mavis and ringo
Last night Amy mentioned that there's a couple of boys at school who like her.
A few minutes later, after the mental images of Amy and me touring the country in search of just the right nunnery had passed, I started thinking about my own first crush.
It's 1964. Second grade. A year has gone by since The Big Event, JFK's assassination. Every morning before I walk to school with my two older cousins, we turn on the record player in my room and listen to a 45 -- "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and the flipside, "I Saw Her Standing There." We sing along, wishing we had long hair.
"Well she was just seventeen... you know what I mean..." I was just beginning to know what they meant - girls and boys, eventually, given enough rope, will get tied into relationships with one another. It had to be true if the Beatles were singing about it.
And so every morning before school, we sang about it too. We got dressed, ate breakfast, brushed our teeth, and then went into my room. This was a test. For the next 2 minutes and 34 seconds, this trio would conduct a test of the Emergency Growing Up System, which meant that as we sang along, each of us got to be a Beatle according to our pecking order. As the youngest, I always had to be Ringo or George since Paul and John were the most popular and were available to be mimicked only by the senior members of our little trio. I didn't care about not being McCartney or Lennon, I was just grateful to be a Beatle. At last I belonged.
This thing I finally belonged to was the youth culture. I'd jettisoned my first stage, and the Beatles were boosting me out of the gravitational pull of my parents. I was less of a pet and more of a person. It sure felt different from the year before when my cousins and I were Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (no, I never got to be Alvin either).
Girls. What was the deal here? How come they weren't so icky anymore?
I thought maybe the deal was that if you liked them they'd like you back, an arrangement that fell flat on its face as soon as I looked at every other male/female relationship going on around me. And even when boys were nice, some of the girls at school threw real hissy fits for no reason at all, just like that girl on Dennis The Menace. But something was making me do goofy bashful stuff. And there was this one girl...
She was not of my class. She was, in fact, not even of my grade. She was a first-grader and yet, for some reason, I felt like I was not worthy of her. It must've been her beauty.
At recess, I couldn't take my eyes off her. She had freckles and was taller than the other girls, and lanky, with straight shoulder-length brown hair that kind of rocked from side to side as she played tetherball.
Since this was before the onset of romantic gossip and internecine sexual warfare, the kind where you can depend on classmates to do reconnaissance and relay messages, I was left to my own devices for intelligence gathering.
I had to learn her name, and since she wasn't even in my grade, this would be a difficult mission. How to maintain stealth, yet garner the information? When a man is desperate you can sometimes see him raise his hands skyward, begging the Love Gods to give him a sign. One day after lunch, as I peered at her over my Miracle Whip and bologna, I saw her throw her plaid lunchbox down with the others at her classroom door. It was the kind of lunchbox where not only is a matching thermos included, it also comes with a tear-off sheet of big black block letters for slipping into clear plastic pockets on the side, thus spelling out your glorious magnificent name.
Say it with me now. Mavis.
Thank you, Love Gods. With this knowledge I could now approach her and... and... just what would I do? I hadn't given it much thought. It was time to plan.
Maybe this is where the habit started. To this day I tend to overthink matters, playing the devil's advocate, running worst-case scenarios and what-ifs into the ground until I'm paralyzed with indecision. But in second grade I had no track record of immobility, so I lunged ahead with a plot to meet her, marry her, and see her into old age.
I sat in my room and on a small notepad drew a diagram of the playground. From memory I marked the points on this map where she tended to play: tetherballs, jungle gym, hopscotch. Knowing that simply standing next to her all recess long might arouse suspicion, I plotted out a course around the playground that I could walk while at all times being within sight of her. Then I marked the most likely places for an "accidental" encounter. I even toyed with the possibility of dropping an anonymous note at her feet while running by, one that states something to the effect that she has a secret admirer. Or should I use my name, be blunt, risk rejection?
I opted to write out the note first and decide later whether to put my name on it.
It began "Mavis, I really like you a lot." Man, oh man, I really was a writer! But then came the second sentence.
"I think you look a lot like Paul McCartney."
Which was true. She did. I went on some more about her and about me and about us, but it's hazy now.
As proof that my little capsule had not completely left the atmosphere of mommy and daddy, I showed the finished letter to my mother. She suggested that Mavis might not take too well to the McCartney reference. I was baffled as to why not. McCartney, after all, was cute beyond measure. Didn't she know this?
Nevertheless, that criticism was enough to scuttle the project.
My family never moved when I was in school so I saw a lot of the same people all the way through until graduation. Mavis never moved either. Throughout my stellar elementary school career, there she was, just one year behind me. Did she know that I was good at spelling? Was she aware of the fact that I was the fastest runner in the school? (It's true, you know. I was. Thenk yew.) The second fastest was Matt Baumann. I think he overcame this deficit by being cuter than I ever could have been, when he developed, in third grade, this little nose-crinkling thing that just drove the girls giddy.
Years later, now safely mature in sixth or seventh grade, I mentioned to Matt that I had this attraction to Mavis. He crinkled his nose and said "Eew." That's when he told me Mavis was his next door neighbor.
In the past I would have made a deal with the devil to become the second-fastest runner if I could get to live next door to Mavis. But now, with Matt's prosaic review I was stricken with doubt regarding Mavis' charm. What did he know that I didn't?
Matt went on to be King of the Prom in high school, lettered in all sports, and probably somehow parlayed a nose-crinkle into a fortune. I went on to be listed in Who's He? of American High School Students.
And Mavis, well, she's out there somewhere, I guess. Do me a favor and keep your eye out for a plaid lunchbox.
"I Saw Her Standing There" -- The Beatles -- THE BEATLES - ANTHOLOGY 1
Wisdom of the Day:
"Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,/ A medley of extemporanea;/ And love is a thing that can never go wrong,/ And I am Marie of Roumania."
- Dorothy Parker, Comment