It was my 12th birthday. The way birthdays went then, before themes and entertainment, was that all your best friends came over, your mother ordered pizza and a Carvel ice cream cake, and lots of people gave you the same present. It would have been the drug overdose diary Go Ask Alice ( spoiler- she gets clean, then she ODs) or a double album. Double albums were fatter than normal ones so it made it look like you had more records than you actually did. They were also good ( for those inclined, I was not) for sifting out the seeds from the weed. Everyone seemed to have a favourite double album to to this with. The seeds fell into the gatefold. Dope, as we called it then, held no allure for me. I was dumb enough. But really, the perfect present for me would have been a gallon of Patchouli oil ( heavy woodsy hippy scent, hate or love thing, I loved it, it reminded me of being in a room full of people smoking pot and I could pretend I did as well. Because all anyone who is young wants is to be old enough to do illegal stuff, or so I thought. The next perfect present I actually got from my best friend Judy. It was illegal, in terms of tampering with official currency, but it was just the coolest thing on the planet. And all the hippies had them. It was a nickel with a hole drilled into it so you could wear it round your neck. All the cool people had them before they got into Jesus or whatever. Judy’s dad was a dentist so maybe he drilled the hole for her. He was very left wing and would have no trouble with drilling a hole into legal currency. We were still in Vietnam. It would have been one less nickel for napalm. But she could have gone to a head shop and they would have done it there. Another good present for girls who had not developed yet, and this was me, was a thing called a chest warmer. It looked like a crop top, but it was half way between what was called a training bra ( as if you could train your tits, like a dog) and a vest. I didn’t want a chest warmer. I wanted to go from nothing to a real life big girl’s bra, which I did, at 15.
But I digress. This nickel was special because she got a boy I liked to touch it, therefore it was imbued with his germs. I could cast spells on it. I could make him love me, or pretend he gave it to me. Every day after school he played basketball at his best friend’s house. If you lived in an apartment there might be a communal basketball court , which was dangerous at night. If you lived in a house, your dad, if you had one, might hook up a hoop over the garage door. So that was the set up at this kid’s house.
So, I got my nickel, I got my double LP (The White Album) I got a small vial of some sort of hippy oil, and I got about 14 copies of Go Ask Alice. My mother got pizza and the ice cream cake. We were eating pizza and drinking coke ( some girls on diets requested Tab, a drink later banned for causing cancer) and the phone rang. My mother said, “It’s for you, Michele, ” with a voice that sort of winked. The voice on the other end was make, not quite gruff, not quite changed. It said, “hey , happy birthday.” I said, who is this?
He said Scott. The basketball kid, the kid whose germs I wore around my neck on an illegally drilled nickel. I went weak at the knees. This was the first time, but not the last, this would happen to me.
“Geddouttahere, who is it really?”
He didn’t want to elaborate. I didn’t want to know how he got my number. Who forced him to call me. We had only had one conversation before and it didn’t go well. It was in the basketball court. I asked point blank, what kind of girl do you like.
He said not one like you. One with tits.
This infuriated me, so I tried sarcasm and it went wrong because I was not adept at it yet.
“Well I will get them eventually but you, you will never, ever be Racquel Welch.”
He looked puzzled. Why would he want to be? He was a bloke. No hint of burgeoning transexuality.
So I was nervous about talking to him. On account of the bad sarcasm.
He said, well, happy birthday, hope you have a good day. Bye.
I stood in the kitchen, stunned, my pizza conjealing on the paper plate.
My mother said, “Time for the cake???”
And I burst into tears. And I cried my heart out, because I was confused, he must have been set up. And I found out later not only was he set up, he was paid to call me, by Judy, who meant well. And she had to chase him round the block lots of times to get his germs on the nickel.
That night after everyone went home, I played with the nickel around my neck and read all the copies of Go Ask Alice, just to see if the ending was ever different.