When eighth grade started in the fall of 1965, drab colored with frail wings, we rose from the basement like cecropia moths from cocoons, attracted to the light of day, where the upperclassmen preyed. And much like a moth, our life expectancy was about two weeks. Fortunately, we had started double sessions while a much needed new high school was being built. The sessions gave us a little less exposure to the moth eaters.
By the time the first school buzzer sounded, I had added another half inch to my height, and two pounds of sinew to my growing 105 pound frame. I had also become a secret admirer of Inger Stevens who played a Scandinavian housekeeper in the TV show, “The Farmer’s Daughter”. Every Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m., I’d tune in to watch another inane episode that meant little more to me than that her beauty moved me, in the physical sense that is. Things moved. There was a direct connection. I think it is fair to say that Mr. Brown’s lecture was beginning to come home to roost. I was seeing things differently. I was maturing.
Assigned to the morning session of double sessions, it was 7:00 a.m. the first day of eighth grade. I was planted in my assigned homeroom seat next to Clark Shangle. In seventh grade Clark was not a real popular guy but his stock was rising quickly in the beginning of eighth grade. The reason was good enough. Clark had found the key to the Promised Land. That summer he had successfully hunted down his Dad’s stash of Playboy magazines. More importantly, he was so hungry for attention that he brought them into school. That made Clark the main dog, temporarily anyway.
Back then, every guy tried to hunt down his old man’s cache of girlie magazines. The reason we did this was simple, as are most things with young men. We are visual animals. It’s how we are wired. We have to have pictures. And, if one was lucky enough to discover some treasure, a guiding corollary generally applied. Keep it to one’s self. Sharing your good fortune with lesser men usually ended in disaster. It was a rather elegant truth. It was rare to find a guy who would risk it all. That made Clark one of those uncommon types. But kids do strange things for a chance at celebrity and fame. So was the reason for Clark’s ill-advised generosity. I didn’t care. All I knew was I was sitting right next to him every morning in homeroom. It was a beautiful thing.
With big plans brewing, I needed to do a little cultivating if they were to yield fruit. I spent most of September and the beginning of October nurturing my friendship with Clark. My ultimate goal was to borrow an issue over a weekend. It took the patience of a cat and slyness of a fox, but in the end, I got what I wanted. It was only going to cost me a buck, a reasonable fee considering what was at stake. I was able to scratch the coins together by trimming off the top of my Mischief Night fund.
We had arranged for the transaction to take place Friday, October 22nd during lunch. He had discreetly camouflaged the October edition with a homemade, brown paper-bag, book cover. On the front, he had cleverly written “Building Word Power Exercise Book”. Of course, all you had to do was look at the patented thick stapled seam to know that there were more than just words inside its covers.
The exchange went well, if you discount my shaking sweaty hands. I jammed the counterband into my book bag, making it feel oddly heavy in the grip of my slippery palm. It was as if I was carrying a time bomb around. I rushed off to history class, after a parting wink back to Clark in adolescent rebellion. Settled in my desk, feigning attention to a nameless kid as he rattled off an oral report on some obscure war, my inner voice started in on me.
“Go ahead. You know what you want to do. Give her a little open up and take a tiny gander. Come on. You know you want to. Do it. DO IT!”
The thought was particularly convincing. I couldn’t resist. A little look wouldn’t hurt anybody anyway. I took the first step by discreetly slipping the magazine behind my opened text book. Before caving in to my all-consuming desire to open its thick shiny pages and have a quick look-see, I painstakingly studied the room, and waited until I was positive the coast was clear.
The opportunity came. Without looking down, I quickly flipped it open, letting it take me wherever it wanted. Of course it opened like a rose to the very center, where the staples were creased, creating a natural bookmark where the centerfold lay.
I watched the class. My peripheral vision was never more broad and sharp. When it was finally safe to look down, I apprehensively did. It was a brief glance, very brief, briefer than brief. It was the briefest. But my receptors were at full power. I locked in on every vivid, colorful detail.
“Holy cow!” I quaked.
