Human Condition 031719 (toned)

My Spanish is so poor I could not read the menu board. So I just pointed to something on the sign hoping it was orange juice. Maybe it was my failure at Spanish that caused my mind to wander back to Sept. 7, 1971. That was the day I fell in love for the first time, and, despite the distance, the memories remain vivid.

It was the first day of junior year, and I was lucky to still be enrolled. My behavior the previous year had tested the patience of everyone. Since I had already spent time in the principal’s office that morning, things were not looking to improve.

No problem. I had spent the summer sneaking into racetracks and handicapping the trotters and the pacers, and I was developing a parimutuel betting system which would free me from my exile in New Jersey. Formal education was just holding me back.

In fifth period, as I was studying the results from Yonkers Raceway, I looked up and saw this pretty girl with long, shiny, brown hair walk into English class. Instantly I fell in love.

For the next quarter the only class I did not skip or arrive late for was English. I never paid attention; I just used all my time in class to flirt and try to get the attention of that pretty girl with the long, shiny, brown hair. No matter what I did she ignored me.

I began to suspect I was dealing with an environmental factor. New Jersey had allowed indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the ’60s, so perhaps the pretty girl with the long, shiny, brown hair had been stunted in her emotional development. Why else would she be more interested in the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay than she was in me?

Frustrated, I did what I was best at when I was 16 — I became disruptive and rude. I negatively commented on her wardrobe, shoes, shape of her nose and, at one point, I even read the literature assignment. Then I told her how wrong she was about the plot of O’Neill’s "The Hairy Ape." She finally noticed me, but not in a good way. I resigned myself to a life without love.

On the last day of school, without any warning, that girl came up to me and kissed me on the cheek and wished me a pleasant summer. Trying to maintain my “tough guy” image I glared at everyone as my knees buckled. I was confused. Clearly, women were more complex than racehorses.

That next year, I would often skip Spanish class to stand in the hallway just to talk with the pretty girl with the long, shiny, brown hair. Although it took a while to get the courage to ask her out, she did go to the prom with me. I also got an F in Spanish.

So here I am in Cordoba, Spain, forced to drink sherry for breakfast and wondering what happened to that pretty girl with the long, shiny, brown hair? Then I see her. She is walking out of a nearby shop.

Apparently, I had just bought her a custom handbag as an anniversary gift.

I never figured out that betting system, but I can still recite poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. And, after 40 years of marriage, I guess I did pick a winner.

— Monaco lives in Baton Rouge


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