Friday, May 20, 2011

Girls. Girls. Girls. A clueless youth learns about the opposite sex.

Girls. Girls.  Girls.  A clueless youth learns about the opposite sex. ©Joel Baumwoll

Seems to me one of the most important educations a kid gets as he grows to adulthood is figuring out how to deal with the opposite sex; in my case, girls. Unfortunately, most kids have to stumble along learning what they can from a motley collection of books, friends' tall stories, movies and empirical experience.

Trial and error.  And error.  And error.

My parents never saw fit to teach me about the proverbial “birds and bees.”  It was through an osmotic process that I absorbed ideas, facts, fictions and fantasies about girls.

I had the misfortune at a young age of being what girls call “cute.”  

At the tender age of four, I discovered that "older women" were attracted to me.  They liked to pinch my cheeks, run their hands through my hair and give me little squeezes here and there, while saying to my mother “oh what doll-face he is.  I hated it.

Aunt Rae's thumb-prints are permanently embedded in my cheeks.

Me 1944  
My mother was fond of dressing me up in all kinds of costumes.  Soldiers and sailors were big in the 1940s, as were Scotsman during Halloween.

Halloween 1943sm
My mother beamed, and I sort of enjoyed this kind of attention.

Mom and me 1944

By the time I got to third grade, I had some appreciation for an attractive girl, though I haven’t a clue where my standards came from.   

I distinctly remember Elaine Dix, a brunette with a buster brown hair cut, bangs and a button nose.  I used to look at her a lot.  Whether she ever looked back at me I don’t know.  

My recollection of her was so acute, that recently I scoured a fuzzy photo of the P.S. 73 graduating class of 1952 to see if I could spot this little beauty, who I had last seen fifty-six years ago

And damned if I didn’t pick her out of the ten rows of twelve year-old Bronx kids.  And she was cute.

Me and girl 1943 

The most intense experience I had with beauty was seeing a trio of little Irish Catholic girls in their white dresses, on the way to first communion.  I was awe struck at this parade of frilly femininity.  So much so that, for weeks, I had fantasies of being holed up in a secret cave with one of these little beauties, guarding her from the depredations of some bad guy.  Being her hero was satisfaction enough for my pre-puberty mind.

First communion
Not the real girls, but you get the idea.

I think by the time I was eight, I had developed the knack of acting “cute” to produce the kinds of reactions to which I had become accustomed.  A con man at an early age.

On the cusp of adolescence, at the age of ten, I was uprooted from the Bronx world I’d known to Montclair New Jersey, and started a new 4th grade class at Rand Elementary School.   

I was sort of exotic to these New Jersey kids, with my Bronx accent and city habits, and being Jewish.  That, in itself, was pretty exotic at Rand School.  Miss Reilly had us reciting psalms from the New Testament every morning before the Pledge of Allegiance.

The second week of school, a tall gangly kid named Fred Keyes came over to me.  I thought he was looking to make friends.  No such luck.  “What do you think of the girls in the class?” he asked.  Girls?  What was he talking about?  I hadn’t given a thought to girls, when my priorities were to avoid making myself look stupid to my new classmates, and figuring out how to make them think I was cool.

Montclair class pictiresm
 Fred Keyes on the far right, end of second row from top.

Gee,” I think I said, “I dunno.” And shrugged.  What could I say?

“Well stay away from Diane Fastige,” he told me.  “She’s mine.”

Of course, the next day I made a beeline to Diane to see what he was so het up about.  She was a short, cute Italian girl with the beginnings of a girlish figure, and brown hair with bangs.  

I was a sucker for bangs.

Needless to say, Diane and I became good friends.  This led to an after-school confrontation.  Fred was determined to win back the fair Diane, and he challenged me to a fight.  He was taller than I, but I was built thicker and more muscular.

The fight began with the usual push and push back and quickly deteriorated into groping, punching and rolling on the dusty slate sidewalk.  The custodian soon broke it up.  Diane invited me back to her house for some soda and recovery.  

Victory was mine.

