Dangerous Liasons

Ah, the thrilling nuances of grade school courtship—the saucy cards, the sly looks, the egg salad.

Illustration by Deanna StaffoI remember passing out valentine cards in grade school. They were made like baseball cards and, rather than conveying romantic entreaties, they contained insults. The most memorable said, “Your teeth are like stars. They come out at night.”

We gave these out only at school. I can’t remember ever passing them out at home. What’s even more surprising was that we gave these out in the classroom before the bell rang for class to start. That meant that the activity was actually allowed. I went to a Catholic school. Nothing fun was allowed in the classroom.

Because they were insults, the cards were given as jokes. That meant you shared them with other boys, since we had yet to figure out that you could also joke around with girls.

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At that time, girls were the enemy. They had more stuff on their playground. They never got punished. And if they liked you, they would tell you straight to your face and in front of your friends, which was just about the most humiliating thing that could happen to you in grade school.

It was worse than having an accident in your pants. Or at least it was more or less the same as having an accident. Writing the sentiment out was even more humiliating. I remember a day when some stupid girl had written on the blackboard that she liked me, spelling my whole name in big chalky letters. It was like being denounced as a Communist, maybe a Communist who just had an accident, to boot.

So if you actually liked someone, you had to do it in code. For me, that meant getting into trouble, for some reason. Even today I don’t understand how the following play could ever convey feelings of romance, but so be it. That was my “move,” as it were.

Once, I had become attracted to the most delicate and fetching Melanie Ybarzabel (not a made-up name). Back then I fell in love with names rather than actual persons: Diane Graffagnini, Maria Campagna, Mitzy Bienvenu. (Who names a daughter Mitzy?)

Anyway, back to Mademoiselle Ybarzabel…

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For some reason, I thought the way to Melanie’s young heart would be through a stunt. So during class, I began eating an egg salad sandwich. I tried to get her attention, but before I could, my communication was intercepted by the sensitive Axis antennae that served as Sister Rottweiler’s ears. Eating lunch during class was, apparently, a capital offense, worse than sneaking out to the girls’ playground to watch them on the swings—or having an accident.

So with real egg on my face, I was ordered to the front of the class. Sister Rottweiler shouted at me in a thick German accent that reminded you of those World War II newsreels, then she proceeded to spank me in front of the entire class.

It was the supreme humiliation. Melanie Ybarzabel, obviously, was lost to me forever, though I did notice later that Mitzy Bienvenu started throwing suggestive looks my way, like I was a bad boy instead of the nerd from geography class who knew all the capitals of Europe.

I should note that none of these lasses ever had any inkling of my affections for them. The girl who wrote my name on the blackboard never knew I had a crush on her, too.

Even Mitzy Bienvenu’s gaze eventually turned icy again, after I thoughtlessly identified Reykjavik as the capital of Iceland.

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I should have been eating a sandwich when I did it.

Reid reports that his wife has read this. She says “it explains a lot.”

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