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Summer of 1960 was my fifteenth year of idiocy, an affliction strengthened much by the expanding energy of a mid-teen male. I thrived on odd passions. One was for fencing. Another replaced my three-speed Raleigh with a ten-speed masterpiece sporting an impressive shifter we called a Derailleur and were glad we never needed to spell until now. Driven by forces the least of which showed itself in an astonishingly rapid ability to outgrow the length of trousers, I decided on a freedom-first escape from home by signing up for a summer working at camp. Fate called, and blinded as usual I wandered in, gamely thinking it great luck to eat dining hall “chow” and transform perfectly good clothes by discovering the hard way that a quart of bleach was too much, especially for a batch with whites, jeans, and red sweatshirt.
Hardship did not matter. I was determined to remake myself into something nobly athletic that was so far denied me, being the only kid (it took a LOT of saved allowance) with a fencing foil and the sole boy daft enough to favor a kamikaze ten-speed over the stock balloon tire Schwinn. Camp gave the opportunity to conduct my makeover away from prying and laughing eyes. I didn’t intend it so, but I simply became amusing to a new crowd by taking on waterskiing as a suitable way to become a princely young stud dude able to wow ‘em dead performing daredevil stunts.
The concept was good, but I lacked the basic ability to remain on my skis for anything over three minutes. In fact, I was lucky to reach two, but at three minutes arms pulled from sockets and my run ended in what I was told were really great crashes. I liked to think I was admired for skill at coming up daily with a new way to perform disaster on skis or do it in record time. Actually, my audience prospered from my experience by betting on how long before my run exploded in frothy turmoil, the best of which brought hearty applause as wagers were settled.
My first attention-getting crash came the second day of practice, when for some reason I thought clinging to the ski rope a good idea. After ingesting three quarts in as many seconds and losing my trunks (never found, either), I let go. Hauled in, I spent the next half hour puking record volumes of lake. Unable to replace my trunks, I used white cotton gym shorts. Wet, they defined see-through, but luckily in a boys’ camp decorum was less in demand than an ability to fart on command. I couldn’t do that either, and secretly wondered if the noisy ability followed by a tent emptying in ten seconds was more noble than waterski wrecks lethal to no life but my own.
After weeks I was little better on skis than at the start, but for whatever reason a college-age staffer invited me (possibly because I was assumed harmless) as a tagalong weekend guest to keep company with his cousin Sue-Sue when he visited his girl in Mountain Iron (local color). Never having been fixed up with a girl, especially one with a double-wham name like Sue-Sue, I was interested in the possibility of romancing replacing waterskiing. Having no idea what lay ahead, I packed things in a paper bag and thought myself as ready for Mountain Iron and Sue-Sue as I’d been when taking up waterskiing. I had that about right.
In 1960 I don’t suppose any Range town was exciting. I say this as the only possible explanation for Sue-Sue’s enthused reception. Half a head taller and robust, Sue-Sue looked able to straight-arm me through a wall, an ability I decided not to test. In any case, there wasn’t time because I had to be shown about, but first had to be made to look better, seeing that none of what I’d brought from camp set standards in anything but wrinkles. Camp was not fashion conscious. Sue-Sue was. Clothes were borrowed. Then I was fit to meet her friends.
A string of houses and a series of girls blur in memory as little more than time killers before dinner, when her miner father watched me like a hawk in case my gaze sunk lower than his daughter’s chin. The house had many interesting ceiling lights. After dinner Sue-Sue conducted another walking tour clutching my hand, swinging with such force I was glad I’d had so much arm-wrenching practice on waterskies.
Near dark, by which time I’d walked more miles in Mountain Iron than at camp in a week, two older couples (I wondered where my friend had been all those hours) invited us to the Drive In. They took front and rear seats. Sue-Sue and I were fit (to save money) in the trunk. With no room to move, I didn’t. She made up for my stillness. Released, Sue-Sue and I had a double feature ahead. Translate that to four hours of walking. The car we’d come in was occupied, so we walked and walked with a few pauses for refreshments before my funds ran out at intermission. Romance was strenuous and impoverishing.
After the Drive In the others went inside, leaving us in the car, where Sue-Sue would make good her promise of “something special.” Insisting on knowing what, I learned she meant kissing. “Oh, OK.” I’d kissed before. The first at thirteen was sweating hands and noses all wrong. The next a girl who talked so much I had to lurch in with a peck and then wait ten minutes as she giggled hand over mouth. I knew kissing. When Sue-Sue presented face, I knew what to do. Having done it, I was about to politely say “thank you” when she took over. No tongue but mine had ever gone where hers went. The effect was immediate. In a second I swelled with an urge to remove my clothes and quickly find a marriage license. Sue-Sue calmed and corrected me. “It’s just kissing, silly.” Though premature, no feelings in my young life had ever been more certain or sincere than those. I learned to kiss that night, along with a few other tricks useful later.