circa1968a1I had my first date when I was fourteen. My date was a woman. Well, not exactly, she was fourteen too, but she had the accoutrements and was taller than me.

My mother drove us to the state fair. There would be a concert that night: The Monkees. Excitement and fear mingled and my pocket was full of money.

Fourteen is an awkward age and I was an expert at being fourteen. How to show my worthiness? The midway provided an answer: the ring toss. Win a bear, impress a girl. I am amazed to this day that you can lose fifteen bucks that quickly.

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I came close several times and each time the carney convinced me I could surely win the prize, it may as well have been gold. Each time he would gather the rings and lazily toss one over the bottle then hand them to me, take my money and watch as each time I would toss the rings hastily not quite over the bottle.

My chances at ring toss were not the only things growing remote.

It was hard leaving the booth without the bear but I learned that day to cut my losses.

My goal, the only goal I would have for the next several years, was simple: KISS. I sensed my luck changing when I spotted the haunted house ride. Me — her — a moving little car through a dark tunnel.

I paid for the tickets, we climbed in the car and off we went. Cheesy figures meant to be scary emerged from the dark, jumped in front, behind and beside us with piped in screams, but this was of no consequence, I was battling other fears. Halfway through the ride I realized the situation was hopeless.

You know they say the light at the end of the tunnel is just a gorilla holding a flash light and it’s true. At the end of the ride, which seemed in my failure to take forever, one last scary creature, a gorilla, stood at the exit.

In my frustration, I grabbed his fur and pulled. While the other creatures in this house of horrors were mechanical, it was a surprise to me that the gorilla at the door was not. It was a man in a gorilla suit and that man took umbrage at my tugging and returned the favor, grabbing my hair and holding on as the car, my date and the rest of my head continued down the track.

“See how you like it!” he growled. No kiss, out of money, and attacked by a gorilla. Perfect.

By the time the Monkees were singing “The Last Train to Clarksville” I knew my train had left the station and I wasn’t on it. Fortunately my date went to a different school and I never, ever saw her again. I did eventually kiss a girl, and then a few others, but it was NOT kissing this girl that made my first date memorable. Unfortunately.

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Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.