The only thing I knew for sure when I started 6th Grade was that I was a dreamer. Most boys, it seemed, were drawn to physical things, games and sports. But not me. I let my head lead. True, I loved trampolining and playing kickball, but my head was so full of stories, images and sounds, that I just had to let them out. I doodled incessantly. Even took a mail order “How to Draw” course (but quit because I wanted to draw the pictures in my head). Still, my 5th Grade teacher had noticed, and offered to whisk me off to Japan to become a “serious artist.”
I’d said no because I wasn’t sure who or what I was yet.
I also loved writing. I read nonstop, often straight through the weekend, and wanted to tell stories like Jack London, Mark Twain and Jules Verne. I’d read my stories aloud in class, and gotten addicted to praise. Which led me to consider becoming a movie star. Or a pop star. In my head, I would sing “Moon River” to Audrey Hepburn or “Maria” to Natalie Wood, and they would turn to Play-Doh in my hands.
Movies! I was in love with movies! West Side Story and Breakfast at Tiffany’s had come out that year, and the glimmer of an idea that I might someday make movies grew a little brighter.
And then there were girls.
I was obsessed with the way they looked, the way they smelled (way better than boys), and the way I felt around them. And when puberty hit, even deeper desires began to bubble up. Just what those desires were, I wasn’t sure yet, but I was determined to find out. Only a year before, I’d still thought girls had the same working parts as boys–my cousin Frankie had expertly explained how ladies “pooped out” babies, but I was skeptical.
A few pioneering sixth grade boys had, they bragged, actually “kissed a girl!” Kissing, yes! Even more than kissing Debbie Reynolds, I dreamed of kissing Melinda Ardman, who’d been my secret crush since 4th Grade. I’d planned to walk with her on the 6th Grade field trip to L.A.’s historic Olvera Street. But then, when we were on the bus, my buddy Rory yelled, “Mitch Teemley’s in love with Melinda Ardman!” and I shouted back, “No, I’m not. I hate her guts!”
Cue head beating against wall.
I had a chance to redeem myself at the 6th Grade Dance when “Let’s Twist Again” blasted out of the loudspeaker. I debonairly twisted my way over to Melinda, grinning irresistibly…and then got a stitch in my side and had to run out of the Cafetorium to throw-up.
Was it too late to move to Japan?