Beth Shea sat a couple desks across from me. And every time I looked over at her I would get this funny feeling. Like the air around her was sprinkled with magic pixie dust or something. I don’t remember much about Beth Shea except she had light brown Buster Brown bangs, and she wore little white schoolgirl dresses. And one time during class she raised her hand and said: “Teacher, I think I smell a fire.” Sure enough, the dumpsters behind the school had caught fire. And the teacher alerted the custodian who put out the fire before it burned the entire school to the ground and we all died a horrible death (so she saved my life!). That’s just how I liked my women: cute and smart.
Everything about Beth Shea seemed magical. It was like there were all the other billions of people on the planet. And then, Beth Shea. Like she existed as a special species of one. Even her name seemed magical. “Beth Shea. ” Years later I would become a big New York Mets fan, and I always wondered if it had something to do with them playing at Shea Stadium. Such is the mysterious power of love.
The second girl I fell in love with was Darlene Damilton; 5th and 6th grade. Darlene was a skinny little thing, with big, saucy cat-eyes and a look of pure mischief on her face. I was constantly mocking her and making fun of her. I guess to hide the fact that I liked her, or maybe just as a gambit to get her attention. One time, the teacher even reprimanded me in front of the whole class and told me to never say that Darlene had cooties ever again. So it dawned on me that the making-fun-of-her gambit wasn’t working.
After school I’d watch as Darlene Damilton walked off in the direction of her house. I was intensely curious about where she lived and who she played with. I was convinced it was some kind of magical realm where she lived.
The first boy-girl “party” I ever went to was in 6th grade, and I knew Darlene would be there so I really wanted to look sharp. I wore my favorite shirt — this purple and green paisley shirt (this was the Swingin’ Sixties after all) along with an orange dickie (this fake turtle-neck thing). My fashion sense hasn’t improved much over the years. I remember we all stood around in the cafeteria listening to records (singles) on this cheap record player, and drinking Coca Colas out of the bottle. I remember “Penny Lane” by the Beatles, so it must have been around 1967. I mostly just stood around in my orange turtle-neck trying to look cool, and nothing much happened. Which is pretty much how it would go with me and parties for the next 45 years.
The other thing I remember is finding a love note on my desk one day. I came back to my desk and there it was, hidden under one of my books. It had been folded many times, and my name was written in pencil on the top. When I opened it up I was bitterly disappointed to find out it wasn’t from Darlene, but from Ann Castanzeretti — this quiet little Catholic girl who sat two desks behind me. And that would be a fore-runner of my star-crossed destiny in the game of love, for pretty much the rest of my life.
Every now and then, I’ll still do a Google search on “Darlene Damilton” to see if she’s still out there. But so far nothing has come up. Typical.