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The First Day of the Rest of My Life, Part One

July 8, 2012

Many people in their life have been sent to the principal’s office.  Those that haven’t likely know someone who has.  Virtually every teacher has sent a student there.  It is very rare, however, to find someone who was sent to the principal’s office in kindergarten.  Indeed, I am the only person I have ever known who was sent to the principal’s office on the first day of kindergarten.

Anyone that knows me now would likely be surprised to discover I was a quiet, shy child who rarely spoke.  This is not unusual for a five year old, but I also suffered from a dreadful stammer.  I learned very early on that few people were interested in patiently tolerating a stutterer, and many would express that intolerance with cruelty.  Thus, on the first day of school, with no incentive whatsoever to draw attention to myself,  I did my best to blend into the wallpaper.

And I have to say, kindergarten was kind of fun.  We played games, we chased each other on tiny bicycles in the courtyard, we learned about animals, and we took a nap!  I remember that the night before my sister had succeeded in frightening me with the news that I would be in school for the next thirteen years.  I don’t know what she was all worked up about.  I could so do this for thirteen years.

Before that reality check would arrive on day one of the first grade (Desks?  Math?  No nap time? Have I been sent to a Gulag?) , I had another one waiting for me.  Being the early seventies, the California education system had embraced a theory called “essentialism.”  Essentialism was the view that there were no inherent behavioral differences between boys and girls, that gender roles were 100% socially constructed, and that both sexes were “essentially” the same.  All we had to do was educate our children in an enlightened way, and these sexist and oppressive gender assumptions would be gone in a generation.  A Utopian idea (that would eventually require its own reality check), but what it meant for me was that boys and girls would be partnered up and working together at an activity normally associated with a specific gender role.  Today, we would be cooking something in the kitchen, and I was partnered with Lori Saunders.

I don’t remember what it was we were supposed to cook (with an EZ Bake Oven, no doubt to allay safety concerns), but I remember Lori vividly.  She had pig tails and wore a blue polka dot dress–the kind of thing mothers and aunts and grandmothers would see at Osh Kosh, and react with a deafening chorus of cooing.  Lori introduced herself–and shook my hand!  She instantly learned my name!  Oh my God, she was talking to me! To be honest, she pretty much talked nonstop.  She clearly required no conversational input from me, and I was happy to oblige.  Unlike my constantly talking sister, though, Lori’s chatter wasn’t as irritating as a swarm of gnats on a humid summer night.   If it was possible to be smitten at age five, then I was smitten.

Clearly an expert on the EZ Bake Oven, I listened transfixed as she explained to me the device’s many mechanical nuances, a litany of what she had baked with the help of the amazing sixty watt light bulb, and who in her family had enjoyed these treats the most.  Then, there was a pause–she probably needed to breathe–and she fell silent.  Lori stared at me a moment, clearly expecting me to pick up my cue and begin speaking.  Uh-oh.  I didn’t want to talk and have her hear my stammer.  What if she laughed?  What if she made fun of me?  Or worse–what if she looked at me with pity?

Her mouth curled into a kind smile, and I knew instantly what I had to do.  Most five year old boys, I suspect, didn’t know moments like this existed, but most five year old boys didn’t spend Sunday mornings with their fathers watching old black and white movies they didn’t fully understand.  But I understood enough to realize that Lori Saunders, just like all those equally beautiful movie starlets, wanted me to kiss her.

So I did.  Not a gentle peck on the cheek, but a full-on lip smack.  No tongue, of course–I didn’t know that was a thing yet–but I knew from the movies that when a girl wanted to be kissed, you kissed her on the lips.  Perfect!  Who needs to talk when you can just kiss?

I don’t really know how I thought Lori would react.  Would she say something pithy and Lauren Bacall-like:  “It’s even better when you help?”  Maybe, like Rita Hayworth, she’d sigh and yank me back into her arms for another. I do know that I wasn’t expecting the color to completely drain from her face and for her to scream.  Not just any scream–a long, blood-curdling shriek, like a coyote with its foot caught in a bear trap.  It was at that moment I realized I may have done something wrong.

And what happened after that?  For next time.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Keith permalink
    July 8, 2012 4:26 am

    Very funny man! With that 60 watt bulb cookin the food and settin the mood who could resist a little howyoudoin?

  2. July 11, 2012 8:25 pm

    Thanks! Glad you responded so well to the…um…romantic aspect out the story. 🙂

  3. July 12, 2012 4:37 am

    Awww!! Such a sweet, poignant, yet funny, story!

  4. July 12, 2012 5:24 am

    Oh, my! How scandalous!

  5. July 12, 2012 11:01 am

    It was certainly treated that way, as you’ll see next time.

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