She was my first high school girlfriend. I say “girlfriend” because we made out. I mean I had been kissed before but this was different. This was “making out.” Replete with 14- year-old effort of clumsy will, the full effect limited only by parent’s expected return.

We were from different sides of the tracks. She hailed from the town next door, I was from the gritty city. She went to a better all-girls school and her class “dirty girl,” always quick to go a button down on the school blouse, a few inches up on the skirt. I was an ersatz low-level juvenile delinquent, seemingly a public school quasi-truant, likely cannon fodder or a mill hand in waiting.

One night during a school dance we were so close a teacher came by and put himself between us. He was a big guy with a football player’s demeanor. He separated us by the length of his outstretched arms and said, “You’re going down the wrong road.”

But we hit it off in some chemical way, the attraction was immediate and without any semblance of boundary. She was ready and more than willing. I was beside myself knowing I had found a girlfriend who, in the parlance of the day, “gave out.” 

I would go over to her town whenever I could, hitchhiking. She would get a ride to the city on the pretense of shopping or some such thing. We were ahead of our time as a shopping mall item.

One day I suggested we walk over to the waterfall in my town, Lawrence MA. She said there was no waterfall in Lawrence. But there is, an industrial waterfall, built in the mid-1800s by forward thinking industrialists to capture the essence of the new force known as “electricity.”  The electricity would power the mills lining the Merrimack River from the White Mountains to its mouth on Plum Island. There we could make out.

Like most all young love we drifted apart after a while. We lost touch. I got out of high school and left that burg, never to live there again. I would go back though, every now and then to visit the old folks and such.

 A few years after being gone I zipped in for a spell to say hello to Mom and Dad. I was driving through a rough patch of town when I passed a dingy barroom, a place that had never known a better day that I was aware of. As I drove by the bar who should be walking out but my old high school girlfriend.

I flung the car to the side of the street, sat on the horn and called out to her. She saw me and ran right over, hopped in and we started to laugh. We laughed about this, we laughed about that. We drove over to the waterfall. We made out a bit.

She told me she worked out of that bar. She said she did a lot of business there. She was getting paid that way. She had gone down the wrong road. I had run away, not with the circus but with the drifting of the arts bum I had become.  Better road it was.

I bought her lunch. She took me over to her apartment, a seedy joint for sure but there were no parents expected to come home. We made out some more, we renewed our chemistry. Then I left. I haven’t seen her since.



After My Storm

After Hurricane Carol in 1956 we all lost power for a couple of days. There were cars overturned, trees down and stuff all over the road. The only place open was Luke’s Variety, our corner grocer. Luke’s was maybe twice the size of the Screening Room lobby, tiny even by today’s convenience store size yet he was there for the neighborhood.

Everybody liked Luke. He was a Lithuanian immigrant who used to tell the kids that he had never seen a banana until he came to this country. Luke thought bananas were the exotic fruit of the New World. They were, in fact. He insisted he only sold “good” hamburger.

It’s amazing how fast news traveled back then even without electricity much less the net. It seemed almost immediately the word spread: Luke was giving away his ice cream before it could melt. Seemingly at once every kid in the hood was outside Luke’s. We were doing our part after the storm: we were gobbling down the ice cream. “It’s an emergency, eat it NOW!”

The hood was a string of “three deckers,” with the owners on the first floor, your uncle upstairs and maybe your newly-wed older cousin over that. My father was the home owner so had to deal with the hurricane’s aftermath.

I remember stuffing myself with Luke’s free ice cream as my father and I watched two other neighborhood guys argue over a TV antenna in the road. They were both laying claim to this massive contraption that was wider than a car and taller than my 6-year-old frame. Without this device you would miss the antics of Milton Berle, not know what Liberace was wearing that night, what antics Lucille Ball was up to. So these two guys were approaching blows over the thing.

My father reasoned that all they had to do was wait for the power to come back on and then turn on the TV. Maybe they could agree to help each other put the thing back on whoever’s roof. Just get it off the road for now.

It occurred to me it could even be ours. I never learned the end of that story but when the lights did come back Milton Berle was on, wearing a dress with a giant cigar in his mouth. My parents were laughing hysterically at the madcap essence of this guy. I never got Milton Berle, never knew why anybody would watch him but I was glad to see Howdy Doody the next morning when school was still out.