Puberty hit me.
2 million years of hormonal evolution started coursing through my veins, forcing me head first into a testosterone fueled tournament of one-upmanship with every other male in my school.
To this day puberty was the single most difficult, life altering adjustment I have ever had to make.
I didn’t understand it then. I don’t understand it now, but I have learned to live with it.
But when it first hit, I thought about things I had never thought before and about people I had never thought about.
I thought the girl that you save from the gorilla on Donkey Kong was fine.
No one was safe.
And what was most disturbing about all of this was the fact that prior to puberty I never particularly cared for girls.
I mean, I thought a few of them were cute. But it was a completely different kind of “cute” than I would use post-puberty.
Prepubescent “cute” was cute like a puppy is cute.
Now cute was how you differentiated from the girl who knew why you were looking at her the way you did from the ones that didn’t.
Now that puberty hit, so much of who I used to be didn’t exist anymore.
We weren’t like kids today that seem to be fully developed sixteen-year-old twelve year olds.
At twelve we looked eleven. I looked nine.
But something had clicked by the time seventh grade started in the fall of 1984.
I had pubes.
I had acne.
I had a cracking voice.
I had long feet.
I had long fingers.
I had everything but gained a single pound.
I was still all of 75 pounds, maybe 80 tops, and most of that was Afro.
But now I felt I needed to compete with all of the other boys in the school for the attention of these most beautiful, sweet smelling creatures whose acceptance or rejection was now the be all and end all of my worth as a man.
As suddenly as it hit me, it seemed to have hit all of us. We are all like this.
Every dude I knew had been contaminated with this contagion that overnight elongated your feet and fingers, shredded your voice, made you suffer insatiable hunger, oily skin, musty under arms and fuzzy nuts.
Prior to this force majeure that was ravaging my body that at times seemed to be indecisively teetering between changing me into a man or a werewolf, I never had a single conversation with a girl that was worth remembering.
I liked Transformers and GI Joe. Girls liked stuffed animals and writing on their shoes with colored markers.
There was nothing there to build on.
We couldn’t have been more different.
Now post puberty I looked for any weakness I could exploit to find a way in.
I didn’t know exactly.
What did I think I was going to do with “it” when I found “it”?
Again, I didn’t know. I will cross that bridge when I get to “it”.
Well seventh grade was the year that I first laid eyes on “it”.
“It” was Lisa.
Lisa had a Gerri curl. Lisa had an ass. Lisa was fine. She looked like a younger version of that girl Michael Jackson was trying to chase down and eat in his Thriller video.
She was a new girl to our school.
Well she wasn’t from any of the elementary schools that fed into this one.
So she was actually new in every sense of the word. Every guy was starting out even. No one could claim an advantage of knowing her before anyone else.
Actually, I didn’t even know why she was going to our school to tell you the truth, she didn’t even live anywhere near any of us, but I didn’t give a damn about any of that.
Lisa wasn’t like the other girls.
Lisa didn’t walk like the other girls.
Lisa didn’t chew gum like the other girls. She didn’t play with her hair like the other girls. She twirled her foot in little half circles when her legs were crossed.
Girls didn’t do that.
Women did that.
When she spoke to you she looked directly into your eyes.
And her smile…damn that smile of hers.
She broke the rules in every good way you could break them.
Lisa liked boys.
And we liked Lisa.
I started making a list of advantages and disadvantages. I had far more advantages than disadvantages.
I had a locker that was by Lisa’s.
We were both in House B. That basically amounted to us having the same lunch period.
Her home room was in the classroom kitty-corner to my homeroom.
But what I didn’t have were any actual classes with her. That was a big strike against me.
That meant I didn’t have much time to make a positive impression.
Had we shared a few classes together I could take my time, but since I didn’t have that luxury, I had to do something that would have her thinking about me while she was being fawned over by all of the other guys who could work on her day in and day out in class.
The film Purple Rain had just come out. And on what little money my father would give me to get my comic books every other week, I skipped my comics, saved up, and bought Lisa a copy of Purple Rain.
I came to school one day and gave it to her.
I know. I sound like a stalker. And I probably was one in the making but your plan has to fail to be a stalker.
This one worked.
She was appreciative.
You look surprised.
I mean, wouldn’t you be? The first time some guy that you had no idea you even shared an existence with on this earth walks up to you just before the last period on Friday and hands you a brand new cassette of the hottest album of the year?
C’mon ladies that shouldn’t freak you out.
