John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me- PART I


            The ADD version of this story is that John Amsterdam seemed to hate me even before I dinged his brand new, hundred and seventy-five dollar Dewey Weber Performer.


It was the night of the party for graduation from Potter Junior High School. I was standing in a long and squirmy line outside the bowling alley (Duke Snider’s daughter, Pam, was in my class) with some of my friends, most also friends from Boy Scouts. A line of cars slowly passed to our immediate left; anxious and excited parents dropping off their little darlings, each darling instantly changing from someone’s child to someone acting as if this wasn’t the most Hollywood thing that had happened to any of us.

Those of us already on the concrete carpet hid our embarrassment for the kids whose parents dallied, visibly fussed, took pictures, said things like, “Oh, you’re all so grown up;” and, “Oh, look at YOU.”

That is, we hid our embarrassment by laughing and pointing, whispering little immaturities to each other. “Boobs. Did you know?” “Oh, yeah.” And now we all knew.

I was in my new still-room-for-growing “Church Coat” from Montgomery Ward, and my almost-a-match permanent press pants, the pockets of which were considerably shallower than jeans. It wouldn’t be a huge admission to reveal that I seemed to have spent much of eighth grade with hands in my pockets. Not for fun; camouflage was often necessary.

This seemingly growing lack of control was bad enough at school, but, on this night, the girls, many of whom I’d known since kindergarten, were dressed in what amounted to evening wear for 13-14 year old girls, designed and selected because these dresses featured those changes in my school mates we’d already noticed.

I might have preferred a little longer coat, too.

Bill Birt, tallest guy in our class, hair on his chest since sixth grade, a bit of spittle always on one or both corners of his mouth, not always because of the braces, turned, said, “I’m gonna dance. You gonna dance?”

“Don’t know how. You know, my religion, I don’t think we’re supposed to.”

“Well, then; do you know how to bowl? No? Well, I’m gonna bowl, too. And dance.”

Ray Hicks stuck his head in, “Can’t dance; might as well sing.”

“What? There’s singing?”

“Well, I’m gonna slow dance,” Bill Birt said, quieter, a bit too close to my face. “You just, um, move your feet a little. You rub against them; whatever they put your way.” At that point, me considering what, exactly I might be rubbing against, Bill broke into his standard sort of ‘ha ha yack ha’ laugh.

“Do you have a sister named Suellen?”


It was Joanne Amsterdam, quite a cute girl, fairly new in Fallbrook. She had spun around, breaking from her little group of girls, and was now, in the moving line, quite close enough that she and I could be dancing. “Sue-Ellen? I only ask because I think she bought a surfboard from my brother, John, today. She and your Dad… do you… surf?”

“Surfmat.” I was nodding, like a fool, three or four other boys with heads tipped at this or another odd angle, leaning around and toward us, Joanne and me, my feet shuffling left, then right. Then left.

Kind of like dancing.

 -Next Friday, Part II- board surfing

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