Chapter 1

8th Grade Halloween.  I meet Johnny.

There comes a time in every childhood when you are told…you’re “too old to go ‘trick or treating’ this year.”

No more free candy from strangers.  No more running wildly around the streets in the deepest of darkness…screaming and hollering to your friends…stuffing candy in your mouth as fast as you can…yes, yes you heard right…even while you are running…and hollering.  It was…after all…1960.

All gone.  Forever…just because you got one year older.

In 1960, our suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota was new but growing fast.  There were acres of new housing developments with miles of streets that we could dash up and down…filling old pillow cases with candy and money and whatever else strangers were willing to give us.  Home-made fudge was the best.  Remember…1960.

There were no parents standing in the streets with glow lights or flashlights to guide us…or umbrellas to shield us from the rain.  If it rained, we got wet and we lived.  If we fell down…we got up.  And…we came home.

But this year…5 days before October 31, my mother said…

“Riley.  You’re too old to go trick or treating this year.  All of us moms got together and we decided that now that you kids are in 8th grade…you’re just too old.  No arguments (and here she held up her hand for emphasis)…we have all decided.”

Oh…we knew it was coming.  We had heard the whispers and had actually paid attention when the moms had dropped little hints…so we knew.

And we were ready.

 

Chapter 2

When I say “we” were ready…I meant of course…Karla Johansen was ready.  She was my excellent friend and self-proclaimed leader of our little gang of seven.

She…even in 8th grade…was ready for everything and anything at all times…and all of us just basically said “how high” when she told us to jump.

Her mother was an oddity for this time in history.  She worked full time…and was consumed constantly with guilt…even though she was an elementary school teacher and home almost as much as the other moms of our little group…who did not work outside the home.

But this was 1960.   Most moms stayed home…whether they wanted to or not.

So…because of her mother’s on-going guilt…Karla had an edge…and she had learned early in her young life how to successfully use that power.

Two years ago, in fact, she had managed somehow to convince her parents to build an in-ground, Olympic-size swimming pool in their backyard, even though they went to their summer cabin every weekend from June thru September.  Yeah…they had some money.

Karla loved her gang but not one of them had a summer cabin by the lake like she did.  But now they spent every hot sunny day splashing in “Karla’s pool”.   No one could ever accuse Karla of not being a great friend.  She was a wonder.

Even as my mother was delivering the Halloween bad news to me, I knew Karla was also receiving it from her mom…and responding with anguish, sobs and fake tears.  She had practiced how she would react in front of me and she was pretty damn good.

“NO TRICK OR TREATING!!!!!”  I could almost hear her screaming and I lived blocks away.

What I couldn’t hear was her poor mom, Liz Johansen (we all loved her, she was such a sweetheart) telling Karla how sorry she was for this terrible disruption in her life.

“Is there anything I can do, Karla?  Is there anything you want?  Please stop crying dear…there must be something that would make you happy…”

“Well…mom…since you’re asking…maybe a little Halloween party?  With orange and black crepe streamers?  And maybe you could (here, she told me, she paused for a little sob) make those fantastic brownies that everyone likes?  And remember that scavenger hunt we had on my 10th birthday?  The kids really loved that…” said Karla.

All of that was…of course…bull shit.

What Karla really wanted was a boy/girl party with food and pop and loud music and dancing and red lights and games like Post Office, Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven…and maybe a little Truth or Dare (if everyone was feeling risky)…and strict orders: to “not come down the basement and embarrass me”.

THAT was the party Karla wanted…and of course…got.

But Karla was a smart 8th grader…so her initial request for a small party was charming and innocent and sure to be granted and…it was.

As she told me later, “Riley.  It was a piece of cake.  I could have won an Oscar!”

Chapter 3

The party was a HUGE success!  There must have been 25-30 kids there…some even Karla didn’t know…but the word got out and kids…out “trick or treating”… just knocked politely on the door and sweet mom, Liz let them in with a welcoming smile…and sent them down the basement.

