I opened a letter last week that read, “Get serious, Huber! I mean, in these troubled times, when we’re threatened with terrorism, global warming, drought, and mad cows, all you write about are skunks, Smooth Heine, and one-liners. Get with the program. Gloomy Gustav.”
I answered this way: Dear Gus: Before more rumors get out of hand and riots ensue, I’ll follow your lead and get serious by setting the record straight regarding me and Tangerine Crotchmire.
Tangerine was a standout in a long line of sincere and lasting loves of my youth. (Truthfully, I fell in love only once, but many times.)
She was the sister of my friend Virgil Crotchmire who told me Tangerine showed up on the Crotchmire doorstep one cold and snowy night wrapped in a Gypsy blanket, a road-killed squirrel in one hand and a coal shovel in the other.
But I didn’t care. When I was about 15, I was bitten by Tangerine’s love bug one day — with my vast experience I recognized the symptoms immediately — as I passed her in the halls of Milton Beers High School. The way she looked up and smiled caused my legs to say, “Run for your life!” but another part of my anatomy screamed, “Whoa!”
I hadn’t paid much attention to Tangerine before that memorable spring day. She was always just Virgil’s little sister, a skinny girl who tagged along and carried our guns when Virgil and I went rat hunting at the county dump. But on this particular occasion I suddenly noticed she had the eyes of a Guernsey, the smile of a spotted sow, and the swaying moves of a willow.
Virgil was with me, and I grabbed his arm and said, “Say, was that Tangerine?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, she’s been eating or something.”
Virgil cocked his head and frowned. “Yeah?”
So to make a short story longer, I waited for Tangerine after school and asked if she’d like to go on a Saturday picnic. Girls in those days were crazy for picnics. I never knew why. I never asked.
Needless to say, that Saturday turned out to be a perfect day on the banks of the county dump, but I carried the guns, because Tangerine lugged our lunch in a basket.
Virgil, disgusted with the situation, strode away to better hunting grounds, while Tangerine spread a blanket and pulled some sandwiches and warm Orange Crush from her basket. We ate in serious silence, broken only by furtive glances at clouds and stuff.
Finally I spoke. “What’s your favorite class at school?”
“Oh, Shakespeare and all that stuff?” (In those days I liked to wow my dates with my half vast knowledge of literature.)
“I like movies,” she said, her eyes moving hopefully across my face.
“I was thinking more the stage,” I said.
She didn’t reply.
“I know a play by heart, a melodrama,” I said. “Want to hear it?”
She cocked her head, and I picked up a napkin and fashioned a bow. “It goes like this:”
“Villain (holds napkin to upper lip): You must pay the rent, you must pay the rent, you must pay the rent today.
“Damsel in Distress (holds napkin to hair): But I can’t pay the rent, I can’t pay the rent, I can’t pay the rent today.
“Hero (steps on stage, holding napkin like a bow tie): Unhand the damsel, you churl. I’ll pay the rent.
“Villain (napkin to upper lip): Curses, foiled again.
“Damsel No Longer in Distress (Napkin to hair, eyes on hero): My hero!”
I stopped and looked at Tangerine. “How about we shoot some rats now,” I said.
Needless to say, that was my first and last date with Tangerine. She stopped bothering me at school, probably brought on by hay fever. Later, while I matured in the Coast Guard, she married a one-armed shoe salesman from Gunnison, Colo., and I never saw her again.
Now if that isn’t serious enough for you, Gus, I have some other true love stories that will curl your hair and bring tears to your eyes. I’ll save them for later columns.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.