The Armpit of Love

This time of year reminds me of middle- and high-school getting out. I'm not in middle- or high-school anymore. That's so 1990s. But I recall those heady days of bumming quarters at lunchtime for a Fruitopia, using mom's make-up to mask a zit (everybody did it -- stop acting like you didn't), and obsessing over what it actually meant that so-and-so said hi to me.

Indulge me this one story:

In eighth grade we took a trip to Oaks Park on the last day of school. Oaks Park is to amusement parks what New Jersey is to the United States and what Nickelback is to rock and roll bands: the armpit thereof. It was so lame they basically had to pay you to come in.

I'd had my eye on Alisha Crane all year long. Her braces gleamed like moonlight off a BMW fender. Although I hadn't actually talked to her, I remember I'd made her laugh once when we were playing softball on recess and I absorbed a line drive with my abdomen. It was an awkward and painful -- albeit necessary -- way to flirt.

At Oaks Park I mustered the gumption to ask her if she wanted to ride the Squirrel Cages with me. She shyly agreed. I was mesmerized by her towering bangs. I was taken with her B.U.M. Equipment T-shirt. We climbed aboard.

As the massive wheel slowly spun I rocked our little cage in tighter and tighter twirls; her giggles became an unrestrained belly laugh. Things were going my way, so I upped the ante. In the midst of one of our cage's wild spins I yanked the rusted control bar, locking us in place suddenly.

"Whoooo!!" I hollered.

"Yeah!!" she cried.

We both grinned at each other as the big wheel slowly grinded to a stop, leaving us at the big circle's summit, upside-down. I jiggled the control bar to release us from our locked position. It didn't budge. I put a little elbow grease into it. Nothing. I heaved and wrestled with the bar in a veiled panic. We were stuck.

"Whooo..." I repeated, a little quieter.

"Heh, heh..." she said with forced glee.

We hung upside-down in silence, our faces the color of plums, scanning the upturned horizon.

"This is pretty cool," I offered.

"Yep," she half-heartedly agreed, her heart-shaped necklace dangling in her eyes and mouth.

It turned out the whole ride was broken, so I had nothing to do but watch gravity pull Alisha's thick golden hair downward in a honey-colored cascade for another ten minutes while a light summer breeze rustled through it. There wasn't much to say; although you'd think with our blood-gorged brains we could've come up with something.

That was the end of me and Alisha. It could've been so beautiful. But it wasn't to be. Instead of spending the summer on the phone with Alisha, both parties sitting in blissful and awkward smitten pre-adolescent silence, I spent it watching Tom Cochrane on VH1. Life is a highway. I want to ride it all night long. But I want to ride it in something cooler than my minivan.