Sammy Baum, from my second-grade class, had a birthday party that was the first boy-girl mixer I’d ever been to outside of mothers with toddlers get-togethers. Sam was a pretty smooth operator for an eight-year-old; a short, stocky Jewish kid with a preternaturally low, raspy voice — he sounded and acted with a maturity and self-assurance well beyond his tender years (imagine SCTV’s Eugene Levy in grade school). So, when it was time for Sammy’s birthday blow-out of course there were going to be ladies in attendance.
I recall about a dozen classmates at the party, evenly divided between guys and gals. It was a warm Saturday afternoon in late May and Sammy’s mother, quickly tiring of having us run rampant through her house, suggested we go across the street to an undeveloped lot to gallivant and release some of our cake-and-ice-cream-fueled energy while she stretched out on the couch with a damp washcloth covering her eyes. Without parental oversight we quickly divided along gender lines: the boys hung out together to throw stuff and the girls formed a circle for some game involving chants and random frolicking. The property had a stream running through it — in reality a culvert for storm runoff but in our minds it was a mighty river to explore. In the midst of our playing I suddenly heard a scream; I looked up and Andrea Goldberg was on the other side of the creek, shrieking and running for her life.
Andrea was tall (taller than me, anyway), with blue eyes and pale skin and wore her fine blonde hair in what I imagined were Scandinavian braids. She was very smart, especially good at math. I loved her — we were going to get married and have four children together and she would invest our savings, a future of which she was not yet aware. As Andrea shrieked and ran past I felt compelled to rescue my damsel in distress. “I’LL SAVE YOU, ANDREA!” I cried out (those were my exact words), leaping into the water to ford my way across and offer my gallant assistance in the face of whatever had frightened her so. While the water was relatively shallow, I was not much more than four feet tall at the time and quickly sunk down nearly to my knees. Struggling through the muck at the bottom of the stream, one of my brand-new PF Flyers came off my right foot, forever surrendered to the murky depths. I emerged on the other side of the culvert with muddy trousers, a soaking wet shirt and one foot clad only with a damp, floppy sock. But I remained focused on my mission and stumbled toward my beloved. “Andrea, are you OK?” She had stopped running by then, and when I spoke to her she turned to look at me with a broadening “Why are you talking to me?” look on her face. Another one of the girls — I don’t recall who because she was not my intended — explained that Andrea had been running from a bee, but the bee had flown off and Andrea didn’t need some stupid boy’s help anyway.
Now not only had I shed my shoe but also my dignity. By this time, Sammy’s mother heard all the commotion, springing off the couch to come outside and see what the hell was going on across the street. She ordered us all back to the house and promptly made me remove my pants so she could rinse the mud off them. What’s left to lose after being stripped of your dignity (and pants) — your will to live? I was now completely humiliated, not only in front of Andrea but all my classmates at the party. Sammy’s mother called my mother to explain the situation and shortly thereafter my mother showed up to take me home (rather than just bring me some dry clothes; Death, take me now…). My memory of events gets a bit hazy at this point; while I don’t know for certain I left with tears in my eyes I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.
School ended shortly thereafter and I didn’t see Andrea again until the fall, when we all returned to start third grade. She was in a different class that year — I only saw her on occasion in the hallway, or the lunchroom, or the playground (this is when “recess” used to be an essential part of the curriculum). She never spoke to me, nor I to her. I recall one time when she was huddled with her girlfriends on the playground and they all burst into laughter while stealing glances in my direction, which I imagined was the result of Andrea telling them about the time over the summer when that stupid boy over there was delusional and thought he was being heroic when he was just being a stupid boy.
I thought I’d never get over the shame and rejection, and would face a lonely school year without a prospective life-partner. Then I met Ginger Gerton (you can read here how that and some other subsequent relationships went awry).
Dear Andrea Goldberg: I may have been the one with soggy pants but you were the one who was all wet. Hope you’re happy with whatever fop you settled for and I trust he’s being a good father to our children. And if by any chance you are now a financial planner — could you please give me a call?