That first winter in high school, we were wild. Not full grown teenagers, none of us had a driver’s license, an automobile. or much idea of what to do in a parked car with a date, aside from fog up the windows.
Kissing was innocence on the prowl. Without cars, our opportunities were limited to boy-girl parties in the neighborhoods where we grew up.
Jennifer “Jump” Reed lived just down the street. Her family were Yankees, from Buffalo, New York, sophisticated immigrants; they ate strange foods from Italy and France, and drank wine and so forth. Jump’s parents were nearly invisible. You almost never saw them, a key ingredient to Jump’s success as a hostess.
And maybe because her nickname sounded local, indigenous to Horry County, a swamp dweller’s cognomen, as if she’d gotten it jumping from one cypress stump to another when she was five or six years old; anyway, the Yankee stigma didn’t adhere to Jump. She had a horse named “Tumbles” that would throw anybody but her. She was fearless on horseback, and had a wise mouth that startled grownups accustomed to Southern pleasantries. Jump fit in, a natural born roller coaster cowgirl; her wise mouth was made for a carnival town, and she knew how to throw a party.
All of my early experience in kissing girls came at the foot of her driveway on Friday nights.
Her parties were a venue for monkey business open one night a week, a fair approximation of a gas station beer joint without the beer, with the music, and no parents, no cops in the parking lot, no authority in evidence. I kissed girls one after another, who were chosen for me, and I for them, in a bizarre ritual Jump employed called “spin-the-bottle.”
It was probably an old game, out of a tradition between isolated villages for introducing new blood into gene pools grown shallow from cousins breeding. The point of it was to put the sexes together in pairs, to do something suggestive. Probably in original form the chosen couples danced, or bobbed apples together, something corny, something besides what Jump turned it into, which was foreplay, direct, mildly appalling.
All you needed to play were the willing girls and the anxious boys, an empty Coca Cola bottle, and some place to spin it.
Girls got on one side, boys on the other. In the middle Jump spun the bottle, usually an empty small Coke. Everybody watched it stop, as you always had hopes of it pointing front and rear to you and a particular someone, now fated to kiss. Opportunity hop-scotched love in all innocence, the bottle gave permission.
It chose the couples, one after another. We held hands, animated containers overfilled with hormones. We strolled two by two to the end of Jump’s driveway, a procession of tongue wrestlers headed for the ring.
It was compelling to watch the bottle spin, as every now and then it stopped where you wanted it to. Most times it would not, and you would go to kiss others, for practice, on-going education, self-improvement.
Kissing well was good advertising as word of sloppy technique was bound to get out. Striving for perfection prepared you for a jackpot experience.
It was the perfect game for luring hormonal boys to a semi-dress-up party.
Jump lived in a nice house. You would not go there before scrupulously bathing, dousing yourself with English Leather cologne, and dressing like your father on his way to the golf course.
You arrived for the party anxious to watch the bottle spin. You pretended not to notice that particular someone who was the jackpot. You guzzled Coca Colas to make empty bottles, until Jump would choose one.
Spin-the-bottle was like cocaine in the ’80’s. Everyone waited for the party-giver to open the bag. Which is not to say that everyone at Jump’s house later dove into said bag, waving arms and legs to fashion ridiculous snow angels of meaningless conversation and overnight romance. Nevertheless, kissing was cocaine, it made your heart race; hormones, endorphins, and fantasies ran amok, as virgins of both genders played smacky mouth.
Ready for more than spin-the-bottle, physiologically equipped we were for procreation’s main event. The rodeos of romance awaited.
Jump was a deft hostess, always had finger sandwiches, chips, dip, and Coca Colas waiting. Filling your mouth with food gave you something to do besides labor to make conversation. Jump turned up the music. We thought about dancing, but nobody would go first. The dancing never start-ed until a year later, when Bourbon and Purple Jesus came into it.
We gave the music enough rope to hang itself. Girls talking to girls, boys talking to boys, segregated conversation was all there was before the kissing started.
The boys were eager for jackpots, while the girls were gamblers for all the marbles, taking the first step toward landing feet-in-the-stirrups of a hospital delivery room.
Spin-the-bottle warmed us up for multiple marriages, primed the pump for the sexual revolution brought on by birth control pills. Jump’s game room prefigured Plato’s Retreat by a decade or two: anybody could wind up with anybody.
Sometimes the bottle would spin countless revolutions missing you altogether. Then you would hit a lucky streak, the bottle pointed to you again and again, with no luck at all, no jackpot. Back and forth, down and up the driveway you went and came, all that way not to kiss the person you were hoping for. All the kissing grew dull without a prime opportunity.
Maybe a string of Friday nights would go by, and then jackpot, Lois Chapman.
There was she, cheerleader blonde, at the neck of the bottle, me at the other end. Suddenly the prize I had hoped to handle cooly was a hot brass ring I had reached without an oven glove.
Now I had to hold Lois Chapman perfectly, without passing gas on the way to the kiss. Not bang my teeth into hers when the kiss started, or feel nauseated afterwards from too much practice with other tongues.
Holding hands with a jackpot virgin, my sense of touch grew eyes and ears of it’s own, reconnoitering the edges of pink fingernails. Meaningless words escaped my voice box. Thinking of what to say next was a boa constrictor squeezing me breathless. Enough I.Q. points expired in the grip, that to myself, I passed for an idiot.
My heart hammered.
I had known Lois all of my life, and still held hands with a stranger.
The moment was brand new.
At the bottom of the driveway, behind big clumps of pampas grass, the lights of the party scattered in shadows, it was dark enough.
Of a sudden, we met mouth to mouth.
I tasted the blossom, not the fruit but the flower.
Our tongues mauled each other. She probably tasted the last cigarette I had smoked in secret behind Jump’s house with Edward Jackson, remnants of a tuna fish finger sandwich, grains of pota-to chip, and Coca Cola flavored saliva.
French kissing would become a studied art, but it was not that now. It was a dare we took together: her’s to part the lips, mine to brave the teeth. And we were there, one or the other inside, one or the other penetrated, back and forth beyond the ditch of the ordinary, out of reach of all authority except for a spinning bottle. We disappeared into a kiss.
Back to the game we strolled to watch the bottle spin, for jackpots still to win.
The universal womb sang to ready children. We understood nothing and already knew how to make the world.