27 October 2023

The Initial Blush of Love, a Young Teen's First Crush

(This is excerpted from my forthcoming novel, Blood of Love.)

When I was thirteen I fell in love for the first time. Her name was Cordelia and she was impossibly beautiful and sweet and for a short time all mine. We stated seeing one another regularly in the early Fall. We went to different schools but I’d come to our house everyday after school. We would sit and chat companionably but there were no displays of affection. 

One day in early November after finishing our homework Cordelia made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We sat in the living room watching a movie on TV. Cordelia liked to start movies in the middle so that she could guess what had happened and who particular characters were. Sometimes she’d make a serious effort to make sense of a film, other times she’d be silly about it as she was on this day.

“The bald man is from another planet — Neptune — the young girl is a spy in disguise,” she giggled. I always participated in this game so said. “He’s not really bald, on Neptune they grow extra skin on the top of their heads instead of hair so they get skin cuts instead of hair cuts.”

Cordelia howled with laughter. “You’re a genius, David,” she said. I couldn’t have been prouder. 

The movie was ending so Cordelia switched to a cartoon show. Neither of us were particularly keen on cartoons or what Cordelia referred to as “kid shows,” but it passed the time. 

We were sitting silently watching a cartoon bear swiping picnic baskets when my life changed. 

Cordelia placed her hand on top of mine. 

It sat there for a few seconds before I turned my palm up and softly held her hand. I felt a wonderful soft tingling start from my rear making its way to the top of my head then travel down to my toes. Her hand was like the most delicate, precious object on Earth and I, David Trentwood, was the only person on God’s green earth holding it. I was light-headed, euphoric, it took all my will power not to take Cordelia in my arms and kiss her squarely on the lips. I looked straight ahead at the TV screen where there was a commercial for a breakfast cereal. I dared a quick glance out of the corner of my eye towards Cordelia who was also staring straight ahead. I could no more have spoken than flown.

We sat in silence holding hands for what I guess to have been about ten minutes. Finally Cordelia pulled her hand away. Looking at me she said, “I’m not ready to be kissed by anyone but when I am I want it to be by you.”

I couldn’t have been happier if someone had told me that I was to be given a million dollars. But I was still without the power of speech. Noting this, Cordelia said, “you don’t have to say anything, unless the idea of kissing me repulses you.”

That snapped me out of it. “No, no, not at all. I’d be….”

I’d be what? How was I going to finish this sentence? Delighted? Glad to? Over the moon? Willing? Honored?

“You’d be what?” Cordelia snapped impatiently, perhaps feeling vulnerable.

“Happy to. That is, when you’re ready.”

“You’re sweet,” Cordelia said scootching so close to me that she was practically sitting on my lap.

I was excited, I was terrified, I was nervous. I’d once heard someone say that seldom are our greatest hopes or worst fears realized. It appeared that for me that my greatest hope would in fact be realized.

Then it happened. 

“Oh, why not?” Cordelia asked before kissing me on the forehead.

It wasn’t much of a kiss. No kiss on the forehead can be. It was wet, sloppy and hasty. No, it wasn’t much of a kiss but it was my first, it was from God’s greatest creation and it was the greatest kiss a person had ever received. 


I wondered what was next. Cordelia was dictating terms. She had given me her hand to hold, she had decided that there would some day be a kiss. She sat close to me. She placed the kiss on my forehead. I was merely there, responding, trying to keep from enveloping her in my arms while giving her a long, slow kiss — mouth-to-mouth. But then out of the corner of my eye I noted the clock. It was 5:30, my regular departure time. I no more wanted to leave than have my hand cut off but I was compulsive about obeying rules and following schedules.

“I have to go,” I said weakly.

“Ahh yes, my friend the creature of habit,” Cordelia said, then planted another kiss on my forehead. What I would have given for one on my lips.

I offered what I thought was a particularly tender goodbye then dashed for the door, fearing any lingering would result in awkwardness that would ruin this most perfect of afternoons. I ran home — though I wasn’t at risk of being late — propelled by the excitement of my first kiss. 

Peggy regarded me warily as I dashed in, I gave her an enthusiastic greeting. “What’s gotten into you, squirt?” She asked. There were no words or actions on her part that could have brought me down from this high. I threw my rucksack on my bed and gave Jim, emerging from the bathroom, a cheery hello. Accustomed to my placid moods, he scowled but said nothing.

