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Dancing Lessons

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Old 08-10-2006, 12:20 PM
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Dancing Lessons


This is a long story (8,200 words), but I think it's one of the very best stories I ever wrote:

Dancing Lessons

I stopped going to church when I was eight. My old man gave me a choice, to show how liberal he was. He said he would take me on Sundays if I wanted to go or I could stay at home instead. It was up to me. Was he kidding? What eight-year-old kid would choose to go to church if he wasn't forced to? You'd have to be a moron or a masochist. I didn't like the church building in the first place. It was sort of creepy with all those religious icons hanging from the walls and everything. The main room smelled funny and listening to the sermon wasn't exactly a picnic. I could tell nobody was really interested in what the minister was saying. Most of them looked bored or sleepy sitting in the pews, like they were serving a jail sentence or something. The worst part was when everyone pulled out their hymn books and started singing. I never heard so many lousy off-key singing voices all at once. They sounded so awful I always wanted to break out laughing, but I knew that would go over like a fart in an elevator.

My old man didn't want to go to church any more than I did. Neither of my parents was very religious, if you want to know the truth. They believed in God and all, but they weren't exactly pious in the way they lived. Not that I wanted them to be pious. I knew kids who had very religious parents and they were a pain in the ass. Always quoting the Bible and pretending they were better than everyone else. That sort of stuff drove me crazy.

My parents drank and smoked and even swore when they thought I couldn't hear them. I didn't mind any of that. What bothered me was how they felt about themselves. They both had low-paying jobs and no higher education and this gave them an inferiority complex about a mile wide. They worried constantly about what respectable people thought of them. To them respectable meant having a lot of money, living in a big house and driving a fancy car. That's where we parted company. As far as I was concerned, respect had nothing to do with money. I respected people who were intelligent, kind, generous and different than the typical jerks I had to deal with all the time.

I'm going off on a tangent, which is a bad habit of mine. What I really wanted to tell you about was this unusual Christmas experience I had last year when I was sixteen. It all started when I fell in love for the first time. It was with a girl named Pauline Lancaster, who was a year younger than me. She was a Catholic girl who transferred to my high school in her freshman year and ended up in my homeroom. At first Pauline was very shy and no one paid much attention to her except me. There was something I liked about her right away, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was. She was sort of cute, but far from the prettiest girl in school. She was almost as tall as me and had a sturdy build with large bones. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't fat at all. I would describe her as athletic looking, like she played a lot of tennis or something. But I think it was her face that really fascinated me.She had these intense dark eyes and pouty full lips. She resembled the actress Vera Miles, who didn't happen to be one of my favorite actresses from old movies.

I rarely went on dates because I didn't own a car or have much spending loot. Most girls won't go out with you unless you can impress the hell out of them with nice-looking wheels and money to burn. I know this is true since I've been shot down more times than a Jap Zero in a World War II movie. And it wasn't because of my looks. I'm not exactly handsome, but I'm a lot better looking than some of the rich dorks who get dates all the time. Anyway, I admired Pauline from afar in the beginning. After all, she was a freshman while I was a sophomore and I didn't want to look like I was trying to rob the cradle or anything. Also I knew practically nothing about Catholicism. Some guys made jokes about Catholic girls, how they didn't believe in birth control and wanted to get pregnant so they could trap a guy into marriage and so forth. I didn't believe any of that applied to Pauline. She was only fourteen, for Chrissakes.

I felt sorry for Pauline, being a new student in a school where she didn't know anyone. To make a long story short, I started calling her at home after school. But here's how I did it: I didn't tell her who I was. I just said I was a fellow student and I wanted to talk to her anonymously, if she didn't think it was too weird. Amazingly, she went along with the idea. I guess she was lonely and needed someone to talk to.

Sometimes we stayed on the phone for hours, talking about school, movies, books, music, philosophy -- anything and everything that popped into our crazy heads. It was great. Pauline was very sweet and never pressured me to tell her who I was. I found out she was smarter than I was, which didn't bother me like I expected. In fact it was kind of fun trying to keep up with her. She also had a fantastic sense of humor. She talked a lot about her older sister, Sue, who was a senior in our high school. When I told her I was an only child, she said: “Didn't you ever want to have a brother or sister?”

“Not really. I like being the center of attention.”

“You're terrible,” she laughed.

“You can be my sister.”

“All right.”

“My long-lost sister. We were separated at birth and raised by different families.”

“Sounds like a soap opera.”

“You haven't heard the worst of it yet. Our real father was a famous gangster.”

“Does he have to be a gangster?”

“Hey, who's inventing this story?”

“Sorry. Is the FBI keeping track of us?”

“Maximum surveillance. They hope we will lead them to the old man, who is still on the lam.”

“You watch a lot of old movies, don't you?”

“I wish I could live in one.”

“Why?”

“Things are much simpler in old movies.”

“But they're not real life.”

“I know, that's what makes them so great.”

