o there I was.
Eleven Years Old.
And in love for the very first time.
Her name was Dawn. Dawn O'Donnell. I was in sixth grade and had, for the first time, begun thinking about girls as something worth getting to know as people rather than members of The Enemy, as I had previously understood all girls to be.
It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade. I knew I was headed off to a small private Junior High school, as opposed to my larger public elementary school, and I had a feeling I would never see her again.
I had teased her mercilessly, of course. I always chosen a particular girl to subject to my pre-adolescent wit, which, in retrospect wasn't half bad. I teased her in fourth grade, I teased her in fifth grade, and it had only begun to dawn on me in sixth grade that maybe the reason I picked her out to tease her was because I liked her, not because I hated her. It's a fine line of distinction at that age.
I feel compelled at this stage to make clear, to make ABSOLUTELY clear, that while many of my recollections from this era may involve some embellishments of the typically mundane variety, any precise facts and figures of the numerical variety are 100% accurate to within forty-seven decimal places. Sure, we're dealing with simple integers, but again, let me stress that I am NOT making any of them up.
She lived at either 602 Elmhurst Circle, or 802 Elmhurst Circle. In a condominium complex roughly between my own house and Sacramento State University. I wasn't sure, because I had first heard from a mutual friend that she lived at 602 Elmhurst, and then later stealthily overheard from a group of Evil Girls that she lived at 802 Elmhurst Circle.
She was slightly taller than me, as most 11 year old girls were, and had long brunette hair. I don't remember much about her personality except that she was smart and vaguely bookish, and her father was a lawyer like mine, and she didn't fit in with all the other girls who were preoccupied with the pre-adolescent pop culture du jour. She was different, that's all, and I never knew what became of her.
All I remember is that I had teased her for a few years (which was a very, very long time at the time) and I had suddenly decided that I loved her, and I had never decided that I loved anyone before.
So I wrote her a letter, apologizing for all the teasing I had done, and how many times I had publicly declared her ugliness and stupidity, and confessed that I thought she was quite intelligent, and not all that bad looking, really. It was terribly, terribly deep, I'm sure -- but written in a time when after you sent a letter, it was GONE. No automatic carbon copies to your own email box, just sent off into the vapor and into the memories of whomever you sent it to.
But I didn't know where to deliver it to. 802 Elmhurst, or 602?
An easily solved mystery, of course, to a young gentleman with a bicycle. I was taking some classes at CSUS (Sac State University, for those who can't parse that quickly) that summer -- designed for pre-adolescents like myself, precocious but not *so* precocious that they were already taking Pre-Calculus -- on Creative Writing and Computers. My first exposure to the dual worlds of earnest grad-student writing instructors and primitive multi-user computer networks.
Most importantly for our purposes, it required that I bike past both 602 and 802 Elmhurst circle on my way to class every morning for 10 weeks straight.
So I checked the respective mailboxes. Whoever lived at 602 picked up their mail right away, and I couldn't get an official last name. Whoever lived at 802 let their mail sit around awhile. I first rode to 602, peeked into the empty mailbox, and found nothing.
At 802, I found mail addressed to a couple by the name of "Marx". But I found more than that. I peeked in between the boards of the back fence and saw a sweet golden retriever. I had a golden retriever at home, named Sam, who I had shared a pillow with every night since I was five years old, and I held anyone else with a golden in high regard. There was just enough room between the slats of the back gate to pet this dog on the nose. A very nice dog, I thought. I hoped it was Dawn's house, but I wasn't sure if she had a dog at all, let alone the same kind of dog I had.
So I biked around to the front of the house and peeked into the front window, and found, once more, the SAME dog. A sweet, young golden retriever poking its head through vertical blinds to bark hello to me.
This struck me as a little odd, because from what I saw of the back yard, there wasn't any way for the dog in the yard to get inside, let alone to the front of the condo as fast as I'd biked around the building. But I figured, hey, there must be a dog door or something. Must be a rational explanation.
