Debra Paget, a movie star in the 1950’s, was my “first love,” a love that was returned by one printed note and a handful of pictures in various swim suit poses. I had joined Debra’s fan club to fulfill my fantasies that she would one day return the love of this 8 year old Vashon Grade School student. It never happened and after a couple of years, I moved Debra to the foggy confines of youthful memories and took up stamp collecting.
Marvel comics always had a section of classifieds in the back of the comic book. On reading that I could have three stamps “free” if I ordered the package of 300 “on approval,” I started my stamp collection. I forgot to return the other 297 stamps and suffered letters from lawyers for two years having decided that I had “approved” of all the stamps they had sent me and kept them. My un-holy stamp collection only lasted so long, as my interest had turned to girls.
My old friend, John Sweetman remembers the sorrow of unrequited love, after sincere valentines forced upon us to make by our iron maiden teachers, those “stupid cards” they had us do as a class project? It was more like forced labor than a labor of love. How about those little pink heart-shaped candies with printed things on them, like “Be My Valentine,” whatever that meant. Or, “Marry Me,” “Crazy 4 U,” “Be Happy,” or “Miss U.” They made good ammo for rubber band guns made from clothes pins.
I only had love for one teacher, Miss Thurber, and she had just graduated from college to commute to Vashon Grade School to teach 6th grade. Mrs. Marston was too old to attract much attention and Mrs. Clark, who taught 5th grade, was too strict and married. Mrs. Van House was so mean that she made us stand in the corner or, take the time she shook Bobby Greg so hard she ripped his shirt and made him cry, the worst thing that could happen to a 2nd grader. Miss Thurber was kind and very young and good looking. I loved her because she could be taken advantage of and we proved it by cutting up so much in class that Miss Thurber would hide her face and cry.
I got to sit beside her one day on the bus, when she took us to the potato chip factory in Tacoma and could feel how warm she was with a faint whiff of perfume, not like the Elizabeth Arden “pee-a-boo” scent that our grandmother used and made her smell all over. We got to watch the potatoes being sliced and run on a conveyor belt to the hot fat and dried under red lights. All the people there were dressed in white with puffy green nets over their hair to keep the factory clean. We were showed how the chips were bagged and given a free sample to take home. One day Miss Thurber told us how she would be married and invited us all to the Church in Tacoma for the wedding. I was losing my love for Miss Thurber because I was mad that she got married and she was learning how to take care of us rowdies.
We started being attracted to girls and bumping into them in the hall or someplace by the lockers. They seemed to like it. We tried to invent ourselves into something we weren’t. We thought the more we swaggered, the better the girls would like it. There was a John Wayne matinee at the Vashon Theater and when we came outside, we all thought we were little John Wayne’s, bragging to the girls like how evil it was the way I put my arm around Sharon Osbourne, by stealthily creeping my hand across her shoulder. I knew she was laughing at me, and have thought about how dumb it made me feel, ever since I thought I was John Wayne.
Some guys bragged about imaginary success. They were the guys that went on to careers in used cars and siding sales… others just crept quietly away after being ignored…they just went to college.
After college, I fell in love with a judge with a crippled leg, as she had had polio. I was picked up on a DWI and sent to her court where she sentenced me to AA meetings, one of which she attended. I stood up and said, “I’m an alcoholic,” all the while pointing my finger at her, “And she is the reason I’m here.”