There are events that occur in our lives that seem to self load into our memory banks by setting permanent records in our cranial databases. Many of these saved memories are universally shared. You know the typical examples: the JFK assassination, 9/11, Tiny Tim's wedding to Miss Vicky. But some of these stored records are personal, unshared, and therefore, uniquely defining. One such moment was logged and filed when I had my first kiss. I’m not talking about a little peck I might have given Gail Broadmire in the second grade coat room. I’m talking about that first humdinger when more than static electricity sparked forth from lips touching.
I was a pretty sorry sight for most of my uninformative years—as comfortable with girls as Russell Crowe with decorum. A bottomless pit of self-effacing humor for someone so inclined. And I was nearly eighteen before I had achieved my first serious kiss—at the time, a social anomaly.
Anyway, the big event occurred at 8:23 p.m., Tuesday, December 30, 1969, right before the decade of testiness came to an end. But the lead up started a memorable day earlier.
I was loaded down with Christmas cash from grandparents, uncles, aunts, and others, who years before had given up trying to figure me out. I’m talking about tens of dollars, and it was burning a big hole in my pocket.
I received a phone call from my best friend of the girl kind, Shirley Brooklund—completely out of the blue. She was going to Willowbrook Mall with a girlfriend, and wanted to know if I would like to join them. I wanted to buy the Crosby, Stills and Nash album released the prior June (I never bought anything new). I gave the offer short deliberation and agreed to meet them at the corner of Bloomfield and Ridgewood Avenues, where we’d pick up the 33 DeCamp bus that would drag us out to the Willowbrook Mall.
When I arrived at the bus stop, they were waiting. Shirley introduced me to Sue Klocks. It took, oh let’s see, about 3.7 seconds. Nope, I think less. I’m pretty sure it was when I heard the “ue” sound of her name that I instantly felt something deep inside my chest. It was a ping right below the top of the rib cage, like an electric shock, only it didn’t hurt. It felt really goofy, really exhilarating. She was stunning. Her hair smelled like the freshest Breck shampoo I had ever laid nose on. She was awash in Shalimar perfume, sending my olfactory glands into nasal nirvana.
During the bus ride to the mall, I was surprisingly overcome by an eerie confidence that pushed me to new heights of flirtatious wit. I was on top of someone else’s game and loving it! By the time we had arrived at the mall, I was hooked. Oh boy was I hooked. We had giggled our way into some kind of magic.
How quickly one’s fortunes change when suddenly plunged into the throes of youthful, romantic chase. We walked the long, winding caverns formed by nameless boutiques and anchor stores, laughing and smiling, and teasing and touching, and laughing some more. To the casual observer, it was probably nauseating, but I didn’t care. I was dominoing into a wonderful new world.
I bought the CS&N album. The girls replenished their perfume stock. Before we knew what hit us, it was time to go.
As the bus pulled from the gates of plenty, my mind was dancing in blissful exhilaration. But by the time we arrived back to disembark from where the adventure had all begun, heaven had turned to hell. It was all too good to be true. Such was the fragile nature of my thoughts.
The bus sputtered away from our stop, dumping an ominous, black cloud of monoxide in its wake. But all I could immerse myself in was Sue, who by now was wearing a dazzling array of seventeen fragrances she had tested on her delicate, soft wrists for me to blushingly critique. The air about her was a lush forest of scents to the finely tuned nasal passages of a teen boy in fresh, mushy pursuit. Unfortunately, it was a wondrous moment that could not last. It was time to be noble. Time to face her unwelcomed departure with an empty smile, and cherish the fond memory of the mall.
I took the lead step in the dance of disengagement.
“Well, I guess I have to get going.” As clever a line as I had ever led with.
Sue followed, “Yeah, well my brother is picking me any minute now."
I turned to Shirley. "Hey Shirls, can you give me a call later after din?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“Yeah, we need to talk too Shirls?” Sue added.
My heart sank at the foreboding potential of their pending conversation. I reached deep inside to maintain the high road. “All right then, I guess that’s that! Everyone needs to talk! Everyone is talkin’!”
Not a very good job. I probably needed to reach deeper. Unfortunately, my old friend, “panic” had made himself at home in my thoughts. Was this going to be as good as it gets? Was my breath killing her? Was she just now realizing the lowliness of her company?