At dinner my mother noted my elevated mood, “David, you seem in especially good spirits this evening. Did something exciting happen today?”

My parents and siblings represented the four people in the world with whom I was least inclined to share news of my being in love. I had spent the first thirteen years and nine months of my life surrounded by them, loving each in the obligatory way one does immediate family members. But I felt no connection outside of having shared experiences and being blood relations. I would no more tell them about Cordelia than I would discuss an interesting bowel movement. So to my mother’s question I did something most unusual, I lied. “Nothing too special, except I got an A on my science project and my basketball team in P.E. class won our game, I scored the winning basket.” The A in my science project had been nice but nothing I exalted over, I hadn’t scored a point in my P.E. team’s basketball game that day, which, by the way, we lost. But I'd held off any further questions.

“Well done, son,” my father said, then took another swallow of his martini. 

“I’m proud of you, David,” my mother added. 

Peggy and Jim were too focused on their spaghetti and meatballs to acknowledge my existence, let alone utter a word to me.

Cordelia and I continued to hold hands during my visits and she would sometimes kiss my forehead. The first time I braved a kiss, she pushed me away. “I don’t feel comfortable yet being kissed. I need to be the one who does it. I’m sure  that’ll change one day,” she explained.

“Be sure to let me know,” I said with the first bit of sarcasm I’d directed towards her. She let it go and smiled at me which made me want to kiss her all the more.

We started taking walks in the neighborhood. Cordelia would point out what she thought were interesting looking houses or trees or cloud formations. It made me realize how seldom I observed the world around me. I'd always walked purposefully to wherever I was going rarely taking in my environment. But Cordelia could find the magical within the mundane. Perhaps it was the death of her mother that caused her to look outward, examine the world and wonder at its details. The color of a flower, the curvature of tree, the design of a cottage. She appreciated life’s details.

Sometimes during our walks she’d hold my hand. This both thrilled me and made me a little bit uncomfortable as I feared coming across a schoolmate who might decide to make sport of me. I knew I shouldn’t have minded but in junior high everyone likes to keep a low profile.

One day Cordelia and I were sitting on her sofa holding hands watching a Gregory Peck movie when during a commercial she said, “Do you think we’ll get married someday?”

Oh goodness, I thought, are we heading into a frightening new direction? The truth was that I’d never given the topic of my eventual marriage a second’s thought. Sure, I’d thought of Cordelia in an abstract live-happily-ever-after sort of way. But I hadn’t even begun to mull the prospect of being a high school student yet, though it was but a year away. She might as well have asked me what color house I might someday buy.

I stammered for a bit — which had to have been noticeable — before saying, “to be perfectly honest I’ve never thought about it. Why? Is it important?”

“No silly,” she said nudging in my ribs playfully with her elbow. “I was kind of teasing. We’ll probably go on to meet and date lots of different people and have all kinds of experiences and have forgotten all about each other by the time either one of us gets married. I wondered if you’d thought about it, is all. Well, not seriously thought about it. Ya know what I mean?”

Suddenly I was terrified by the notion that there would be — as Cordelia had suggested — an end to our relationship. We were together at this moment and it being a Thursday we’d be together the next day and that’s as far as my thinking went. The notion of a time without Cordelia was depressing. I never wanted to know such a day.

“Yeah,” was all I managed to say.

“You look spooked.” Cordelia was an amazingly observant girl. Far more so than anyone I knew. “What’s the matter?”

“Oh nothing,” I said, rallying and managing to sound perfectly fine. I was rescued by the end of the commercial.

I put Cordelia’s question out of mind as we watched a posse chase a gang of bank robbers. But it came back to me that evening and I practically wept at the notion of someday not being with my beloved Cordelia. 

22 October 2023

Let the Celebrations Begin, Trivia Fun is Back!

Haggis -- it's appeal baffles scientists

At the time of his death, William Shakespeare was working on a sequel to Twelfth Night called Thirteenth Night.

Psychologists are reportedly baffled by people claiming that they didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

According to the FBI while many lawyers have legal secretaries Mafia bosses often have illegal secretaries. 

Thirty percent of Americans report having a wacky neighbor.

A team of scientists at MIT have spent the last twenty years unsuccessfully trying to figure out why anyone would voluntarily eat haggis.

In 2022 almost half of seances performed in the United States were streamed online.

Fashionistas predict that kilts are on the verge of becoming the most popular high-end clothing item among young people.

For the first ten years of its existence Scotland Yard was known as Ireland Yard.

