I had been carefully studying kissing for years. When the men pressed their lips against the women’s, they made sounds and sometimes even moved their bodies. My regular Saturday afternoon movie viewing provided me with a deep pool of endless and infinite kissing research. When Troy Donahue kissed Sandra Dee in A Summer Place, I carefully studied his posture, his attitude, and the formation of the very kiss itself, being born out of his lips exploding onto Sandra’s waiting, open, pouting mouth. I watched the way his arms looped around Sandra, how she seemed to melt into him. I was careful to not give myself away, to not be too conspicuous in my kiss-study. It was very important that nobody knew. My shame-filled secret was not the studying of the kissing; it was my perspective about the kissing.
The deep, dark secret was this: I wanted to be Troy Donahue. I wanted to have Sandra Dee in my arms, moaning her pleasure at my touch. But I really wanted to be Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass. This movie captivated me in both the power of its romance and the illicit danger involved in the kissing. Natalie Wood was mine-all of my thirteen-year-old self was dedicated to her dark-haired, moody beauty. In this movie, she came from the wrong side of the tracks, a strange and powerful adolescent turn-on for me. I sat, spellbound, as Warren Beatty, acting as Bud, the rich boyfriend, began to kiss her. I kissed her, too, right along with him, practicing, enjoying, reaping fulfillment and pleasure from my illicit, clandestine point of view.
One Sunday afternoon in 1961, I met my friend Gladys at the Jewish Community Center for Tween Teens Bowling. I was thirteen-a freshman in Scranton Central High School. It was time, I deeply realized, to “get with the program,” to pretend that I cared about the boys, the idle girl-chatter, the ranks of popularity, the hierarchy of cool kids. It was bad news, this teenage thing.
After a paltry performance at the bowling alley, Gladys and I sat at the snack bar, sipping our chocolate cokes.
“Want a ride home?” asked a strange, inconceivable voice. It was Alvin Pinkus, a Jewish kid from the Hill Section. He was short and squat, his madras Bermuda shorts and blue Lacrosse shirt sausaging his legs and his arms in strange, cotton casings. Although he was pimply, short, and nasally annoying, he still counted. He was a boy.
Was he talking to me? Impossible.
“Well, do ya?” he asked, nodding in my general direction. Gladys kicked me surreptitiously under the chair, goading me into response.
“Ah, well, um,” I sputtered. It wasn’t a huge yes.
“My brother can drop us off. Come on,” he shrugged, and started walking with long strides toward the stairs. I looked to Gladys with bewilderment, as she nodded wildly toward the stairwell. I grabbed my beloved bowling ball and case, and hurried after him, my apparent yet inattentive suitor.
Alvin was waiting outside, standing next to his brother Melvin’s rose-colored Ford Fairlane, its four windows opened to springtime. Melvin nodded a similar, grunted greeting, and gestured to the back door. I opened it anxiously, and tossed my precious bowling ball and bag in ahead of me. The leather of the seats was sun-warmed. I sat back and imagined I could breathe. Alvin sat in the front passenger’s seat, talking to his brother in low tones. My bowling ball and I sat in ignored silence. The car accelerated with a jerk, and we began our journey, the bizarre threesome that we were.
Finally, after a never-ending ten-minute silent drive, Melvin pulled his car up to the curb on Arthur Avenue and Mulberry Street, across from Nay Aug Park. I lived three blocks down the hill. Alvin got out, slammed his door shut, and opened the back door in one movement. I assumed that meant I should get out. I did, yanking the bowling ball and case after me. He thumped my door shut, as Melvin gunned the Fairlane, which spastically leapt away from us. I gestured a wild and ineffectual thank you in the direction of the retreating rose-colored car.
We stood there, strangers, Alan assessing me, while I attempted to keep up with the script in which I appeared to be a main character. I had no clue what was unfolding in my life as I stood on the corner of Arthur and Mulberry, tethered to the earth by my stylish leatherette bowling ball case.
“Come on,” he said, and started walking in the direction of my house. I acquiesced mindlessly, going through the role that was written for me.
“So, you like Moffit?” he asked, an obviously feeble attempt at inane discussion, as we headed down the hill. Mr. Moffit was the freshman English teacher that we both shared during fourth period at Central High School, a short, effeminate, dandy of a man who wore elaborate handkerchiefs in his breast pocket, dickeys of matching material, and soft, cream-colored socks. He was a gloriously glamorous and sweetly kind guy, who explained poetry and the elements of fiction with intricate hand gestures and deep, heartfelt passion. Both he and his teachings fascinated me. His class was the one feeble light in my day.
“Not really,” I replied, towing the party line. All the kids made fun of him.
“Yeah, he’s a fag,” Alvin confidentially offered, spitting into the street, as we lapsed into silence for the next long and endless block, the bowling bag handle beginning to eat into my palm. I tried to shift its weigh without calling attention to myself.
We got to the quiet corner of Mulberry and Linden, and collectively paused to assess our choices in the moment. My house awaited me just three fourths of the way down the block. The Haleys’ tidy stone house marked the spot for all to see, although there was nobody around. The block was still.
What was happening? Was he walking me all the way home? Why? What did he want? Did he like me? Maybe he liked me?
I was clueless.
He turned to face me, bringing his head close to mine, his Aqua Velva shaving lotion stinging my nose. He smiled wickedly, reached down, put his hand clumsily on my breast, and, with the other hand, pulled me close to him. My bowling ball fell to the earth of Arthur Avenue.
He pinched away at my breast for an endless moment, squeezing at it as if it were a cantaloupe being tested for ripeness. I was speechless, dumbfounded, without a thought. Then he unbelievably brought his head even closer to mine. Suddenly, with no apparent warning I could see, his lips were on mine, pressing and pushing their way into my mouth.
I stood in bewildered disbelief.
His lips felt rubbery to me, meaty and thick. I thought of the gross lamb chops my father liked so much, their meaty texture hardy and chewable. In this long, extended moment of the kiss, I had one brief thought: that one could chew upon Alvin’s lips, not unlike that lamb chop, with its hardy and beefy consistency. He seemed to be jabbing my lips with his tongue, but I thought it my job to keep my lips firmly closed, like I imagined it happened in the movies. We had a struggle there, with Alan’s tongue wildly attempting access to my mouth, my lips fixed and unbending.
After an eternity of kissing, this single, unending and painful kiss finally and mercifully did end. Alan jerked away from me with a deep exhale and a snicker. My lips felt gnawed upon and swollen. He looked at me, raised his eyebrows with a mysterious air, and said, “See ya,” as he turned with a jaunt and walked down Linden Street, leaving me in the horror and the wonder and the displeasure of my first real kiss.
Did he like me? Was this good? Did I do it right? My thoughts flooded, swamped each other, indiscrete and collapsed together.
I looked around. Still nobody in sight, thank goodness.
I assessed my lips. There was a tiny cut near the right corner, with a smidgen of blood on it, which I wiped away with the back of my hand. I rearranged my jean jacket and maroon turtleneck top, righting myself to continue along my journey. Tears for reasons I couldn’t understand built up behind my eyes.
I wanted Natalie Wood.