I was twelve years old growing up in San Francisco’s Sunset District. It was the ’50s, and everything was changing. I turned the radio dial and heard, “Shrimp boats are coming, their sails are in sight.” I turned that dial a little farther and “Sh-boom!” And at the end of the dial “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill.” Everything was changing.
The street conversations went from talking about the San Francisco Seals to hard-ons and heat-ons, though I wasn’t sure what a hard-on or a heat-on was.
Hair was a big problem for a twelve-year-old. Hair had to be just right because hair was connected with doing IT. The big IT! I wasn’t quite sure what IT was, but knew IT had to do with hair and girls. And hair in the ’50s had to swirl from the back of your head and then dangle in front with a little curl right there like the Big Bopper. You know, the Big Bopper on TV, that’s who I’m talking about.
I always had concoctions to save me. Of course I had to explain them to Bobby Ensign, my best friend. A mixed drink of pineapple juice, a little vanilla extract and lots of mint jam. And for tanning, Ron’s Real Zorch Suntan Oil: baby oil – now this is a secret, mind you – iodine and mint jam. Yes, you mix it up, Bobby. Yeah, I know, we look a little bit green lying out in the sun, Bobby, but no one will notice us here, I think.
IT. IT. Yeah, doing IT. My first experience with doing IT was at Ben Lomond, California.
My family had a little summer place. Every family had a little summer place with a cute name. Ours was “Ronnie’s Dug Out.” Ronnie, that’s me. My brother is Doug. My dad named the place. If you were a working-class family in the ’50s in San Francisco, you went to the Russian River, and if you were a wealthy family you went to the lake, Lake Tahoe. All the in-betweens went to Ben Lomond to lie next to the dam and look at the girls and comb your hair. That’s where I met Kay Casselli.
My, my, my, my, my. Actually, she met me at this dance at the dam. She walks right up to me and says, “Can you do the dirty bop?”
Feet don’t fail me now; think of something. My feet are doing the Charleston, my hands are doing the hokey-pokey, and I’m doing the dirty bop with Kay Casselli, looking so cool.
She likes me; she thinks I’m cute, cuddly. We like the same things. It’s a match made in heaven. She likes Juicy Fruit gum with Milk Duds; she likes to play Canasta; she likes Coke splashed with chocolate syrup, lemon on the side, and mint jam. We are a match and she likes to slow dance. Dancing with Kay Casselli, doing a slow dance. Of course that leads to feel-ups, oh yeah, and that of course would lead to doing IT, I’m sure of that.
I know her sister, Marge Casselli, had done IT. She was going with Jerry Granelli. You remember Jerry Granelli, the drummer, went to Balboa High School. He always had these drumsticks in his pocket. Well, he stole this Nash Rambler, drove Marge up to the dump, and when they came back she was smiling, he was smiling, and he had his drumsticks out. He was pounding everything in sight with a bop doodly dum dum, de dum de bop, yeah, yeah, yeah. He had done IT for sure.
Now it’s my turn. Got to have a plan, got to be cool, got to solve the hair problem.
What I’ll do is pin Kay Casselli, say we’re going steady. Steady will lead to lots of, you know, feel-ups that lead directly to IT, I think, and then cool – got to be cool. No problem. I’ll simply roll up my sleeves – that looks good, yeah – pop my zits, peg my pants, put them under the mattress and sleep on them for about three months. That gives them a much better crease than using mom’s steam iron. Yeah, now I’m looking good, and I stick some rolled-up gym socks in my shoes, make myself about two inches taller. Oh, I’m really looking cool.
Now the hair. Love solution number nine: Dixie Peach Pomade, Elmer’s white glue and, of course, mint jam. That should fix it. My hair was lacquered in the perfect look of a big curl coming right down in front and in the back, a D.A., a Duck’s Ass. Cool.
Now I’m with Kay Casselli and we’re playing Canasta. Her folks are out, “Moonglow” is on the 45 machine, she’s wearing a white angora sweater that looks like cotton candy, and she’s chewing Juicy Fruit gum with Milk Duds. Oh my God, Jerry Granelli and Marge are already on the porch swing and it’s swinging away. He’s getting a hickey. Oh I’d do anything for one of those.
Plan. Put my plan in motion. This is it, my chance to do IT. I present Kay Casselli with my track pin, ask if she’ll go steady and she says Yessss!
“Ouch.” I stick my finger; it doesn’t matter. And she puts the pin on herself next to her heart as she says, “Oh my God.”
Then she rolls up the bottom of her sweater, her tan stomach, and now – A Living Bra. I’ve never seen a real bra before. There it is, just floating and looking at me like some great temptation, oh goodness gracious. I’ve got to get that thing off! Reach behind her, unzip it; I got to feel – How does this thing work?
I got both hands behind her and I’m poking and trying to figure this thing out and then I decide. I’ll bite it off! I’ll bite that bra that separates me from glory. I’m biting and bouncing against her breasts when I realize, I’ve got a hard-on!
And my hair, my hair is stuck to her sweater! I’m stuck with a hard-on. And then she yells Canasta!
Not what I expected it would be like at all. My pants are sticking out in front, I’ve cut my finger, swallowed my gum, and lost one of my shoes in the excitement.
I wobble home, fall in the creek and a thousand mosquitoes stick themselves in my hair. I’m lying in bed pretending to sleep, when my mom comes in and says, “Ronnie, you look really zorched.”
“Mom – Cool! I wanna look cool.”
She tells me there will be lots of nights like this.
“I hope not, Mom.”
But I’m lying there in the middle of a summer’s night, listening to “Blueberry Hill,” thinking, “I’ve got to find myself a bra and figure out how that thing works. If I could do that it would solve lots of problems.”
And less glue, a lot less glue. But mint jam. Yeah, that mint jam really works. I was, oh yeah! I was cool! Yeah. Cool!
Ron Jones’s stories, “The Acorn People,” “The Wave,” and “B-Ball” were made into television specials garnering an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Peabody. “Say Ray,” the story of a disabled man abducted to Mexico, was honored as the American Book of the Year. His classroom experiment in fascism, “The Wave,” was produced as a feature film Die Welle, and a documentary, Lesson Plan. The novelized version of The Wave has been printed in 23 languages.