When I reached the top of the subway stairs the heat blasted me in the face like a bakery oven. The wretched things we endure to make a buck – untenable bosses, squandered dreams and brutal weather. Still, we carry on…all for the sake of survival. And if there’s one thing New Yorkers understand – it’s how to survive. I slipped the buds into my ears and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The slinky drum intro to “Hot Child in the City” filled my head, matching my pace like a metronome. Every time I hear that song I think of my friend Chris, the first white boy I ever kissed.
He lived in the apartment complex across from me where I grew up and I had a mad crush on him. And let me tell you, there ain’t nothing madder than a crush when you’re a 13 year old girl. He was a little shorter than me, with bright green eyes and dishwater blonde hair that hung slightly past his shoulders. We had fun together, he could made me laugh. I was always a sucker for someone who could make me laugh. He was a goofy kid, Chris, a bit awkward and super smart. We flirted with each other through the summer of ’78, in the full throes of puppy love and all its gorgeous agony.
I’ll never forget when his lips first touched mine. We were in the laundry room of his building, I was sitting on the washing machine. The air was cool and dank, but his breath was hot when he leaned in. As the spin cycle kicked on, our tongues met, tentative at first but we soon found our groove. The thump, thump, thump of the washer laying down an insistent beat, faster and faster…building to a glorious crescendo. I pulled him in closer. It was some kiss – he never even knew I came.
The next day, I was riding my ten speed back from the community pool, with my little AM/FM radio mounted to the handlebar. As I turned onto my street, “Hot Child in the City” started to play – I raised it up as loud as it would go. The speaker crackled jittery electric as the sun bore down on my bare shoulders.
“Hey, hot child!”
I turned around to see Chris, pedaling behind me on his banana yellow Schwinn. I let him pull alongside and I sang out in a state of exaltation. He joined in, slightly off key but with unselfconscious enthusiasm.
“So young to be loose and on her own…young boys they all want to take her home.”
He was wearing his favorite orange t-shirt with the ripped pocket on the front, tight enough to show off his muscular torso. Side-by-side we rode, flailing our arms about as we sang. A sublime moment, a mental Polaroid to treasure always. We pulled into my driveway and got off our bikes. His lips were cherry red, tattooed from the Bomb Pop he’d just eaten. He was still holding the stick. We stood there as the song played out, staring into each other’s eyes.
He took a step forward and we were nose to nose, then he kissed me again. Sweet, sweet boy. I’ll never forget that kiss, so tender and full of beauty but at the same time touched by sadness. It’s funny, even as a child I understood the tragedy of perfect moments. They just dissolve…like sugar on your tongue.