It was 1959 and I was an imaginative 3rd grader with time on his hands (what 3rd grader doesn’t have time to spare?). I was in Miss Mazza’s class and had one of those hormone-absent crushes that kids sometimes get on their younger teachers. I’m only telling you this because I think, by extension, it might explain some of my subsequent actions.
I had gone to the Huron Theater in my neighborhood to see Gone With The Wind (originally released in 1939) and had come away awfully impressed with the skill and style of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and how he set himself apart from so many of Scarlett O’Hara’s other suitors. In the end he got the gal even though he lived to regret his own doggedness and eventually had to utter the immortal words, “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”
But that was irrelevant. What I really took away from that movie, as an 8 year old, was the kissing skills of Butler. Rhett Butler knew how to dramatically kiss a lady and while I wasn’t all that enthralled with the idea myself I could see and somehow understand what he was shooting for. It was style and charisma and at least my 8 year old self could understand the artistry involved with that.
Somehow I came to the conclusion that this idea was transferable to my elementary school playground and there was opportunity to display my newly acquired acumen in the area of the dramatic kiss. Why couldn’t I be just as effective as Rhett Butler? At that time, I wasn’t all that popular but I had enough inherent cuteness to impress someone my own age if I needed to so I put my plan in motion.
A couple of days after seeing Rhett Butler work his magic and realizing that my puppy love for Miss Mazza would go unrequited I suggested to a few of the girls in my class that I had seen this movie and would gladly demonstrate my new skill set upon them if they were so inclined. I framed all of this in the heart-wrenching backdrop of the Civil War to give it some historical authenticity.
To my surprise, two of the girls, Shelley and Chris were convinced or perhaps intrigued at what I was suggesting and stepped right up to the plate and we met behind the ball diamond backstop for a hands-on demo. So, here I’ve got two of the cutest girls in my class willing and able and I’m in the process of grandly bending them backwards and planting a big one right on the kisser. First Shelley, then Chris and then there was a small line of the curious building behind them.
This was success beyond my imagination. Apparently there were plenty of girls who wanted to know, up close, what amazing historical experience I might be offering and all you had to do was wade through a small line to get to me. I was like a Ford production line, turning out grandiose kisses left and right until…
I never had Mrs. Cromartie as a teacher but she had the reputation as a sour puss and just happened to be on playground duty that day and came to investigate the backstop crowd and when she saw the wanton kissing machine that was me, grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me across the gravelly playground and into the principal’s office.
Even though I knew I’d been apprehended I really didn’t have a sense of shame about the kissing carnival I’d created outside. I wasn’t out there clobbering some poor schlep over the head with a pencil box or filling some kid’s pants with gravel so I didn’t get where the infraction was and, in fact, the Principal couldn’t seem to explain what my transgression was either. My mother and baby sitter were called and I was to be sent home.
While my mother worked during the day I stayed with a nearby family (for about 5 years total) and then at the end of the work day my mother would pick me up from the sitter’s house. When my sitter, Myrtle, arrived to make sure I got back home, she surprisingly gave the powers that be some of her holy hell for arresting me on what she felt were trumped-up charges. “Why is he being punished for kissing girls on the playground? And what about the girls, they were kissing back and did you punish them?!” She basically dressed them down and for that time anyway I felt like Myrtle had my back.
Besides, I’d seen such a thing as a kissing booth where the clientèle puckered up for a quarter and nobody thought anything of that and here I was doing the service for gratis, almost a charity of sorts. It was not only fun (at an age when boys simply did not kiss girls!) but instructional as well and isn’t that the foundation of education whether in the classroom or not? Rhett Butler was planting them on belles all over town and the Confederate Army didn’t haul him off to Andersonville for it.
No, looking back I was onto something there and it’s unfortunate I never got a chance to fine-tune the idea because I might have become the Ray Croc of the dramatic kissers. ‘Over 40 Million Kissed And Still Cranking Them Out!’ and in 20 years, after I had franchised the operation I would have retired to a life of ease and satisfaction knowing that I had done a service to the country. Eventually, I would be summoned by Jimmy Carter to the White House for a Medal of Honor ceremony celebrating my achievements in the area of kissing; turning amateurs into pros through repetition at 50 cents a pop.
And many years later, I would lie on my death bed and just before succumbing to whatever was ailing me I would quietly mouth the words “Miss Mazza”. My arm would go limp and a snow globe would roll from my fingertips onto the floor while my wife, fighting through the tears, would wonder aloud, “Who the hell is Miss Mazza?”