Friday, January 15, 2010

Book 10: I Was A Teenage Dwarf by Max Schulman

I am not sure how this book came under the O'Malley family radar, most likely either my mother or father had read it as teenagers. Looking back, the book rests like a banana peel right outside of a swinging door from a busy kitchen in an overstuffed restaurant. Nothing might be happening right now but hilarity is about to ensue.

Both my older sister and I devoured this book on family road trips, roaring with laughter as Dobie Gillis dates one disaster after another, pledging life-long love in spite of incompatibility of the intellectual, spiritual and moral variety. He starts by saying things like, "Okay, so the next girl I date will not lie. I don't care if she has eight moles on her nose she has got to be truthful."

Of course, minutes later he is buying ice cream sodas for some beauty who is most likely lying about her name.

A half mile up a gorgeous tree lined road from our house sits a used bookstore. It used to be a Variety Store. Looking back on it it seems to be rather sketchy, a convenience store run out of an old Colonial house first floor showroom. The floors were scuffed wood and they seemed to be turning to cinder underfoot. They sold what we called 'penny candy' and odd assorted knick knacks.

My grandfather used to pile all thirty seven grand kids into the biggest car brought to the family reunion. He would then drive us up to the Kingston Hill Store to each buy a small bag of 'penny candy'. He was one of those men who is funny by being deliberately un-funny. He would wear goofy hats. He said, 'Kenny-pandy' instead of 'penny candy'. His face in photographs seems to be in a perpetual imp grin. Grampa.

I'm not sure when but the Kingston Hill Store eventually was transformed into a Used Book Store, which considering the tendencies of my family is somewhat akin to putting a poppy field next to a family of opium fiends. The ancient penny candy tradition immediately transformed into long walks down the Indian Summer tunnel of red gold yellow brown tree leaves culminating in orgies of $3 book buys.

On one of these trips I found 'The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis'. I laughed out loud when I saw it. Upon re-reading it, I was surprised at how well the humor has held up in spite of it being published in 1959.

It makes you blush on reading it, thinking of how absurd you've been in your life in the face of attraction. The lengths you'll go to as a teenager to get the attention of a crush and then how quickly your feelings flip to the opposite spectrum.

Through the vagaries of memory and real-estate turnover, this book is now associated with a store that used hold 'Kenny Pandy', a store that sat halfway between my house and the University of Rhode Island library on a street my father walked every day to work. I'd turn down South Road in the car and there he'd be, arms swinging slightly, hands curved, and sometimes he'd accept a ride. Others he wanted to enjoy that tunnel of trees.

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