You Say Potato, I Say PoTAHto…Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off!

| February 6, 2011 | Comments (0)


Well, that’s not exactly what I meant to say, but it will do for openers. Every posting needs a header, doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it catches the eye!

This past Friday evening I went to the theater or is it theatRE ? New York City seems, increasingly, to favor the latter spelling while the West Coast is adamant in cleaving to what they maintain is the AMERICAN, unpretentious spelling with an ER.

Whatever….let’s avoid the bloody word altogether  and just say I went to one of those places with a stage and actors performing on it.

The play in question was a 90-minute performance called  The Accidental Pervert. It was totally forgettable. I can say, in all truthfulness, that I remember  almost nothing of what I saw and heard during that slice of time. Lots of energy was released by the single actor who played himself in what I suppose could be termed a cutely raunchy parable about a boy coming of age. When the protagonist stripped down to his boxers revealing a worked-out buff-ish body, there were lots of hoots and loud clapping especially from a female contingent in the audience.  For a while I thought I had been parachuted into a Chippendale’s show in Vegas.

I’ll stop there and not even attempt to plumb the hour and a half  I spent in a rather unheated, garret-like space. Except for one thing.

Early in the show, the actor playing  a teenager, opens a closet and pulls out an old  trenchcoat belonging to his  long-absent Father. He buries his face in the coat saying that smelling it is the only way to bring back the memory of his departed parent. He has nothing else to love but an odor.

My heart skipped a beat as I watched this simple act of emotional desperation. I had done the same thing when I was fifteen, 56 years ago. As a teenager I was quiet little dweeb. I had a hopeless crush on another boy, a fellow student who  didn’t  know I existed. He was  a BMOC – big man on campus, captain of this team, president of that, going steady with  the prom queen, the whole nine yards.  I was a shy nobody who lived in a dream world of books and poetry, never touched a football, never looked  people in the eye when I spoke to them; and I never spoke unless it was to haltingly answeer somebody who had spoken to me first. Nobody knew my name. We had a class together, but I was sure BMOC had never  noticed me.

 Because of a  flat tire or a rain storm  or I don’t know what pretext, BMOC showed up at my house late one night and  tapped on my window,  asking  if he could sleep over. In 1954, my kind of love dared not speak its name. In fact, aged fifteen, I didn’t know there was such a thing as sexual orientation or that people were “gay” or “straight.”  Imagine the rush of feelings flooding over me – fear, delight, disbelief – when he appeared at my door, shy and smiling, to court me, the creep with no name.

Speechless, I crept to the door and let him in. In the hours that passed, we scarcely spoke, lying together in the darkness. I do remember, though, the very first attempt in my life at cracking a joke when I said to him, “Up close you look like a Martian!” He laughed and boxed my ears. What a thrill it was to realize that I actually had a voice and a personality and that I could make somebody laugh!

BMOC departed early the next morning in his Father’s red Studebaker, an outrageously beautiful car with a bullet nose.  He said we’d have to get together again. Leaving in a  rush, he forgot his windbreaker draped over a chair.  I discovered the jacket later that morning and hung it in my closet.  That night hoping he might return again,  I opened the closet door,  removed the jacket from its hanger and  buried my face in its folds. It smelled of Vitalis hair oil. Not very romantic, to be sure, but to me it was indescribable  ambrosia.  

Night after night I repeated my  ritual: hugging his jacket as I looked out the window hoping to see his face in the dark, his finger tapping on the pane,  imploring me to have another sleep-over.

BMOC  never came back and never spoke to me again  as he and the prom queen walked hand in hand cutting  a wide swath across the campus. But I still had his windbreaker. He never asked me for it. Had he  forgotten that he had left it at my place or was the very mention of  it an embarassing admission of what we had done that night? Or could it have been a gift, a thank-you for a stolen night that would never happen again?

Until I left home  some years later, I kept the jacket  in a special corner of the closet so none of my clothing would touch it, spoil it. When I packed up to leave for college I thought of taking the windbreaker  with me. But I decided to leave it where it was hanging.  After all, memories deserve a special place even if it is only the dark corner of  a closet.

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