Pauline understood what I meant right away. I didn't have to elaborate or backtrack or anything with her. It's like we were on the same wavelength or something. She knew I was different than most kids, but it didn't scare her at all. I think she found it downright charismatic. I normally hate the word charismatic because it's always used to describe people like politicians, military leaders and business tycoons. Pillars of the community make me want to vomit. They think they have the right to tell everyone else how to live, as if they were born with special privileges directly from God. They don't know their ass from a hole in the ground as far as I'm concerned. If they all disappeared overnight, the world would turn into a goddamn paradise. I really believe that with all my heart.

Getting back to Pauline, I think I fell in love with her on the phone. As unbelievable as this may sound, sex had very little if anything to do with it. All those nights while we were talking on the phone I never once pictured her naked or anything like that. I know boys my age are supposed to have sex on the brain 24 hours a day, and usually I do, but not with Pauline for some reason. I don't really know why because she was definitely sexy in her own way. She had this super healthy appearance like she was built to crank out lots of babies some day. She was very feminine with a soft voice and bedroom eyes. I was crazy about her, but I didn't necessarily want to jump her bones all the time.

Most of my sexual fantasies involved Lori Sandusky, whose old man owned a greasy spoon cafe downtown. Lori was so blatantly sexy she made guys drool at the sight of her. I used to go to the restaurant just to see her wiggle her ass in that cute little waitress uniform. I also slobbered over the photos in every old Playboy Magazine I could get my sweaty hands on. I'm telling you all this in case you wondered if I was fairy or something. I'm not, but I did know a fairy from school. He was a fat kid named Bernard Reston. He didn't sashay around with limp wrists or wear dresses or anything like that, but everyone knew he was a fairy. He wouldn't let anyone call him Bernie, it had to be Bernard. That killed me. He was a quiet kid who kept to himself and I didn't care if he was a fairy because he never tried to seduce me. If you want to know the truth, I felt kind of sorry for him.

I haven't exactly gotten laid yet, but I came close a couple times. Believe it or not, the first time was with a woman who works with my mother. Nora was only a few years older than me, nineteen or twenty I think, and one day I found her crying in the back room of the laundry. My mother and her worked in this Chinese laundry and that night the whole place was empty when I showed up. Nora was bawling like a baby until she spotted me watching her. Then she dried her eyes and pretended everything was all right, like females always do when they have a nervous breakdown. I didn't know why she was upset and I put my hand on her shoulder to sort of comfort her. She lifted my hand to her cheek and before I knew what was happening she was kissing me all over the face. I didn't know what to do except kiss her back. In the meantime Nora unzipped my pants and reached right in there to fondle me. This made me very nervous, but I decided it was too late to turn back. I was pulling my pants down when Ju walked in.

Ju was the middle-aged son of the laundry owner and he had gold fillings in his teeth. Those fillings almost blinded me when his mouth opened into the widest smile I ever saw. I jerked up my pants as Nora took off through the back door. Jesus, was I embarrassed. I started babbling to Ju, begging him not to tell anyone, but he just kept smiling for the longest time. Finally, he said: “Don't worry. I keep a secret.” I always liked Ju, but after he said that, I would have fallen on a hand grenade for him.

Before Pauline, I only had two close friends. Rudy Sylvester was this genius kid who originally came from Chicago. His grandmother was from Russia or something and Rudy could speak about ten languages. He was also a wizard in math. He could get straight A's without hardly studying, which used to drive me nuts. I had to work my ass off to get an A in any class and most of the time I got B's and C's.

My other friend was Harold Ward. He was a goofy-looking kid who worked in a drug store after school and on weekends. He owned an old Chevy and we used to tool around town in it whenever we got bored. The three of us hung out together because we were all from poor families and the snobs in school looked down on us. They thought we were losers since our parents weren't sitting on piles of money like their parents were. I hate snobs worse than criminals. Don't get me started on that subject or I'll go on for months. I could write a whole book on the social cliques in our high school and how they behaved like lemmings. Maybe I will some day.

I'll give you one example, though. The homeroom monitor, Jerry Cunningham, began bugging me to buy the class yearbook. He couldn't get it through his thick head that I had absolutely no interest in it. For one thing I wasn't even in the damn thing myself. I didn't show up when the photos were taken. I had better things to do than play the stupid game of pretending I wanted to keep a memento of my crappy days at Roosevelt High School. Like I might pull out the old yearbook some day when I was forty and get all misty-eyed looking at the faces of my classmates. The truth is I wanted to forget all but two or three of them as soon as I graduated. The other thing is I couldn't spare the money. My family wasn't exactly rich, but I couldn't explain that to a pampered jerk like Cunningham. He was probably born with a silver spoon up his ass, judging from the expensive clothes he wore.

Anyway, Cunningham kept bugging me about the yearbook until one day I blew up in his face.

“I don't want the goddamn thing!” I shouted. “I'm gonna fucking puke if you mention it one more time!”

