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Dad's Valentine's Day Lament

"...and Amanda goes: 'If you won't come to the skating rink tonight, you'll have to find yourself a new girlfriend!' And he is like: 'But my dad's taking me bowling.' So she tells him she's like dumping him. Justin isn't the only cute fifth-grade boy in the school. Matt likes her too, you know, and he–"

My oldest daughter, Marie was having a sleep-over and the burgeoning sexuality in her room had blasted her door open to release this bulletin on Justin's fall from grace. One of the girls discovered that security had been breached and quickly closed the hatch. I'd like to say that it was not my daughter who is quoted above, but she and her friends all sound alike when they are together, so I can only hope.

A year before, all boys had been gross pigs; now, every day seems to be Valentine's Day. Last year, Feb. 14th was barely noted. This year, with the volcanic eruption of young love, it promises to be the Last Day of Pompeii.

Maybe it's normal for girls to go boy-crazy this early. I never had any sisters, so I wouldn't know. But, what about the boys who are apparently involving themselves in these premature liaisons? I know a little bit about fifth-grade boys, but it seems my information is out of date. When I was a kid, boys did not permit each other to show an interest in girls until seventh or eighth grade, at least.

A liking for girls was regarded as a kind of perversion. You could just as easily say to another guy, "Does Kathy's smile haunt you the way it does me?" as you could confide, "Guess what! I've got my mom's underwear on today!"

A mocking chorus of "Ricky has a girlfriend" or "Rick and Mary sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G..." would inflict pain and humiliation like nothing else since tar-and-feathers. Anthropologists call this the enforcement of a cultural norm.

But, I'm 45 years old now, and only my wife really cares whether I have a healthy interest in girls. So, I can finally admit to having illicit feelings for a girl in my fifth-grade class, Pam Wintermute. She was cute and I liked her. (There! I've said it!)

But, I was just society's child. Back then, I could only tell her: "Welcome back, Enos!" That was my line of dialogue in a scene we shared in an American history pageant. She played a monkey who had just returned from a NASA space mission, and I was a guy in a white lab coat. I would open the space capsule (a gray-painted refrigerator box), speak my greeting, put my hands around her waist, and help her leap out. She had the kind of natural beauty that was only enhanced by a monkey suit and monkey makeup. (Our teacher apparently knew it would be a sin to hide her classically perky features behind a monkey mask.) Our love scene was about 9 seconds long, but it was rehearsed many times, and each time was a breath-taking voyage into exotic and forbidden waters. I could have played Guy in Lab Coat to her Enos the Monkey until the timbers of the stage rotted through and the all-purpose room crumbled to dust around us.

But, dress rehearsal was our last pas de deux. During the actual performance, I was still in the boys' room scrubbing off my mustache from an earlier appearance as Teddy Roosevelt, when it was time to welcome Enos back to Earth. So, Bruce Harrell filled in for me, still wearing breeches and stockings from his Boston Tea Party scene. I felt that he made a mockery out of the most beautiful moment in American history, and I've hated him ever since.

Although I never would have spoken to Pam out of character, we were thrown together once again when we were assigned to set up a bulletin board commemorating Pearl Harbor Day – what Franklin Roosevelt described as "a day of infamy" when the Japanese dive-bombed our fleet. Pam and I were in the classroom after school, cutting airplanes, ships, and big letters out of construction paper, when my little brother, Jim, came up to Pam and announced, "Ricky likes you!" Pam looked at me, and I blushed, unable to speak. The only face that could've been redder and hotter than mine was Joan of Arc's while she was being burned at the stake. Thank God, there were no witnesses, I would've had to kill them.

My brother, having dropped his bombshell, disappeared. Pam and I finished the bulletin board in strained silence. I felt like one of the burning, sinking gray battleships that I was stapling into place. It was a new "day of infamy."

I did not beat Jim up that evening, although he deserved it. He had taken something beautiful and poured salt on it. A mere beating would have trivialized his crime.

Embarrassed and fearing scandal, I stayed away from women for a long time after that, living on the memories of my special moments with Pam, her slim waist and her long furry tail. She moved out of town the next summer, and that helped.

Now, it's 35 years later, and I'm the father of three girls, vainly trying to keep them out of the boy-girl demolition derby for as long as possible. And, right when I've been counting on their help, a whole generation of fifth-grade boys seems to have lost its sense of decorum and manliness. More infamy.

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