(Karla’s party was probably the first prototype of the fantastic open house parties to come as we got older.  Those parties dotted the streets of our sprawling suburb every Friday and Saturday night in the late fifties and early sixties.

All you needed then was a car and maybe an address…or sometimes you could just drive up and down the streets looking for lots of cars parked in front of a house…with the lights blazing…a dead giveaway.

You just waked in, smiled nicely to the parent…who was usually sitting in the kitchen looking a little shell-shocked…and went wherever her hand pointed…usually to the basement.

Karla’s party had only walk-ins…no cars yet…and we all drank the pop, ate the sloppy Joes, did the little “scavenger hunt” Karla’s mom had organized and then about 9:00 Karla put red bulbs in the light sockets…and a ‘DO NOT DISTURB–THIS MEANS YOU MOM’ sign on the basement door.  It was time to have a real party!!!

The plan was to start slow…this was, after all…the first time most of us had been at a party like this…but Karla and I had done a lot of reading…

Spin the Bottle was first and everyone got into a large circle and got very quiet.  There was a lot of nervous laughter…from everyone…including me.

Truth or Dare would be last.  I had played ‘Truth’ once before…at a slumber party last summer with a group of girls…four of the girls went home crying.  It was pretty intense.

Karla, as hostess and most fearless of us all, went first and the bottle stopped in front of Ronald Simmons…the most quiet and shyest boy in our school…and Karla’s next door neighbor.

Everyone gasped out loud!  Why was he here?  Who invited him?  He never even talked to anyone…I wasn’t sure he could talk…I had never heard him.

“Ronny!!  I didn’t know you were coming tonight.” said Karla in a very friendly, non-threatening voice.

“I was #7 on your mom’s Scavenger Hunt list.” he said as he  pointed to Brian Carlson, one of our gang…who was looking slightly embarrassed…making eye contact with no one.

“Very funny, Brian.” said Karla with a disapproving tone to her voice.

To Ronny she said, “Well, good to…see you, Ronny…”  And then she gave him a big smile…and went to re-spin the bottle…but wait…

No one let Karla get away with that move…she and Ronny had to go into the storage area for a kiss…rules were rules.

They came out 30 seconds later…both of them with blazing red cheeks!

Later, Karla told me he refused to kiss her so she just grabbed him by his shoulders and kissed him anyway.

“I think he kind of screamed, Riley, honest.” she said.

(Side Note:  Ronny Simmons became a many times decorated homicide detective for the Minneapolis Police Department…after working Vice for ten years…he never married.)

The game continued and very quickly most everyone had their turns at Spin the Bottle and were laughing and having a good time.  Everyone was anxious to move up to something more daring.  I know I was…I hadn’t gotten ‘chosen by the bottle’.

It was time for Seven Minutes in Heaven…where two people spent seven minutes in a darkened room doing whatever they wanted.

John Taylor, a really good-looking new boy who had just last week moved to Bloomington from St. Paul, Mn., had been smiling at me a lot and I had been smiling back.  We hadn’t yet talked…only said “hi”.

He looked older and “exciting”.  Maybe it was his all black Zorro costume…but what did I know…I was only 13.

It turned out John had missed a year of school because of an auto accident and had to repeat second grade…so he was older.  He was…14.

When it was his time to spin …he reached out and stopped the bottle before it could go past me and looked right at me with a devilish grin.

I never went into the other room with anyone else all night…John’s turn always stopped at me …and he encouraged the spinning bottle to pass by me when the other boys had their turn…pretty heady stuff for an 8th grade girl like me.

John Taylor had an agenda that Halloween night and I was at the top of it…me and my Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

I will definitely explain my authentic (read very skimpy) Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…a tin of dark brown body powder included with the rental price…but first…

…my life in a nutshell before this party.

My mom and dad didn’t always read the set of instructions that came with living in this world…which…if you don’t have children is workable…but they had me…

I was the first girl to wear lipstick, albeit pale, pale pink lipstick in 6th grade.  My dad brought it home because he thought I would like it.  I did.

This was scandalous in 1958.  But mom and dad thought it was cool.  And so did I.

