Recent events have me meandering over Europe (in my mind). I was in ninth grade, it was the first time I went abroad, 1974, first time on a 747. Eleven days, 3 countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Switzerland had refrigerated vending machines where you could buy a corsage; as it was Easter and my sisters always got me one, I bought one for myself. It was a huge white mum; its fragrance telegraphed my arrival long before I entered a room.
I write a lot traveling to London, but this is where I got the bug.
It was what we used to call “Easter Break” and it contained three lasting lessons-good value for the grand my parents dished out after my relentless two-year campaign of nagging, pleading, promising and promoting.
First, there was the naiveté, thinking we could sit in our room, a boy and a girl, with a chess set, an entire freakin’ chess set, balanced on our knees as we occupied opposite beds. When our chaperone, language arts teacher Mr. Reed, came down the hallway (we all had to keep our doors open), he kicked me out of the room and said “no fraternization with the troops.” I didn’t know the word meant, but I knew it meant “get out.”
I can feel the regulation travel chess pieces in my hands even now, as I recall the kids who from chess club that thought to bring them. They were the black and red kind, the kind that comes with checkers, too. They were lightweight yet solid plastic, extruded from molds by the same company that brought us Colorforms and Play-doh.
I envied the boys on the chess team. I didn’t have the confidence to try out until the next year, but unlike Audio Visual Aid Society, where the result of your labor was judged whether the class got to watch the movie or not, here the measure of success was a forty minute clock, and everyone had the same one.
There was a cute boy sitting across the regulation plastic mat. The first year I participated, I was guaranteed a male partner, as I was the first and only girl to join the chess club. The top 5 players each week would represent the school in a tournament. I climbed tooth and nail to get to the number five board precisely once, a week when our team lost all five boards, a fact that did not make me feel one iota better. It was humbling, humiliating and exhilarating all at once, a Spirograph of adolescent emotions.
In Germany they let us have beer with the evening meal. I didn’t like it, but I drank some to fit in. We Audio Visual Aid Society chess nerds had to do what we had to do. We drank this beer with our chaperones, (did our parents know this?), and the food was so [searches for acceptable to note that I didn’t care for it ] …em…gross! So much for expanding my cultural interests.
The third thing that became evident on this trip was my developing love for members of the opposite sex who would never want me: the gay boys. These were the boys hat spread their wings a bit while out of range from their parents for the first time-borrowing a can of hairspray or wearing a “muscle tee” on their flabby soft white exfoliated arms.
One evening a popular boy and girl came down a giant semi-spiral staircase creating a bold entrance, dressed in each other’s clothes. They got in sooooo much trouble, which I didn’t get, because I thought this busy public cross-dressing behavior was keeping them from fraternizing with the troops behind closed doors. He was handsome save a light smattering of acne-and would years later become the Junior Prom King.
My favorite evening consisted of a game of chess with a boy who was not yet ranked by the United States Chess Federation, (USChess.org) who therefore had nothing to lose or gain by beating me save pride, softened by sipping a stolen beer. These were the hobbies the boys would enjoy, hoping to get a whiff of the Herbal Essence scent of a 70s teen age girl on her first trip around the world.