A one, and a two:
When I was living Chapter 21, it was a very good year . . .
If I’d turned 21 in 1974, the line from that song would have worked to better purpose here. But I did not. Still, when I was 19 going on 20 in 1974, it was a very good year.
No, I’d not found a new major yet. I’d become very much intrigued by the two Geology courses I’d taken with two of the best known scholars in the field. But there was math, much of it, to surmount should I choose that route, and I was a terrible bumbler with numbers.
Meanwhile, I was soaking in a hot bathtub. Drifting off into that kind of deep comfort only a steaming washcloth applied over the face may supply, I was suddenly jolted back to reality by mom yelling out from upstairs that there was a phone call for me.
“Alas,” I sighed to the god of baths, grabbing a towel and then stepping to the next room and grabbing the extension.
“Hi, Lanny, it’s Ariel.”
My mind spun about for a bit. The voice sounded . . .
“Lanny, are you there? It’s me, Ariel Chan.”
Ah yes, that great art student, an 11th-grader at University High.
Since graduation from University High, I’d still gone back to the school to help Mr. Abarenbo fire the ceramics kilns. As a result, I was a bit of a permanent fixture around the art rooms, and thus, as you will see, a known and perfect target.
“Yes, Ariel, hello. What can I do for you?”
“I want to start working on my ceramics at school on Saturdays, but Mr. Abarenbo is worried about me being here on my own. I asked him if you were there with me, then would that be all right.”
I was quite flattered, I suppose, to know that my services as a flimsy bodyguard were so well regarded about the territory. Even though I could do my own ceramics work at home, I supposed I’d be able to accomplish sculpture projects at the high school as well.
“Why I would be happy to help you out with that,” I said. “When do we start?”
We started right away. I would meet Ariel at noon next Saturday, and she, having the key – you remember how the students were able to gain access to the art room key – would let us into the place.
At first we sat at different tables working, the conversation only bits and pieces of this and that. Nothing of consequence transpired. But as the Saturdays proceeded, in very little time we had become quite the conversational pair sitting across each other on the same table.
I’m not sure what kicked me into second gear on this whole adventure, but after a few Saturdays, as we were locking up one evening and heading for the top of the stairs onto the parking lot where he father waited to drive her home, I suddenly turned to Ariel and said, “Ah, would you be interested in going to see a movie one of these nights?”
Well, you know it’s going to turn out well when right away a woman says, “Yes I would.” None of this, “Well, what movie did you have in mind?”, or “I’m not really into movies,” or, you know, she says the dreaded word, “No.”
“Is there anything playing in town you’d like to see?” I inquired as casually as possible, given I could barely speak sensibly, my heart dancing around in my throat, trying its best to strangle my tongue.
“Oh, anything!” she said with the kind of enthusiasm that any red-blooded boy wants to hear from a woman with whom he has become enamored not a little. “I’d like to see any movie you want to see, Lanny.”
“Let me check the paper tonight,” I said, clearing the riot in my throat. “I’ll give you a call you.”
Oh how casually did I pull that line out. Not surprisingly I could barely drive. I’m not talking about like when I got drunk and wrecked my mom’s car. This was different. I was so excited to get home and check the paper, I don’t think I could have recalled what route I took to get home.
Bingo. The new Robert Redford movie had opened. He played Jay Gatsby and Mia Farrow starred as Daisy. The Great Gatsby, I thought. How literary. This is great!
Our first date was arranged. We’d go see the movie the following Saturday. We wouldn’t be able to head straight there from our art room activity, because Ariel, her brothers, and her father were all headed to a kung fu exhibition at the Honolulu International Center, what is now called the Blaisdell Arena.
About 8:00, I arrived at HIC and then hung out leaning over the railing that skirts the large pond there. Ariel had said she’d leave the event early, come out to meet me at around 8:30, giving us enough time to arrive at the theater for the 9:30 show.
I always like to be early. For dates especially. As I loitered there smoking a nerve settling cigarette, one of the men at the gate asked me why I was standing there. I explained that I was waiting for a friend to come out and meet me.
“Brah, you like go inside and watch?”
I was happy to take him up on this offer, as it seemed a better way to kill time. I stood on the side of the rising seats on the arena floor and watched a performance or two. At one point, a man I knew, one of my summer co-workers at Aloha Airlines, demonstrated the use of the broadsword. Not only was I suitably impressed by his mastery of the weapon, but I could not help but see this coincidental encounter as boding well for the evening as a whole.
