More often I became absorbed in my own interests. My reading had taken a morbid turn, driven by the expanded offerings of the Bookmobile, a van that had been converted into a traveling library. One could check out a ration of books, and return them in the following weeks when the Bookmobile returned. My primary borrowings were mysteries and horror stories; Poe, Le Fanu, and especially Bram Stoker's Dracula. I buried myself deeper in that book than the vampire was buried in his nightly crypt, and over the course of the next few years I re-read it several times. I was not only captivated by the story, one of blood thirsty night creatures prowling for victims, with its subtext of sexual conquest and possession. I was also fascinated by the novel's structure, a story told in documentary fragments, letters, depositions and receipts, the story pieced together from a collection of found materials.
A girl named Leilani was the first to grow breasts in the fifth grade. That was the elephant in the room, as far as the boys were concerned. Like many of them, I too had a crush on her. It lasted off and on for my remaining years at Adams Elementary, despite the fact that by the time my eighth year rolled around quite a few of our fellow female classmates had breasts. I think that what attracted me most about Leilani was the fact that she was out of reach. It was the opportunity to suffer for love, to be martyred on love's alter, like my favorite singers Roy Orbison or Del Shannon, or Gene Pitney. Only love can break a heart. My little runaway. Lonely teardrops.
In sixth grade I started hosting make-out parties in our basement. These were moderately chaperoned, meaning that my parents might or might not interrupt the festivities. At one of these events Leilani told me that we could never "go steady" because I was too inexperienced. Apparently older boys had taken an interest in Leilani as well, so despite whatever charms I might have been able to cultivate at that young age, it appeared they would be forever outclassed by the cache of age itself. I would have to wait for this older generation to die off.
During one party my mother walked in just in time to see Bruce Redding kissing Yvonne Cloninger on the couch. Bruce had been scheduled to sleep over that night but was so embarrassed that, rather than face my mother in the morning, he climbed out my bedroom window and slithered home early.
I rarely did any homework outside of school. I was sufficiently well read that I was usually ahead of the class. Our classes included social studies, civics, history, earth sciences, art and math. The latter I was almost completely uninterested in. A good memory saved me. I did well in geometry, which seemed like second nature because it was easy to visualize. But algebra was almost incomprehensible. I was still drawing constantly in class, and most of my teachers didn't mind. This changed in 7th grade, when we began to bus to Libby Junior High for shop classes. The teacher, Mr. Tierney, was an old guy with bad teeth, and he would punctuate nearly every sentence with "ya see me now, don'cha?" His reiteration of this phrase was so frequent and compulsive that the entire class would suppress giggles whenever he said it, and we would often mimic him for a laugh, when outside the earshot of an adult. Mr. Tierney had a large wooden paddle that I was frequently on the other end of when he caught me drawing. That changed when he discovered I was pretty good at drafting, which is...uh...essentially drawing.
Our 8th grade teacher was Mr. Stolz. His special area of expertise was math. One day he was lecturing the class, and one student noticed that his zipper was down. A whisper campaign alerted the entire class, and at one point a student piped up "Mr. Stolz, your zipper is down." I suspect that Stolz was trying to feign he was still in control when he blurted out "I know!"
On another occasion a kid named Dave Matozzi brought a small collection of Japanese pornographic photographs to class, which he had found in his parents' bedroom. They were small black and white prints, and were quickly distributed amongst the other students. The one I was given was of a woman getting ready to sit on a man's erect penis. Her smooth back was to the camera, and his member looked like something had been chewing on it. One of the residents from Morning Star Boys Ranch, a tough kid named Pat McGuire, had one of a woman sitting on a chair, spreading her legs. Within a half hour Mr. Gorton, the Vice Principal, came to the classroom door with Dave Matozzi's dad right behind him. One by one each student was taken out into the hall and told that if they would just return the photos, that there would be no consequences and no questions asked. I had already hidden mine in my sock. Pat McGuire had torn the relevant part out of the center of his photo, wadded the rest of it in a piece of paper and deftly tossed it in the trash. The remaining smudge on a tiny piece of photographic stock could only have talismanic power, since it was completely unrecognizable otherwise. Still, I'd like to think that after all these years he still treasures it. I'm afraid that Mr. Matozzi was destined to be forever deprived of the pleasures of his collection. No one wanted to return the photos, or even cop to having looked at them. After school I caught up with Leilani, walking down Regal Street toward the Arctic Circle, and with my photograph of the asian woman sitting on the craggy dick still secured in my sock, I asked her if she wanted to see it. I thought it might make her hot. She didn't want to see it, and wouldn't be talked into it either.
I guess that getting "experience" was harder than I thought. Protesting that I had read Bram Stoker's Dracula five times didn't help, nor did my undying love or my expertise as a ventriloquist. Nothing could put me over that ever-receding threshold. Years later, as a young rake hell, I ran into Leilani in a restaurant where she was bartending. By then I was experienced, but no longer interested. Ya see me now, don'cha?