I later wore it to my Wednesday confirmation class at some really strict (no-name) evangelical church (let’s not say cult, here).

A friend of a friend of my dad’s had recommended this church to him…one dark and story night in a neighborhood bar.

Someone had to have been very drunk at the time for this to have ever been thought to be a good idea.  Again.  Let’s not use the word cult.

I got banned and sent home on my red Schwinn bike because I was wearing lipstick.

I was allowed back to class after a very curt call from my mother who had just shelled out a ton of money for my expensive white confirmation dress with matching shoes.  She had also just prepaid for a confirmation group photo in an oak frame.  My mom was fierce when she was upset…

So…I was allowed to return to the fold…whatever…

But then I brought a nice Catholic boy to a confirmation class hay ride three weeks later and was then permanently banned from class…we were, however, allowed to finish the hayride.

However, the group picture had already been taken and paid for so it looked like I had actually been confirmed even though I had not.

“Screw it,” my dad said.  “We got the picture!”  And it hung ever so proudly in their living room for years.

My mom said she thought she was Jewish anyway…and so that was the end of my formal religious education.

I started using black eye liner in 7th grade but no one cared…

Now…about that costume…a friend of my dad’s…

Chapter 5

“No trick or treating!!” shouted my dad when he was told of the “new Halloween rule”.

“Has everyone gone mad?” he exclaimed..

“It’s a terrible idea!!!  Riley’s just a kid…she’s only 9…10…how old are your, darlin’?” he said turning to me.

“I’m thirteen dad and Karla’s having a swell costume party instead and I’m really looking forward to that!”

I gave him a huge supportive smile…because he seemed to really need it.

The next day he came home from work with a telephone number and an address he got from a guy he knew…who knew of a professional costume shop in Minneapolis.

My dad always knew a guy…or at least a guy who knew a guy.

“We’ll get you something really spectacular, Riley.  So…you won’t be so sad,” Dad said.

“I’m not sad, dad.” I said.

Mom just smiled and put three Swanson chicken TV dinners in the oven…they were her specialty.

After dinner, my dad made a phone call to make sure the shop was open.  We all trekked down to this really tiny (read kind of dingy) shop on Washington Avenue.

The costume shop was for adults…it’s okay to let your mind wander here…

I think he sold some other stuff as well…anyway…he had told my dad over the phone that he would give him a good deal…my dad loved a good deal.

Because I was thirteen and…you know…kid-short, I only had 2 choices of costumes.

A clown costume with blue and white baggy pants and red shirt…and a re-usable red ball I could pop on my nose…OR…a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume–tin of dark brown body powder included with rental price.  The clown costume was really never even considered.

The night of the party, it took my mom over an hour to cover my exposed skin with  the dark brown powder but when she was done…I looked…like an 8th grade girl in a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…that was a  little too skimpy…but…

“Oh, what the hell,” said my mom…putting some more powder on my ‘chest’.

My dad gave me two thumbs up.

“You look great, kiddo.  Very…Hawaiian.”  He sounded so proud.

I don’t know if he was proud of the way I looked, proud of the costume itself or proud of the fact that he had indeed gotten a good deal.

He then leaned in to give me a big hug.  He pulled away and the front of his white tee-shirt was streaked all over with brown powder!

“Holy Crap!!” I said…not quite horrified.

My parents just laughed…and told me…”don’t go hugging anyone tonight!”

I thought…well, okay.

Do you remember Chapter 3…and my “Seven Minutes in Heaven”…with John Taylor and his black Zorro costume…many, many times?

Good memory.

Chapter 6

John and his parents had moved into a big, ranch rambler right across the street from Karla.  He had asked if he could walk me home…I lived about six blocks away.  Of course, I said yes.

“But first I want to show you my pet snake, Waldo.” said John.  “He’s super friendly.”

I was not FOND of snakes but I thought John was a pretty good kisser…so I pretended…

We left Karla’s party a little early and walked over to his house.

His parents were playing cards with some of their friends in the living room.

They were all dressed up and soft music was playing in the background.

