“Kate, Part I”

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“Kate,” Part I

I Got You Babe, by Sonny Bono, sung by Sonny & Cher (1965), Encountered 1965

Buy it here | See it here and here | Lyrics here

            There are some stories that sprawl over more than one of my theme songs.  This is one.  It’s a tale about girls I’ll call Ella and Zsuska and especially Kate.  And about how, just as Chris Rock said in the remark I quoted at the beginning of these essays, you are always going to love the music you were listening to when you first got laid – or actually, in this case, kissed.  Same difference, actually.  So this and the next two entries you can call my Kate story.

            The Rhythm Room

It starts in a setting we know from a thousand songs is where romance begins: at a high school dance.  It is a Saturday night in early September 1965. I am just beginning my junior year of high school.  It is my first visit to a mysterious loft-like place called The Rhythm Room atop the attached elementary school.  I am out of my comfort zone – well, is there such a thing as a high school dance that’s in anyone’s comfort zone?  How truly Doc Brown in Back to the Future calls them “rhythmic mating rituals”!  And mating, as we know, however tentative and inconclusive, is a serious, anxiety-filled business.

The most uncomfortable thing you do at a high school dance is stand around.  I did that for an hour and half, while friends who had dates were dancing to the music of the high school’s one rock band (my impression was and is that every school has one rock band, seldom two, and this was our school’s band).  They weren’t very good, and I had to be content to talk with an English teacher.  But eventually the band relented for a while, and someone started playing records.

Cue Sonny and Cher’s I Got You, Babe, with the ostenato double two-note oboe (or is it a clarinet?)[1] figure that positively begs you to dance.  Cue Kate, a tall ninth-grader, darting around the room with a friend.  I had seen her around the last few days, had registered the new arrival in the high school, had been struck by the thick red mane parted in an unusual direction, and by a quality I could not name then but would later recognize as an art student air.  She looked unconventional, different enough so I had to ask myself if she was attractive or not.  Listening to that song, I knew the answer: very, very attractive.   And yet, cursing my ineptitude, I could not get up the courage to put myself next to her and talk, let alone ask her to dance with me.  But oh, I wanted to!  Then the not very good band started to play once more.

           This moved fate into my corner, because the band had left a ukelele on the stage. Picking it up and plucking at it, I found I could more or less fake my way through a melody along with the group.  I worked my way over to the window where Kate and her friend were standing, picking along.  Kate’s friend broke the ice, and asked me if I played.  No, I said, but we started to talk.  I mentioned the band, probably praised them beyond their deserts in order to be saying something, and the friend told me that Kate was stuck on one of the members of the band.  And sure enough, in a moment Kate was consulting the friend about ways to get a chance to talk to the band member.  And in another moment after that, Kate was off to flirt with the guy.

Scrrratch that ambition!  However, the friend wanted to talk, and could do so easily.  I also noted the girl’s odd but attractive combination of finely-chiseled face and big bust.  (Well, give me credit at least for noticing the face!)  Whereupon the chair of the Social Committee, sponsor of the dance, happened past and more or less ordered us to dance.

You can see where this was going.  The girl was comfortable as a talker, stiffer as a dancer.  But I had picked up a certain sophistication about dance steps recently, and I was able to keep us on an even keel.  Ella really wanted to sit.  We ended up in a darker area, and then we danced some more, and then we sat on the stairs, and then we found some of the wooden playground things, a slide I think, and sat down there, and I asked “What do we talk about now?”  It turned out we shared an interest in bowling, and promptly made a date to do that.  Back on the dance floor, we limbered up, and, now that I was safely partnered with Ella, Kate came back and chatted with us.  Another one of their classmates asked me to dance with her, too.  I’d been interested in Kate, but I was suddenly paired up with someone else, which suited everyone’s agenda, including mine for the moment.  At one point, Ella let me hold her hand, and I let Ella order me to accompany her to her locker for her ride home.  So we had definitely reached the point of public flirtation.

            In Due Course

In due course there was a bowling date, and another dance with Ella.  And some other things.  Given the sexual precedents being set by others in my class, it might be surprising how slowly Ella and I were progressing, but in the silent negotiations that determine these things, I think Ella and I were nearly in accord about the pace.  I knew that whatever love was, I wasn’t in it with her, but felt that she was worth keeping with for the moment, to – I hardly want to say to see what I could get.  That makes it seem a lot darker and less respectful than it was.  But I wanted to try out physicality, gently.  And looking back, I think she probably thought it would be fun to go a little farther.

At this point we had been dating for four weeks.  And then we came to a football Saturday night. Football was not the big sport at my school; that was reserved for basketball, where we were really competitive.   As for football, that year’s yearbook writeup of the team began: “Even though this year’s team did not win a large number of games …” To be precise, we won two games that year, one of them on the evening we now turn to.

I wrote in my journal that Ella and I had “prearranged to sit together,” but didn’t.  Throughout the first half of what would be a 25-0 victory for our team, I sat with the junior boys and she with the freshman girls, and she wasn’t looking in my direction.  Actually, to be brutally frank, I wrote “every way but in my direction.”  I have to conclude now that if there had been any better male prospects out there that evening, the night probably would have ended differently.  But apparently there weren’t, and meanwhile I was all determination.  So when the juniors mainly took off for McDonald’s, and Ella was standing alone in the bleachers, I made my move.  I went up, we sat together second half, and then, as it came time to walk away, bliss.

