while back, I read a first kiss story by California Girl. I thought it was rather cute and a really good topic, so I have decided to borrow it. Thanks girl. But when I think about it, I have already written about my first kiss which was with DKLA. Still, I have another “first kiss” story. Okay, it’s not officially a first kiss, but in my memories–as faded as the photographs that conjure them up–the second one feels like my first real kiss, DKLA notwithstanding
As I have explained here ad naseum, I come from a generation that was not as promiscuous as the current generation of young Asians, so my first kiss may not seem so extraordinary. In 1973, I was seventeen and playing piano with guys who were trying to get a band together. We were not particularly good, but we had dreams of grandeur–well, as grand as a group of JAs could have back then. Our goal was to play at the popular Asian dances in LA of the 1970s, mostly JAs, some ABCs.* The guys in the band seemed to know a bunch of cute young ladies and I was dying to get to know them as well. Virtually all these girls, however, were eastsiders, and the problem with them was that they were rather stuck up–they were cute and they knew it. They were kind enough to actually give me the time of day, but it seemed to be because I was potentialy going to be in the band. This did not sit well with me.
Sailor and me on the corner of 1st and San Pedro in J-town
Fortunately, I often hung out with Diddly, our drummer, and he was developing a relationship with Dori, a Chinese girl from South Central, who had a friend named Sailor from the westside. Now westsiders were just as cute as eastsiders, but reputedly friendlier. And this was certainly the case with Sailor. It was late summer and by then our band had begun to play gigs more frequently on the weekends, sometimes Fridays, usually Saturdays, and Sailor would tag along with Dori–who was always with Diddly–to watch us play. On nights when we didn’t have a gig, we’d go to other dances to check out the competition.
One Friday, we went to a dance at a nameless hall in Monterey Park. Diddly was with Dori, and with her, Sailor. Now, I had talked to Sailor on a few of occasions–usually after we had played a gig and were hanging around for the rest of the dance. We seemed to get along fairly well. but it was mostly small talk–you know, chit chat about the latest song we played–American Band by Grand Funk–dance steps, gossip of mutual friends who were getting together or breaking up. But on this evening in MP, Sailor looked particularly cute in her short-sleeved yellow blouse and denim bell-bottom pants, good enough to eat… so to speak.
Click to hear “Cotton-eyed Joe” and get a taste of the kind of music JAs listened to back then. Personally, I love this song. Or maybe it’s the memories it conjures up?
We started our familiar –and increasingly comfortable–chats, dancing to a few song in between. Although underaged, buying drinks at thes dances was not difficult if you knew the right person–being in a band really had its perks. I bought her a couple of Singapore Slings and I drank Harvey Wallbangers. I tried to be as sophisticated as I could be as we drank, as we talked, as we danced. Then the band, Free Flight, played “Cotton-Eyed Joe” by Jo Mama, a slow song. I couldn’t resist, and pulled Sailor onto the dance floor. She put her arms around my neck and I hugged her loosely at the waist. As the song continued, she placed her cheek to my shoulder as we swayed slowly back and forth.
I could easily blame it on the Harvey Wallbangers, but I found the courage to hug her just a bit tighter than I usually would. I could feel the contours of her body against mine, and I was getting… horny? No, that’s not it. It wasn’t about the sex. But I didn’t really know how to explain it. Today, I suppose, I would say that I wanted to explore a relationship. But back then, all I remember thinking was that I wanted to get to know Sailor better, as a person, as someone whom I might enjoy being with more often in settings besides dances or band practice, away from crowds and prying eyes. I suppose she felt the same, because she clung to my neck a little tighter as well, as if she welcomed the closeness of our bodies.
Suddenly, I sensed eyes were on us. I looked around and saw that everyone had dispersed. We were the only ones on the dance floor still dancing. Crap, we were so much into ourselves that we hadn’t noticed that the song had ended! A guy I knew pointed at us and bent over in laughter. We looked at each other, embarrassed, but then we burst out laughing. It felt so natural, so wonderful, so… right. Then, without thinking, I reached for her and pulled her closer and kissed her. It was one of the strongest impulses I’ve ever had. It was something I just had to do. It wasn’t long or deep, but it was firm and meaningful–or so it seemed at the time–it certainly wasn’t a peck on the cheek. Then I grabbed her hand and we hurried off the dance floor, laughing again. There was a slight buzz around us, but I didn’t pay attention to it–I didn’t care if it was about us or not. All I wanted to do was take Sailor outside, escape the heat of the dance hall and, um, talk some more. But before I could do so, Dori came up to us abruptly and said, “We have to leave.” She looked quite upset. We asked her what was wrong, but she just shook her head, grabbed Sailor, and led her away to the parking lot.
I followed them to Dori’s car and insisted on going with them, but Dori kept shaking her head. “No, stay here with HIM.” Sailor looked and me with eyes that revealed her concern for her friend. I took it as a cue to step back and let them go.
It had been so perfect up until five minutes earlier…
I went home to call her, only to realize “I don’t have her fucking number.” Frustrated, I was left to wonder what had happened. Around 2AM, after the dance had ended, I decided to go to our local late-night hang-out, the IHOP on Atlantic Boulevard. Di and El were sitting by themselves and I joined their table. They couldn’t wait to tell me what had happened. Apparently, Diddly had been checking out another girl and Dori got really pissed off. They had had a loud argument in the lobby of the hall, and she had been screaming that she was leaving him. All I could do was shrug a shoulder and sigh my eyes closed. Then El reached over and poked me in the rib. “You little heifer.”
“What?” I asked.
“We saw you and Sailor on the dance floor, dancing by yourselves,” she said accusingly.
“Yeah,” chimed Di. “And then you kissed her. Right in front of everyone.”
“Man, that was too much, you sly dog.” El added and they giggled as they recalled the evening.
I laughed with them rather uneasily as my thoughts were still with Sailor. The next day, Diddly wouldn’t give me Dori’s number and I didn’t know anyone who might know either of their numbers, but I eventually got to see her at the next dance. By then, Diddly and Dori were back together again–if only for a few more weeks. Sailor and I talked about the previous week, rather awkwardly, as I recall, but I asked her out on a date and we ended up staying togther for most of my senior year of high school.
We had other memorable moments–and fights–but none of them will compare to that night 32 years ago. I can close my eyes right now and still envision the moment, the song, her clothes, the smell of her hair… and that first kiss.
* I think most will recognize JA as an acronym for Japanese American, but just to be clear, ABC stands for American Born Chinese.