Alger Hiss’ daughter Linda married Rudolph Hess’s son Gunther and thus became Linda Hiss-Hess.

Lederhosen were originally designed as a practical joke.

Due to the success of Murder She Wrote, CBS aired a short-lived sequel called, Jaywalking She Wrote.

In some cultures instead of jumping to conclusions people hop to conclusions.

Political scientists believe that no one named Craig could ever be elected president of the United States.

Before taking to a life of crime, Bonnie Parker of Bonnie & Clyde, was a yoga instructor.

Surprisingly, almost half of all leprechauns are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Martin Scorsese had planned a sequel to Taxi Driver in which Travis Bickle ran a day care center.

Due to a typographical error, the United Auto Workers once accidentally struck for an eight-day work week.

In addition to having 50 words for snow, Eskimos have 37 words for antidisestablishmentarianism.

It is strictly forbidden for cardinals in the Catholic Church to engage in wife swapping or key parties.

Otto von Bismarck would relive tension before big meetings by telling knock knock jokes.

16 October 2023

The Price of Infamy, Re-Visiting Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker is lolling around in bed, naked, alone and suffocating with ennui. She’s in a small Texas town during the depression working as a waitress — if you can call it work. It’s a dead-end job in a dead-end life and pretty as she is, Bonnie knows her prospects of getting out are closer to none than slim. Maybe a man will come along. Sure a lot already have but maybe the right one. Someone with money and prospects. Someone who’ll treat her right. Ahh but the wait could be long and there are no guarantees it will pan out.

But then out the window she sees a handsome young man who is apparently looking to steal her mama’s car. It’s not so much the idea that there’s a thief outside that gets her attention as it is that there’s an interesting fella whose got a slick patter and an intriguing manner. She practically falls all over herself simultaneously getting dressed and dashing outside to meet this alluring stranger. 

Thus begins the story of Bonnie and Clyde, at least is it is told in the 1967 film directed by Arthur Penn. A beautiful young woman, so desperate for a chance at a new life, for a chance at excitement for a chance at anything beyond the drudgery she now lives, spontaneously abandons her life on a whim.

It all makes sense though. Bonnie is not the first woman to hitch her wagon to passing stranger. When there’s no bird in the hand that one in the bush is mighty tempting. 

The kicker is that Bonnie finds not only excitement but fame beyond what she’d ever imagined — if she’d ever imagined having any sort of fame at all. There is money too and adventure. But there are is also danger and ultimately death. You just never know what you’re going to get when you take a big chance.

And by the way, Bonnie and Clyde —as they proudly boast — rob banks and stores and they’re not shy about shooting people — usually cops — in the process. They become famous for it.

I first saw Bonnie and Clyde during its initial release when I was thirteen-years old. I’d never seen the likes of it. But it wasn’t so much what I saw as what I felt that was different. I’d never really felt a movie before. Bonnie and Clyde was a visceral movie-going experience. Is.

There is an intimacy to it rare in films with shoot-outs and car chases. You feel like you’re physically close to the title characters, part of the gang able to understand their actions and motivations. You almost sympathize with them, certainly you root them on. Part of it is that so much of the film takes place in cars, close quarters. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were young, beautiful people and there is a sensuality that comes from the many close-ups of the two. You’re not just drawn into their world but into their relationship.

But that relationship is not the usual fare of pictures. For there is the uncinematic fact of Clyde’s impotence. It seems so jolting, such a harsh choice to inflict on this couple. His self-proclaimed disinterest in being “a lover boy” runs counter to the viral heroes that populate most movies. It was strange territory to me as teenager, mystifying but not off-putting. This “problem” made the character of Clyde Barrow more human, more relatable. For Bonnie it is vexing and frustrating to the point that it angers her — she even weaponizes it against him.

Bonnie and Clyde are joined by others. First C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard) and then brother Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). The car becomes impossibly crowded and in one scene when they pick up two people (Gene Wilder and Evans Evans) there are seven jam packed into an automobile of pure chaotic claustrophobia and laughs. The film takes us on a dizzying ride alternating between the crowded and the wide open spaces. Going from laughter to death. Life on the run can be like that.

Blanche’s hysteria coupled with her preacher’s daughter ordinariness is anathema to Bonnie. This she did not sign up for. What exactly she expects, what exactly she wants what exactly she can reasonably hope for as a wanted bank robber is unclear. But it isn’t to be around some squealing woman who disdains her. She likely has some ambivalence toward Buck who is every bit a hick.