Her name ran up the left side, Allison Parker. She was Miss October. She was a very happy, tanned blond and she was buck naked right down to the top of her breasts, revealing exposed soft white flesh against dark bronze skin where her bikini had been removed. The folded double page covered the rest. I could only imagine what was waiting below.
What was that?!? In an involuntary overreaction, I slammed the text book shut, creating a little unwanted attention.
“Mr. Crane? Is everything okay?” Mrs. Singer suddenly asked.
“I’m okay. No problem. Everything’s okay. I’m right here.” I answered, alternating between alto and bass while making little sense. All heads were turned towards me. I wondered if they could see the sweat ball running down the side of my cheek. I picked up my pencil and pretended to take notes—a sure way to regain control. It worked. I had pulled it off. Class resumed. No one was the wiser. I was living on the proverbial teenage edge.
The rest of that Friday afternoon a war raged between personal values and hormonal hallucinations. On the one hand, I was consumed with uninvited guilt. On the other hand, I was riveted by what I imagined lay hidden underneath the folded sheen of the double page. The battle was pitched between the soul and the flesh, good and evil, right and wrong, “Boy’s Life” and “Playboy”. It wasn't going to be much of a contest.
I took no more chances at school as I fought off the sweet siren calls of a relentless inner voice. I eventually navigated my way safely home and was ready to try again in the privacy of my third floor bedroom, which was perched high above the maple trees and the riffraff that scurried below on Madison Street. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t going to be. My brothers barged unannounced into my room. Mom moved about the house in her finely choreographed Friday ballet. It was a dance that included cooking chili con carne, distributing folded laundry, and chasing combatants around the house, armed with a wooden spoon in one hand and hair brush in the other. There were too many close calls. I decided I’d have to wait it out until later, like bedtime later. So I hid the magazine in the safest place known to young teenage boys, between the mattress and box spring. Excited by my failsafe plan, I tried to relax and carry on as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
My normal late Friday afternoon activity was shooting hoops in the rear of the house. Like all the other neighborhood garages, it stood in the back corner of a postage stamp sized yard. Our narrow driveway, which ran right alongside the house, opened up to a double driveway for about twenty feet just as it cleared the back of the house, providing paved access to a two car garage. It was one of the few ‘doubles’ on the street. It made for the best backyard court around.
I stuck to the program and shot baskets imitating my favorite player at the time, Princeton’s Bill Bradley. I drove deep into the corner, uncoiling like a loaded spring to launch Dollar Bill’s patented jump shot from an impossible angle.
I was getting extra height that day. It felt good. For the moment I had all my feral urges under control. I was just practicing my jumper until dinner, after which I’d take an early shower, watch a little TV, fake a few yawns, retire to my lair, and start my lesson in female anatomy with instructor Allison Parker.
The moment of truth had finally arrived. All the planets were lined up. No more interruptions. Fed, showered, and rested, I reached underneath the mattress with my right arm to retrieve Allison. I reached a little further under the mattress. I reached up the mattress. I reached down the mattress. I reached under with both arms flailing. I looked under my pillow. I tossed the pillow and pulled the mattress off the bed. I looked under the bed. I looked under the circular area rug. I looked in my closet. She was nowhere to be found. Where had Allison gone?
Dread washed over me. Reality was sinking in. The magazine was gone. It had vanished. I sat on the floor perplexed, searching for answers. I kept landing on the same alarming outcome. I was going to die soon and I’d die a clueless kid.
I never did find out who took Clark’s magazine. My worst nightmare of a long painful death never materialized either. Although I suspected it was mom all along, I avoided confronting her from fear of the shame I’d feel if it had actually turned out to be her. In order to control the rippling implication of this scheme gone bad, I had to pay Clark off with five bucks. He calculated that was the price for his silence should he be tortured at some later date by his dad for information. Of course that never happened because his old man would have implicated himself in the process. After all, it was his secret stash to begin with. That in turn would require some real explaining to do to his wife, who, by the way, never struck me as the understanding type.
Nope, we all had our own motivation to keep quiet. The powder keg eventually diffused in a few weeks. Although my Mischief Night fund had been depleted to buy Clark’s silence and my longing for knowledge remained unsatisfied, I was still alive.
There’d be another day.