I had to say something, but what? What could I possibly utter to rescue this sweet moment from the clutches of rejection like all the others preceding it?
I found it. “Okay then, catcha!” (my rescue skills needed work too).
“It was really nice to meet you Bob. I had a really great time.”
My inner voice wallowed, “Yeah right. And I have a nice personality too. Isn’t that what you want to say? Go on. I can take it!”
“Me too, Sue. Take care.” I answered emptily. “Hey Shirls, talk to ya later!”
With shoulders drooped, I started my trek home in emotional upheaval, feeling exuberance and dread simultaneously. The day’s events played over and over in my head. I forced myself to think about something else, like hockey fights, but to no avail. The feel of her warm wrists kept interrupting.
I was in bad shape.
I barely ate dinner that night, which set off all kinds of alarms at home. Mom’s inquisition began: was I feeling okay, did someone steal my money at the mall, was I depressed about school starting in a few short days?
My inner self indulged, “Nope, I am just falling in love for the very first time. That’s all. There is nothing that can be done. My heart must travel this journey alone. I will find my way—somehow. Thank you though for inquiring.”
I probably should have confided in mom about my situation. It may have given her pause to engage in a much deserved sigh of relief. It’s safe to say that the growing concern mom had that maybe I buttered my toast on a different side was silently eating away at her. She had unsuccessfully tried a few times to match me up with girls. The most recent failure had been over the prior summer with my aunt’s mothers-helper. The girl was a year older than me and drove a car she bought herself. For some unexplainable reason, she was interested in me. After I reneged on an offer to take a ride with her in her fancy convertible, mom kind of gave up and started the internal process of coming to grips with "other" possibilities. Actually, there was never any doubt as to which side of the toast I buttered. I just wasn’t hungry for toast yet.
I excused myself from the table to retreat to my sanctuary, where I listened to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” about forty seven times, waiting for Shirley's call. Finally, the phone rang.
“She really likes you.”
“Oh God! Really?”
“Yeah. She thinks you’re really cute and funny.”
Suddenly another voice, “Oh my precious Bobby. My little lover boy.”
Damn! It was my little brother Steve. He could become a real pitbull of pain if I didn’t squelch this immediately.
“Hold on Shirls.”
I placed my hand over the phone.
“Hey Pedessy hang up or you’re dead!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. "Pedessy" was a cruel nickname we had for him.
I listened into the receiver. I could still hear him breathing. He was still on, the little bastard.
“I’m going to chop up your GI Joes! Hang up now!”
I didn’t like playing the GI Joe mutilation card but I was desperate to hear what Shirley had to say in private.
I removed my hand and continued.
“Sorry about that. So where were we? Oh yeah, ‘cute’? Can’t I ever be rugged or athletic or something?” I asked despondently. To me ‘cute’ was a notch above ‘nice personality’. ‘Oh, he’s so cute’ as in ‘he’s so cute to pat on the head’—that kind of cute.
“Forget rugged. She said ‘cute’ and meant it in a good way.”
“In a good way,” I repeated.
“Yes in a good way. Look she LIKES you!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I just got off the phone with her! She wanted to know about your status.”
“What status? I have no status. I’ve never had a status. I’m status free!”
“That’s what I told her—not in those words exactly. I smoothed it out for ya.”
“Smoothed what out? I don’t need smoothing.”
“Don’t make me laugh! You need plenty. I told her you were just coming around from a terrible break-up from over a year ago.”
“Oh that’s smooth Shirls!”
“Yeah, I thought you might like it. She thinks you are sensitive and likes that.”
I took a deep breath. “Wow … now what?” I was a fish out of water, pathetically incompetent in such matters. Maybe I could get advice from my younger brothers. Maybe even Pedessey. My mind was racing.
“Listen! There is a get-together tomorrow night at Shnooky’s house. Sue is going and wants you to come over.”
Shnooky was a good kid although she lived in this weird world where her ‘daddy’ proudly and publicly called her “my little Shnooky”—hence, the nickname. Visiting her house was like walking onto the set of Father Knows Best.
“Are you positive? Really? She wants me to go?”
“Yes! Don’t you get it? She LIKES you!”
“Are you going?”
“Yeah but not until later. Gotta baby-sit till 9:30.”
“What should I do?”
“Well, you could call her for starters and talk to her.”
“Talk to her? What would I say?”
