three or four prospective dates for the guest, like the Dating Game television show. 

I listened to the show alone in Ginger’s apartment, watching the hours drag by, wondering when and if she would return. As the night settled, the street noise turned from a constant drone to an occasional but frequent flurry of revving engines, tires skidding on pavement, music blaring from cars driving by, a lot of laughter, and some yelling, mostly bluster but a few threats. A group of people had accumulated near the entrance to the bar downstairs, and their loud voices echoed through the apartment, drowning out the other night noises associated with summer: the drone of crickets and waves of cicada, and, occasionally, the call of a nightbird. 

Ginger’s clothing vexed me, all of it on display: dresses, jeans, t-shirts, halter tops, dresses, pairs of panties and several bras, hanging on the impromptu clothesline in her apartment. There was also clothing scattered on the floor, a bikini top, a costume of sorts with breast cups adorned with sequins, a feather boa. She had a mask with feathers adorning the corners of the eyes, lots of makeup on a nightstand, and polaroid photographs festooning a wall mirror next to the nightstand, some of them with her dressed up like a showgirl, others with her wearing leather and standing next to a biker wearing a leather vest and patches, a thick beard, and a round-worn appearance. 

“What’s your favorite dessert?” a guest asked on the radio show. 

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

“You, covered with whipped cream,” came the response. The main guest was a young woman, the prospective dates, three guys trying too hard to be clever. 

The guest reacted with unguarded candor, “Eww… next question.”

If I had been 15 years old, I might have been trying to be a guest on the show. Then, I worried I might not be interesting enough to attract three female callers. What could I say? I like to play baseball. Ride bicycles? It seemed there was nothing about my life that would hold someone’s attention, except, maybe, that I had wanted to be a girl, that I was, now, surrounded by women’s clothing, ruminating about how it would feel to wear a bra and panties, to feel the swish of a dress on my legs, to see the bulge of a bust on my chest. I slunk into a corner of the room as far away from the clothesline as I could get without leaving the apartment, shrinking away from the clothing scattered on the floor like someone who had painted himself into a corner. 

The radio show got stupid with prank callers getting on air to ask outrageous questions, the guest becoming silent, perhaps infuriated with the response she had received. Perhaps, she had wanted a real date, a chance at romance, but all she was getting was a bunch of immature boys who wanted to make fun of the show, of her, and the announcer. 

At one point, the guest said, “Hey, Jim, this is not working for me,” and she hung up. 

Jim chastised the boys and promised the listeners he would be more diligent about screening the prospective dates. He then introduced a song, Hot Child in the City by Nick Gilder, which had been dominating the airwaves since early Spring. I fell asleep imagining myself as this hot child running wild in the city, walking around in a black dress, pretty and having fun without a care in the world. It felt like freedom.   

I do not know how long I had been sleeping when I heard heavy footsteps on the stairs leading to Ginger’s apartment, too heavy for a woman. I held my breath and listened. Whoever it was stopped at the door, grabbed the knob, and rattled the door, the window vibrating in its frame. 

“Stop it,” Ginger’s voice trailed up the stairs, and I heard her relatively effete footsteps climbing upward. “You’ll wake my brother.”

“You have a brother?” the man’s voice, gruff and slurry.

“My little brother is staying with me for the weekend.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

I felt a stir of affection for Ginger. She had claimed me, called me her brother. 

“Come on,” the man said. “I want to find out… you know… if you’re really a ginger.”

“What?”

“You know… like… down there.” The man laughed, but the laughter turned into a growl, from jocular to menacing within a second. “Your real name cannot be Ginger.”

“My real name is none of your business.”

I wondered what it meant to be “ginger” and what exactly the man wanted to do. Though it was not clear to me, I knew it must have been something sexual. I stood up and waited in the shadows, fists clenched, suddenly sweating. I realized I was terrified, spine tingling as a drop of sweat coursed down my back. Was this guy the biker from the polaroid photo on Ginger’s mirror?

The guy moved close to Ginger, hands on her shoulders, perhaps grasping her neck. She stiffened and tried to push him away. 

“Hey, Danny. Are you there?”

Danny? Who’s Danny? I thought.

“Danny, are you awake?”

Then it dawned on me. She was talking about me. I had never told her my name before she left. 

“Ginger? You’re home!”

The guy backed away from Ginger, wiping his hands on his vest. “Okay, Ginger. We’ll make it a rain check. See you soon.” He stomped down the stairs. Some people must have been still hanging out near the bar, and they hailed the guy, but he just muttered something about minding their own business. I heard someone kickstarting a motorcycle, the loud rumble of a big engine, the thud of gravel against brick, and the whine of the engine roaring to climax, shifting gears, and the increasing pitch of the engine a second time, a third time, but fading with distance. 

“Asshole,” Ginger muttered. She opened the door and flipped a switch, flooding the room with light. “Why have you been sitting here in the dark?”

“I don’t know.” 

Ginger walked toward me; arms wide to embrace me. I wanted her to touch me, but I was afraid to be touched at the same time. I was still in the corner, nowhere to go, so I received her hug. It felt so good. After everything that had happened in the last day or so, it felt so good to be acknowledged, to receive affection. I almost swooned. I was afraid to return the hug, so I stood there, stiff, and uncomfortable, tears streaming down my cheeks. 

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Last Updated April 8, 2022, 10:38 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor