TALK SHOW 3: with Mike Albo, David Hollander, Molly Jong-Fast, Lewis Robinson, and Wesley Stace
Hosted by Jaime Clarke
Topic: First Kiss
Mike Albo is the author of Hornito: My Lie Life and, with Virginia Heffernan, The Underminer: or, The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life. A writer and perfomer, Albo lives in New York City. Visit him online at www.mikealbo.com.
David Hollander is the author of the novel, L.I.E. A graduate of the State University of New York at Purchase and the Sarah Lawrence College writing program, he lives in Brooklyn.
Molly Jong-Fast is the author of the weirdly popular cult novel Normal Girl and Girl Maladjusted (both published by Villard). She is currently working on her third book a novel called The Social Climber’s Handbook which is due out from Villard in 2009. Her website is www.mollyjongfast.com, and myspace page is www.myspace.com/mollyjongfast.
Lewis Robinson is the author of Officer Friendly and Other Stories, winner of the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Award. He teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. His website is www.lewisrobinson.com.
Wesley Stace, whose latest novel is by George, is also known as the musician John Wesley Harding. He is working on his third novel and sixteenth record. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit Wes at www.wesleystace.com.
––Name the year and place of your first kiss, and with whom.
Albo: I am assuming you mean real kiss with passion and meaning, which would be with a guy, which would be when I was 17 in 1987. I think it was in my bedroom (how the hell did I get him up there?)
Hollander: Well, the first kiss was no doubt administered by my dear mother, mere moments after my unfortunate birth in 1969. But my first romantic kiss came embarrassingly late in life, in 1986 at the overripe age of 16. This kiss took place (like so many first kisses) in a drainage ditch, or “sump,” during a typically awful Long Island heat wave. There on the sandy slopes, blinded by a miasma of raw sewage and toxic runoff, I kissed Vanessa Vega. Redhead, my age-ish, cousin of a friend.
Jong-Fast: He was called Teddy and we were in third grade. I had such a crush on him. He was just the nicest guy. I’m pretty sure it was against his will, I just sort of fell on him. I’m sure it was horrible for him, but I was sort of a hero for doing it.
Robinson: 1983, in the Yarmouth (Maine) Junior High cafeteria. Late fall, school dance. There were these French Canadian girls who I was obsessed with, but I’d never talked to. Danielle Paquet was the ringleader, but it was her quiet sidekick—Jackie Roux—who was truly amazing. Black feathered hair to her shoulders, Motley Crue T-shirt under a green and blue plaid flannel.
Stace: I’m afraid that I can’t actually remember the precise first kiss, though it was certainly in Hastings with a girl called Caroline, whose brother was in the church choir and liked Ian Dury and Chuck Mangione. I was twelve, perhaps thirteen. The year: 1977. There was some form of grappling with Caroline and a lot of work with little reward – by which I don’t mean physical contact (not that there was much of that – I’m not even sure about tongues, in retrospect) but a twelve year old’s idea of emotional fulfillment. There is a possibility that she simply didn’t want to be my girlfriend. So I’m settling for the proper first kiss – the one that meant something. It was in 1979 with Rebecca on Cadborough Cliff in Rye, East Sussex.
––Describe the circumstances leading up to your first kiss.
Albo: This is all painfully detailed in my “novel” Hornito, which isn’t a memoir, or is, as much as any book named “memoir” these days.
Hollander: I had it all planned out. See, there were rumors going around that Vanessa had done it with Jack Inzerillo (a neighborhood tough) on a cardboard platform strategically placed on the steep walls of the sump. (This turned out to be patently untrue; Vanessa later revealed to me that Jack was a prude and terrified to do anything more than touch her ass with uncommon frequency.) So when Joe Patolano told me that his cousin Vanessa “liked me,” my fantasies leapt straight for fornication, though I understood that a first kiss would likely (though not necessarily) precede that Great And Holy Moment Of First Penetration. I had only a rudimentary knowledge of how sex might work, based on the scrambled images received via The Playboy Channel, before which images I knelt in scrutiny on countless evenings whilst the parentals were elsewhere. So… we walk to the sump together, right? It’s Long Island summer. 900 percent humidity. We should’ve been wearing scuba gear. We strolled the ten blocks holding hands, waiting for the sun to set in a fury of color over the shit-stench of the drainage ditch, which itself sat at the center of our housing development like the black hole around which galactic matter spins.
