Her name was Jan (not her real name, but I didn’t know any Jan’s, so it works… not that any girl by any other name would even recall the peck on the lips she gave me in the 7th grade- I digress) and I knew her from the school band. She played trombone. Jan had a cute smile with teeth covered in silver braces; feathered brown hair and she mostly wore tight Levi’s and flannel shirts. She had a 70’s vibe about her that was so different from the skintight Calvin Klein/Izod wearing girls that made up most of the school. Jan was foxy. She was also smart as a whip, which made her even more foxy as far as I was concerned.
Jan wasn’t in any of my classes besides band, so I only spoke to her during that period, plus the occasional hello in the halls. Still, we were friendly enough that I developed a huge crush on her. We had a mutual friend named Michelle (whose real name was Michelle, but she moved after 7th grade and I’m sure as hell that she would never remember me. The real Jan, on the other hand is friends with my friend, Sally, whose real name is Sally, but who does not kind being brought up in long winded reminisces by her old senior prom date—Hi, Sally!) Where was I? Oh, right, Michelle. Michelle knew I liked Jan and through the machinations of the 7th grade social system, Michelle got Jan to write me a note.
For those of you too young to understand, getting a note from a girl could be one of the most exciting experiences for any young man. I could compare it to receiving an email or a text, but there was a tangible aspect to getting that folded up piece of notebook paper hand delivered to you, usually by one of the girl’s friends.
Notes, in general, were one sided, so as to make the contents of said note a mystery when delivered. If a person’s thoughts ran longer than that one page, then the bottom of the page became a logjam of words, written smaller and smaller until you might need a magnifying glass to decipher them. On the rare occasion that you received a TWO PAGE NOTE, man, life was golden.
Reading the note was almost as thrilling as actually receiving the note (I say almost because there were those occasions when the note said something like “I don’t like you anymore. But being friends with you is super awesome. Bye.”) As you read a girl’s neat, flowery handwriting, you could run your fingers over the pen impressions and imagine her lying on her bed, or sitting on the floor of her room, composing something thoughtful to say. I still recall some of my best notes memories (and worst), including the note from Jan.
What she had to say wasn’t important, in fact I believe she just detailed the course of her day (an indication that she wasn’t that into me but was being polite by writing a note). It was a full page, not some half page/half hearted courtesy note. I probably received the note at the end of the school day and rushed home to read it in the basement or my bedroom. The part of the note that jumped out at me was that Jan was listening to the radio and The Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy” was on the radio. She spent two sentences writing about how much she liked “Jeopardy.”
Bingo! I had heard “Jeopardy,” and I liked “Jeopardy,” and I now had something else to talk to her about besides does it hurt her mouth when she has to blow into the trombone mouthpiece and is it gross to always open the spitvalve.
I grabbed my portable desktop cassette recorder and rushed to the radio. Flipping on WGCL, I waited in anticipation for the DJ to play the Greg Kihn Band’s hit song sometime before dinner. Sure enough, “Jeopardy” came on and I sat in silence as the tape player rolled, placed right next to the radio speaker. When the song ended and my mission was accomplished, I went about listening to the song several times over so that I’d be well acquainted with the entire song and be able to have a meaningful conversation about it.
The next day, when I saw Jan in band class, I brought up “Jeopardy” thinking she would be impressed that I, too, also liked and had my own copy of “Jeopardy,” (I failed to mention that it was just a recording off the radio and not the actual single. Semantics). I nervously approached her and said, “I liked your note.” Her response was, “Oh, cool.” Then I said, “You know, I think ‘Jeopardy’ is really cool, too.” To which she responded, “Huh?” I refreshed her memory about the note and the song and she said, “Oh, yeah. Cool.” Class started and I went back to the drum section, confused that Jan did not recall how much she liked the Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy.”
Not too long after that, Michelle had a birthday party, a party that featured a game of spin the bottle. With Jan and I both in attendance, Michelle rigged the game so that at the appropriate time, the bottle would land on Jan, and then on me. I nearly peed my pants crawling through the circle of participants, over to Jan and giving her a kiss. Jan acted like it was no big deal, and when the kiss was over and I realized how little it meant to her, I went home and retreated into my cocoon of comics and music, the crush deflated.
But you know what, I still loved “Jeopardy” and would listen to it on a regular basis until the song was no longer popular. I may not have come away from this experience with the girl, but I had a new song.
Two weeks ago, while driving home from the train station, I sat idling behind a bus, waiting to make a right hand turn. My iPod was on shuffle and wouldn’t you know it, “Jeopardy” began playing. Sure, I’d heard the song hundreds of times in the years since my note from Jan, but on this night, when the rain was falling and I felt isolated from the rest of the world, hearing the song brought on a rush of giddiness.
No, it wasn’t some suppressed feelings for a girl I knew 30 years ago; instead, it was the feeling of running into an old friend after a couple of years. You know that feeling? It was the feeling of being young and getting excited over a handwritten note, feathered hair, and the experience of a first kiss. I sat in my car for another five minutes while I waited for traffic to move. By the time the song ended, I finally made my turn and drove the rest of the way home, this time to my cocoon of my foxy wife and two loving kids.