It’s Friday night. Maybe this is September of 1963 or it could even be as late as April of 1964. The sky is the same cobalt blue as a bottle of Midnight-in-Paris Perfume, illuminated by a fat, gauzy, golden moon that seems intent upon inspecting all the blue, fluffy clouds floating under its watchful beams. We are walking through a dense ground fog rolling in from the beach that, quite happily, is not cold, but just warm enough to awaken all dormant things that will demand to uncoil, stretch out, live, reproduce, thrive and then do it all over again once they get a sense of how things work.
I am 14 and lovesick, prattling on and on to my friend, Thelma, about how much I love Thibeau. Part of the reason I have sought her out is that her brother, Robert, is best friends with Thibeau, and I think there’s a random chance that I may see him at her house visiting Robert. But instead of seeing Thibeau—or even Robert—I get to watch Thelma wash her hair with green Prell Shampoo in the kitchen sink. Then I get to watch her set her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, while she talks about the guy SHE likes. After all the rollers are firmly secured with bobby pins and a kerchief, we decide that a walk is in order since there’s nothing else going on. We head out into the fields, a huge, wild expanse of tall grasses and scrubby trees, that will one day be a parking lot for big city stores like W.T. Grants and E.J. Korvettes. But not now, not yet; there is still time and space in this world for magic.
Thibeau is my desk mate in French class—for some reason, there are double, instead of single, rows of wooden desks, the kind with the inkwells that no longer work. I’ve had the remarkable, good fortune of being paired up with this tall, lanky Thibeau guy, the only kid in the whole school who plays a TUBA, of all things! How cool is that? The desks are bolted to the floor, so we are a captive audience for each other. He’s a senior, I’m a freshman. This is bad news for me, since seniors NEVER date freshman. The good news, though, is that we both inhabit the same range of dorkiness. It’s rather clear to me that this could be the start of something big. It feels like a budding romance, but it may just have been a sweet respite from the constant awareness that I was being judged negatively—if only by myself. We all know who the beautiful people are—and most people know they are not one of them. Also, these were the days before real acne medication was available, when a star on your work meant it was truly excellent, and plastic trophies hadn’t been invented yet. Your ego took a beating every day, especially if you had stupid clothes, fly-away hair, dumb shoes, and maybe even buck teeth. Oh, yeah, and all your friends were, luckily and unluckily, just as goofy as, if not goofier than you.
The usual awkwardness of boy-girl interaction is somewhat neutralized between Thibeau and me since I love to laugh and he loves making me laugh. Thibeau apparently likes me a lot too, if only because everything he says is so hysterically funny that I guffaw at his jokes, which earns me dirty looks from the teacher and some of the more serious students, many of whom are also seniors. But I don’t care. Thibeau is, in fact, my dream man. Miraculously, when the bell rings each day, he walks me to my next class, and then leaves, as he has early dismissal. Unfortunately, this involves no hand-holding, no exchange of phone numbers, no “So what are you doing this Friday night?” kinds of questions—just a goofy, embarrassed glance or two at each other’s face.
The fields are just across the street from Thelma’s house. We find the narrow path and Thelma is walking ahead of me. She’s got a transistor radio. By now, she’s got to be sick of hearing me go on and on about Thibeau. The tinny, scratchy static shuts me up while she tries to tune in to one of our favorite disc jockeys, Cousin Brucie or B. Mitchel Reed. Finally, we are held captive by the radio waves transmitting the driving, pounding beat of the Ronettes’ hit, “Be My Baby.” We continue walking in single file, oblivious to everything except the blue moon, the electric clouds, the fog which becomes part of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, the libidinous, rhythmic thwacking of castanets and shivering tamborines, the vibration of those droning horns which magically synchronize with the chirping crickets and the thumping “boom-pa-boom-pah” punctuation of something that cannot be contained, like a dam that’s about to burst, but just before it does, the music releases a torrent of lyrics which pours forth all the longing, the promises, the what-ifs and the entreaties belted out by these nubile, hip-swiveling beauties, articulating everything that no adult could ever understand.
I remember nothing more about that night, except knowing that the enchantment of that moment would be with me forever, how what was burning so intensely in my heart could manifest itself in all of nature and how a song could thread itself through a needle, and stitch it all together, for one other-worldly, soul-aching, heart-breakingly hopeful glimpse of Nirvana.
For the rest of that year, I remembered that night. I continued to harbor the illusion that Thibeau would ask me out, or ask for my phone number or mention some dance, or a movie, or a party, or hold my hand, or say goodbye because he was graduating, or something, but no. Was it too over-the-top to think he’d ask me to the Senior Prom? Yeah, I guess so, because that never happened.
On the bright side, at least I got an A in French. The bad news is that I forgot most of the French. The good news is that I remembered all of the magic.