Shirley was losing patience with me. “You know Bob, I don’t have time for this right now. Just go. Just be there.”
“Gotta go. Catcha tomorrow night. Good Luck!”
Click. Dial tone. My lifeline was gone in an instant. I was swirling in a sea of uneasiness. I wondered what I should do now.
Well, I took Shirley’s advice and tried to call Sue, but her brother kept picking up the phone and I kept hanging up. I had a slight issue with her brother. He was my age. He was one of the many wealthy, stuck-up kids from the north end of town that I had to deal with on a daily basis back in seventh and eighth grades, when my daily dose of bullying was as common as breakfast cereal.
After a half dozen failed attempts, I gave up calling her and went to bed counting the hours to Shnooky’s.
It was a restless night of sleep and a very long day of angst, but 6:00 p.m. finally rolled around. It was time. After showering with my English Leather soap-on-a-rope, I toweled off and sprayed my armpits with Right Guard, enlarging the ozone hole over Antarctica by about fourteen square miles. Next, the goods were crow-barred into two of my cleanest, tightest “fruit of the loom” briefs. It was a precautionary measure, as the night’s activities could easily trigger an embarrassing predicament. After tucking the apparatus in real nice, I put on my favorite faded jeans, held nicely in place by my cool surfer belt. I threw on an undershirt, my best blue long-sleeve oxford shirt (“fag tag” still attached), thick matching crew socks, and desert boots. The ensemble was topped off with an old washed out navy blue crewneck sweater. The sweater served a few purposes. Primarily, I was under the delusion that it was a look. However, it also might make a useful cover-up should the double-bound underpants maneuver fail to conceal things in the event of a male situation.
Once dressed, I had to work on the face—no easy proposition. Apparently, during the prior night while sleeping, no less than four pimples showed up, accompanied by five long, wispy, dark, chin hairs. A quick buzz from my trusty rotary bladed Norelco and the chin hairs were history. A splash of British Sterling, well more like a dunking, tamed the burns of my freshly scraped chin. I was smelling pretty damn good. It was a skillful blend of the natural, fruity notes from Prell, the woodsy undertones from the English Leather soap, the bold, sporty scent from Right Guard, and the raw, sexual energy of British Sterling. They all came together in a circus of sensuality, as harmonious as a Schoenberg symphonic poem. This odor thing was very important, after all, it would have to mask the pungent stench emitted by the two pounds of Clearasil I was about to cake on the pimples.
Blemishes buried, hair combed, and lips embossed by Chapstick, I was ready to conquer the night.
I managed to get to the dinner table in time to down some grub, avoiding eye contact and communication with Steve the entire time. Successfully accomplished, I raced upstairs, gargled, brush my teeth and popped some Sen-Sen for added fresh breath insurance.
I wrapped my signature yellow and blue striped scarf around my thin neck, and slipped on my beige corduroy, Australian bushwhacker coat with epaulets and matching waist belt. After tucking in the scarf, I tugged on my gloves. The moment was finally upon me.
I trudged the two-mile walk through the snow-capped streets to Shnooky’s party with little more on my mind than Sue’s sweet scent. It was a beacon to the hormones. I arrived, a bit chilled but surprisingly refreshed. After greeting Mr. and Mrs. Shnooky with gratuitous pleasantries, i made my way downstairs to the finished basement.
There she was.
We made eye contact immediately and I smiled a grin so big that I could feel the frozen, plaster-like Clearasil on my zits cracking likes the Earth’s crust when the plates shift.
She looked so beautiful.
We sat close and talked awhile, staring into each other’s eyes the entire time. I could smell her hair. I was melting. At one point, she took my hand in her hand. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was warm and soft in ways warm and soft never felt. Her fingers were silky smooth to the touch—so different from thumb wrestling Joey M. I soon realized it wasn’t skin I felt. It was flesh—wonderful, living flesh.
Instantly, alarms were set off from my brain to every cell in my body.
EEERRPPP! EEERRPPP! EEERRPPP!
WWWHHHAAA! WWWHHHAAA! WWWHHHAAA!
“WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!”
“SILKY FLESH! SILKY FLESH! SILKY FLESH!”
“TAKE DEFENSIVE MEASURES IMMEDIATELY!”
I began to shiver uncontrollably. I had three thousand layers of clothing on, and I was shaking like a scared puppy. I would learn later on in life that I got the shakes with every new hand I held.