It looked very elegant…with drinks and snacks scattered around on little side tables.  No one was in costume…

The front door opened right into the living room so when we walked in…everyone immediately looked over at us.

John introduced me.  “Mom.  Dad.  This is Riley.  She’s a friend I met at Karla’s party.  I wanted her to meet Waldo and then I’m going to walk her home.”

His parents rose slightly from the table, as if they were going to come over to us but  then sat back down.

I gave them all a friendly little wave and a smile

No one said a word.  Not. One. Word.  They just stared at us…mouths literally hanging open.

My hand slowly rose to my chest, just to make sure nothing was…you know…hanging out.  Nope.  I was good.

John’s father looked a bit upset…his face was quite red and John’s mom looked a little flustered as well.

Finally, one of the men…obviously more fortified with alcohol than the others…said a little too loudly…

“Well!!  It looks like Johnny and Riley have been having fun tonight…”

John smiled politely at his father’s semi-drunken friend and looked down at me…I also smiled and looked at John…and then I really looked at John.

Most of my body powder…if not all…was now all over the front of John’s black Zorro costume.

It was on his arms.  It was on his legs.  His whole fucking body was covered in dark brown powder.  Even his face was streaked with brown powder.

It was fairly obvious that Zorro had indeed been rolling around somewhere with the little Hawaiian girl…

John saw the look on my face and then looked down at the front of his costume.

He just grinned at me and chuckled…like it was no big deal…because…to John…it really wasn’t.

I, however, was so embarrassed.  I pulled at his hand and quickly edged back toward the front door.  There would be no “Waldo viewing” tonight.

I waved a polite good-bye to the adults…only one of whom waved back.

Through the years, as I got to know John, I was to learn that nothing ever really bothered him…which is why…I think…I came to like him so very, very much.

And…from that night on…we were each other’s best friend.

And…I was the only one who would call him…”Johnny”…

Chapter 7

Johnny and I didn’t date each other once in high school.  That full body “kissing/hugging” session on Halloween in 8th grade was it.

From ninth grade on, we were always dating other people.  Event though there was a strong connection between us…we never seemed to get together to actually go out on a real boy/girl date.

But during our four years in high school, we shared many classes, activities and lunch hours.

We became fearsome fast friends…talking on the phone almost every night…many times complaining about the girl or guy we were currently dating.

When we got older and had access to cars, we would meet at Ralph’s…the only drug store in Bloomington that still served Lime Phosphates…we were both huge fans.

Our friendship grew even if our love life didn’t.

Johnny was bat-shit smart but hated to study or take notes or pay attention in class.

I would often see him looking out the window at something he found way more fascinating than what the teacher was saying.

But I did study.  And I did take notes…and I easily and with no conscience slipped my very best friend copies of my notes for tests.

Many hours were spent studying together…that is…when I could get him to stop talking to my parents…who adored him…and come into my bedroom where we could study.

But even that was hard.  Johnny would always flop on my bed and gaze up at the twinkle lights I had hung from my ceiling.

“Turn off all the lights, Riley.  I want to see the stars.”

I never argued.  It was no use.  Our study sessions always began with us laying side by side on my bed…looking up at “the stars” in total darkness.

Then we would talk…about anything and everything…as long as it did not have anything to do with algorithms or cell structure.  Maybe later…we would study.

Sometimes I had to take his face in my hands and make him look at me, to get him to pay attention and listen to what I was trying to say to him.

He would smile and say, “Tinka.  You have the prettiest eyes.”

Tinka was his pet name for me…I had no idea why…but Johnny said, “One day, Tinka, I will tell you…”

And then he would  try to kiss me and of course I was always dating someone else so I would laugh and push him away.  But sometimes…sometimes I wouldn’t always want to…

“Johnny!!!  Pay Attention!!  Do you want to graduate with honors or not?  Your dad will kill you if you don’t…you now that, don’t you?”

And then, and only then, would he listen…at least for a little while.

He was very careful about what his father thought of him.  It was so important for Johnny to impress him.  I don’t think his father ever knew that…