It was the summer of 1973, I was fifteen. I saw my first James Bond movie. Live and Let Die. Roger Moore. Very scary. And there was a guy named Harold. He was a cousin to my friend, Rita. We were all meeting at the theatre to see Live and Let Die. I stood in the pre-arranged meeting place and waited for Rita and Harold to arrive.
I had limited information about Harold. I knew he was from “up north.” Rita said he was popular, a year older than we were, and he was going to try to kiss me. Sure, I was scared but with my sixteenth birthday right around the corner I was a little tired of hearing “sweet sixteen and never been kissed” and I was anxious to get this kissing ordeal done with so whenever the cliche was mentioned I could just laugh to myself at their expense. Wasn’t I the clever one?
Anyway, what Rita eliminated from the description of Harold was that he had one leg two inches shorter than the other and, as a result, he walked with a very obvious limp, not that there is anything wrong with that but even decades later I still don’t understand why Rita would not have worked that into the conversation before introductions.
Harold was also significantly shorter than me. Not that there is anything wrong with that either, but this was the kind of short that people would mention to their friends. I think he was as tall as my shoulders. As an adult, I maxed out at five feet four inches tall, I have no clue how tall I was that summer, but I do remember that Harold was what short people would call “ridiculously short”.
In addition to these unfortunate shortcomings, Harold seemed to have the longest trunk of any human being on our continent. Certainly there is nothing wrong with this, but I’ll never know why Rita wouldn’t mention these things to me.
Now, the truth is I am not even sure if Harold had thighs. He might have had just had a trunk and then some knees. I am not sure. Back then handicapped parking hadn’t been invented but this is the kind of guy that would certainly warrant it.
Now I understand all of those things were beyond Harold’s control. So as Harold approaches me at our meeting place in front of the theatre, he smiles and says, “Carrie, you look just like Rita described.” All I could say back to Harold was, “And you have kind eyes,” and it was at that point I noticed the left eye wandering.
So Rita had explained to Harold how I looked? I could not comprehend this. Well, perhaps because Harold was the older cousin, he may have few years of suave and savviness under that extremely low slung belted trunk of his and told Rita to describe me in more detail than I had ever asked about Harold.
There were many things going on with Harold, and through no fault of his own he could not do much about his appearance. He was certainly chipper and in my defense, both eyes were kind even though they rarely focused as a team.
Harold offered to buy me a soda and I accepted his offer. In hindsight (with my eyes looking backwards in the same direction), I might have agreed to do just about anything Harold was asking because I was so desperately trying to be sure my attention was directed to the correct line of vision.
Once we got in the theatre, the true Harold literally rose to the occasion. Because of his extraordinarily long trunk, he gave the illusion of being remarkably tall. I felt protected, safe just being in his shadow.
This theatre has recently been renovated as part of our Historic Downtown. At the time, we were there to see the movie it was just plain old run down downtown. I am sure there are tremendous theatrical terms to describe the ceiling; however I am not privy to them so I will describe the ceiling to the best of my ability.
The ceiling was meant to be beautiful. There were tiny holes punched in jagged shapes that gave the illusion of twinkling stars. You knew you had to take your seat when the overhead lights went dim and the stars became very bright. The next phase brought the stars brighter and brighter and eventually the theatre was almost completely lit only by starlight. Romantic, right?
Except that in our city’s pre-historic days, we had bat problems in our downtown theatre. When the overhead lights were dimmed, it signaled the bats to begin their swooping. Which made me shiver and shudder and obviously that was a signal for Harold to make his move.
Remember describing how safe I felt in his shadow? Well, as he raised that arm to move up and around me, my nose came directly parallel with Harold’s armpit. I have no scenario to describe that odor except to wonder if he lived so far up north that they were unable to deliver deodorant during the offseason.
I can sympathize with the wandering eye, the internationally award-winning elongated trunk, and the short leg, but a man’s got to keep himself pretty tidy to overcome those strikes.
I leaned as far away from Harold as I could while his arm was perched up on top of the back of my seat. We drank our sodas in silence as the starlight diminished and the theatre hushed. Rita smuggled in JuJu Bees and I declined. JuJu Bees were not going to make up for this fiasco.
