I do not usually divulge people’s real names here, but in this case, I will, because there were no shenanigans. My first-ever girlfriend was L___ S___.
I attended St. Joseph School in Portland, Maine, from when I was admitted at age seven, until I finished their eighth and final grade. Our classes were small, less than thirty students, and you have no choice but to become familial with your classmates. Hell, you’re growing up with them. I had many crushes on girls throughout our childhood together, but those girls were like cousins to me, or they were unattainable. K___ G___ was like the Statue of Liberty; what a prize she must have become. She was an easy comparison to Maureen O’Hara. C___ S___ arrived in about the sixth grade, and she was a bad girl. She smoked cigarettes, and on “dress down day,” she wore overalls through which you could see her underwear. T___ K___ was one of the most fascinating and intelligent young girls one would ever want to meet. In boyhood, many of us are preoccupied with war, World War Two in particular. T___ K___, at age thirteen, upped all of us boys by submitting and reading aloud a biographical report she had written on Adolph Hitler. I believe she was looking through us boys, and her report was concise and honest, as much as any magazine article I read these days. She sure was pretty.
We had school dances at St. Joseph’s, reserved for seventh- and eighth-graders, and I danced with every girl in both of those classes, bar none; I held every single one in my arms.
When I was about thirteen years old, my dad yapped at me about “what was I doing with my life?” I got pissed off at him, and I picked up the wildly, negatively-life-changing paper route; I started running with a cross-country team, running, another futile endeavor; I was already an altar boy, and I competed in spelling bees, but significantly, I also joined the Sea Scouts (aka the Sea Explorers). In his youth, my dad had been one, and it made him proud to see me in the same place. I cannot say enough about having been in that organization. Boy Scouts had to carry packs on arduous hikes. I was thirteen and fourteen and fifteen, and I was allowed to pilot a six-ton 35-foot craft with twin diesel engines and get the crew home safely. I worked bow watch on that boat and plowed through swells that were about to break six feet over my teenaged head, and I am among the world’s worst swimmers. I beat Navy and Coast Guard crusties at the pool table. What a thrill! Ever swab a bilge? Experience it once.
There were girls in the Sea Scouts, and our crew was enlisted by Portland policeman, Officer Treffery. He was truly a recruiter, and many of the boys and girls he got to be in our crew were kids he wanted to get off the street corners and out of broken homes. I like the bad girls, the lonely girls, and, in the Sea Scouts, they pervaded. Although I thought we were aligned, the ones I liked were having little to do with my youthful attentions.
We were going to have a dance, of which we had several, and at age thirteen, I felt I ought to bring a date. I looked, subversively, for someone to ask, and she was not to be from my eighth-grade class. I surely could not ask an eleven year-old sixth-grader out on a date, so it was to be the female representation of the seventh grade. Here was L___ S___. She was blond-haired and brown-eyed, which is like the combination of opiates and alcohol to me. Her lips were full and very red, and they twisted up like you see in portraits of 18th Century French or Russian royalty. She lived directly across the street from the school where there was a chain link fence and a gate. Of a morning, when the gate was locked - and I can still see her breath in the winter days - she would hop that six-foot fence like it did not exist. She would land, poised, on her toes, and I wonder if she ever knew I was watching.
Well, I was, and it was she that I decided to ask out on my first date. About a week or so before the Sea Scout dance, I got up the damn nerve. It wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t ask, and I knew where to meet her as she cut through the schoolyard at the end of the day. We eighth-graders got out a few minutes before the rest of the school, and I waited and fretted. I was also waiting on my brother, Patrick, a first-grader and my charge for the walk home.
As much as I was a first-timer at asking a girl to go to a dance with me, L___ must have been at least as taken aback. Besides the cousinly dances, my hailing her that afternoon was maybe the first time we had really spoken. I looked her in the eye, and the bell rang for all the little kids to get out of school. Patrick ran out and said he wanted to go home. I told him, “in a minute,” and tried not to stammer to L___ S___. Patrick started, again and again, kicking me in the ass and smacking me with his lunchbox, and I put on a brave face and asked her out, repeatedly being kicked and smacked by my little brother...
She said yes.
The parents happened next. Of course, being a youngster, L___ told her mom and dad (proudly, I hope) that a boy had asked her out. Portland, Maine, at the time, was a town of only about 60,000 people, and my Catholic enclave was divided into about four parishes. Rarely could any family elude the grapevine. Our telephone number was in the book, and it wasn’t an hour and a half before Mrs. S___’s call came in, wondering what the hell was I doing, asking out her daughter? In one of the most stunning elements of my experience with adults, both my mom and L___’s decided that the dance would be alright. Young, too young, or not, it’s what people did. L___ and I went to that Sea Scout dance, and she really was my date, and I felt big, because everybody else, older teenagers, boys and girls alike, even the bosuns, arrived stag.
After some time at the dance, I walked with her out to the pier, to show her our boats. There was the aforementioned cabin cruiser (made of steel, constructed in Holland), a wildly heavy dory that actually held a state license number in spite of the fact that we only ever rowed it, and a Korean War surplus rubber raft with a kick-ass Mercury outboard motor. I wanted to kiss L___, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to hold her hand, and I was very unsure of that. My palms were sweaty, and my voice, although I remember confidence in what I was talking about, felt like it was coming from another person. I did not hold her hand, and I did not kiss her. It’s funny that I had no qualms about wrapping my arms around her waist when we danced later to those terrible 1970s slow numbers. During those, she laid her head on my shoulder, and at my young age, I felt like a real person.
Early in my rock ‘n’ roll career, I was much maligned for portraying a misogynistic attitude. I knew what I was doing. I was making cynical fun of rednecks and coarse country music. Some people were offended. I thought I was being cute and making a statement. The Sam Goody chain banned Raunch Hands records. I have since had several girlfriends who were raped by a boyfriend or a relative when they were in their teens – or younger.
I continue to look a girl or a woman in the eye when I would be so bold as to simply ask to hold her hand.
To innocence, L___,
The rock ‘n’ roll element