ENGINEER’S GUIDE TO ROMANCE
It all started with the Cushman Motor Scooter.
It took me many years to figure out what had stunted my growth in understanding women. But it started with Johnny Barton’s 1950 motor scooter. It was grey-green and had a box shape, not like the later more flashy Vespa, made popular in Italian movies, but Johnny’s was the envy of all his classmates.
John Barton was my high school friend who, from my view, really knew how to get girls. Even though he lived in town and could have walked everywhere, he rode around on his motor scooter. He was movie star handsome with clothes to match, his black hair slicked back around his olive-tan skin face. He must have had something on his hair to keep the wind from blowing it around. His girl of the moment would ride on the back with her arms around him, her hair blowing in the breeze.
I imagined that he had all the girls he wanted. This may have been a bad influence on him. He became a preacher.
But I wanted to be like Johnny Barton. I had saved seventy-five dollars over the years and told my mother that I was going to buy a motor scooter. She must have been horrified to think of the danger. We lived outside town so I would be riding on some busy streets.
I had just turned fourteen—the driving age in Arkansas, as long as you had a licensed adult with you. My father had taken me out in the family car a few times to show me how to drive. I realized later how terrified he must have been when I tried to teach my son how to drive,
Shortly after my announcement to my mother about the scooter, she had my father take me to a used car lot. Boy. My own car. Much better than a scooter.
“We‘ll pick out something you can afford,” he said.
The salesman said, “You have seventy-five dollars?” He spit a stream of tobacco juice into the dirt. “The only one on the lot you can afford is this 1934 Ford four door sedan. It runs real good.”
He started it up for us and left it running. He waved at the open door.
“Take it for a drive.”
It was honey brown, exactly like the Bonny and Clyde car that got shot up in Louisiana. And only sixty bucks. I peeled off sixty dollars of my hard-earned savings and handed it to the tobacco chewing salesman. I jumped in to drive it following my dad back home.
He didn’t seem to be concerned about the lack of a licensed driver being with me. In fact, neither of my parents ever rode with me in my 1934 Ford.
In spite of my expectations that my love life was about to improve, things got worse. First all, I need funds to run this car.
I was at the age that all I could think about was how to get girls. But this required a car which needed gasoline and, I learned later, expensive repairs. So now I not only spent all my waking hours thinking about girls, but also how to get the money to run the car to get the girls.
Then the starter went out. So I began saving up to repair the starter. In the meantime, I got the Ford running by rolling down the hill in front of the house and popping the clutch to get it started. But I needed to pick up my friends, Benny Barber and Don Luny, anytime I went somewhere so they could push it to get it running again. They were both bulky football players, so we always could get it going.
After the starter was fixed, I still needed money for gas, so I would pick them up, and maybe David Phillips. I always tried to talk them into paying for some gas. They thought I was rich, so getting any money from them was nearly impossible.
With this arrangement, if we did get girls to ride with us, making out was limited for me. They necked and played with the girls in the back seat while I drove. And because I had to scrimp and save for the car, we never took the girls anywhere if we had to spend money. Like a movie or, God forbid, a dinner. So this limited my involvement with girls, instead of enhancing it like I had hoped. So for these two years driving the 1934 Ford, I really didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.
Then came my big chance to earn steady money. We moved to Aiken, South Carolina where I took over a morning paper route with 212 customers. Then the newspaper, the Augusta Herald, decided that I was dependable and had a car so they hired me to deliver the bundles of the afternoon paper to the other paperboys in our area. I was now in the big time.
The only problem was that most of my non-school hours were taken up by this work. For my last two years of high school, I got up at five in the morning. Every single day for two years. Except on Sunday, when I had to get up at two in the morning to deliver the other paperboys their Sunday papers. Then I would deliver my 212 customers.
Dating was difficult, since I would be going to sleep at about nine o’clock at night. Saturday night dates were especially stressful, since I knew I would have to get up at two. But the parents of the girls I did take out must have appreciated my bringing them home at an early hour.
Another problem was that, on the rare occasion that I got a girl in the car alone and parked on a dark street, I really had no idea of how to approach a girl. My mother had warned me, that I could do anything I wanted to on a date, but don’t you bring a girl home pregnant. I knew how to get a girl pregnant, so this knowledge placed a pall over my actions.
I figured out many years later that many girls, like all boys, were hot for sex. I had thought all those years that you had to sneak up on girls. Maybe get them drunk. But the group I ran around with couldn’t get beer or liquor. So I was never able to try that.
Actually what kept the girls up tight was the danger of getting pregnant. In those days, if a girl allowed a boy to fulfill his desires, and maybe hers, she would get pregnant.
So I led a pretty monastic existence the two years of Aiken High School.
Then came the real killer. I went to college to Yale which had no girls. The closest girls were at Connecticut College, fifty miles away. You had to have a car. The same problem all over again. Only this time I would need a red convertible instead of a Cushman scooter.
Besides, I couldn’t afford a car along with college. Even if I had a friend with a car, I couldn’t spend a day driving to Conn College. I had to spend all my waking hours grinding on the books for my engineering classes just to keep from flunking out.
I did graduate, but after four more years of monastic life.
I returned to Fort Worth to live with my parents and start a construction business. My mother was concerned about her future as a grandmother, so she introduced me to a stream of TCU girls. She was taking classes at TCU to get a degree in accounting.
One of those cute girls she introduced me to tricked me into marrying her which began my real education about women.