As my senior year of high school was beginning, I had not had a girlfriend nor even gone out on a date. Not that I hadn’t tried. Feebly.
Here I was, finally physically growing up—a full twelve inches taller than when I was a 5’1″ freshman—but not feeling grown up at all, and scared to death of girls.
I enjoyed being with girls even more than being with guys. I felt intimidated by guys, perceiving that I didn’t measure up to them. With girls, as long as I was not romantically interested in them, I felt comfortable. I thought they were interesting and fun. I have since learned that my sense of both guys and girls was common for boys with gender identity disorder.
If I pined for a girl, I thought she was out of my league. I was in awe of those girls infinitely more than I felt inferior to the guys.
My junior and senior year of high school, I was attracted to several girls, but never had the guts to ask one out. Well, not never. One girl at whom I gazed in band every day—I, at the top of the bowl, playing tuba, and she, at the bottom, across from me, on clarinet—I finally worked up the courage to call for a date. Me: “Are you busy on Friday?” Her: “I have to wash my hair.” Honestly, that is what she said. It was not exactly the stuff which builds confidence to try again.
I never told my mom about that attempt. Early in my senior year, we made a bet: she was sure that I would go out on a date before I graduated, and I was sure that I would not.
As prom neared, my best friend, Tim Todd, told me that one of the prettiest, most popular girls in my class—and I, you can imagine, was a nobody: quiet, shy, reserved except around my few friends—would be my date to prom if I asked her. I could not imagine it. Though I had the guarantee, I could not imagine myself with her—oh, I was interested in her!—or even going to prom—I had never gone. The whole thing—prom, pretty girl—scared me into nervous worry. I let the chance slip away. She was asked by someone else. I was kicking myself.
A week before graduation, Tim and I were going to a movie on a Saturday night. I was the dutiful Catholic boy, who went to Mass every Saturday evening without having to be asked, so that I could open Todd Pharmacy on Sunday morning. After Mass, I walked to Tim’s house, and he would drive us to Muskegon. He said, “Let’s pretend that we have dates.” “What? Why?” “Just play along. It will be good experience.” “Sure. Let’s do it,” remembering how we commonly did goofy things, like the time we threw an imaginary football around the parking lot of the R & W restaurant in Whitehall.
So, we opened doors, ushered our “dates” into the car, made appropriate conversation with them, and as we drove the next several blocks giggled like the idiots that we were.
We had to drive through Montague, to go through Whitehall, to get to Muskegon, a half-hour to the theater. As we were leaving Montague, Tim made an incorrect turn. “Where are we going?” “Just wait.” “What do you mean, ‘Just wait’?” “Just wait.”
I got nervous. After a few blocks, I said, “This is the way to Lori’s house.” The prom girl. Tim said nothing.
We turned into Lori’s driveway. “Timmmm!!!!!” He assured me that all would be fine.
Out bounded Lori and Mary, our dates for the evening. We drove to Muskegon. Somehow, scared to death as I was, I managed small talk. I was scared to death.
Did I mention that I was scared to death?
I was scared to death.
We went to “Lenny,” the bio-pic of the late comic, Lenny Bruce. Dustin Hoffman starred as Lenny Bruce, so it had to be a good movie, right?
We were nicely settled in when Valerie Perrine’s character got into a lesbian love scene with I-have-no-idea-who-the-other-lady-was because I am quite sure that my red cheeks puffed so large that my eyes were forced shut. I thought, “Lori will never, ever go out with me again after this.”
Despite my most earnest concerns, I did not suffer a fatal heart attack. We all survived the movie. We headed to a favorite Muskegon pizza joint, The Village Inn, for, well, pizza.
Forty years later, the Village Inn gets credit for my still being able to sing, “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” (take a sip), at breakneck speed. You remember, don’t you? It reaches the rollicking conclusion, “There’s a speck on the flea on the tail on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea” (take a sip).
We finished our pizza. Though my scared-to-death level had eased back to this-is-fun-but-I-sure-will-be-glad-to-get-home degree, I do not recall that I was all that chatty the half-hour back to Montague. The girls were. Tim probably was, that bon vivant. He was always so cool with the chicks. And on stage. And in whatever he did.
I hated him.
Truth be told? I wanted to be like him.
As for my bet with Mom, she argued that I had, indeed, had a date before I graduated, while I argued that I never would have had it not been for Tim arranging it. We had to agree to disagree. She still allowed me at the dinner table so, in the long run, I won.
As for Lori, I managed to ask her out, all by myself. She had thought I’d known I was going on a date that first evening, and felt bad about that. We ended up dating all summer. She was a wonderful first girlfriend. Thank you, Lori.
Finally, regarding that Tim Todd fellow, I have no idea whatever became of him. Word has it that he moved to Nepal and grew to fame as the matchmaking Sherpa. I guess that makes him a hitch-hiker.