The First Kiss

The First Kiss

It was a few days after Christmas, 1969. I was loaded down with 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.

Little did I know, this gift of cash would be the first domino to fall in a chain of dominos that would lead to the gift of euphoria.

I received a call from my close girl-type friend, Shirley, 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. Reluctant at first, I felt that hole burning where the cash was pocketed. I wanted to buy the Crosby, Stills and Nash album released the prior June. After a little more thought, the first domino fell. I met them at the corner of Bloomfield and Ridgewood Avenues to pick up the bus that would drag us out to the Willowbrook Mall.

I didn’t offer to drive them in the family car because I couldn’t. I was only weeks from turning eighteen and I did not have my license yet. I was afflicted with Boring Oldest Brother Syndrome, BOBS), a disease that attacks the maturity system; for example rendering one to postpone getting one’s driver’s license for as long as one possibly can. It’s quite crippling really.

Happily, I met them at the bus stop.

Shirley introduced me to Sue. 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, 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 beautiful. Her hair smelled like the freshest Breck shampoo for color treated hair I had ever laid nose on. And she was awash in Shalimar perfume, sending my olfactory glands into nasal nirvana.

During the bus ride to the mall, surprisingly I was 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. And the very best part, as I would learn later from Shirley, who by then had been ordained the puppet master of Bob’s love world, was that Sue didn’t just like me, she ‘LIKED’ me–as in capital letters–‘LIKED’ me!

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 away, my mind was dancing in heaven. But by the time we arrived back and disembarked where the adventure had all begun, heaven had turned to hell. It was all too good to be true. Rejection was moments away. Such was the fragile nature of my life.

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 beautiful collage 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 in the face of her pleasant rejection 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.

“Yeah, its dinner time and my brother is picking me up at Shirley’s in ten minutes.”

“Hey Shirls, can you give me a call later after din?” I asked, trying not to tip my cards too much.

“Yeah, no problem. I think we have something to talk about.” She was so obvious.

“Oh yeah? You think?” I coyly replied.

“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 affection?

I had to say something but what? What could I possibly say to rescue this sweet moment from the clutches of rejection like all the others?

I found it
.
“Okay then … catcha!” My rescue skills needed work.

“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. Oh well, I was noble.

I turned to Shirley.

“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?

“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. It will find its way–somehow. Thank you though for inquiring.” I indulged my inner self.

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 the puppet master’s call. Finally, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“She really likes you.” She got right to it, a trademark of her no nonsense style.

“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 Stevey hang up or I’ll chop up your GI Joe!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I didn’t like playing the GI Joe mutilation card but I was desperate to stop him in his tracks.

I listened into the receiver.

Click.

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 like me but I could care less’–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 situation.”

“What situation? I have no situation. I’ve never had a situation. I’m situation 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. 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 lived in this weird world where her dad 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.”

“Just be …”

“Gotta go. Catcha tomorrow night. Good Luck!”

Click. Dialtone.

My life line was gone in an instant. I was swirling in a sea of uneasiness. I wondered what should I do now?

I immediately ditched the idea of calling her, why take the chance of saying something wrong. So I went to bed counting the hours to Shnooky’s instead.

After a long day of worry, 6 p.m. finally rolled around and time to get ready for the big get-together. After showering with my English Leather soap-on-a-rope, I toweled off and sprayed my arm pits with Right Guard, enlarging the ozone hole over Antarctica by about fourteen square miles. Next the goods were crowbarred into two of my cleanest, tightest “fruit of the loom” briefs for precautionary purposes, as the night’s activities could easily trigger an embarrassing situation. 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, tag still attached, thick matching crew socks, desert boots, topping it all 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. It also might make a useful cover up should the double binding underpants fail to conceal things in the event of a 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 and 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, and 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, coming together in a circus of sensuality as harmonious as a Schoenberg symphonic poem.

This odor thing was very important because it was going to have to mask the pungent stench emitted by the two pounds of Clearasil I was about to cake on the pimples.

With pimples buried, hair combed, and lips glistening in Chapstick, I was ready to go out and 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 was as ready as I could be.

At arrival, I greeted Mrs. Shnooky, and 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 plaster-like Clearasil on my zits cracking. 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. Her hand was warm and soft; her fingers silky smooth to the touch. It wasn’t just skin a felt. It was flesh; wonderful, living flesh. Instantly, alarms were set off from my brain to every nerve ending in my body. I began to shake uncontrollably. I had three thousand layers of clothing on and I was shivering like a chilled baby. 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.”

“That’s weird.”

“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. I didn’t hear a word she said.

“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 played the tape back over in my mind until I found some key words to play off of.

“You want to take a walk?” I nervously repeated.

Oh God the touch of her hand was so nice, I pleaded internally ‘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 by the hand up the stairs.

We threw on our coats, gloves and hats, and exited out the back door. Once outside, she put her arm around my waste, and in a reflex reaction I put my arm around her shoulder. I had never hugged a girl before. 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 spastically, and even though my Clearasil was flaking off in crusty chunks, I felt like we were one being.

We continued to make small talk, during which I was able to get her to laugh as we trudged through the snow, crossed the freshly plowed street and walked onto the country club golf course. I didn’t want the moment or feeling to end. It was really dark out, although the dry white snow brighten the way by reflecting what little light passed on by. 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. Poor baby.” She lifted her arms up and grabbed the collar of my coat. I placed my arms around her waste.

“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 decided to gallantly cut her off at the pass.

“Yeah, I remember. Hey, look. You don’t have to say …” But before I could be gallant, her glossed lips puckered 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 sand trap we unknowingly had been standing precariously 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 one could hear were those of our silence and stare. And then she leaned down and kissed me.

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 whole teeth. Undaunted she tried again. This time we were fine.

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 what I was attempting to do is akin to capturing 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, they understand what I mean.

I will leave it at this–on Tuesday, December 30th, 1969 at 8:23 p.m. life for me had changed.