I was shaking like crazy and the homeroom teacher tried to calm me down. I don't like to lose control of my nerves like that -- it scares me, if you want to know the truth -- but I couldn't take it anymore. Cunningham stood there looking at me like I was insane. The teacher finally made him go to his seat and then had this little talk with me. Her name was Miss Meckler and she was also my Spanish teacher. She was one of the few teachers I respected and I could tell she was worried about me. I apologized profusely and told her I was all right, but she still looked nervous.

“Really, I'm fine,” I said.

“Are you sure you don't want to go home?”

“I can't. I have a math test today.”

“Will you do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Please watch your language in class from now on. Okay?”

That's what I liked about Miss Meckler. She was always so nice to me when I didn't deserve it. Any other teacher would have sent me to the principal's office for swearing. To be honest, I had a small crush on her. I realize it sounds stupid because she was pushing forty, but she was sort of attractive in a strange way. The single men teachers swarmed around her like hound dogs with their tongues hanging out. I had the feeling she didn't date any of them. Maybe I was wrong, but Miss Meckler seemed to know she was too classy for guys like Mr. Gessen, the gym teacher who was trying harder than anyone else to get her in the sack. I didn't like Mr. Gessen because he picked on the skinny kids in gym class. It wasn't their fault they were skinny or sickly looking. They were mostly from poor families and I figured they couldn't afford to eat too well. Mr. Gessen didn't care about why they were skinny, he was on a personal goddamn mission to make them feel lousy about it. He had a stocky build and I think he was in love with himself. When he worked out, he acted like everyone was watching him flex his rippling muscles or something. I hate jocks, in case you couldn't tell. Most of them are troglodytes who should live in caves.

Anyway, it was a miracle Pauline wasn't in homeroom the day I blew my top. She was sick or something that morning. It would have been embarrassing if she had seen me flip out. I didn't want her to think I was a maniac because I really wasn't. I just had this low tolerance for bullshit, which was turning out to be a goddamn handicap in a world that runs on bullshit for fuel.

When I wasn't in school, I hung out at home most of the time, which drove my mother crazy. She claimed I would get cabin fever if I didn't go out and do something more often. Cabin fever, that was really hilarious. We didn't live in a cabin, but I knew what she meant. She was wrong, though. I really enjoyed staying at home when I was in the mood for it. My room was comfortable and I had my own TV in there. It was only a 13-inch black and white set, but who cares? I mean, the programs aren't more intelligent or anything just because they're in color. And I got to watch what I wanted instead of the crap my parents liked. You wouldn't believe what they watched. News programs two or three times a night. They were practically addicted to current events. If they didn't get their nightly fix, they got all cranky and acted lost. Like they were afraid current events stopped happening or something just because they didn't watch them unfold on TV. My parents think I'm weird, but they should take a look in the mirror sometime.

Last year I stopped watching nature programs on TV. They always showed lions murdering poor antelopes or killer whales gobbling baby seals. It makes me sick to my stomach. If that's nature, we're all in big trouble. My idea of hell is being born a predator and having to murder innocent animals to keep from starving to death. Lions might look regal and all, but they're in hell whether they know it or not. If God designed this gory arrangement, then he must have a sick sense of humor.

I didn't eat meat. Most vegetarians argue that meat is bad for your health, but I don't care about that. The only good reason for a vegetarian diet is compassion for animals. Even though some of them eat each other, we don't have to follow their bad example. We're supposed to have a goddamn conscience, aren't we? And please don't give me any crap about plants not deserving to die because they have feelings, too. Plants are a lower form of life that have to be eaten by animals. We can't eat dirt or rocks to stay alive. I would if I could, but that's not the way life was set up. I wasn't around when evolution made all the rules.

Usually Harold or Rudy dropped by my place a couple times a week to shoot the breeze. As if we didn't see each other every day in school. My parents aren't exactly crazy about them, if you want to know the truth. I'm not always crazy about them either, especially Harold. He can be a real asshole if you let him get away with it. When I told him about calling Pauline, he started giving me all this advice about getting her in the sack. Harold considered himself a lady killer, but most of the time he couldn't find his own penis with both hands. As far as I know, he's never had a girlfriend in his life. He claims he got laid one summer when his parents took him fishing at a lake upstate, but I don't believe him for a second. He's a terminal virgin if I ever saw one. That's why I got so pissed off when he needled me about Pauline.

“What if I don't want to get her in the sack?”

“Don't give me that,” he said, picking a pimple on his face. “You're so horny for that girl you can't see straight.”

“You don't know how I feel, so how about shutting your pie hole?”

“I'm surprised she didn't call the cops and report you as a stalker.”

“Knock it off, Harold. I mean it.”

“You're just afraid she'll freak out if she finds out who you are.”

He was sitting on my bed and I chucked a full can of soda at his head. It missed by a mile and bounced off the wall, spewing Dr. Pepper all over the place. I have a lousy aim when I'm mad.

Harold jumped up, wiping his shirt. “What the hell'd you do that for?”

“I was trying to give you a brain hemorrhage, but I forgot you don't have a brain.”

To make Harold shut up about anything, you had to resort to cave man behavior. He wouldn't listen to reason. If you tried to reason with him, he just kept running his mouth until you felt like strangling him or something.

