Baby, I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man
Who’s in the middle of something
That he doesn’t really understand…
I have to admit, despite my eventual qualms about all things Catholic, it was a good decision for me to attend Saint Augustine High School, an all boy’s Catholic school in San Diego. All freshman had to endure a period of hazing, which included wearing a beanie with the purple and gold school colors for the first six weeks, and being taunted and ordered about by upper classmen, but it was tolerable, and a part of a fierce sense of school spirit, loyalty, and tradition. The entire school could fit inside the gym. We did so every Friday during football season, and I can still feel the sense of anticipation as we waited for the band to begin blaring out “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the football team marched in and began a loud and raucous pep rally. I had excellent teachers for the most part and was proud to be a Saintsman.
Meeting girls, though, was a different story. Our school took turns hosting dances with the local Catholic girls’ schools, but I found them uncomfortable and awkward, full of a multitude of opportunities for rejection and only slim hopes for satisfaction. I did managed to go on a couple of dates in my first two years, mostly with girls who were as scared and awkward as I was, but still found them to be mysterious and confusing.
Then one day, I hit the jackpot. My friend, Pat, a drama kid, came to me and begged me to join the musical production of “The King and I” at Rosary High School, the nearby girls’ school. “You don’t have to be able to act OR sing,” he reassured me, “they just need guys. Anyone can do it.”
So, I joined the production for the simple reason that I knew that the girls would vastly outnumber the boys, and I still had hopes as a junior that I could salvage at least some valuable and maybe even memorable social experience before I graduated.
It was my first exposure to drama and in my 16-year-old-eyes, we slowly mounted a magnificent production on the tiny high school stage. The only musical accompaniment was a single piano played by the enthusiastic and dictatorial nun who was also the play’s director. I had seven different parts in the play, all of them non-speaking. Nightly, I had to smear my body with a base make-up to make my pasty skin look bronzed and I spent every performance racing from costume change to costume change, just trying to be in the right place in the right time.
Having never been in a drama production of this magnitude or of any magnitude, I was a little overwhelmed by the emotion of closing night. Even before the final curtain call, there was a tremendous amount of hugging and kissing going on and I was intent on being involved in as much of it as I could be. In the midst of this vortex of emotion, one of my friends nudged me over towards Dolores, a lithe, beautiful Pilipino girl who seemed intent on passionately kissing every boy she could get her hands on.
I should mention here that I did not then, and even sometimes do not now, have a clear understanding of the appeal of French kissing. My only introduction up to that point had been my older sister and her boyfriend showing off in front of my younger sister and I who both agreed the behavior was completely disgusting. My older sister sneered at us. “You’re too young to understand,” she sniffed. Whatever.
But when suddenly I found myself in Dolores’s arms, she was kissing me with her mouth wide open, something that immediately made me feel I had become connected to a lovely but out of control vacuum cleaner. She seemed to be waiting for me to do something, but I had no idea what it was. I was just sure I wanted to kiss this way as long as she would let me, hoping maybe I would figure it out. We broke the kiss and I stumbled away with a sense of wonder, loss, and determination. I had to have a second chance.
The chance came a week later. My school had a junior-senior prom coming up and so I had been casting about in my mind for who to ask. After that night, my sights were set firmly on Dolores. She had no good reason to go with me except that we knew each other from the play and as a sophomore girl she had never been to a prom. It was just enough for her to say yes.
Proms are supposed to be about flowers, tuxedos, music and pictures, but in my mind, the dinner, the dance, and the after-prom were simply 10 hours of foreplay leading up for a chance to kiss her goodnight. Through the first part of the evening, she was a delightful date. I still remember the aqua-colored dress and her long, lustrous hair done up beautifully to frame her delicate face. I, at times, could not believe that I was there with a date as lovely as she.
Things took a turn for the worse at the after-prom. Suddenly Dolores disappeared and from the reports I was getting from my friends, she was chasing after Rocky, our star wrestler, a friend of mine, while I sat disconsolately by a pool table in the bowling alley. After a miserable hour or so, she re-appeared, looking bored, and finally, it was time to take her home.
I walked her up to her front porch feeling a little sulky. After all, she had bruised up my ego pretty well. Of course, I had asked her for the shallowest of reasons but still, was one night of pretend loyalty too much to ask? My feelings weren’t hurt so badly that I didn’t feel a rush of anticipation as we approached her front door. She turned and smiled and thanked me, and the smile was enough to melt any resentment I had felt as she drew me toward her and once again kissed me deeply and passionately and for the last time. Somehow during that kiss, that I hoped would last forever, she taught me what I was supposed to do.
I drove home in a daze and I can still hear Paul McCartney singing, “Maybe I’m Amazed” on the radio, which seemed perfect at that moment. The sun was coming up, and I was immersed in the wonder and mystery of love and lust, hope and loss. I had a feeling the world had just grown for me a little bit.
Thanks, Paul, for crystallizing that experience for me, freezing the moment in a way that only a song can do.
Baby, I’m a man,
And maybe you’re the only woman who could ever help me.
Baby, won’t you help me to understand?