I was *seconds* from putting my letter into the mailbox at 802 Elmhurst when I saw Dawn walk by, down the street. (Condominium number sequences aren't quite the same, of course, as typical street addresses, separated by house groupings rather than the traditional long city blocks) She was carrying a tennis racquet, presumably from some summer school tennis class like the kind my parents forced me to take, and she was walking home oblivious to the attentions of a boy who truly Loved her.
I left my bike behind, and ran to catch up with her. I caught her just as she reached her front door, and was about to say I had something for her when she saw me. She gave me a look, cold as ice, because I was that loser freak who had made her life miserable, who had teased her for the past two years. Naturally, she slammed the door in my face.
Flash forward, four years.
I'm fifteen years old. I'm a geek. I'm a geek when being a geek Just Isn't Even Remotely Cool. I'm into Star Trek and computer games and Dungeons and Dragons, and haven't really progressed any further with women than that one feeble attempt to convince a girl I liked her by saying she "wasn't all that bad looking".
But at this point, teen angst has begun setting in. I'm lonely and desperate. I have one special girl who I'm deeply in love with, only not only doesn't she know I'm alive, she's dating 19 year old college guys who go to Junior College and have part time jobs delivering crates of Pepsi. What could I possibly offer, compared to fancy credentials like those? I haven't even kissed a girl, while my best friend Caleb had already had SEX, with a coke-sniffing senior named Kirsten, and was quickly rounding the bases with his totally cute freshman girlfriend, named, um, Cindy something.
Jill (my own love interest) had short, dark brown hair cut into a sharp new-wave bob that was the absolute cutting edge of 1985. If you ever wondered what the appeal was of those tight, pinstriped blue-green Guess Jeans, you had only to look at Jill's ass for half a second, and the prejudices of future eras would melt away into a glimmer of perfect understanding. She was built, she was gorgeous, she was even smart, and she was Out of My League.
And she had donated a few bags of old clothes to the high school "Clothing Bazaar", the proceeds of which would go towards helping local disadvantaged families. She hadn't, however, realized that she'd donated a bag of her old underwear, in particular her old training bras.
I had twenty cents. Two thin dimes. Two thin dimes I had *found* on the ground mere moments before. And the little side room off the gym where the bazaar was occurring was manned only by my biology teacher, an aging hippie who laughed as he held out a handful of bras, proclaiming "Take your pick! Only ten cents each!" Laughing, I bought two. Pretty funny joke, I thought. No one need ever know.
I can understand why Jill was incensed that her training bras had been sold to her classmates. But I don't understand why Mr. Sheplar told her WHO he'd sold them to. Oh, the inhumanity.
Jill told two friends. They told two friends. And so on, and so on. And suddenly I was the biggest freaking pervert of the whole sophomore class, and there was jack shit I could do about it. And the ringleader of the whole bunch, telling everyone I was a psycho freak?
Jill. The girl I had loved so very very dearly.
This hadn't come at a particularly good time, either. I was a morbid kid, and while I realize now that suicidal tendencies were the very height of fashion in the mid 80's, I felt considerably less than fashionable as I sat in my bathroom holding a razor to my wrist, wishing I could summon the gumption to slash into my veins and end my miserable existence once and for all. Once, I even sliced into my wrist during Biology class, just hoping for some attention. I held it up for Caleb too see.
"Cool!" he said.
Not the reaction I was looking for.
I never cut very deep, of course, and it always healed before anyone else bothered to notice. And this was the week before the whole business with the rummage sale. My self esteem was, conservatively speaking, at an all time low. I still remember coming home, laying prone on my bed, and calling Sam up to join me on the bed, as the only true friend I had in the world.
Which is why you probably couldn't have picked a worse time for Sam to be diagnosed with Cancer.