Rudy had a girlfriend whose name was Selma. She wasn't all that much to look at, but she was pretty nice. The problem was Rudy felt sort of ashamed of having a plain Jane girlfriend. He was no Brad Pitt himself, but he thought he could do better than Selma. Most guys tend to think they can do better than whatever girlfriend they have, even if she's good looking. It's like the grass always looks greener on other girls for some reason. If Selma was my girlfriend, I wouldn't feel ashamed of her. At least Rudy didn't give me any flack about Pauline, though. He probably felt the same as Harold, but he had the courtesy to keep his mouth shut about it. To be honest, I didn't really expect either one of them to understand why I loved Pauline. I wasn't even sure I understood it myself. I had to admit it was kind of off the wall and hopeless. Sometimes being in love isn't all it's cracked up to be.

During Pauline's second year in high school, something really amazing happened to her. She went from being this lonely girl to Miss Popular almost overnight. It all started when she decided to try out for the cheerleading squad. I didn't think she had an icicle's chance in hell, but she was so excited on the phone I tried my best to be encouraging. I guess I should have known it was only a matter of time until everyone else recognized the special qualities in Pauline I loved.

Over the next couple months I noticed something ususual about Pauline. She was actually getting prettier. I had this strong feeling that Pauline would grow into a drop-dead beautiful woman some day. In case you haven't noticed, most women don't get more beautiful with age. A man tends to look distinguished when he's older while a woman usually loses her looks. I know this isn't fair, but it seems to be how things work out most of the time. Anyway, I could picture Pauline as this really gorgeous woman of forty or fifty, like Christie Brinkley or somebody.

After Pauline became a cheerleader, she started dating the quarterback on the football team. I admit I was jealous, but another part of me couldn't help feeling kind of proud of her. It was like watching this ugly duckling I had discovered blossom into a swan. I could tell how much she enjoyed all the attention she received and if she was happy, then I figured it was my duty as a friend act happy for her. Even if it hurt seeing her kiss another guy, which happened more than once.

After one Friday night football game, I went to a dance in the school gymnasium after the game. I hardly ever go to dances because I'm not much of a dancer. My big feet don't always go where they're supposed to go. I can handle slow dances if I concentrate on what I'm doing, but fast dances really throw me. Anyway, there I was in my stocking feet, leaning up against the wall like some wallflower while I looked for Pauline in the crowd. It must have been a hundred degrees in the gym and I was sweating like a pig. I was feeling pretty lousy and I had a crazy idea that seeing Pauline up close might lift my spirits. I finally spied her dancing with Mr. Quarterback to a fast tune. She had told me on the phone she was a great dancer, but I thought she was bragging. Watching her move on the dance floor, I realized she hadn't been bragging one bit. She was so hot the quarterback could hardly keep up with her. My eyeballs practically fell out of their sockets.

The next song was a slow one and I decided to make my move. The funny thing is I didn't know I was going to dance with her until that very moment. If I had sat around for hours thinking about it advance, I would have chickened out for sure. Now I figured the worst that could happen was maybe breaking a few of her toes and making a complete fool out of myself, but it would be worth it if I could hold her in my arms for a couple minutes. Later I could always go outside and kill myself if necessary.

“May I cut in?” I asked the quarterback.

“If Pauline doesn't mind.” Athletes always look for a way out, like trapped rats.

Pauline smiled at me and said: “No, I don't mind.”

I slipped my arm around her waist and we started dancing. I was surprised when she leaned her head on my shoulder. I worried that my sweat might be dripping on her or that I had bad breath she could smell. For the first minute or so I couldn't stop thinking about crap like that even though I knew it was stupid. I swear if I died and went to heaven, I'd start looking for faults in the place. I can't help it. That's just the way my mind works most of the time.

“I wondered if you would ever ask me to dance,” Pauline said, interrupting my bleak thoughts.

“I just got here a few minutes ago.”

She lifted her head to look at me. “That's not what I mean, David. I know who you are.”

I felt as nervous as a whore in church, but I tried to act nonchalant. “Sure you do. We're in the same homeroom.”

“I knew it was you calling me.”

I felt like crawling under the hardwood floor. “You did?”

She was grinning at me. “You didn't even try to disguise your voice. Some mystery guy you are.”

All at once I felt about two inches tall. I didn't know what to say, so I pulled her closer and hung on for dear life. By the time the song ended they would need a crowbar to pry us apart.

“It's all right,” I heard Pauline whisper in my ear. “I'm glad it was you.”

My mind went sort of hazy after she said that, like I was in a dream or something. I quit worrying about sweat and halitosis and stepping on her feet as we glided around the dance floor. The song seemed to last for hours and I didn't want it to ever stop. The sweet odor of her hair made my nose tingle. She felt so good in my arms I wanted to laugh and shout and do cartwheels in the bleachers. I was completely whacko and loving every second of it.

Then the goddamn song ended and I felt this awful letdown until I saw the expression on Pauline's face. She looked really happy. I'm not kidding. Her face was all lit up and smiling and I knew I had a lot to do with it.

