Plantation, Florida, 1975
The first time I can remember being inside a church I was paid to attend. A high school classmate’s Baptist church wanted a brass quartet to perform an Easter service, and I was asked to play trombone. It was fun, if a little weird. We were positioned in the upper choir loft at the back of the church, so we weren’t visible to the congregation. It was an ideal perspective for witnessing some strange and new customs.
When the performance was over I wanted to get my $40, thank Carol for getting me the gig, and leave. Unfortunately, her parents wanted to meet her classmates, so I was pulled from the quiet safety of the choir loft into a maelstrom of questions I couldn’t answer. “So what church do you attend” “I don’t go.” “No church? You’re not a Jew, are you?” “No, but I’ve been to bar mitzvahs.” “Well, we’ll see you next Sunday, then, right, Carol? You’ll bring him along, won’t you? It sounds like your friend here needs to be saved!”
For the rest of my high school years I received monthly invitations to attend services there. I never did go back.
But ah, Carol. I had an enormous crush on her. She had cascades of unruly blonde curls around her adorable round face, a heartbreaker’s smile, and curves that were very probably illegal in 1975. The main reason for my crush, though, was far more primal: she would talk to me and treat me like a human being.
A couple of times a week I’d ride my bike to her house after school and we’d sit around and talk and listen to records. Well, mainly I would listen and she would talk, but I cant recall much of anything said. I was content just to sit on the floor in her pink and yellow bedroom and watch her as she regaled me with the latest gossip from her friends.
One afternoon we lost track of the time in our chatting until a phone call reminded Carol that a friend would be over in just a few minutes to pick her up and take her to a party. Suddenly leaping into action, and without a hint of warning, she reached down, grabbed the bottom of her t-shirt, and in a fluid motion, pulled it right over her head.
In an act of infinite mercy, Time itself slowed for me. Enraptured, I studied the motion of her hair as she shook it free of the shirt’s confinement, each strand of spun gold moving in a perfect wave. I drank in her pale, freckled face as she smiled, eyes closed, and tossed aside the t-shirt. My gaze moved down, then, and I saw for the first time in my adolescent life that legendary miracle of lace and elastic and structural engineering, the final roadsign before entering the Promised Land of female nudity, her bra. I barely had time to take in this heavenly vista when her arms began to curl strangely, she was bending them up behind her back for some reason, she was oh my God oh my God she’s reaching up to take off her bra she’s…
“Carol? D-do you think you should really be getting undressed right now, with me in the room? Sh-should I leave?”
Trance broken, her eyes popped open as I spun to look behind me. Who had said that? Who else was here? Wait, no, that wasn’t — Did I really say that?
“Oh, I’m sorry!” She stopped her unhooking and shrugged. “You’re so sweet that sometimes I forget you’re a guy.” Ow.
“I am, Carol, trust me. Want me to prove it?” But she never heard me. By then she’d stepped into her closet to finish changing, blocking any further glimpses of Paradise.
She emerged a moment later in a tight pink top. “That was so nice of you to warn me like that. Most guys would have just gotten a free show and told all their friends. But you’re different from them. You’re not an ordinary boy. That’s why I like you.”
A horn honked in her driveway. I walked out with her and waved goodbye as I got on my bike. Pedaling home was rather awkward, and I cursed the universe all the way. Being nice, it seemed, could send you to Hell as surely as stealing a Danish.