Friday, July 14, 2017

A Beautiful Night For an Old Story

It is a perfect night in Minneapolis, July 2017.  80.  Low humidity.  The kind of night where if it were 5 degrees cooler it would be cool and if it were 5 degrees warmer it would be too hot.  Having taken the dog on a 50 minute walk, my mind began to wander and I began to remember what I associated this weather with.  My answer was the county fair, August 1978.

So - the point of this entry is to offload some nostalgia and provide a story chock full of rural 1978 teen angst.  The point of the story is not to make you feel bad for me, though you may, and it isn't just another failed romance story - I was only 14.  It is a story that hopefully makes you remember your youth and simpler times and the feeling of a beautiful summer day.

Some background - I grew up on a farm in western New York. Before I was 14 I had two girls I really liked - one was the best athlete in the county and one was the best student in my school.  Both were kind to me, but neither had any interest in me. This became a tad more painful when my 11 year old brother became the boyfriend of the athlete's younger sister.

Growing up, there was a county fair every August in a small town (not the county seat oddly enough).  As best I can tell, the fair was located there because it had a sort of half-assed amphitheater wheee they could have tractor pulls and rodeos.  From the time I was six until I was 22 I used to go to the County Fair every August.

It seemingly never rained during the fair.  It was always 80 and dry, the sun shined just high enough during the day, and when it went down the fairgrounds always seemed very large and wonderful.  (They were neither, but it seemed that way).  Every day and every night spent at the fair featured picture perfect weather and seemingly endless possibilities for the young Hoops Maven.

In 1978, I actually had friends, thanks to my buddy John who befriended me one day in science class and put together an extremely motley crew of misfit smart kids whose primary entertainment was ripping each other and trying to stay out of trouble (we were nerds - we tried to stay out of trouble).  In 1978, my parents, armed with the knowledge that I had friends, would drive me to the fair and drop me off with $5, plus, I believe, a dime.   The dime was to call for a ride when I was done.  Pay phones, I am pretty sure, cost a dime.  I spent many great days at the fair. In hindsight, it really does not seem possible. By the time I was 22 I think I blew through all Fair activities in an hour.  But anyway, point is, I loved the fair.

On day 2 or 3 of the 1978 fair, I decided to play some carnival games with my $5.  Some were designed so you would lose (country basketball - tossing a softball into a heavily titled peach basket with a rubberized bottom).  Others were designed to have you pay 50 cents or a buck to win something worth 20 cents (dart toss - winner every time).  After weighing my options, I came upon a game where you threw baseballs at stuffed cats. Knock down 3 cats, win a decent prize.  The barker called me over and I won.  He yells out "Michelle, get him his  prize.  Out from the back comes a girl somewhere between 14 and 17 (I think she said 15 or 16, I do not recall, and I do not recall her actual name).  She was very pretty - in a Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers sort of way.  Just really attractive.  She winked at me and gave me my prize.  I smiled and left.

Later that night, as I walked around the fair with a friend she called us over - "hey, glasses kid, you can leave, I am talking to your friend".  She wanted to talk to me!!  Now, I cannot express clearly enough how excited I was.  I got warm, my heart skipped and then pounded, then I started sweating.  My friend was pissed.  I looked at my watch and told him I'd meet him by the Titl A Whirl in 10 minutes - probably like 9.  Still pissed. Anyway, the young Jennifer Lawrence chick wanted to flirt and give me a hard time for staring at her when she came out to give me my prize.

"So, Hick Boy, you like me?"  I ba da doh sol he.   "Huh?"  Look, I was completely flummoxed. It was humiliating.  I could not spit out a sentence. "Meet me here at the game tomorrow at 4. We'll talk.  I am lonely."   Well, OK.  Will do.  Now imagine if you were learning how to play little league baseball and a guy came up to you and said "you are starting at Yankee Stadium tomorrow".  You would know more what you were doing than I did.

So now I had to get my parents to get me there by 4.  Took a lot of convincing.  But mom came through.  "Gonna see your friends?"  Sure mom.  I strolled through the dusty midway heart beating about 150 beats a minute, until I reached the cat game.  There was Michelle, sitting on a white plastic bucket.  "Let's go chat, buddy".  So we walked, I kid you not, no more than 25 feet away and sat on a rickety wooden bench and talked about life.  She was from Buffalo and her mom had died and her father owned the game and made her work for him all summer until school started.  She hated the job. She hated her dad.  She really hated all the hicks who hit on her non-stop.  She liked me because I was "well....just so pathetic".  We talked and talked. We sat on that damned bench and talked. I told her I liked her.  She said thanks.  She wore a t-shirt and white shorts.  She was really pretty.

I asked her if she wanted to walk around the fair and she did. So I bought her a snow cone and we walked around. She asked my name and age and then said "so who are you?"   I don't know.  I just really do not know. I am a 14 year old kid way out of his league.  I said something.  It was terrible I am sure. I don't even recall. I tried.

At 6 she needed to go to work her shift, so she told me asked me to walk her back to the game and I did.  I took my dime and called my mom.  I sat on a bale of hay outside the talent show barn until 6:30 then went to the front gate.  "So, how was that?"   Fine mom.  I could have floated home.

Now, I always waved and said hello to the girl the next couple days that I went to the fair and she'd smile at me.  One of the days we agreed to meet at the bench at 7. I ditched my friends and sat at the bench at 6:57 on my watch.  At 7:25 I left the bench, after asking probably 15 passersby what their watch said.  The next day I went and played the game - she hid in the back. I walked around back. "Where were you?"   I had to work - look, buddy, I work.  I think you misunderstand our relationship.  I have like 3 boyfriends in Buffalo  "OK, bye".

I always hoped for a kind word or a handwritten note from her, never came. I continued to attend the fair. She continued to ignore me - occasionally tossing me a bone with a "hi Hoops Maven".  Hi.  That was it - fair ended.  Never saw her again

In my 53 years on this earth I have told that story once before. In 9th grade we had to write a "someone who changed your life in a short time" story.  I wrote two rough drafts - one about a teacher. And one about this girl.  My English teacher told me to go with neither. "The teacher one is marginally better, but the one about the girl goes absolutely nowhere."   I tossed them both and wrote a third story.  Got an A minus or some such thing.

I really have no idea why this story hits me so hard.  It did at 14-15 and it does at 53.  I guess it was the nice weather and the fair and the feeling of hope that a girl who looked like that would select me from a crowd.  Or that she she understood how damaged she was and how she needed to tell someone else who she deems even more pathetic about her problems.  I don't know.  I just know that I will always recall the joy of being called over and the anticipation of our meeting and the warmth of the sun and the feeling I got from buying that snow cone and walking by her.  And the let down of being let go.

All that triggered from a nice walk on a summer's day with the dog.

HM.  (Please excuse the typos - typed on my phone, which is not a pay phone).

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