What we did after that I have no recollection, except that I did invite her to see a movie with me.  “The Outlaw,” with Jane Russell was playing at the Wellmont, and it was a racy movie with hot scenes of heaving bosoms in haylofts.  Not that I was at a stage where I could truly appreciate what I was seeing.  But on some level, I knew it was off limits.


We double-dated with Diane’s friend Mildred Ruggerio and her beau of the time, George Gugliotta.   The three of them were late getting to the movie house, and I, not wanting to miss a minute of this film, bought my ticket and went inside to wait for them.  

Recently, I had an email conversation with Diane, and she remembers our exotic date.

But my dating etiquette had a ways to go.

Diane and I parted ways after fifth grade, since my middle school was on one side of town, and hers, the other.  And so I entered Hillside School.  It was located at the foot of Upper Mountain Avenue, one of the swankiest streets in swanky Montclair.  

Huge mansions with vast lawns and driveways longer than my street lined the avenue, and some of the girls who lived in those mansions attended Hillside.  

This was my introduction to a whole new world.  The world of blonde girls wearing white bucks and plaid scarves, cashmere sweaters with circle pins, and hairdos that looked like Sandra Dee.  

My girl radar was on high alert. Buffys, Muffys, Betseys and Sue-Anns surrounded me.  By then I had acquired the trappings of 1950s greaser, with pompadour hair, upturned collar and leather boots.

My icon...

Greaser with a yamulke..the bar Mizvah boy.  I even made the local newspaper!

My tough guy exterior and “cuteness” appealed to these girls, and I soon began to pursue them.  But holding hands was as racy as it got with these blond princesses.

By then, the idea of having a girlfriend was not foreign to me.  Of course, my goal (and that of most of my friends) was to “French kiss” them and, as we called it,  “feel them up.” 

My buddies, George, Mark Anderson and Butch Cutter traded stories of our conquests like deep-sea fishermen talking about fabled catches.  Almost all were total lies or embellished beyond reality.  Except in the case of Jackie Sullivan.  Jackie was a cute redhead with breasts developed beyond her early teen years.  Incredibly, she enjoyed kissing and being “felt up.” 

Thanks to Jackie, I began to realize that girls actually liked being fondled and kissed as much as boys did.  Before Jackie, I thought girls only did that as a favor to the boys.

Armed with this new insight, I set forth to a brave new world.  

That was to be in Rockaway, a remote town in Northern New Jersey where at the age of fifteen, my family moved.  Morris Hills Regional High School was a far cry from Montclair.  It was full of kids named Slagowitz, Rogansky and Grepschneider majoring in auto-mechanics, carpentry and beating up the few Jews who lived in the enclave on the hill called White Meadow Lake.

My introduction to the town came on a dark night when a car pulled up in front of me, blocking my way, and four kids got out and began to punch and kick me.  Fortunately, I was able to get away from them and run home.  A local policeman, after hearing my description and the name of one of my attackers, said he knew who they were.  One was his son.  Later that year, I came within six inches of smashing his face with a ten pound dumbbell, but that is another story.

Thus began my education in testosterone high.  Elvis was in full swing, and I was nothing but a hound dog, with long sideburns and a hank of thick brown hair falling over my face (sigh, where is it today?).

My teen angel was Barbara Mountford, a blonde, blue-eyed beauty who took a liking to me, and to my delight, outrivaled Jackie Sullivan in her enjoyment of sex.  Barbara was the fantasy girlfriend every kid dreams of.  She was sweet natured, willing to go anywhere, undemanding and as desirable as any Hollywood sex goddess.  

My junior and senior high years are sweetly colored by my encounters with Barbara.  In fact I recall being in bed with her on a truant day in October, 1956 and turning on the radio to hear the news about the Russians launch of Sputnik.  Barbara had launched my own Sputnik earlier in the day.

A yearbook remembrance, 1958

My regret looking back is I did not appreciate how good I thing I had.  I simply took her for granted.  Little did I know that girls like Barbara come along rarely in a kid’s life.  

Had I known better, I would have kept the relationship going at least through my junior year in college.  But, alas, ignorant of my good fortune, I allowed our affection to wither and disappear without much of a hiccup.