The rummage sale happened right before Christmas, and Sam collapsed on the floor, unable to walk, on New Year's Eve. He needed to be carried outside just to pee, which I did, diligently, in hopes that he would get better. At first, the vet thought he had a thyroid deficiency, and while thyroid pills pepped him up enough to be on his feet for a few days, he quickly regressed, and X-rays revealed a tumor in his spine, possibly a benign tumor.
They tried to remove it, only it wasn't benign. It was malignant. No matter, he died on the operating table. January 10th, 1986.
I know that no matter what dog I have at any moment, I'll proclaim to the world he's the best damn dog I ever had. It's easy to use superlatives around your dog -- they aren't judgmental that way. I don't care either. He was the best damn dog I ever had.
Anyhow, even if my parents didn't know the depth of my malaise, they knew I was destitute, and weighed the pros and cons of getting a new dog right away (not widely recommended, but providing some immediate substitute) and waiting for some later date (the more prudent, but non-satisfying path). The choice was made for them when one of the P.E. teachers at my school told them her two golden retrievers were having puppies.
The basic wisdom about Golden puppies is that you don't shop for them. You choose the breeders over the phone, and you briefly meet the parents to make sure the pups will grow up healthy, but once you meet the puppies themselves there is no going back. They're too cute. You can't not choose one. It's like the Jedi Mind Trick, no mind can resist.
Cheesy? Yes. But true. They have a sweet, milky odor that softens up the sympathetic portion of the reptile brain, and before you know it you've picked one out to be yours. Rational thought doesn't even enter into the equation.
Speaking of rational thought, I should probably mention that the P.E. teacher in question was a Mrs. Beverly Marx, a resident of 802 Elmhurst Circle. Mystery solved: there were two dogs, one in the back yard, one inside the house. Ginger and Curry, parents to the litter that brought me my dear, dear Bogart.
My logical side has struggled for a lifetime to explain this coincidence. Too bad, logical side. You lose. Even if there is a God, that's pretty neurotic divine intervention.
At this point, you're probably wondering what this has to do with my login name.
It gets worse.
So now I'm a senior in high school. Still a virgin, still un-kissed, but I have managed to carve out a semblance of an identity for myself. I'm on the school paper, but I'm also a Drama geek. I've played the lead role in a few plays by now, written an award-winning school column, and even though I still feel like a pathetic virgin I at least feel like an artiste pathetic virgin. The high school play is over, but since our private school is small and the Junior High is somewhat integrated into the High School, I find myself helping the drama teacher direct a Spring production of a sweet little two-act French play called "The Madwoman of Chaillot", or, in the original tongue "La Folle de Chaillot."
Here's the quick and dirty on the play: It was written in the early 1940's, during the German occupation of Paris. It's about a group of warmongering industrialists who've discovered an obscenely huge deposit of oil -- the only downside is the location: directly underneath Paris, in the seedy borough of Chaillot. Their intention: To become rich by bulldozing a huge section of Paris, and drilling for oil. Their opposition: A band of insane street people and conspiracy theorists, led by an elderly Madwoman still stuck in the 1890's. The industrialists, of course, are caught, tried by proxy (with a lovely, but ultimately failing, defense by a local street lunatic), and led to their deaths. The underdog triumphs, the bad old capitalists fail, and everyone goes home feeling good about themselves.
Contemporary critics felt it was overly sentimental, historians find it a good example of WWII era wish-fulfillment theatre, and I just think it's a great fucking play. That kind of art snobbery is what drove me out of graduate school. So sue me.
Anyhow, so I was seventeen, and working with thirteen year olds. And while some of them were merely passable actors and actresses, some of them were fucking brilliant. This isn't just hindsight making things out to be better than they were -- these were some supremely talented kids, who managed to accept their characters' realities much more completely than an adult ever could. A big part of an adult actor's job is rediscovering the ability to accept the details of a reality they don't see -- it comes totally naturally to kids. They're asked to accept silly new realities every day.
Anyhow, I helped build the set, ran rehearsal scenes, and collected money at the door. I spent enough time around the actors that I started making, well, jokes about some of the more attractive eighth graders.
