inter 1972-73, I was 16 going on 17. I was naive and still a virgin, but it was my time to grow up, to taste the complexities of a burgeoning adulthood. I was never very good at doing what I was told. Mom told me that as the eldest I had to be reliable, my 8th grade teacher discussed being faithful to friends, country and God. But it rarely sank in. I was one of those stubborn kids who had to actually experience things before understanding them, before practicing them. So I learned values such as responsibility, loyalty, and obligation by trial and error. Of course, it sometimes seemed that the greater the error, the better the lesson. To continue…
“Hello?” I answered the phone.
“Hi, how was school?” It was DKLA.
“Okay. How’d you get our number?”
“I asked Angel.”
“Um… I’m not sure if…”
“I told him that I needed to get a hold of your sister.”
“Oooh… I mean,” I paused briefly, trying to figure out how to handle this situation. “Do you realize what’s going on?”
“Uh-huh. Angel’s been pretty obvious,” DKLA said.
“Then you know that you shouldn’t be talking to me.”
“Why? I can’t live my life based on someone else’s feelings. I have to do what I want to do, not what someone else wants me to do.”
“Besides, Angel’s not my type. You are.”
She said it. You are… I mean I am. I’m her type.
No sooner had she uttered these words that I had forgotten my dilemma. Angel? Angel who. This was my very first experience of having a girl tell my they like me. It was like an narcotic–not that I would know the effects of an illegal pharmaceutical product, mind you, but if I did, I was sure that it felt like this. I became light headed.
“Yeah, you’re my type, too,” I said, starting to giggle like her, like a girl. Among other things, I had yet to learn the value of remaining cool at times such as this.
We talked for an hour about everything, about nothing. The only thing that we knew was that we were interested in each other, and it became obvious that we wanted to pursue our feelings regardless. Although, I suspect now, in hindsight, that our reasons were different. While she perhaps was genuinely interested in me, I was more interested in experiencing the feelings of being wanted. I wanted to bathe myself in the euphoria aroused when one becomes the target of another’s desire. For too long I had been on the other side of yearning.
When I was 13, our 7th grade class went on a field trip to Knott’s Berry Farm. As a bunch of kids suffering through puberty, all any of us could think of was spending the day with a person of the opposite sex. Some of the guys in class already had predetermined partners. I hesitate to use the word “steady” or even “girlfriend” because back then the most we could do was hang out together at lunch or after school. Once we got on the school bus to go home, we re-entered reality and had to lead lives that did not allow for open girl-boy relationships, particularly in our Japanese American sphere. For two weeks, the topic of conversation was who was going to “date” who at Knott’s. I too wanted desperately to date a girl I thought was pretty cute, but I knew she was already set. I asked two other girls who I had heard did not yet have a date, but they rejected me. I ended up going with a skinny girl who rode the same school bus as I did–the sister of a Boy Scout patrol mate.
In high school, at 15, I once attended a mixer. I went to a private Catholic school–all male–and the girls who were invited came from other private schools in the area. My friends would never go. Why go? they’d say. There ain’t anyone you’d know. This was true, but I went anyway, because I wanted to hear the Flying Burrito Brothers play. (I dare anyone to say they’ve heard of this group!) At the mixer, I soon learned why my friends would not go. Everyone at the dance was white. There were a few Blacks and Hispanics, but 95% percent of the students there were white. At school the white population hovered around 65% I’d figure, but when it came to social events, this school turned white. I must have asked five or six girls to dance and every single one of them looked at me as if I was a Martian. I espied one Filipino girl and asked her, but she rejected me as well. Needless to say, I did not have a good time.
My first real job was at the confectionary shop in J-Town. I had worked since I was 14 doing maintenance work at my elementary school over the summer. They paid me cash–$1 an hour!–but it was enough to let me buy my own Panasonic radio-cassette player. But for the job in J-Town, I had to fill out an application form and submit a social security number. I was joining the ranks of tax payers. I had inquired K about the job over the phone and she told me to come in on Tuesday and ask for Billie. It was my first day of my first real job, and I was a bit excited. I walked into the store and told one of the lady clerks that I was new and was supposed to meet Billie. She nodded and went to the back room, and out came a cute girl in a white uniform. She introduced herself as Billie. After allowing me a moment to recover, she led downstairs to pick up a large bundle of boxes, then she handed me a stack of labels and a jar of glue.
“Here. Paste these labels on the lid. The black label little from the top and the green address label about a quarter inch from the bottom edge. After you finish, bring another bundle up…”
I was in love.
Billie and I got along well enough as work colleagues. But after a month, she quit. She had just graduated high school and was about to start college, starting with summer school. She had no time to work at the shop anymore, and certainly no time for me. I was crushed but did not give up. I asked her out to a concert, and she agreed to go see Dave Mason at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, as long as someone else came. So Angel came along, too. We had a great time, and even went bowling after that. But the evening ended with a solid “thanks” and a wave “good-bye”. While I had a serious crush on her and was still infatuated–I would pine away to anyone who would listen–I was not an idiot. I could take a hint.
So this heretofore unknown situation, of being the pursued rather than the pursuer, had a narcotic effect on me. And DKLA was the pusher.
“My parents are having a Christmas party next week, but, uh, you wanna come?”
“Who’s coming?” she asked, perhaps not so innocently.
“Just my parents’ friends. No one my… our age.”
“Hmmm, your house?”
“Yeah, say you’ll come?”
“Well, if I have to…” she said feigning helplessness.
That Saturday, I went to pick her up and we ate dinner at my house with my parents friends. The situation was almost perfect. Since my parents had to entertain their guests, they didn’t pepper me or DKLA with questions. We listened to a few songs in my room–a room that I had actually cleaned up willingly–and then we went bowling. (Yeah, it was pretty popular back then.) Around 11 o’clock, she said that she should go home–she was, after all, 16, and I had just turned 17 the day before. The whole evening, I had done nothing untoward. I was the perfect gentleman, mostly because I really didn’t know what to do. I was so naive.
But as I drove her home in my mother’s Camaro, she placed her hand on my sleeve and I instantly got nervous. Shit, what am I supposed to do when we get to her house? I laughed nervously, trying oh so hard to stay composed. Right, walk her to the door. But do I kiss her? Shit. Why don’t I have an older brother? I was turning into a wreck. Okay, I’ll kiss her… but what if she sticks her hand out when I try? Damn, do I just shake it? Oh, God, fuck, what am I supposed to do? When we reached her house, I parked in front and was about to get out of the car, but she stopped me.
“No, don’t get out.”
Oh shit, she wants to avoid the scene altogether, I thought, crestfallen. Was inviting her a bad idea? Was bowling a bad idea? Do I have bad breath? Oh man, here we go again. All these thoughts flashed through my mind in a nanosecond.
“Well, I should at least walk you to the door,” I protested meekly. “I think it’s the polite thing to do.”
“Look at the second window from the left,” she said, motioning vaguely to her dark pink house. I looked and saw the drapes pushed aside just slightly and the silhouette of a head peering through. “That’s my mom.”
Ooooh. DKLA reached into her bag, and took out a box wrapped in blue paper and a red ribbon. “Your birthday was yesterday, right? So here: Happy Birthday.”
I was speechless. I looked down at the box to accept the gift. I felt so flattered, so excited, so happy. “I don’t know what to…” I looked back up to thank her when she leaned over and kissed me full on the lips…
Next: Flame Out