We craved some intimacy with each other that was probably sexual in nature but we didn’t know how to express it yet so we stayed up late talking on the phone and fell asleep next to the handset, and when the sky got light in the morning we checked to see if the other one was still there, and both of us were.
I wiped the drool off my mouth and she mumbled back, and we made plans to meet, we hadn’t even seen each other yet: she was friends with a girl I’d just started seeing but somehow, got on the phone when I was trying to reach the other girl, and there was a huskiness in her voice I liked, and she sounded mischievous, moving in on her friend’s new boyfriend, me. I interpreted that as an advanced level of womanhood and it turned me on. The deceit made me feel dirty, in demand.
But I was still living at home and neither of us were old enough to drive yet, so she had someone drop her off and there we met on the doorstep of my parent’s house, and she was what we called “built” back then (Dawn calls it developed early) and wore perfume, a winter’s coat and make-up, and smiled brightly: and my dad drove us to the restaurant and we walked down the steps and everyone looked up, and they pulled her chair out and I waited for her to sit, and then we opened our menus and began.
She had other plans later, a basketball game. She went to a different school. She was friends with the girl Jessica I liked and who liked me, but she had some things to say about Jessica that suggested it wouldn’t really work out for the two of us. And this girl, Kristin, was brunette, which I liked. Jessica had fake red hair. Jessica identified with the punk scene, as did I, and there was a Venn diagram where the two of us met in the middle through mutual friends, though we went to different schools. And there was an edginess to that: girls from other schools. Like you could do stuff and no one would know, or somehow girls were more exotic and appealing a town or two over.
I bought dinner, I don’t know how. It was the same restaurant I later took my first real girlfriend Marie, when I gave her a ring with the lyrics to a Police song on stationery folded inside the box and she cooed, and I was pretty much set for a while.
It was the same restaurant by the railroad tracks where my dad used to jog, the house in Bethlehem that was Tudor style, it had timber framing I later learned was called Fachwerk, a German thing.
We had a coal stove and dad found a cache of coal down by the tracks along the river, and bit by bit started hauling it back to the house in a rucksack, all summer: and when fall came the onion cellar was full of it, but when he lit the first fire we realized it’s the kind of coal that doesn’t burn, so he had to find a way to get rid of it, and threw a couple chunks into the baseball field across the street from our house into the outfield every morning, bit by bit until it was gone.
Things didn’t pan out with that girl Kristin or her friend Jessica. And I worried if I affiliated with Jessica I’d get beaten up or harassed by a large punk she’d gone out with before, who I’d sometimes see at shows around the mosh pit. I counted, and there were three bands I saw there before I turned 16: the Ramones, The Dead Milkmen, The Circle Jerks.
Her punk ex was large and deft, the way he moved around the pit, with a sidekick who was a real loudmouth and skinhead, who wore wife beaters and blue jeans, and shot his mouth off because he knew he had his larger friend to back him.
I stood around the edge watching them and sometimes got in myself. It was like a human blender; you had to go in the correct direction and get up fast if you fell so you didn’t get trampled. But people helped each other out, and I liked that. It was controlled violence, a real dance, therapeutic.
Jessica’s ex and his sidekick hooked arms and threw fists in a showy fashion that was likely ska in origin. It was self-conscious in hindsight but a thing of real beauty. At the Ramones show though, most of the crowd were bikers, a lot older, and stood back with sunglasses and leather jackets and frowned—and us younger ones in the pit had to be careful not to bump into them.
I bought a T-shirt at the show that said We’re A Happy Family with a cartoon setting of dysfunctional figures sitting around the table. I wore it to school and got comments, which I liked.
And I started to identify with music that was anti-this, anti-that, that didn’t fit in. It felt better around the edges; the jocks and popular types weren’t as interesting. There were people like Ed Morrison and Stefan Sanchez who wore eyeliner and combat boots and camo to school and talked openly about masturbation at the lunch table and I thought, these are my people. They seemed to have more going on, they were more in tune with themselves.
Now Lily is on her second boyfriend even though the first one didn’t materialize, it was all virtual. There was an exchange and some consent through the newly established norms but then he announced he didn’t like her after all (and then, that he was ‘only kidding’)…so we moved on from him to another, and now this one seems legit, though so much of their exchange is foreign to us, most of it exists on their phones.
And so the handset is dead…and what conventions from our pasts we try to assign to this generation will be challenged, as it should be.
And for however much we try to relate to one another it will only get more complicated the easier it appears on the surface…and intimacy, it seems, will become more rare, less natural…but easier to manufacture from afar.
Painting by Bernardino Licinio – Web Gallery of Art: public domain (1520’s).