Well Lisa didn’t freak out. In fact, she actually gave me a kiss on the cheek…just before I turned around and ran away down the hallway at full sprint without saying a word.
“Getting women isn’t that hard,” I thought to myself. “Kinda expensive, but it isn’t hard.”
All I could think about during the final period was “Why I did I run?”
Must’ve been the hormones. Then again, maybe I just didn’t want her to give me the tape back.
Well that is neither here nor there now. What’s done is done. At least she took it. And my timing couldn’t have been better.
I gave it to her before last period so that the guys that she normally had hovering around her would see that I was on the block.
I had tossed my name into the tournament. If they wanted Lisa’s attention they were going to have to contend with one more hormone ranging boy. Sure they could go out and buy her something too, but that is old now. You would just be following in my footsteps.
And that is what I want them to do.
I am an original. I’m a gamer. Now it’s all about me and Lisa.
They can’t even begin to understand what we have.
This is special. This is the kind of stuff you make movies about.
So what if I weighed as much as Prince and was twice his height by the seventh grade? He didn’t seem to have any problems getting women.
Everything I need to know about getting a woman I learned from Purple Rain.
If I played it right from here on out I shouldn’t have to do anything else but just look disinterested.
If I was correct, just like Apollonia was all over Prince’s after she heard him perform on stage, Lisa should be all over me after I get out of this class…in three, two, one…
The final school bell rings.
Well after I got out of class who do you think was waiting for me at my locker?
Life shouldn’t be this easy.
She tried to give the tape back to me but I insisted that she keep it. It was just a tape. I acted like I had about eleventybillion of them just laying around my room still wrapped in plastic.
I wouldn’t miss it.
I wish I could tell her what I had to sacrifice to get that tape. She was holding two weeks’ worth of comics that I had to pass on to get that tape in her pretty little hand.
She didn’t really want to give it back. She just didn’t want to look like the kinda of girl that accepted gifts from strange boys that as far as she was concerned only popped into existence an hour ago.
I walked her to the bus stop. We talked. We laughed.
There we were, the two of us walking towards the buses through the snow with a picturesque view of the front of my middle school behind us. For a few minutes there, as we walked along side all of the busses that were lined up to take the kids home for the weekend we were no doubt the center of attention of all of the haters that would have to languish all weekend on how they can get back into a game that I had already won.
I had Lisa.
She had me.
But then we kept on walking past all of the buses.
For whatever reason she didn’t take the school bus like every kid that didn’t walk to school, she took the city bus. Normally my spider-sense would have started tingling at this point, I have a knack for picking out things that just don’t fit, but my spider-sense all but stopped working properly just like my voice did around same the time that I caught this puberty thing.
She could have been leading me towards the walls of Mordor and I wouldn’t have noticed.
So I waited with her at the city bus stop while all of the yellow buses pulled away.
No matter. Besides, I could use this time to get to know my new woman, you know, in case anyone asks me questions that a boyfriend should know…whatever that is.
While she talked to me and dare I say even “flirted” a little, I just tried my best to look in control of things while I tried not to freeze to death.
When she flirted with me I really didn’t know how to flirt back so I just stared at her a lot and nodded during the uncomfortable silences.
When in doubt, nod slowly and smile knowingly.
If things keep working this well Lisa and I are going to have to name our first kid Prince.
She did most of the talking, until I guess to break my concentration from off her chest she snatched my ear muffs off my head and dared me to get them back from her.
If I wasn’t sick with this puberty thing I would have tackled her ass and got my ear muffs back before my ears turned red.
But now I was flattered.
And instead of going after her full sprint I actually let her get away.
That was a change. I really didn’t want those damn ear muffs back. Besides there is only so fast you can move with a hard on in blue jeans.
They were hers.
Then as if on cue the bus came.
She got on it, twirling my ear muffs around her finger, toying with me, seductively daring me to get on the bus with her.
I can’t believe this girl was only twelve years old.
She stood in the doorway saying that if I wanted those ear muffs I was going to have to get on the bus with her or else they were hers.
Do you have any idea how cool I am going to look when I tell every single dude in my school that Lisa stole my ear muffs?
Are you kidding me?
I am not going to take one step towards that bus. In fact, I am going to take a step back in case you change your mind and decide to toss them to me.
Well the driver closed the door on the bus and Lisa rode away with me standing on the side of the road acting like I couldn’t believe she had taken my ear muffs.
That was the best 10-minute walk home from school I had ever had.
