Kissing Peter Tork

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Fiction

Lake in late summer

Every once in a while, I still look at people on the street and subtract forty years, trying to unearth that summer when I was twelve; a summer that goes dormant for a time, but never disappears.  Sometimes I shake my head, needing to decide whether the memory is real or a figment of my imagination; but always her face comes into focus, and I know the image is true.

It was at one of those rundown rustic affairs in the Poconos that they make summer camp movies about.  Once a week, every Saturday except parents’ weekend, the girls’ camp from across the lake would come to our boys’ camp to listen to records and drink gallons of that sticky sweet “bug juice” that was a staple of every summer camp.  They called these mixers “canteens,” though we never knew the word to mean anything but a container for holding water on hikes.

Jeannine was wearing white shorts and the requisite camp logo T-shirt.  I put my camping hat on her head, and we talked of music and of how it gave people from all different places something in common, like how New Yorkers could experience California through The Beach Boys.  We talked of which radio stations we listened to and the disc jockeys we felt we knew personally from listening to them night after night.  At one of the canteens, someone dropped the tone arm of the record player onto the 45 of The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” and it led to the first time I fell in love.

“All the girls at my school want to kiss Davy Jones.  They laughed at me when I said Peter Tork was cuter,” she confided.

“So you want to kiss Peter Tork?”

“Don’t gross me out.  I don’t want to kiss anyone.”

“How do you know it would gross you out if you’ve never kissed anyone?”

“I just know.”

“Maybe the guy who ends up kissing you would be the one who’s grossed out.”

“Says you.”

The next Saturday we ducked out of the canteen and followed the dirt path down to the lake.  She was wearing faded blue jeans with a couple of patches sewn on. They would come back to haunt me seven summers later when Cat Stevens seemed to be singing about that exact pair of pants with his hit record “Oh Very Young.”

When we got to the lake and sat on some rocks, I said to her, “If you want to see what it would be like to kiss, you could pretend I’m Peter Tork.  I won’t mind.”

“Maybe just one quick one, but not on the lips.”

“It has to be on the lips or it’s like kissing your aunt on Thanksgiving.  It doesn’t count.”

“Well, OK.  But no opening your mouth.”

“Why would I do that?’

“Because that’s how the grownups do it in the movies, stupid.”

Neither of us was grossed out.

After our seventh and final Saturday, we went back to our own parts of the world.  We promised we would write every day and count the days until we would be back at camp the next summer.

We wrote each other just once.  The camp closed that year, and I spent the next summer mowing lawns in my neighborhood.

I found her letter in an old Hush Puppies shoebox today.  The image is still real.


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Lou Orfanella is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama including most recently The Sun Cannot Decide, Brief Encounters: Flash Fiction, and A Cabin in the Pines: A One Act Play. His work has appeared in publications including The New York Daily News, College Bound, English Journal, World Hunger Year Magazine, Discoveries, Teacher Magazine, and New York Teacher. He holds degrees from Columbia University and Fordham University and teaches writing at Western Connecticut State University. He has presented scores of public readings of his work and offers individual and group writing workshops.