I took her hand, and she pressed the back of mine against her thigh, where I could feel the complicated underwear girls wore then to hold up their stockings.  We went on holding hands while we waited at the gate of the field for the bus that would take us back to the school.  There was a dance then, presumably up in the gym this time, where she pressed her breasts against me, no longer holding back as she had that first night.

            The Big First

As it happened, she lived three blocks from the school.  So I got to walk her home.

Not too long ago, I retraced those steps on a similar night.  I was struck by how dim the street lighting is, and I’m guessing, it probably always was.  Perfect for my purposes.  By now the physical closeness I was asserting and she was acceding to could only lead to one conclusion, even for as inexperienced a boy as I was.  “Baby,” I said – I actually said, “I’m going to put my arm around you, do you mind?”  She simply responded by putting her arm around me.  I could have died and my life would have been complete right then.

Well, actually, what with me being taller and she being shorter, we had to rearrange our arms.  We weren’t talking about much; by then our bodies were doing the important dialogue.  Up the steps to her front door.  I squeezed her as we walked through.  And then we sat for a while in the living room off the front hall with her mom, who had a gentleman caller of her own.  The mom was gracious and seemed to like me.  (I understood that she was divorced and worked for the University administration.  She kept the house as neat as a pin.)  After a while I got up to go, and Ella accompanied me into the hall – and out to the porch.

And we stood in the dark facing each other, and I put my arms around her and started to tell her I was going to kiss her, but got cut off because we were already suiting the word to the deed.  My lips on her neck, hers on my cheek.  And then there was this cat that had followed us home, and was staring at us, and Ella commented about it, which I interrupted by pulling her to me again.  I wrote “I honestly don’t know whether we embraced or whether we kissed again.  But we were still holding hands, and the fingers came apart, one by tantalizing one.”

And there you have the First Kiss.  Looking up at the house today, it looks much the same, if a lot dirtier.  Ella’s neat-as-a-pin mother has left the building.  (Like my own mother, she has left all buildings now, as I later learn.)  It’s just beat-up student housing now.  The tiny porch and the big sitting-room, probably carved from some primeval larger porch, are still there.  It’s sacred ground nonetheless.  The first kiss just matters.

            One Little Problem

There was a fly in the ointment, though, as I confided to my journal a week later.  You could sum it up in two words: What next?  (You can bet I used a lot more than two words in the journal, but that was definitely the gist.)  I didn’t want to go steady with Ella.  Kate was still the one on my mind.  Yet the only one who would kiss me was Ella.  And probably Ella was having the exact same dialogue with her journal – or with Kate.

I’m sure now that something of the sort was in her mind, though, paradoxically, I found her subsequent behavior extremely upsetting.  For two weeks she “sprinted” – my contemporaneous word for it – in the other direction when she saw me coming in the halls.  I did catch up with her the night of the next football game, and asked her to sit with me.  She told me she’d be bringing a friend.  Same deal as the previous time: first half with our respective classes and genders, second half together, but with the friend, a girl from another school.  In the fourth quarter I took Ella’s hand, and, as my journal flatly reports, it was “limp and she seemed to be a little frightened.”  And then she got a tiny bit friendlier.  She let me dance one dance with her back at the school.  Then began a complicated business with the friend, who turned out to be a half-sister, in which, rereading the details, it is painfully, painfully clear they were trying to get rid of me and I couldn’t be gotten rid of.  I followed them home, but, needless to say, received no repeat goodnight kiss on the porch.

No more Ella after that.  By early November I was reassuring my journal that we weren’t going steady.  By December, she had said NO firmly when I invited her to a party I was giving.  (My comment: “I know she never wants us to speak again, and I’m agreeable.”) Not too long after that, she turned up wearing maroon bell-bottoms at a dance with Tim, a guy from my old school, plus the half-sister.

So that was Act One.

            A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

Why on earth do I associate with the episode that song that was playing before it even really started?  Perhaps it’s time I proposed Gohn’s Theorem of which Rock’s Principle is merely a special case: Any music addict will always have to find some music to love whenever anything important happens.  The whole thing really started the moment I realized that Kate was something special, and that was the song that was playing at that moment.  It was handy; it bonded itself to the experience, both the Kate half and the Ella half.  And both halves were important.  A kiss is, after all, still a kiss, even if hedged around with all the qualifications I am forced to acknowledge on this one.

Nor am I knocking Sonny Bono’s composition, which deservedly made it to Number One.  But it is interesting that the lyrics and the performance (see the videos hyperlinked at the top of this post) are all about a kind of assurance between two lovers that is about as far as you can get from what existed between me and either of those girls.

HIM: I got flowers in the spring
I got you to wear my ring
HER: And when I’m sad, you’re a clown
And if I get scared, you’re always around
HER: Don’t let them say your hair’s too long
‘Cause I don’t care, with you I can’t go wrong
HIM: Then put your little hand in mine
There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb
HIM: Babe
BOTH: I got you babe
I got you babe

I may have scored a kiss, but I was a long, long way from finding that kind of love.  And I was still hoping that maybe I could find it with Kate.

[Continued in the next entry.]

[1]   In the second video listed above (the first is a mere lip-synch), the instrument seems to be a clarinet.  But when I hear the sound, I’m thinking oboe.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for commercial images

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