“Call me later tonight,” she said.

“Who, me?”

“I want to give you some tips on dancing.”

She was razzing me, which didn't bother me at all.

“You think I could use a few lessons?”

“I'll make a long list.”

“Don't be a wise guy.”

God, was I in love with her. That's why I had to leave when the quarterback barged over. I couldn't stand watching him touch her with those meaty paws, not after I knew how she felt in my own arms. I stopped at the exit door to take one last look anyway. Pauline was staring at me and she made the telephone sign with one hand, smiling the whole time. Jesus, I thought. This girl really likes me even though she knows how weird I am. Every time I think I understand girls they do something to prove I don't.

I walked home instead of taking the bus. It was cold as a witch's tit, but I wanted time to think and I can't think on buses. Riding a bus, you have to sort of act as if you're in a play or something. You have a role and it's all laid out ahead of time like a script. You can play the bored commuter or the happy guy rushing home to a birthday party or a dozen other roles. But you can't think outside the script. At least that's how riding a bus is for me.

I understood why girls went for guys like the quarterback. I wasn't exactly crazy about the reasons, but I understood them. It all boiled down to biology. In the animal kingdom females tend to mate with the brawniest males to insure survival of the species. Women get all hot and bothered at the sight of brainless neanderthals with handsome faces, which I think is a shame for the human race. I mean, what kind of kids are they going to have with that type of guy? Good-looking maybe, but they sure as hell won't win any Nobel prizes or cure cancer.

What I have a hard time understanding is how love fits into biology and evolution. Sex has an obvious purpose, but what is the survival value of love? If it doesn't help us survive as a species, then why are we all so goddamn obsessed with it? It doesn't make any sense when you think about it. As much as I like old movies, I have to blame them to a large degree. They're always showing people falling in love in moony romantic situations. I think I got most of my ideas about love from old movies, which is why I'm not exactly a lady killer in real life. Girls are a lot more complicated than how they are portrayed in movies.

By the time I got home I felt as frozen as a popsicle and depressed from thinking too much about biology and everything. If you're a scrawny guy like me, biology isn't the most cheerful subject to ponder. I felt like I was getting a cold and I went to bed that night without calling Pauline. I didn't want to talk to her while her hormones were still raging over the quarterback. I wouldn't know if she really enjoyed talking to me or whether it was just spillover from necking with the Touchdown King.

A week or so later I had this wonderful experience and that's what I really wanted to tell you about when I started writing this a couple centuries ago. I was downtown walking around with all the Christmas shoppers and I started feeling a strange glow inside me. I always liked Christmas because of the gifts and all, but this was really different. The snow on the sidewalks looked sort of magical, like I was in a fairy tale or something, and I could barely feel my rubber boots touch the ground. I was practically floating along the street. Everyone I passed was smiling and for some reason I suddenly felt happier than I had been since I was a little kid. I was no Christian since I didn't believe Jesus rose from the dead, but for the first time in my life I think I loved the whole world. I really did. I had this very calm peaceful feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if everything was perfect exactly the way it was.

That's when it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was all because I was in love with Pauline. My love for her had sort of ballooned out until it encompassed the whole goddamn world! The answer was so simple it was staring me in the face. To love the world, you had to start by loving one person with all your heart.

I felt like I had figured out the meaning of life or something close to it. I know that sounds conceited, but I don't think it was really me who did it. It was all the people in history who tried to understand why we are here and they were letting me in on the secret of their discoveries. You see, I'd always wondered about the meaning of life ever since I read a novel by Somerset Maugham, "The Razor's Edge." I was only fourteen and it really blew me away. This guy named Larry Darrell goes around the world looking for the meaning of life after a tragic incident. He was a pilot in World War I and his buddy flies a mission in his place because Darrell is hung over or something. The friend gets killed and Darrell knows it should have been him that died. He wonders why he is still alive and starts searching for the answer. He takes all kinds of ordinary jobs to work his way around the world while he's looking. After working in a mine somewhere, he goes to the Himalayan mountains and studies with these Buddhist monks. One morning he watches the sun rise and all of a sudden he figures it all out -- why we're all here, the purpose of living, the whole shebang.

The tricky part is Maugham never tells the reader exactly what Darrell figured out. He leaves that up to your imagination, which really impressed me. If an author comes right out and tells you the meaning of life, he doesn't know shit from shinola. But if he leaves it up to you to figure out, then you know he's on the right track. The whole point is to discover the meaning of life on your own since no one else can just lay it on you like a school lesson. If they tried, the words wouldn't make any sense to you.

Anyway, that day when I was walking around downtown, I think I experienced an epiphany like Larry Darrell in the Himalayan mountains. I didn't have all the answers or anything, but I found one important truth. To phrase it in reverse: people hate the world because they don't let themselves love one person completely.