Barbara and me 1962
 Barbara and me on New Years Eve, 1962.  Our last date.

My sixteen year-old adolescent passions were kindled by a summer romance with a younger woman. 

Fourteen-year old Ruthie Weiser had auburn hair, a lovely smile and an Ava Gardner body.   Our dates consisted mainly of kissing and pressing our bodies against each other in any location where we had privacy, usually until three or four in the morning. 

This relationship simply faded away and the end of the summer when Ruthie and family evacuated the lake for their Brooklyn home, leaving me to long dark winters.  Another dumb move on my part not to keep it going a bit longer.

Our intense affair opened the gates to the world of serious dating, and I began to pursue girls that caught my eye.  There was the dark beauty, Irene Sirkin, who had dreams of being the next Connie Francis.

Irene Serkin and Joel Palisades Park, 1957

And the unrequited love of Diane Karnett, my high school prom queen.  Years later, Diane explained to me that I was “too nice” and she was attracted to “bad” boys.  Go figure.

Joel, Diane Karnett, Jane Brinker and beau. Prom Night 1958

But there was always my mother, who adored me through thick and thin.

Joel adored by Mom. Prom night, 1958sm

By the time I was in college, I had become a serious student, with little time or money for girls, except the one-off date to go to a Greenwich Village jazz club or hang out with on cold winter evenings.

Me in newspaper 18

Except for a little incident with Lois Greenberg, a beauty from nearby Dover, NJ who pursued me on the advice of a friend. She spotted me selling clothes on weekends in Friedlander’s Department Store.  

Smitten, I began to date Lois, and enjoyed several months of acrobatic sex in the front seat of her Buick, on the spare couch in her basement, and on the lawn of the lake clubhouse under cover of the weeping willow trees.

Lois’ mother (no doubt with Lois’ complicity) seemed to think that our relationship should lead to marriage, so there was a kind of unspoken idea that we were engaged.  

I was, as usual, clueless, and just happy to have such a willing and experienced playmate.  Tomorrow was always a year away.

After graduation, I went off to a summer in Ann Arbor Michigan, to work as a counselor at a camp for acting-out aggressive children.  The program earned me six graduate credits in Social Psych, and a summer with 45 female counselors and just 20 boys.  That was worth ten credits in girls.  

Needless to say, my engagement to Lois bit the dust and I was never to see or hear from her again. But it was a summer to remember.

The next girl I found to my liking walked in to the 500  Fifth Avenue office of the market research company where I began my career in advertising. I was twenty-two, living in a Greenwich Village apartment with two friends, and feeling oh-so-cool and bohemian in the fall of 1962.

Truth be told, I didn’t know, as the saying goes, “shit from shinola,” but I knew a good thing when I saw it.  Almost immediately I had a strong feeling of attraction to Ellen.  She had “smiling eyes” which I found irresistible, a lovely face, infectious laugh, and petite figure.  Apparently her reaction to me was similar, and we found each other in the grip of an intense relationship.  

She was adorable at one year.

Ellen at 18 months

Sassy at thirteen.

Ellen at 13

Beautiful at 18

Ellen portraitsm

My wife at 24.

Ellen sm

That was forty-seven years ago, and it seems I’ve learned how to keep a woman longer than a year or two.

Her eyes are still smiling, and mine are too.

In 1966, I discovered an entirely different kind of relationship with a girl.  That's when Lisa Quincy came into our lives.  She taught me a thing or two about caring, honesty and unconditional love. And she was pretty cute...

Lisa at 2 with fishsm

She grew into a beauty who I can always count on to keep me honest.  My son, Michael rounded out my love for family and brought us Maya.

Lisa 2007

And thanks to her, my world of love expanded even more.

Lisa and kidssm

And at seventy, my education with girls continues with my granddaughter, Hannah. And my grandson, Nathaniel, who is a total boy. And loves his new cousin,

And Hannah who loves being on stage.

Annie sings Maybesm
And 17 month-old Maya.

I remind myself that I am never to old to learn new tricks.