A long while back, Beth tagged me with a "childhood crush" tag. Thanks to my mother finding, some years back, a trove of my old grade school class pictures, I was able to document the romantic drama going on in my Kindergarten class in 1967.
I meant to add to that an account of my year as a "playah"-- third grade.
In April of 1968, after the King riots, my family moved from the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to Albany Park, up on the Northwest side of the city. Albany Park was, and still is, an amazingly diverse neighborhood. Remembering my best friends-- they were Polish, Appalachian, Jewish, Lebanese, Latino-- it spoiled me for life. I could never stand to be around homogenous groups of people. A few years later when my family white-flighted out to the suburbs, I hated it. When I got out of college, I moved within a mile of the old neighborhood, and have lived there ever since.
But back in third grade, I was living the good life. I played baseball in the alley nearly every day with my friends on the block, the 4700 North blocks of Central Park Ave. and Monticello Ave. Other days, I'd hang with my friends from Haugan Elementary School. But it wasn't always my guy friends I was walking home from school with.
At school, Linda, who was blonde, smart and funny, knew the way to my heart: pumpkin seeds. She'd always buy those pumpkin seeds in the red package with the Native American guy on them. We never really talked about our feelings for one another, but somehow our desks always seemed to end up next to one another's. When I was in class, I was always by her side. And she always made sure I had those pumpkin seeds. The way to a man's heart indeed.
But outside the school, it was another story. Linda always hung with her friends after school. That was okay, because that meant I could walk Marcia home. Marcia was a nice Jewish girl who lived in the good part of the neighborhood-- the part with one-family houses. My family-- my two brothers, my parents and I-- shared a two-bedroom apartment down in the part of the neighborhood that was all two- and three-flats. I would walk Marcia home sometimes, though it meant walking a couple of blocks out of my way. It never bothered me-- she was smart and sweet and always had something nice to say about everybody.
Closer to home, though, was my girl Cathy. She was pretty, smart and Appalachian-- her family was from Kentucky. Like many families, her family had moved to Chicago as the coal mines mechanized. Her house was on the way home, right next to Jensen Park, where I ice-skated in the winter. We shared a love of Johnny Cash, and would walk home singing the Shel Silverstein-penned "A Boy Named Sue," particularly our favorite line: "kickin' and a-gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer..."
I must have been getting ready, romantically, for my twenties, compartmentalizing my life. I carried this on for the whole year. On picture day that year, it almost all came apart, when the damned photographer almost destroyed my life; he placed me and two of my three amores together in the class picture.
I am in the third row, fifth from the left in the light blue shirt. Directly behind me, the brunette in the back row, was Cathy. Standing right next to her was Linda. I was horrified. I was thanking god that Marcia, second from the right in the top row in the plaid skirt, wasn't right behind me as well. I nearly had a heart attack as it was, afraid they'd start talking to one another.
I was such a cad.