While I stood watching the stage, Ariel happened to walk toward me. When she saw me she smiled, and my heart tore into my throat once more. I was on an actual date with this beautiful woman. It was without doubt one of the happiest moments of my life. I can still see her face and that smile as I sit here writing this happy tale.
So we watched Robert Redford play out his doomed love match with Mia Farrow leading to his tragic death, and I, as he, was in heaven.
It was late, but we went to Zippy’s for a snack and talked and talked and talked. By the time I dropped her off, if I’d thought up until this moment that I might be in love with this girl, it was nothing compared to knowing, as I watched her head through her front door, that with absolute certainty I was proverbially head over heels in love with her now.
We continued our Saturdays of pursuing art in the day and dating at night. After a month or two, I don’t know how we got there, but we were strolling down Kāhala Avenue when suddenly, as we ran across the street, I grabbed her hand. And I did not let go. When we reached the other side, we stood looking in each other’s eyes, and . . .
You know I’m not what I’d call the world’s greatest lover by a long shot, but I have been told by a few women that I am a good kisser. What that means, I’m not sure I’ve ever figured out. My theory, I think, is this. I believe that if you are truly smitten by someone, that no matter what kind of kiss you attempt, it will be a good one.
On occasion I’ve talked with friends about the art of kissing, and there is one thing I know for sure. That whole thing about being swept off your feet – that’s a real phenomenon. When you kiss that right person, you are transported to a world that knows neither time nor space. Your socks are in fact knocked off, your head does spin a full 360 degrees, bells do ring regardless of whether there are any actual bells in the immediate vicinity, and your heart sings forth. Mine somewhere in the baritone to tenor range.
It always stuns me when someone says, “I’ve never felt that way.”
“You mean not even when you kiss your wife?” I’ll ask. Similarly, “You mean not even when you kiss your husband?”
Alas the tragedy. If you are married to someone and you’ve not been transported to that mystical realm beyond all comprehension and articulation, then you, my friend, have missed out on one hell of an experience.
Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I’d found you. This kiss was electric. We both agreed that it was a good one, and we congratulated each other on are level of kissing expertise despite our tender ages. By the time we made it back to my car, which took a very long time for our constantly stopping to further experiment with and perfect our technique, we were convinced that this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
And it was. We were barely ever out of each other’s company from then on.
I would like to state that I’m proud of the fact that I’ve always dated women who were good students. Ariel and I would study together at night, sometimes into the wee hours. Our academic performance never flagged. While our romance now sat at the foundation of our hierarchical pyramid of needs, school and art did not suffer at all.
Oh boy, what I would give to have that experience back. It was the best of times. There was no worst. Not then.
I still, from time to time, walk by a hot, sticky, stifling little room attached to Hemenway Hall over on the UH Mānoa campus. It houses now as it did back then all kinds of vending machines. Back then, there was also a payphone in that room. It’s no longer there, the cell phone age having sounded its death knell, but that room remains, and my memory of that phone is so strong, that when I step into that ugly little place, I can see it hanging on the wall as if it were yesterday.
That phone. I wonder if it had already been removed form that place that day, if I would have ever made that phone call.
That call. It really was the last time I ever spoke to Ariel in any manner at all that resembled the kind of relationship we’d had prior to it. I know why I made that phone call, why I thought I had to make that phone call at that very moment. But I was mistaken in my supposition. One of those mistakes of a lifetime. If I’d had someone with whom I could have discussed the reason for this call prior to making it, that might have been a very, very good idea. The wisdom of 20-20 hindsight. Maybe if I’d talked out with a friend what I summed, stupidly, I needed to talk out with Ariel, I’d not have needed to call her. Ah well.
So 1975? It was not a very good year. No song there.
It was a very bad call leading to the worst of times. The worst. Many years later, we corresponded by mail a few times, I back home from graduate school in Wisconsin, she living on the continent, I in my little boat beating on against the current, it was many years too late to do anything about what I’d destroyed.
I’ve written about all kinds of things that happened in 1974. I’ve even tiptoed around my relationship with Ariel. But I’ve never actually written as much about it as I have here, Dear Reader. Aren’t we both lucky. And I’m pretty sure this is about as much of an extensive piece as I’ll ever write about her again. It’s a hard relationship to think about, let alone to set down and see on paper.
So I guess I should thank NaNoWriMo 2020 for finally allowing me the opportunity to get some of this out. Not out of my system. Just out.
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Aloha #WriterTuesday. Today’s #WritingPrompt is
Use it to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I’d love to see what you wrote : )