Performer: The Monkees
Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King
Original Release: single, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
Definitive Version: None.
Like Janis Ian, I learned many truths when I was 17. But when I was 6 and had the 45 of Pleasant Valley Sunday spinning on my Deccaphone suitcase record player, I learned another truth—Creature comfort goals, they only numb my soul … wait, that’s not it. Oh yeah, it’s you can’t always get what you want. Too bad that song’s not on this here list.
I had a girlfriend when I was in preschool. Her name was Leslie. She was blonde, and I was smitten. (I still could drive you past the house where she lived.) She sat next to me at my 5th birthday party—the last time I had girls at my birthday before I discovered they had cooties.
Of course, our relationship was doomed from the beginning. She was heading to elementary school in Upper Arlington; I would be on the wrong side of the tracks in Columbus public schools. Sigh.
No matter, when you’re 5, it’s just on to the next thing. Attending kindergarten in Columbus was different from preschool in UA. The biggest difference: All the kids didn’t look the same. Cranbrook wasn’t evenly mixed racially but way more mixed than UA, which is to say it was mixed at all. Most students were white, but I had African kids in my kindergarten class and Asian kids and Latin kids. That was neither cool nor scary. It just was, like a lot of things, no big deal to a 5-year-old.
What WAS a big deal, at least to this 5-year-old was Shelly. She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, with long brown curls. In the blink of an eye, Leslie was long forgotten.
My love for Shelly went unrequited that school year, 1969-70, probably because kindergarten was where the sexes started to divide. The boys went to play kickball; the girls to ride the carousel.
Anyway, the school year ended, and everyone went his or her own way—to first grade, to other schools. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but one day that summer, Dad and I rode our bikes down to the school to play on the swings and slides. As was the case during that time, I took a few of my Major Matt Mason characters with me.
Do you know Major Matt Mason? For those who don’t, he was a rubber-body astronaut whose frame was made of wires so you could bend and pose his arms and legs. Major Matt Mason, his friends and all his space gear were cool enough, but the coolest thing were all the aliens in what I remember was a companion series.
I learned recently that they were actually a completely different series, called the Outer Space Men, but it was all the same to me. There was one for each planet, and I had almost all of them. I lost the brain-protruding pink alien from Uranus—my favorite—on our trip to New Jersey, and I don’t think I ever got over it. I might still have the gray robot-like alien from Pluto somewhere.
So Dad and I get to the Cranbrook playground, and who do you think also is playing at there chaperoned by her older brothers? I couldn’t believe it. Even better Shelly and I were the only kids our own age there.
I probably hadn’t said more than three words to Shelly the whole school year, but because we had been in the same kindergarten class, it was like a natural bond. Next thing I know I’m playing Matt Mason with her on the carousel.
Well, now we’re the best of friends, as though we’d been friends the whole year. Then I was walking with her to her home just a block away for some cookies. Then she gave me her phone number with the promise of more play dates. I was 6, and I knew this truly was the best of all possible worlds.
And then, like that, it was over. I can’t remember how, but in between the time that we played together on the playground to the time that first grade started a couple of weeks later, I found out that Shelly moved away, out of her house by the school, out of the neighborhood, out of my life forever.
Oh, wicked fate! I learned the truth all right at 6: The world can be a very hard and cruel place. Sigh.