I know Jesus talked a lot about the importance of love, how you should love your neighbor and even your enemies and all that. I have nothing against Jesus as a philosopher, I really don't, but I think he missed the boat on love. You can't love everyone. It's just not possible in my opinion. And I don't think it's human nature or very healthy to love people who hate and mistreat you. Jesus tried that with the Romans and all it got him was crucified. The sad fact is some people make it impossible for you to love them. Maybe they had lousy childhoods or something and it's not their fault they aren't lovable, but it sure as hell isn't your fault either. I think it's much smarter to love people who deserve it. They might be few and far between in your life, but they're worth waiting for. Even if they don't love you back, at least you'll know you didn't waste your love on the wrong person.

Eventually, I had to do something to commemorate Pauline helping me learn how to love the world. I took all of the money I had saved to a jewelry shop and bought this beautiful locket for Pauline as a Christmas gift. I hand wrapped it myself and mailed it to her address so it would be a surprise. I included a Christmas card signed “Your anonymous admirer, David.” I hoped she would get a kick out of the anonymous part as a sort of inside joke.

What happened later may be hard to believe, but I swear I'm not making it up. One night I got a phone call at home. It was Mr. Lancaster, Pauline's father, and I could tell he was mad as hell. He started raving about how inappropriate it was for a near stranger to give an expensive gift to a 15-year-old girl like his daughter. I tried to explain I wasn't a stranger, near or otherwise, but he barely let me get a word in edgewise. He kept repeating that he wouldn't stand for it, shouting so loudly I had to move the phone receiver away from my ear to keep from going deaf. Finally, he ordered me to pick up the locket the next day at his house.

“May I speak to Pauline?” I asked as politely as I could.

“She doesn't want to talk to you.”

“I don't believe that, sir.”

“Don't you ever telephone my daughter again. Do you hear me?”

“I'll talk to her in school.”

“You stay away from Pauline or I'll have you thrown out of school.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“I won't have my daughter associating with a juvenile delinquent.”

I couldn't take anymore, so I hung up. I was shaking like a maniac and my mother noticed.

“Who was that?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” I said and went directly to my room. I laid down on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I felt really weird, like I might throw up or something. Jesus H. Christ, I thought. The crazy bastard believes I practically raped Pauline by sending her a Christmas gift.

The next day Harold drove me to the Lancaster house after I explained the situation to him. He didn't make any wisecracks on the way over, which surprised me. I guess he could see how upset I was and decided to act like a human being for a change. Walking to the door, I slipped on the ice and nearly broke my goddamn neck. I was about to ring the bell when I spotted a brown paper sack on the doorstep. The boxed locket was inside, minus the Christmas wrapping. Lancaster wasn't even going to open the door. He had left the locket outside on the doorstep as if it was a turd that might stink up his house. As I returned to the car, I saw a man's face peek out of the curtains across the picture window. I felt like tossing a brick through the window just for the hell of it, but that would only prove Lancaster's claim that I was a juvenile delinquent. The bastard probably wanted me to do something like that to show Pauline how right he was about me.

As we drove away, Harold said: “Forget that girl. She's out of your league.”

“I knew you'd kick me when I was down.”

“It's the truth, David.”

“She won't go along with her old man. You'll see.”

But I was wrong. After Christmas vacation, Pauline avoided me in school. I couldn't believe it because I thought Pauline was different than other girls. I thought she had a mind of her own. One day I trapped her in the hallway outside of homeroom before she could scoot away like she had been doing every morning.

“What's going on?” I was pretty hot under the collar and I think I sprayed her with a little saliva, unfortunately.

“I can't talk to you anymore.”

“Why not? Because your father said so?”

“I'm sorry.”

“You don't have to listen to him.”

“Yes I do.”

“Bullshit!”

“You don't understand.” She had tears in her eyes by then, which made me feel guilty for yelling at her. Women always tear up when you say something you wish you could take back.

“Don't you know I love you?” I said as softly as I could.

“I'm sorry.”

She turned and ran down the hallway, disappearing around a corner. I knew it was pointless to chase her, so I just stood there feeling numb. The numbness started in my head and moved down my body until it reached my toes. I walked around the rest of the day feeling like a goddamn zombie or something. It was really scary and I wondered if the numbness would ever go away.

Although I didn't turn into a zombie or anything, my senior year in high school was pretty depressing. For one thing I was forced to see Pauline every school day and it was embarrassing the way she always averted her eyes when she noticed me looking at her. I didn't try to talk to her, but it was killing me. I considered dropping out of school and hitch-hiking to the west coast to get a job on a cargo ship -- until my parents threatened to have me arrested as a runaway. I wouldn't put it past them to do something like that. I didn't want to rot in some stinking jail, so I bided my time and found some diversions to take my mind off Pauline.

Harold and Rudy and I started drinking beer whenever we could persuade a wino to buy us a couple six-packs at a liquor store. I didn't exactly drown my troubles in booze, but I taught them how to swim. I figured if I was accused of being a juvenile delinquent, I might as well start acting like one and enjoy some of the benefits. Like the Saturday night the three of us got drunk down by the river and drove over to Kathy Kunkel's house with an M-80 firecracker. I heard on the school grapevine that Kathy, Pauline and a couple other girls were holding a pajama party that night. Kathy's parents' car was gone when we arrived, like I expected. You can always count on parents to take off when their daughter plans something stupid like a pajama party. They don't want to stick around and listen to all the giggling.