Jong-Fast: We were at wood shop at the Dalton school in Manhattan. I feel like someone was daring me but I could be wrong.
Robinson: We did the group dance thing for a while, then Jackie and I paired off for “Free Bird.” I didn’t ask her to dance—we were just standing side by side when the song started. And it took a minute to get our arms around each other. I don’t remember even looking her in the eye. Neither of us seemed to have a plan. I think it was just two twelve-year-old bodies being pulled sleepily toward each other. We didn’t kiss during “Free Bird”—the tempo of the song sped up before I could get my mouth up next to hers—but I knew not to make the same mistake during “Stairway to Heaven,” which was, of course, the last song of the night.
Stace: I was in the unique and very happy position of being the only male employed at my grandmother’s tea shop, Fletcher’s House (birthplace of playwright John Fletcher) in Rye, just around the corner from Lamb House where Henry James lived and wrote. It was a situation with boundless potential, if only in my mind. (Fletcher’s is glimpsed in episodes of “Mapp and Lucia” – the TV version of E.F.Benson’s books, starring Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales: highly recommended.) Actually, Rebecca, who was terribly good-looking and had a lovely voice, didn’t work there – she worked at another tea shop: there were hundreds of them, many owned by my family – but knew someone who did. Having paid court to her friend Sally, I asked Rebecca out (probably for tea) and when we parted, I (being well brought up) shook her hand. Apparently, she hadn’t been sure about me before then, but this gallantry sealed the deal. A few days later, we went for a walk, on the steep hills behind the back of my grandmother’s old house on Cadborough Cliff. We walked with purpose. I remember helping her over a stile, or perhaps through a gate.
––What are your outstanding memories of the kiss itself?
Albo: He was 17, too, and smoked. To this day I kind of get a thrill kissing a smoker.
Hollander: First off, thank all that is holy that Vanessa knew that I might need a little prodding. If she hadn’t turned to face me and looped her arms around my neck in a style familiar to prom-dancers everywhere, I might still be waiting on my first kiss. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I was trying to affect an air of confidence and familiarity. Somehow or other our mouths locked together in a way that created a vacuum seal, so that when we eventually separated there was the same thwuck you’d expect when opening a new jar of peanut butter. But right, right, the kiss itself: our tongues swirled in an impressive clockwise syncopation, rolling over each other once every third rotation. My belly was doing flips and I had an instant hard-on, which made the fact that I’d chosen sweatpants for this momentous occasion unfortunate. Vanessa smiled when we broke for air, and we continued in this manner for maybe fifteen minutes, sometimes achieving the thwuck effect, sometimes not. I felt like sex must somehow be imminent.
I remember thinking anatomical thoughts, wondering how to arrange ourselves for communion in that canted pit of filth. It’s a nice memory, mostly. The really embarrassing part is that eventually we slunk down to the sand itself, as if we were lovers on some tropical beach, and mind you all this time the sheer stench of that sewage was searing our nasal passages to ash, and I reached under her shirt and pinched her nipple through her bra, basically borrowing my moves from those strips of images I’d seen on the dirty cable channel. And she was sort of moaning in some pantomime of her own, maybe she’d seen the same films, and the sun was indeed going down and everything was so sexed up and my erection was just out of control, dire and excruciating. Which is when I, um… climaxed in my sweatpants. It was like the culminating fusillade of some terrible warfare. I pretended I was tired of kissing and touching and etc., that I had to get home… I think I told her I had to feed my dog. Maybe I thought this would sound noble. We held hands on the return trip and I invented stories about my intelligence and athletic prowess.
