January 3, 2009

American Graffiti

It’s Thursday and I’m having a vacation day from reality, I’m reading my old diaries. Its fun to spend an entire day wasting time and it makes me feel good to be reminded that somewhere out there in the great beyond is another version of Me who can still come alive from time to time. She may be an innocent kid who put codes in the pages of her diaries that the older version of Me is having trouble deciphering, but I still like her. I laugh at her and laugh with her.

The two years before and after I turned fifteen was my ‘American Graffiti’ era. If the movie by that name was about my life, I would have been Carol, the fourteen year old with the crush on John, the cool tough guy with a soft spot for kid sister types. My “John” was actually named Steve. Cool, sexy, dark-eyed Steve. He had one parent who was a full blooded Native American back when we still called them Indians and his dark good looks had more than a few girls sighing when he'd walked by. Steve also was a good friend of my older brother and he drove an old Model A Ford. Our driveway was often full of vintage cars and the male members of the cast of ‘American Graffiti’---the rebel, the nerd, the solid citizen, the king of the road and other assorted boys---many with tools in their hands as they worked on their prizes.

Cruising downtown after dark on the weekends, going to Rock and Roll record hops in the school gym, going to drive-in movies in the summers, cherry bombs found on laundry day in my brother’s pockets, walking to the malt shop every day after school, and hanging out at a drive-in restaurant with car hops on roller skates---It was a good era to grow up in. The characters played by Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Richard Dryfuss, Harrison Ford, and Mackenzie Phillips would have fit right into my youth.

I even saw a live performance called The Big Beat Show starring: Jerry Lee Lewis (Whole Lotta Skakin’ Goin’ On), Buddy Holly and the Crickets (That Will be the Day), Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode), Frankie Lymon (Why do Fools Fall in Love), The Chantels (doo wop singers of Maybe), Dickie Doo & The Don’ts (Tear Drops Will Fall), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (I Put a Spell on You), and The Diamonds (The Stroll). I saw all these people on one glorious, fun filled night! In my diary, I had written: “That’s one show I’ll never forget. Boy, can those colored guys ever dance!” But I let the Young Me down. I don’t remember that show without the queuing of my diary description. I don’t remember that the curtains came down several times to get the kids to go back to their seats before the show would go on.

Young Me gasps in disgust upon hearing this. “Hey,” I tell her, “I’ve only got so much room in my skull for memories. I can’t keep them all!”

“But Jerry Lee Lewis?” the kid whines, “Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry?”

“Let’s talk about Steve,” I say. That’s her favorite topic, so I know that will distract her.

Steve was a personality plus kind of guy---outgoing, talkative, and funny. He’d often come by my locker at school, and would talk with me at dances and games. I had a five alarm fire going in my heart every time he’d come near. He loved messing up my hair, kissing me on my cheek or forehead---generally tease my hormones---then he'd would walk away laughing. Old Me thinks this is hilarious and believes he probably knew exactly what he was doing to my glands. Steve and I talked often over my high school years. We even double dated when I was with other friends of my brothers. Steve and I were two puppies playing in the yard, but inside I was the kid sister type with a burning crush.

In the earlier years, though, when ever he’d leave our house (after visiting my brother) he’d ask me if I was old enough yet to kiss him good night. Just after I turned fifteen one time I said, “Yes.” God, I thought I would die---according to Young Me’s words in our diary---when he put his arms around me and he was lowering his mouth towards mine. That’s when my brother piped up, “Watch out, she’ll bite you!” Steve laughed and said, “No, she won’t.” But, just as his lips touched mine, our dog bite down on his ankle.

Now, I’m frantically reading the next pages of the diary trying to find out if I ever got another shot at kissing my favorite teenage crush. Yup, I’m enjoying my vacation from reality when I hear Young Me singing: “You come on like a dream, peaches and cream, Lips like strawberry wine, you’re sixteen---I mean, fifteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mind.”

“Oh, cut that out!” Old Me says, “Steve didn’t sing that to you and you know it!”

“Did so!”

“Did not.”

“Did so!”


“I was there, and I say he did!”

”I was there, too, and I think you’re telling a fib. Besides,” I said with authority, “Johnny Burnette didn’t write that song until next year.” We both look at each other---Old Me and Young Me---with dawning in our eyes as we dive for the next volume of our diaries to look up our sixteenth birthday.

Jean Riva ©

Painting by: William-Adopphe Bouguereau 1885

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