Anyway, we got out of the car and crept around the house to the rear bedroom window. And there they were prancing around the bedroom, laughing like hyenas. Only they weren't wearing pajamas. They were dressed in panties and T-shirts. I lit the fuse and tossed the firecracker behind us. When it exploded, the girls ran to the window and saw us. What happened next was really funny. They reminded me of the Keystone Cops as they scrambled around the room bumping into each other and shrieking while they grabbed things to cover up with -- sheets, pillows, stuffed animals, anything. It was like a goddamn Chinese fire drill. Finally, Pauline and Kathy came back to the window and jerked it open.

"What are you doing out there?" Pauline demanded, staring directly at me.

"You're not supposed to talk to me, remember?" I wanted to remind her of her holy vow to her father, but I had to admit she looked pretty good standing there half naked.

"Rudy Sylvester," Kathy said. "You should be ashamed of yourself."

At that point Rudy and Harold bolted like rabbits. I turned around and strolled away, but I was so drunk I tripped over a lawn sprinkler head in the darkness and fell flat on my face. I don't remember much of the rest of the night. The booze probably had something to do with it.

Anyway, when I woke up in bed the next morning, I wanted to die and get it over with. My mouth tasted like a flesh-eating animal had taken a crap in it. My head throbbed, I had double vision and the bedroom seemed to be rotating. I crawled to the bathroom on my hands and knees and threw up in the commode. If this was a hangover, I sure as hell didn't want any more of them.

We didn't get into any trouble for that night, I guess because Pauline and the other girls were too embarrassed to tell anyone. We saw them practically nude and I don't think they wanted that kind of news to get around school. The whole thing was pretty hilarious when I thought about it later on. Once in awhile you have to do something crazy if you want to keep your sanity. I realize that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's true anyway.

The special Christmas experience happened a year and a half ago, but it seems like a century ago for some reason. I still think about it a lot because I know I discovered an important truth. Even though things didn't work out between Pauline and me, I don't want to hate the world. There's too much of that going around and I don't want to be part of it. This is the only world we have and if we all end up hating it, the world will turn into hell. Sooner or later I have to find someone or something in the world to love as much as I loved Pauline. If I don't, I'm afraid my whole life will be a goddamn waste.

In a few days after we graduate from high school Harold, Rudy and I will pile into Harold's old Chevy and drive to California. We plan to play it by ear after we get there. Maybe we'll stop in San Francisco and check out the Golden Gate bridge on the way to Los Angeles. Every new trend always seems to start in California before it spreads to the rest of the country. It's like California exists partly in the future and that really appeals to me. Also, I'm curious about California girls. They have this very wild reputation, if you know what I mean, and I want to find out if they're as crazy as I've heard.

All I know is I have to get out of this town. The last thing I want to do is hang around after high school, get some crappy job in a factory and pretend this shithole is Shangri-La just because I happened to have grown up here. I've seen a lot of guys do that and it's really depressing. I swear it's like they're scared of going out into the world or something. I want to see as much of the world as possible before I kick the bucket.

I think about Pauline when I'm not feeling so hot, which is a lot of the time lately. I know it really isn't her fault her old man is a bastard. For some reason girls tend to worship their fathers whether they are bastards or not. I just wish Pauline had shown a little more backbone under the circumstances. She would never believe this in a million years, but I don't think any guy will ever love her as much as I did. I really don't. Maybe some day she will realize how much she let me down, but I'm not holding my breath or anything. You can't hold your breath when it involves a girl coming to her senses. If you did, you'd die years before it happened.

It's a long drive to California and I'll have to find some way to keep myself entertained along the way. Otherwise, I'd go crazy looking at all those wide open spaces in Utah and Nevada. I'm used to green trees all around and empty deserts spook the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth.

In California I plan to take dancing lessons. Pauline was right about me being a lousy dancer, even if she was only teasing. I learned a few moves from her that I'll never forget, but I need to know a lot more to land my dream girl in California. Girls appreciate a good dancer as much as a handsome face or a muscular build. If you don't believe me, take a gander at a Fred Astaire film sometime. He had beautiful girlfriends in real life as well as in his movies and it sure as hell wasn't due to his looks.

Some day I might go to the Himalayan mountains like Larry Darrell. They're called the roof of the world, which is a pretty classy description when you think about it. I wonder if I could find out why I'm alive by spending some time up there. With my luck, though, I'd probably run into the Abominable Snowman and get eaten while I was looking for a good spot to watch the sun rise. Wouldn't it be funny to end up as Snowman poop on the roof of the world?

