Monday, March 10, 2014

Tales of a seventh grade courtship, or just be yourself -- except when that seems like a bad idea

Today, the first in a series in which I look back to look ahead. Unless I decide I want to write my next post about how I never appreciated the music of Jackson Browne until two years ago. And also I post in which I spout some advice and platitudes that I pretty clearly ignore within three paragraphs.

I never planned on being in another long-distance relationship. Which seems pretty obvious, since I've never really planned on being in any relationship. Which is also not the same as saying I've never wanted to be in a relationship, at least from the age of 12. Or 13. Or whatever age I happened to be by the time I began junior high school (which was a type of school people used to go to before it was replaced by middle school, which sounds more corporate and less angsty).

It's that the wanting and the planning have usually been approached with remarkably different levels of effort.

I wanted real bad.

I was also shy real bad. In my mind, that made the doing somewhere on the difficulty level of landing a covered wagon full of cavemen on the moon. Did I also mention that I didn't have a girlfriend until I was 22? From the age of 13 (or 12), I may have only gone out on a few outings that only now, in retrospect, appear as though there was a chance I could have considered them as dates at the time, had I been so bold.

For all I know, the sands of time that have conspired to thin my hair and expand my love handles in an effort to make me more desirable to women as I've settled comfortably into my forties. More likely, I was a shy skinny kid unaware that no matter what your best qualities are, you'll always be more comfortable and confident if you put your best qualities out there for the world to see. So maybe I should have worn tighter Wranglers in junior high to better accentuate my sweet, sweet butt.

Or I could have been more okay knowing it was okay to be myself. Then again, what 12-year-old knows that?

Back to the girlfriendless years, also known as that time before I could legally drink in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Nothing through the end of sixth grade really counts, even in the swinging 70s and the early days of the Reagan Revolution there weren't a lot of swinger parties involving randy, velour and plaid covered 10-year-olds. Seventh grade was when the battle lines were first drawn in the world of pre- and early-teen dating. Those first whispers of so-and-so having a crush on that one over there and parents taking Sally and Brucie to the movies on a Saturday night. There was even the discovery that Janey was dating a ninth grader from the high school. Imagine what they must have been doing on HIS couch after school! Since I had been sneaking peaks at Playboys when I had the opportunity, I could imagine. Granted, what I imagined was very air-brushed, playing volleyball, and conducting long interviews with Gore Vidal.

This was a whole world I felt like I wanted to be a part of, and I even had a love interest in mind (keep in mind, this might seem like something I was planning, but don't worry because it did not end well). There was a girl in my homeroom as well as all my other classes (on my team, in the parlance of 80s junior high education speak) whom I had convinced myself on some cosmic, seventh-grade level that I had fallen in (the seventh grade version) of love with. Or at least wanted to go steady with.

As near as I could figure then, and now, going steady was some exclusive combination of advanced note passing, furtive between period hand holding, the occasional parent-chaperoned weekend movie, and if you were really lucky, an awkward makeout session in the darkened computer lab/closet in front of the sickly green glow of the screens of the Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. With all this in mind, I had worked myself to ask my homeroom sweetheart to go steady, or go out, or be my girlfriend.

There was one huge roadblock to all this, other than not having a clear idea of how seventh grade boys asked seventh grade girls to be their girlfriends. Alas, the object of my affection was also the object of affection of one of my best friends. To anyone who was even remotely paying attention, it was obvious that the object of my affection wanted to be more affectionately the object of my best friend.

This next part is probably the most unusual and frankly, quasi-adult part of Operation I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Make Out With You in the Computer Closet. For the first, and probably the only time, I had an adult-like conversation with my friend about my intentions regarding the mutual object of our affection. Showing a remarkable amount of class, or perhaps just knowing the ultimate outcome of my whole ill-conceived charade, he said he was okay with me making the first move in trying to board the going steady train.

With clearance given, the pressure was on. This was the dark days before Google, or even Ask Jeeves, and unless I wanted to glean the tea leaves from a rousing game of Oregon Trail, there was no computer-based knowledge depot where I could figure out how to ask out a girl.

On the face of it, I came out of the gate with with would should have been, if not fool-proof, at the very least an adequate plan given all the rigamarole I laid out earlier about being confident in your strengths. I decided to go with the one-two punch of writing a letter and using humor.

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered even if the letter combined the wit of Twain with the poetry of Shakespeare's sonnets. After all, it was obvious to everyone at Memorial Junior High School that she was infatuated with my friend. For chrissakes, he wore a fedora! Everyone wanted to wear his fedora!

But the allegedly humorous letter I drafted in Bic black ink and passed to her in homeroom at the last possible second before we vacated the class for the afternoon buses was quite possibly the biggest affront to letter writing humor with the exception of the book I imagine in my mind that Larry the Cable Guy wrote containing his love letters to Sally the DishTV Girl.

More than 30 years later and I'm still willfully blacking out most of just how awful that letter was. The underlying theme of the whole fiasco was that I purposely misspelled just about every word in the letter. Maybe I was two decades ahead of the time in predicting txt speak, but man, thinking about it now, I'm amazed I ever again transcribed a single word onto paper or tried to be funny.

I don't remember exactly how the rejection came, but it was gentler than I deserved for being an embarrassment to the English language and not owning a fedora. I think one of her friends told me she thought the letter was cute (sure, likely story!) but that she was really interested in my friend. All I know is that within one week, I saw the two of them making out in front of the sickly green glow of the TRS-80s, the first computers to ever grace the darkened closets of Memorial Junior High School.


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