Each bungalow colony had its special place where teens and pre-teens covertly assembled and paired off to touch toes, and sometimes tongues, to the ripple and taste of their burgeoning sexuality. For some colonies it was behind the casino, or the handball court, at others it was beyond the ball field or in a secluded corner of the camp-house. I remember a steep embankment alongside the road, just opposite our bungalow colony, a few feet into the woods, where the rocks jutted forward, and a large, moss covered stone slab bore silent witness to the meeting and matching and mating of countless couples through endless summers. This spot was called “Kissing Rock.”
My first acquaintance with Kissing Rock was in the summer of my eighth year. My closest pal, Joel, had sparked my imagination and curiosity with stories of this fabled place, until, one evening, after dusk had settled about the colony, we furtively escaped from our respective bungalows and rendezvoused behind the card room adjacent to the casino. Fortified with a full sleeve of Oreos, and Joel’s gargantuan flashlight, the beam sufficient, I believe, for signaling airplanes, we set out for Kissing Rock. My imagination was swimming with sordid images of our counselors engaging in heretofore-unimaginable activities—holding hands, touching, even, God help me, kissing! Unfortunately, before managing to cross the darkened country road, we were intercepted by Joel’s aunt Rose, and summarily returned to our bungalows, left alone, then, with our sordid and salacious speculations.
The following summer saw the appearance of my first true love—Ellen Herman. She was six months my junior and possessed of curly red hair, a smattering of freckles across the bridge of a nose that no Jewish girl had a right to expect, and a peaches and cream complexion that testified to the softest and smoothest of skin this side of Marilyn Monroe. When she smiled a small dimple appeared in her right cheek, and her green eyes sparkled, like bright emeralds catching the first morning’s light. On the second day of summer camp my next-door neighbor, Marcia Cohen, secretly confided that Ellen thought I was “cute.” I don’t recall much else about that summer, outside of Ellen, and Ellen’s smile, Ellen’s curly hair, Ellen’s laugh, Ellen’s singsong voice, even Ellen’s little brother, Mark, who did a really neat trick—turning his eye lids inside out. We never quite made it to Kissing Rock, advancing no further than holding hands at a camp cookout and awkwardly dancing together at the camp prom. Still, the summer of Ellen was a point of demarcation. If, as Freud insists, we all experience a latency period, then mine concluded with my first glimpse of Ellen Herman, because from that moment girls ceased to be minor annoyances and major inconveniences, bursting forth as mysterious, magical and wondrous creatures, beings of infinite intricacy, persons to be perused and pursued, who, eventually, I might join in embrace, mouths locked together.
Her name was Rebecca, and she was a year and a half older than me, and a year ahead in school, as well. She had lustrous blonde hair that was often pulled back into a long ponytail, and fine, tanned legs that were always in motion, as she never walked, but seemed to run anywhere she was going. In the summer of my twelfth year where she was going, one night in July, was to Kissing Rock, and she was going with me. Joel had convinced Rebecca’s best friend, Robin, to meet him at the volleyball court just after dusk. I was doubtful about my possibilities with Rebecca, and reluctant to explore the chances, when she shocked and amazed me, rocking my world so to speak, by extending an invitation for a joint engagement that very same night.
I remember showering for a very long time, and using Vitalis to slick back my hair. This left my scalp with a small scent of alcohol, and I wished for a tube of Brylcreme, with which, I’d been assured, “a little dab will do ya.” Mid-week, and dad was in the city, so there were no obstacles in availing myself of his aftershave, probably Old Spice. If my mom had her curiosity aroused by this atypical attention to grooming—after all, I actually used mouthwash after my shower—then she wasn’t letting on.
The evening was bright, the sky awash with stars, and the shadow of Rebecca, cradled in the moonlight, still lives in my mind’s eye as if it were just last night. The moonlight glistened off her long hair, lending it the luster of candlelight on copper. Her irises, in the soft evening light, were the color of cornflowers. Her skin was so soft, and cool, yet, when she touched her mouth to mine it was warm, and wet, and mysteriously moving. Her braces barely brushed my lips, then I felt something both strange and wonderful, what Bruce Springsteen would later write of, in “Rosalita”, as her “soft, sweet, little girl’s tongue.”
The night busted open and the stars exploded in my head, and dazed, confused and giddy with wonder and excitement, I held this girl close, actually feeling the beating of her heart, the soft pulsing of the blood coursing through her neck, the quiet of the evening, the crickets and cicadas, the sweet hint of the honeysuckle and jasmine, all on that singular, seminal night at Kissing Rock, with Rebecca King, when, just a few months shy of my Bar-Mitzvah, I felt as if I truly became a man.