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Old 08-11-2006, 01:17 PM
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Oh, come on. 21 views and not a single response! Good, bad or indifferent, hit me with your best shot. I have thick skin.
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Old 08-11-2006, 03:37 PM
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Hey starr,

I actually read this last night and didn't have time to respond. Anyway, I really liked it - top notch storytelling. I also appreciated the rather unusual aspects like the phone calls and the ability for the narrator to think things through rather than over react like the average, melodramatic teenager, which I see far too many of in these kinds of stories.

There were a few nit-picky edits concerning typos, but nothing major. However, some of the tangents the narrator went on seemed a bit lengthy. I appreciate the details and all because it really helped build his voice and character (and stays true to his self-admitted flaw of too many tangents), but I think I may have found it easier had there been maybe one or two fewer, just to streamline it a little.

All in all, nice work, as usual.
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Old 08-11-2006, 04:14 PM
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Ok. This is the first time I've looked at it, by the way.

'still on the lamb' - everywhere else I've seen this written, it's been spelt 'lam'. I don't know which is right.

'Before Pauline, I only had two close friends.' - someone you haven't told your name is not a close friend.

'I hate jocks, in case you couldn't tell.' - by this stage, I pretty much took it for granted that he hates most people. Frankly, this pisses me off.

'If God designed this gory arrangement, then he must have a sick sense of humor.' - even God can't get it right for this guy, huh?

Right. I absolutely can't fault the penmanship of this - couple of very minor typos, but that's all. Really though, the narrator came across as a pain in the neck, which meant I came to not care about what he was saying. Credit where it's due for creating such a clear picture of the guy, but he struck me as petulant, immature and arrogant; basically just too emo for his own good. I could find literally no redeeming features to him, which I think is dangerous in a narrator. I also found the whole 'straight-talking' style a bit wearing in a story as long as this, especially with all of the sentences being so short.
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Old 08-12-2006, 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted by lucyj
'I hate jocks, in case you couldn't tell.' - by this stage, I pretty much took it for granted that he hates most people. Frankly, this pisses me off.
'If God designed this gory arrangement, then he must have a sick sense of humor.' - even God can't get it right for this guy, huh?
... the narrator came across as a pain in the neck ... he struck me as petulant, immature and arrogant ...
These comments left me in stitches. Of course he hates most people and is judgmental, petulant, immature and arrogant because he's an American teenage boy. I suppose teen boys in England are so much better behaved.
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Old 08-12-2006, 11:05 AM
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Hey! Nice work! I really liked it! This is the mistake I caught:
(Sshe had these intense dark eyes and pouty full lips.)
You put two s's in she.
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Old 08-12-2006, 01:06 PM
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You were talking about a laundromat at the beginning, but simply called it a laundry. Your use of language also wasn't too appealing to me, but I guess it would fit with the character nicely, especially since it is an American teen boy. It's long, but definitely a believable story. Good job!
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Old 08-12-2006, 06:35 PM
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Originally Posted by starrwriter
I suppose teen boys in England are so much better behaved.
They certainly don't whine so much.
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Old 08-12-2006, 09:51 PM
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Originally Posted by lucyj
They certainly don't whine so much.
Angry Young Men was a 1950s and 60s literary movement of young English writers whose fictional characters shared certain rebellious and critical attitudes toward society. This phrase became popular with the production of John Osborne's play "Look Back in Anger" (1956). The word angry is probably inappropriate; dissident or disgruntled is perhaps more accurate. The group expressed discontent with the staid hypocritical institutions of society -- the so-called Establishment. Among the movement were playwrights John Osborne and Arnold Wesker and novelists Kingsley Amis, John Braine, John Wain, and Alan Sillitoe. -- HighBeam Encyclopdedia

Awful lot of whining there. Across the pond, it's called complaining or raging against phony social customs and many people consider it good for the soul.
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Old 08-13-2006, 01:34 PM
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I am English, remember? You don't need to educate me. You think I haven't read Room at the Top? Saturday Night and Sunday Morning? The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner?

I was just trying to point out that your character comes across as whiny because he seems to regard his 'hatred' of these different groups as self-justifying. He is not rejecting society's hypocrisy, or any other infuriating aspect of the Establishment, but several strata of society itself for reasons which are not very clear.

I know, I know that you're going to say 'Well there you go, isn't that just typical of teenagers?'. The point is, I don't care if it is or isn't, because that was never my point until I got dragged into the Brit v. US kids debate. The point I originally put forward was that, in my opinion, if people find the narrator irritating and one-dimensional, they may lose interest in the story. That was all.

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Old 08-13-2006, 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by lucyj
I am English, remember? You don't need to educate me ... The point I originally put forward was that, in my opinion, if people find the narrator irritating and one-dimensional, they may lose interest in the story. That was all.
I'm sorry if I went too far, Lucy. I was only trying to needle you a bit. I understand what you mean and I appreciate your feedback.
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Old 08-13-2006, 05:36 PM
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Oops. did I sound all offended? You know you can say what you like, right? It's nice to argue with someone who fights back. Don't take it personally - I don't.
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Old 01-25-2012, 09:09 PM
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Similar to my situation growing up, lovely. =]
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Old 01-26-2012, 04:29 AM
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I like it I like how it was written.
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