Those, I've discovered, are the kind of jokes you never, ever live down. Never mind that I never laid a finger on any of them, never mind that two years later half of them were dating guys older than me, if you crack one joke about liking 'em young, that's the kind of thing that follows you for decades. Maybe it's a sense of universal guilt laid on a single scapegoat, maybe there was a hint too much of truth in my voice, who knows?
Ok, sure, I would have macked on Nicki Bernstein or Ann Junod (the Madwomen of Passy and Chaillot, respectively) if I'd had half a chance. But your honor, they were totally hot, and really very, very sophisticated for their ages! Anyhow, I never had a chance and didn't press the matter, so that's got to count for something, right? Right?
Anyhow, the show touched me, the kids looked up to me, and I felt good about myself for the first time in just about ever. And I was well-liked enough that Nicki Bernstein invited me to her 8th grade graduation party. No, nothing particularly unseemly happened at the party. No sex, no drugs -- a little adolescent drama, but nothing sketchy.
Except, of course, that the address of the affair happened to be at, oh, 702 Elmhurst Circle. But that didn't mean anything to anyone but me, and I figured that mentioning it to anyone would make me sound like a fucking lunatic.
Pure circumstance. Totally random. These things happen.
This story doesn't really have a very strong ending, but I'll attempt one, and try to return to the matter at hand.
When I was a freshman in college, I chose the UNIX account name of "gerald", for the dull reason that it was my name. I got the account so I could play games, particularly a starship combat game called "Multi-trek". I always chose the ship name "The Madwoman" because I thought that was a cool name for a spaceship. I began posting to campus forums under the moniker "The Madwoman" and some people thought I was female. I thought this was funny, so I created yet another account and told people I was a theater arts/dance student and that my name was "Cindy Dutra." I found that by flirting with loser geek boys, I could separate myself from them and feel like maybe I wasn't one myself. Eventually, I changed my account name to "lafolle." "Madwoman" was eight letters and there was a seven character maximum. Besides, "lafolle" was closer to the original "La Folle" from the title of the play.
At some point around that time I finally lost my virginity, which is a weird tale unto itself, but I'll save that story for another day.
Anyhow, I was a junior in college, taking a particularly light load of no-effort classes at UC Santa Cruz. I was twenty, about to turn twenty-one, and taking a course taught by my childhood idol, Tom Lehrer. A great class, Mathematics theory for non-math majors, it was all about unsolvable math problems and logic puzzles. We spent a week on infinity and another week on zero, and he started off every class with a historical or literary quote that fit the day's lesson. But the quarter drew to a close, and on the last day of class he tried his best to condense his quarter of teaching into a summary lecture.
He talked a great deal on the unknowable nature of reality, and the infinite possibilities in an infinite universe. But he talked about numbers and the concept of mathematics as both a limiting factor in our perceptions, and a defining factor. "I can imagine a universe totally foreign and different from everything we've come to expect from reality," he said. "But I cannot imaging one where there isn't one of something, or two of something else, or where things cannot be represented, to some extent, by mathematics."
"To sum things up," he said. "the best I can manage is a quote from a sweet little French play called 'The Madwoman of Chaillot'":
"All I remember on that subject," says the Countess Constance. "is the time that Father Lacordaire tried to kiss me in the park."
"Yes, yes, of course." counters the Countess Aurelia.
"And what does that mean, if you please, 'Yes, yes, of course'?"
"Constance, just this once, look us in the eye and tell us truly -- did that really happen or did you read about it in a book?"
"Now I'm being insulted!"
"We promise faithfully that we'll believe it all over again afterwards, but tell us the truth this once."
"How dare you question my memories! Suppose I said your pearls were false!"
"I'm not asking what they were. I'm asking what they are. Are they false or are they real?"
"Everyone knows that little by little, as one wears pearls, they become real."
"And isn't it the same with memories?"