Sadness permeates the film. Even while enjoying watching the robbers fleeing from inept cops to the tune of Foggy Mountain Breakdown, we have the definite sense that this can’t/won’t last. A bank customer is interviewed after a  Barrow gang robbery in which Clyde had insisted that he keep his money, they only want the bank’s. Naturally he extolls the thieves, then predicts their demise. He doesn’t want them dead or caught, he just sees it as inevitable. When finally the gang meets with Bonnie’s family, it is her aging Ma that rejects any notion of a future for them all together. She sadly and laconically notes the reality of their life as hunted criminals. It is part of a surreal scene that adds to the growing sense that the end is near for our joy riders.

For me the film's most powerful scene is after a bank robbery in which their next recruit, C.W. has stupidly parked the getaway car. The fleeing couple initially can't find the car then CW has trouble maneuvering out of his cramped parking space. As a result a bank employee (inexplicably) gets on their running board. Clyde shoots him in the face. The robbers escape the town and we next find them in movie theater watching Gold Diggers of 1933. Clyde is livid, berating their wheelman for his stupidity. CW is in tears. Bonnie shushes them only wanting to watch the picture. Clyde had to kill a man. CW is devastated by his mistake. Bonnie wants them to shut the hell up. On the screen Ginger Rogers is leading a rendition of "We're in the Money." Wow.

The price of fame for Bonnie and Clyde was an early death. It is a reality as stark and real as mortality itself. Bonnie and Clyde affect two miraculous escapes from the law, though Buck is killed and Blanche captured in the latter one. 

But they were never clever enough to make a career of evading the law. These are not intelligent criminals. They share with common crooks the sad fate that it will all end badly -- probably sooner rather than later. Bonnie and Clyde had seemed special, mostly because they were a bank robbing couple. But they weren’t. The film is a fictionalized version of the real couple's adventures but it is very real in showing the ultimate cost of life of crime.

Cinematically they die in spectacular fashion, riddled with bullets in an almost operatic ending. There is a romance to it. Their deaths are quick and so excessively executed as to be pitied. They go out as anti-heroes. 

Shortly before meeting their fate Clyde was finally able to function in bed — though he needed reassurances from Bonnie that his performance was worthy of her. It was a consolation prize to two wasted lives as were their short-lived glory and the damn good bit of fun they had before reality caught up to them. Bonnie got out of that sad, dusty town. Be careful what you wish for.

10 October 2023

What’s your prom like? And Other Questions for the Home Schooled, a Classic Post Revised

Back in May of 2016 (wow, that’s over seven years ago, a time before the Trump presidency, the pandemic and any sort of problems in the Middle East) I wrote on this blog questions I had for those who are being home schooled. Last Sunday on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver did a piece on homeschooling which reminded me of that post. I thought I’d be doing my reader(s) (McIntosh Hapsburg of Osage, Kansas) a real solid by re-running those questions (with minor modifications and additions) in hopes that I might finally get some answers. Here they be:

If you get suspended from school, where do you go?

Do you bother having elections for class president?

Isn’t the yearbook awfully thin?

What’s your prom like?

Are you captain of all the teams?

Aren’t you automatically class clown, valedictorian and most improved?

Isn’t working in pairs only possible if you are schizophrenic?

How long does your graduation ceremony last?

Are parent-teacher conferences just your mom talking to herself?

Since your school is at home do you still call it homework?

Who do you cheat off of?

Do you pass notes to yourself?

If you’re given detention do you really notice?

Is a hall monitor necessary?

What does it say about you if you’re not the teacher’s pet?

Are there any fights at your school?

Is it easier or more difficult to cut class?

Who do you hang out with at lunch?

Do you use your dog as a lab partner in science?

Do you have a school song? How about a mascot? What are your school colors? 

Do you have a rivalry with another homeschooled kid?

Aren’t your parents both the P and the T in the PTA?

Ever pull a fire alarm or call in a bomb threat?

What do you write about in the school paper?

Are you both the bully and the nerd in your school? If so, do you beat yourself up?

What is peer pressure like? Do you have to try to keep up with yourself?

Do your parents grade on a curve?

In years to come will you have class reunions?