“Hey are you okay?” she asked in the sweetest disarming voice I had ever heard. I inhaled her breath. Electricity instantly shot down to my toes.
“Yeah, I just have these shakes for some reason. I’m not even cold.”
“You’re tellin’ me?”
There was an awkward moment of silence. Then she spoke in a whisper. “Hey, I need to talk to you about something in private. Want to take a walk outside in the snow?”
I stared blankly.
“We could walk over to the country club. It’ll be fun.” She stopped talking and studied me for some kind of response.
I needed to say something, but what? I hadn’t heard a word she said. I played the tape back over in my mind until I found some key words to play off.
“You want to take a walk?” I nervously repeated.
Oh God the touch of her hand was so nice. “Please don’t let go! Please don’t let go! Please, oh please, oh please, don’t let go!”
“I mean sure. We can walk and talk. I mean you can talk while we walk or I can—”
She squeezed my hand, squinted at me with her bright blue eyes, and saved me from myself.
“Come on, let’s go,” she said calmly, leading me up the stairs by the soft hand I was now sweating on.
We threw on our coats, gloves, scarves and hats, and exited out the back door. Once outside, she put her arm around my waist, and in a reflex reaction, I put my arm around her shoulder. I had never hugged a girl like that before.
More sirens! More defenses re-initiated! I started to shake again.
Even though it was about twenty degrees out, even though we were swollen from layers of thick heavy clothing, even though I was shaking spasmodically, and even though my Clearasil was flaking off in large, crusty chunks, I felt like we were one being. As we plodded through the snow, we engaged in small talk, giggling into the gusty night, eventually crossing the freshly plowed street, and walking onto the golf course, hidden by a column of tall stately spruces. I didn’t want the moment or feeling to end.
The night’s darkness was of the deep gray variety. The dry white snow occasionally brightened our way by reflecting what little moonlight strobed in and out of the passing clouds. It was hard to tell from the drifting snow but I think we were walking across a green when she suddenly stopped and turned to face me.
“You’re shaking again. Poor baby.” She lifted her arms up and grabbed my striped scarf to adjust it. I placed my arms around her waist.
“Remember, I wanted to talk to you in private,” she whispered, her minted breath filling the crisp night air, dancing into my soul. Here it comes, the ‘nice personality’ speech. I was so short on confidence of any kind. I gallantly decided to cut her off at the pass.
“Yeah, I remember. Hey, look. You don’t have to say—”
But before I could be gallant, she puckered her glossed lips and headed my way. I instinctively closed my eyes before contact. Then, as if swallowed by the Earth, she stepped off the lip of a giant deep sand trap we unknowingly had been precariously standing above. In my effort to grab her as she slid down the slope, my feet went out from under me. I rolled down the hill in hot pursuit, crashing into her at the bottom, some eight feet below. We both began to laugh as she rolled over on top of me. And we laughed some more. Then we laughed a little less, and a little less until the only sounds we could hear were those of our silent stare.
then she leaned down and kissed me. Just like that.
What I remember most was that our teeth smacked into each other. I feared I had chipped one of her upper incisors. So I pulled back. She smiled. No blood. Nice white whole teeth. Undaunted she tried again. This time we were fine. Better than fine really.
For more hours than I wish to reveal, I have wrestled with capturing in words what I had felt at that precise instant. After many awkward, empty attempts, I realized I have neither the vocabulary nor the ability to do so. But that’s okay. I think any attempt would be akin to trying to capture the majesty of the Grand Canyon in a picture taken by a cell phone camera. It can not be done. And, for those who have tried either, well, you understand.
I will leave it at this: life for me at that moment had quietly and substantially changed.
Sue and I “went out” for about four wonderful months—well, maybe more like one wonderful month, followed by three months of slow disintegration.
As would be the case with almost all my future girlfriends, she eventually broke up with me. At the time it was devastating. Sleepless nights. No appetite (and at a paltry 125 pounds I needed to eat). Endless internal what-did-I-do-wrong debates. The usual stuff.
And when everything was said and done, I concluded that I might be a bit intense for normal girls. I also learned that being dumped wasn’t the end of my life—a lesson I would repeat learning over and over again before I actually got it.
But one thing I discovered I'd never repeat—Tuesday, December 30, 1969 at 8:23 p.m.