Jong-Fast: I remember it being very short and afterwards there was a look of horror on his face, not the look I was going for.
Robinson: I was worried about our noses banging together. I wasn’t sure how the mechanics of it were going to work. So when I moved toward her, I ended up kissing just the corner of her mouth. It was almost a cheek kiss, but I definitely hit lips. She was totally shocked. Luckily, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page took over, and we group-danced the last part of the song.
Stace: We were sitting on the fields behind Cadborough Cliff, as though we had packed a picnic. There was probably wildlife near. The kiss tasted good, and I was surprised at how less messy it was than it looked – I don’t know quite how much saliva I had experienced before, or expected, but we seemed to kiss very neatly. She had long, quite thick, pre-Raphaelite blonde hair. (I have never dated a blonde since, strange to say, so perhaps this flaxen ‘do was irreplaceable.) Her body was surprisingly womanly. I remember thinking it was much too soon for my hands to stray elsewhere – and she later confirmed that if I had, she would have been “disappointed”. Besides, her duffel coat was in the way. We chatted and walked back, and I think it was then that I took photos of her jumping over the bollards outside the Ypres Tower by the Gun Garden.
––If you could go back and do it again, what would you change?
Albo: I wouldn’t have tried to “set the mood” by playing hideous late 80s New Age music and (god this is embarrassing) placed a bowl of strawberries beside the bed so we could do the “erotic” playful things that seem so nauseating to me now. But this was just my way of mimicking the culture, I guess, because it was the height of AIDS education, when “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” was a popular song and everyone was trying really hard to rescue passion, straining and saying “Safe Sex is sexy!”
Hollander: Um… probably the premature ejaculation into my Bellport High School (Go Clippers!) sweatpants. And maybe instead of a fucking sewage pit I might choose, oh, I don’t know, a landfill or a mortuary. And maybe instead of being totally devastated and ashamed by the force of my orgasm, thereby refusing to arrange any subsequent romantic activity with Vanessa, maybe instead I would have realized that orgasm is terrifying by its very nature, and that it did not imply that I had the wrong type of feelings for Vanessa and that I therefore should not seek to fuck her. What I mean is, I was really confused by what it all meant, and I wish I hadn’t been, because she would have been nice to kiss again and to explore the whole sexual smorgasbord with. If only I’d known anything about girls. I wish Vanessa Vega were here right now. I don’t want to change what happened then, but what’s happened since then. I’d like another shot at Vanessa. I can still taste her tongue, smell her fruity smell, strawberryish… ah, nostalgia, you truly are a sadistic motherfucker.
Jong-Fast: Nothing, for third grade I thought I was very suave.
Robinson: Nothing. I was terrified, but that made the accomplishment feel all the more heroic. I had very little physical contact with girls for the next few years. It wasn’t until I was sixteen, when we moved from Maine down to Massachusetts, that I had an actual make-out session with a girl. I was the new kid at school, and someone had a house party the second or third weekend after classes started. We were all in the basement, drinking vodka. We started playing the game where you stand in a circle, alternating boy-girl-boy-girl, and pass a single playing card from one mouth to the next by sucking air in against the card when you want to hold onto it and then exhaling when you want to release it to the kid next to you. The girl on my right was nine or ten inches shorter than I was, and I had to grab onto her when I bent down to take the card.
Soon we were holding hands, and then, in front of everyone, we were kissing. We hadn’t waited for the card to come around again. We just took a short step out of the circle and started making out. I knew maybe three people at the whole party, so I didn’t really care. What I remember is that my teeth kept hitting hers, and we kissed for what seemed like days. I kept my eyes open, but hers were closed. We didn’t stop until someone flipped on the lights. I said goodnight to the girl. Outside, I found the guy who’d given me a ride—a kid named Rich—and as we were getting into the car I asked him, “That girl, who was that?” Rich thought this was hilarious. Here was the new kid, blowing into town, ravishing girls he didn’t even know. It became this big story that circulated the school. I had just wanted to find out the girl’s name, so that if I saw her in the halls I wouldn’t seem like a total idiot. High school was such a pain in the ass!