02 October 2023

I Can't Believe He Did That, My Favorite Characters From TV Dramas

Observant readers (Mohammad McGillucuddy of Umpqua, Oregon) might recall that last week I provided readers with a list of my top ten favorite sit com characters. The post was met with such widespread joy, acclaim, and praise that I am here providing a list of my top ten characters from dramas. You’re welcome.

Unlike our friends in sit-coms we have more complicated relationships with our favorite drama characters. Some for example, are murderers and in the case of my list, eight of ten are criminals. In some cases we don’t so much “like” them as find them compelling. I note that the characters below all have or had a strong sense of humanity and may have felt a degree of remorse. They are fully three-dimensional characters (in some cases four!) and not cardboard cut-out “bad guys.” Their stories are unique. Their actions often regrettable but occasionally understandable. They often shock us. Their relationships with others are invariably fraught. A ripping good biography could be written about each were they real people. These characters all benefit from great writing and appear on well-directed shows with strong supporting casts.

1. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) Breaking Bad. He was an easy choice for me to top the list. Walter White’s story is one of the best (maybe THE best) ever told on television. The transition from family man and high school chemistry teacher to murderous drug kingpin is an amazing journey and Bryan Cranston gave the performance of a lifetime in realizing this singular character.

2. Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) Barry. Technically Barry the show is a comedy. I’ll tell you what you can do with your technically. Yes there were a few chuckles in the show but less as it progressed. There was nothing particularly funny about Barry (the character’s) story arc. From hit man to actor to — say what the hell was he at the end? Total loon? -- twas fascinating to watch unfold. Hader had already established himself as a comic mastermind and now has demonstrated he is a terrific show runner, writer, director and dramatic actor. 

3. Kim Wexler (Rhea Shorn) Better Call Saul. At the show’s outset she seemed to simply be “the girlfriend.” But she developed into so much more. Utterly unpredictable yet true to her complex character. Obsessive personalities always make for good theater as do intelligent ones and she was very much both. Imagine someone stealing scenes from Bob Odenkirk’s well-established Saul Goodman. But she was that good.

4. Kendall Roy (Jeremey Strong) Succession. Oh my. Strong’s acting alone, his total embodiment of KRoy, his commitment to his craft  made Succession a must watch. Kendall was all over the map but all within his weird and wonderful personality. 

5. Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) The Wire. Not a surprise choice I’m sure because Omar was universally popular. But why? He was a brutal stick-up man who usually robbed drug dealers. He carried a shotgun under his duster and wore a bulletproof vest. But he also whistled “Farmer in the Dell” while about to strike and of all things he was gay. The late Michael K. Williams made something very special out of character who could have been just another thug. Masterful. 

6. Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Across two shows Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman has become a part of high quality TV culture. The ultimate con man. The fast-talker. The winner (usually). He was the ultimate streetwise ambulance chaser but one who made it good. No morals. No compunctions. He put his overwhelming sense of self to the aid of his clients and to win. The chip on his shoulder was massive but what a job he did to chip away at it.

7. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) Ozark. He never blinked. No matter if there were guns in his face, if his wife was embodying Lady McBeth, if his son was trying to leave the family, if he was dealing with a dangerously deranged brother-in-law, Marty Byrde was unflappable. In rarely giving in to emotion Jason Bateman put on bravura acting performance as TV’s greatest money launder. Laconic has never been so interesting.

8. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) Orange is the New Black. I imagine this to be a controversial choice given how many really interesting characters lived in the OITNB world. After all Piper was just the privileged white girl, very much the fish out of water. But she was also the show’s glue, its original reason for being and her struggles to simultaneously be accepted in this strange new world and plant her own flag made for great theater. 

9. Carmen Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) The Bear. The glue that holds together a great cast. Carmen is in the center of a mad whirlpool of events surrounding a Chicago restaurant. The premise of The Bear never intrigued me but once I started watching the show I couldn’t look away and the show’s lead was a principal reason. He was driven, he was tortured, he was passionate. Mostly he was easy to root for and I think this stems from the utter realness of White’s portrayal. 

10. Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri  (Tony Sirico) The Sopranos. The ever reliable sidekick. He would do anything for his boss Tony Soprano and he did with an old school flair. Paulie was the ultimate friend, the consummate mob soldier and because of Sirocco’s past as a gangster, a link between the real world and the fantasy that was the Sopranos. 

A few worthy runners up: Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) The Wire, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) The Americans, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) Breaking Bad, Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) Succession, Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) Barry and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) Ozark.

Best ensembles: Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Succession, The Wire, Orange is the New Black, The Bear.