The bats settled, previews began and at the very last moment an usher seated an appropriately proportioned man directly in front of me. I was thankful for his abundant love of Brut cologne because that was my salvation. I leaned forward in my seat, inhaled the average man’s cologne and sipped my soda. I was anxious for the movie to begin.
There had been a tremendous amount of hype surrounding the Paul McCartney and Wings song and I couldn’t wait to hear it blasting away at me in Dolby Stereo. I knew all the words and I was prepared to sing the theme song loudly in my head.
The theatre rumbled as the music started and Harold’s newest pitfall presented itself. Apparently the fizz of the soda was causing Harold to burp. Did he try to hide the burping? Nope, the burp was more Dolby than the Dolby Stereo.
When God grants so many of life’s challenges to one individual, you think God might have been omnipotent enough to up the ante in the self-awareness department regarding personal hygiene.
What kind of man would eat onions prior to a date? Harold from up nort’, that’s who. Yes, I swore I wasn’t going to tell you this part because it would seem like I was mocking him but he said he was from up nort’, like with a silent “h”.
Uh huh, just when I think it can’t get any worse than underarm odor I was confronted with bad breath from raw onions. Seriously, it is one thing to be in the kitchen with someone who was frying onions and have that scent remain on your clothing. Even at fifteen I could comprehend second-hand kitchen odor, but to knowingly serve yourself a slice of raw onion prior to a date? After you declared that there will be a kiss attached to that date?
My first thought was not only did this guy smell like body odor and raw onion, this man reeks of self-confidence. Yes, I was young and my heart was an open book, but not young enough to have that thought linger in my head too long. I had a fleeting thought that this might be the smell of arrogance. And by fleeting, I mean faster than bat crap can fall from a theatre ceiling, fleeting.
And my next thought was the most accurate thought. In my head, the guy just plain stunk stupid.
I needed a plan. The movie was extremely sophisticated with an incredibly intense soundtrack. I was unable to follow the plot line because it involved the forbidden world of tarot cards, voodoo, drug lords, heroin all woven together with hungry crocodiles, turbo-charged speedboats, perhaps an airplane or two and way too much Caribbean accent. Besides, I was already going to hell because I was at a movie with a boy and my mother didn’t know it. I detached myself from the on-screen action. I needed to think. No way was I getting kissed by Harold from up nort’. I didn’t care how close I was to sixteen.
The movie ended, no one moved because Paul McCartney was on the giant screen singing the theme song, an incredible moment in music history.
I looked at Rita’s well-focused eyes. She was doing the eyebrow-raising thing as if to say, “So, what do you think?”
“I need to call my mother, I’ll be in the lobby.” I scooted out quickly hoping the balcony traffic hadn’t been released yet. I fished a dime out of my pocket and placed it in the payphone. I called my house and told my mother I needed a ride home, I said that Rita’s mom was a nurse and had to go into work and Rita’s dad refused to pick up more than two people.
Yes, I was a good Catholic girl and I had no experience in lying. Rita’s mom was not a nurse; I don’t even know why I said that part. I don’t know why I said Rita’s dad would only take two people. What kind of dad would say that? I’ll tell you what kind, the kind of dad who had a daughter named Rita who had a cousin Harold from up nort’ that stunk stupid. That’s who.
Harold and Rita approached the payphone. I wrapped myself in the safety of the silver umbilical cord that attached the handset to the wall-mounted portion. “He’ll never get past this,” I rationalized. I waved at them to go on without me, but they kept approaching. I waved them on with more animation and added an angry head shake and what I hoped look like an evil eye.
I blame that after movie behavior on the power of big-screen voodoo, I got lost in it. That often happens with the extremely innocent.
Ah, the evil eye worked. Rita grabbed Harold’s fat hand. Alright, I didn’t tell you his hands were fat but now you know everything. Yes, there was a left hand and a right hand and they were attached to the appropriate limbs. Honest, that is all there is to tell you about him. He wasn’t a complete freak, you know.
Basically, I am not a rude person except for what I just said to you a second ago. I don’t even think God gave me the gene that allows me to be rude. I just knew that I had to make sure that kiss never happened. Even if that meant lying to my mother and rudely dismissing a sixteen-year-old boy that had one leg shorter than the other, an unnaturally elongated trunk, a vagabond eye, perhaps a unibrow and definitely fat hands.
Besides, very soon I would another chance for that first kiss with Philip.