For 10 minutes I was everything that I ever wanted to be in life.
There is nothing like having confidence. I felt like I could’ve caught every single snowflake that was falling that afternoon before any one of them touched the ground.
I not only had a conversation with Lisa but her undivided attention for a good 10 minutes. And the cherry on top was that she had jacked me for my ear muffs which guaranteed, if nothing else, that I had to have another conversation with her Monday if only to ask for them back.
I would spend the entire weekend practicing what would come to be my trademark witty one liners and I would stand in front of the mirror and I would imagine playing our game, I called it our “When are you going to give me back my ear muffs?” game.
I would say, “Hey Lisa, where are my earmuffs?”
And she would say, “There in my bedroom Nkrumah. I told you, you can have them back as soon as you come up there and get them.”
Of course we would only play this game within earshot of any guys that might be vying for her attention.
What’s the point in being the big dog if you aren’t going to mark your territory every chance you get?
Lisa and I had a moment, that much was undeniable. One that no one would be able to take away from us.
No one except … my mother.
Yeah, my mother. Of all people I was brought back down to earth by my mother.
When I got home I had to tell somebody what happened. This was the best day of my life.
She would have to do. So I told her the whole deal, how Lisa was the finest girl in school, how she liked me, how I liked her, how I was going to ask her to go steady and how “you will love her mom” but then I twisted it all up when I also mentioned that Lisa took my ear muffs before she jumped on the city bus and rode away.
She took my ear muffs. How cool is that?
She got on the city bus and rode away.
Not that part.
She took my ear muffs?
Yes that part. Boy, you better get those ear muffs back. Your father and I bought you those ear muffs.
Good thing I didn’t tell her about the Purple Rain cassette.
Huh? I can’t do that. I can’t ask for them back.
The hell you can’t. Why can’t you? Will she beat you up or something?
Damn mom. I know I’m small but damn that was cold. No I don’t want to ask for them back because those ear muffs are the only chance I have with this girl. That is my connection. Those ear muffs are my way in. Without them I am back to square one.
Boy you better get those ear muffs back on Monday.
My parents had about as much intention on following through with a threat as I did.
The one thing my parents were horrible at, and I do mean horrible, was following through with a threat.
Parenting takes a lot of work. And part of that is making sure that you don’t make more rules than you are willing to enforce.
Well that’s where my parents had gone wrong. They had far more rules than they had any intention of enforcing. All I had to do was figure out which ones were which.
Law enforcement takes time.
Time they didn’t spend.
They would much rather tell you to do something and just fool themselves into believing that you were doing it, because you were a decent kid and they could trust you to do what they said.
Well not this time.
My mother got on me every single day I came home about those cheap ass ear muffs she probably paid a dollar for at a garage sale and now she was acting like they were ear muffs that were custom made by the lost tribe of Israel especially for my head.
I tried to put it off by telling her anything I could come up with.
This was new. Normally she would have moved on to something else by now.
My parents had an attention span much like the American public, something is a crisis for about three weeks then it never comes back up again.
I wasn’t use to this kind of persistence.
But eventually my mother, miss non-confrontational herself would call my bluff with one of her own.
My mom pulled me aside, looked me dead in the eyes and told me that if I didn’t come back home with those ear muffs she was going to go up to the school and get them back from Lisa herself.
But what were the odds she would actually do it?
I didn’t care about the odds.
My mom was probably bluffing but I just couldn’t risk it.
So I walked up to Lisa at the end of school that day and I said, “Hey Lisa I really need those ear muffs back.”
And she played along like she normally did, “Nope. I told you what you had to do if you wanted them back. You have to get on the bus with me.”
Damn this was going to hurt worse than I thought.
“Well as much as I’m sure I would enjoy that Lisa, if you don’t give me my ear muffs back I am pretty sure that I will be going home with you tomorrow and my mother will be sitting right next to us. She told me if I didn’t come home today with those ear muffs she was going to be coming up here to get them herself.”
Lisa got a look on her face that I will never forget.
She turned around, did her locker combination, reached under her books and handed me back those cheap ass ear muffs and that was the last we ever spoke.
I was out of the game just like that.
She had taken my tape but my mom had taken my balls.
I never wore those ear muffs again.
I know my mom knew it too. It must’ve been one of those principle things for her.
She would ask where they were every now and again and they were always in the same spot, in the hallway closet by the front door.
What was I going to do, wear them back to school?
She knew better than to ask why I didn’t want to put them on anymore.