Friday, June 3, 2016

1969: A Goober in College, Part 1

After high school mercifully ended in May 1968, I headed down the hill (literally, not figuratively) to North Florida Junior College (motto: Si ad astra non ascendis, fortasse satis sumus, si bellum Vietnamus vitas, nos elige, pecunia carentibus, confecti sumus*; fight song: "Dixie") about a block and a half from my home. There I would eventually learn that I was born to teach, but not for awhile. 

NFJC's funky admin building

My first year of college wasn't a path to anywhere. It was the time and the place for me to learn what life wasn't going to be like. It was an electric playground that charged all of my five senses and maybe more, and, as far as I can tell, for no good reason. 

That was my Goldilocks year, and I will name it "1969." I had shed the restrictions and rigidity of high school and embraced the freedom and flexibility of college. I could sing with that great 20th-century American poet,* "I'm 18 . . . / I'm in the middle without any plans / I'm a boy and I'm a man." Adolescence's travails and awkwardness began to fade from the rear-view mirror, and I could see the responsibilities and restrictions of manhood on the horizon, but they weren't my problem yet.

Sure, I still carried the nagging draft-era apprehension, sending menacing, flickering images up from my unconscious -- oh, those annoying, intermittent portents reminding me that this party was being held in the valley of the shadow of death -- but the novelty of college life made it easier to ignore them for a while.

A quite pleasant novelty was that, after a drought dating back to my early teens -- those happy days and nights at the skating rink with Melinda Mae -- I began to have relationships with girls. Sadly, they rarely had relationships with me, but it was still pleasant.

For example: 

While I was waiting outside for a summer-term English class, I started to notice a very short, tanned, brown-eyed girl, with light brown hair streaked with gold and a noticeable walk I can't describe, but can imitate should the reader ever stop by my house. I'll call her Amanda Leenon. 

She was always accompanied by her thin, short-haired friend, Erica, who seemed to idolize Amanda for reasons unknown to me. NFJC had "service clubs" that passed for sororities, and Erica and Amanda were in the one considered, I don't know, junior varsity. (I think every college has one or more of these, kind of the equivalent of a "safety school" during the college-application process. But I'm not sure we should be talking about this.)

Some days they would wear their "sorority" jerseys, gold with black trim, the obligatory Greek letters on the front, a name and number on the back. Amanda was so small, her number was "1/2." Her nickname was "Jinx." Erica pointed this out to me with the exaltation of someone describing a vision of the Virgin Mary.

I often saw Amanda walking across campus with a guy in the male version of her sorority, so he would also be wearing a gold/black shirt. He was balding and very gentle and soft spoken. But Erica told me not to worry about him. "They're not seriously dating," she said. "They're just friends." 

(I was still so naive that I didn't understand that girls and guys could hang out with each other and go out together, but just be friends.)

(I am still that naive.)

So I finally starting talking with Amanda and, I guess, in my own fashion, flirting with her. Two things I liked most about her: First, she found me amusing and, second, she was one of the rare females I towered over -- she only came up to my shoulder! Also, I have to admit, since she was in the junior-varsity "sorority," I figured I would have less difficulty hanging onto her should she ever actually become my girlfriend. 

Also, she had a duodenal ulcer, and I always think of her when that malady is mentioned. When someone tells me they have a duodenal ulcer and they start to describe the pain and bloating, I drift away into dreams of 1969: "Oh, Jinx, my little Jinx, 1/2 may be your number, but you're twice as much to me."
Wait! There was a movie?

Just before the summer-term ended and Amanda returned to her home in Dade City and I returned to mine up the hill, Erica talked me into asking Amanda out on a date, so I did, even though back then, that first ask-out was an excruciating ordeal for most of us guys. I took her to Madison's drive-in which was dubbed a passion pit even in the Fifties, a time when no decent person was equipped with genitalia. I mean the place was a Den of Debauchery, Depravity and Degeneracy, cars with fogged-over windshields housing a veritable Consortium of Contortions.
I should watch this again.

But Amanda and I, we could see perfectly well through our windows. Leaning against our respective doors, we laughed and talked through Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner, starring Steve McQueen in the title role. 

Someone gets castrated in the movie, and I remember feeling very awkward watching that bit with Amanda. The harshness of the scene made it difficult for us to resume making fun of the way that one girl in speech class talked.

The next Monday, Erica strides up to me, seemingly upset, and says, "Amanda says you didn't even try to kiss her!" 

Hey! That was my first date! How was I supposed to know? Plus, never having been through this ritual, I just naturally assumed that, with my chiseled good looks, backwoods charm and nimble wit, my primary role would be to fend off my date's lascivious advances, shielding her from impulsive actions that might imperil her long-protected Virtue.

I saw myself as a man of (frustrating) decency, a man to lean on, if you will, not a guy who was gonna flip his bat, doff his cap and jog smugly around the bases on a first date.

My relationship with Amanda Leenon ended in a surprising fashion, but this is as far as I'm going in this post. If you guess before that post, there's a free bag of Jolly Ranchers in it for you.

* Roughly translated, "If you aren't reaching for the stars, we are probably good enough; if you are avoiding the Vietnam war, choose us; we are perfect for those who lack money."

**Alice Cooper   


  1. Not that I'm a Jolly Rancher fan, but I have to know: Did you and Erica become an item?

    1. Good guess! I think Erica and Amanda were more likely to become an item, but that didn't happen either.

  2. Did Amanda realize she was lesbian?

  3. I don't know which "she" you meant, but in either case the answer is "No." As I'll discuss later, it might've been 1969 in
    California, but it was still 1958 in Madison.