Stace: I guess we needn’t have necessarily been in a field on which things grazed. We probably had to pick the precise spot to sit quite carefully. But other than that, I can think of nothing worth changing, and in fact I wasn’t worried about sheep crap at the time, so why worry about it now? We had quite an enthusiastic epistolary relationship after this – but being away at school is hard on an early teen relationship. I don’t know what she does now, but when we broke up – I can’t remember how – she started going out with a guy from her school called Ronald, and I heard that they got married. had children, and lived happily ever after. I should google her and find out. On the other hand, what if she googled me and found this?
––If you could go back and be someone’s first kiss, who would it be and why?
Albo: This beautiful, crazy poet boy who worked on the high school literary magazine with me. He lived near me. I would pick him up in my ‘79 Maverick (previously owned by my tinkering Grandpa, it lasted about 6 months under my rule) and we would go sit in parks and at the train tracks at night. He was a fantastic writer. He knew so much about contemporary poetry, and introduced me to For the Union Dead, 45 Mercy Street, and Ariel.
I owe him so much, now that I think about him. He and his language were so free and scraping. We would do these free writing exercises together with this heavily intelligent, possibly Jewish girl with blue spellbinding eyes. The poet boy was pale and had a long Italian nose and a thinly defined body. One time under a tree at night in one of our parks, it started raining hard and he came up and put his head on my chest and his arms around me. I don’t know why we never ended up kissing, but now I have a well-equipped post-production facility that re-animates and reworks my past all the time, so I have revised the memory, and under that tree I put my hands in his hair and kiss him.
Hollander: You’re not asking who I wish I’d kissed, but who I wish had kissed me, right? In this scenario, the kiss isn’t necessarily my first, but hers. It would have been nice to have been Theresa Hattemer’s first kiss. I liked her and she liked me, all through junior high school and high school, but I was an idiot and too chickenshit to trust that kissing was in the realm of Possible Things. Mostly I just poked her at random intervals. If I had been experienced, then maybe it would have been nice to introduce someone else to kissing, in a sweetly romantic way that I imagine characterizes someone else’s adolescent experience. But since I was a buffoon, at least until well beyond the age of normal first kisses, all I could ever do was fantasize and masturbate and wonder. To be someone else’s first kiss in this unfortunate reality would only have meant to confuse them, as I no doubt did Vanessa, with my shame and uncertainty. So I guess it’s a good thing, after all, that I was never anyone’s first kiss. Or first anything. I’ve lived my life way behind the curve. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.
Jong-Fast: I think it would have been cute to have been my husband’s first kiss but when he was 13. I was a negative one, so I don’t think it would have been such a great idea.
Robinson: Cate Blanchett. On a quiet little cobblestone street in Melbourne. She’s sixteen, I’m fourteen. A cab is idling at the curb, ready to take me to the airport. “You’re going to be a star,” I’d say, and then I’d plant one on her.
Stace: I think this is an almost unanswerable question, unless you remember someone you never got to kiss, prior to your first case. In that case, the answer is Juliette Gaffney, who seemed nice when we were both nine. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a hindsight kiss with someone you met later, you have to visualize them at 13 or 14, which is weird, unless you want them unkissed at 18 or 21, which seems unnecessarily repressive. At the time of my first kiss, the answer was almost certainly Rebecca, whose first kiss it wasn’t. Now, the answer would be my wife, Abbey – but in fact I’m quite happy with the way things turned out, and I’m glad that we didn’t meet any earlier. So, on a wing: Carole Lombard, the most beautiful woman in black and white. It needn’t have been her first kiss, however: could have been the last, or any number in the middle.