I Was Jaded.

My first love was Jill Dwyer in the 3rd grade. I was attending a catholic school at the time, Our Lady Queen of Peace in West Milford NJ, and she was my classmate. Jill had long fiery red hair, white skin with freckles and bright green eyes. I had never seen this combination before. To me she looked like an angel, or one of Strawberry Shortcake’s friends. Either way I wanted to be near her.

Jill was a little taller than me and wore the school-required plaid skirt and solid, short-sleeved dress shirts. Always buttoned up to the neck. Always smiling in her patent leather shoes with silver buckles. Having feelings for her, I didn’t know how to act around her so I remember treating her “just like one of the guys”. This non-special treatment I showed her did not make her notice me (which I found to be odd) but she was always kind. Always smiling.

One day on the playground, a boy noticed me looking at Jill and figured out I had a crush on her. He jabbed an elbow into my ribs and chuckled, “Well, you know what they say about red heads!” I did NOT know what they said about redheads and starred at him blankly. He starred back just as blank, apparently waiting for me to finish the thought. When I did not, he just turned and walked away. Looking back I don’t think he knew what they said at all. He probably just overheard someone else use that phrase and was trying to find out for himself. I don’t remember what his name was, just that he was twice everyone’s size and never tied his shoes.

Third graders at Our Lady Queen of Peace in North Jersey got to participate in “Show-and-Tell” on a pretty regular basis. This was similar to an Oral Book Report, although no reading was required. Nor was there any real attempt in learning anything. It kinda went like this:

“I have this thing that I keep at home, but today I brought it with me. It’s not my favorite thing. I never bring my favorite thing outside, let alone across town on a school bus full of idiots. I’m not meaning you people of course — you idiots are on a different bus route. Honestly, I wanted to bring something else, but Mom said it was too nice and it might break. I don’t see what the big deal is. Christmas is a month away and if it broke Santa could just make me another one.”

On this particular Show-and-Tell day I was thrilled to be bringing in one of my Star Wars action figures. Luke Skywalker! This…THIS will make Jill Dwyer notice me! Once she sees that I am into Star Wars she’ll have to like Star Wars too! And then we can play Star Wars together – forever! I had cleaned up Luke the night before for the Big Day and had placed him in my book bag next to my bed. I wanted to set him directly on the bookbag so I could fall asleep looking at him in anticipation, but we had a dog at the time. A dog that clearly worked for The Empire. So Luke was rolled up neatly in some napkins and tucked safely inside.

The next morning I dressed quickly, shoved Sugar Pops into my mouth and was early for the bus. The bus drove uncharacteristically slow this day. I was so anxious I wanted to pull out a lightsaber and slice the driver in half! However, it would be another 9 years before I got my driver’s license, and another 15 years before I got my bus license, so I spared him. Just drive faster. Idiot.

Twenty minutes later I walked into class. It was there that the height of my excitement was met by the depth of my disappointment — Jill was home sick. (If this was a movie, we would begin slow motion here.) “What???” I cried. “Why?”

The why didn’t matter. My heart sunk so fast and so heavy it brought me to my hands and knees on the dirty tile floor. How will Jill Dwyer know that I like Star Wars if she’s not here? My book bag slid of my shoulder and landed next to my right hand. I could feel my Sugar Pops coming back up. My classmates shuffled in past me as if they couldn’t feel the foundations of the earth collapsing… It was over between Jill and I before it even began.

I don’t remember her after this; it’s apparently the last memory I have of Jill Dywer. I had had my heart stomped out by a woman who never really talked to me even though I strategically ignored her in an attempt to make myself more attractive.

At my request the following year, my parents transferred me to another school, I grew out my hair and we changed religions. I was jaded.

I left Jill on her barren, desert planet to deal with her issues and (much like Luke Skywalker) I headed off to find my own destiny. A destiny that would take me well beyond any realm I could come up with using a 3rd grader’s imagination.

Funny how the movies we watch are not nearly as entertaining as real life.

My name is Curtis Johnston — and that was real life.

A Cup of Coffee by Any Other Name

I Like my Coffee Like I Like My Women…

We’re all addicted. Some people are addicted to chocolate, some to cute little kittens. I am addicted to hot water filtered through ground beans — coffee. I love the sound of it brewing, the smell, the taste.

Did you know that coffee first begins its life not as bean, but as a fruit? More specifically a cherry? Neither did I. Did you know that it was first harvested in the ninth century in Ethiopia? Do you even know where Ethiopia is? Yeah I had to look it up too. It’s not my fault though. My school teacher never turned the globe to the other side.

My love affair with coffee began at a very young age. I was about 13 years old and working for my father’s contracting business. Picture a crew of big, burly, bearded men clad in flannel and denim and sloshing around in the mud. And one small, blonde boy, wearing tan corduroys and a Knight Rider Jacket. (Which character do you think I am in this story?) One of these lumberjacks would inevitably make a morning coffee run and the order would be “Six cups of coffee and a hot chocolate for the kid.”

“Kid?” I thought. “KID??? I don’t see no stinkin’ kid here. We’re all lumberjacks! Coffee all around!” It was my first contact with coffee. At 13. And I have to tell you it left something to be desired. Actually, it was hideous. It tasted like hot gravy, brown crayons and motor oil. Yuck! But this was my induction into manhood. Swallow it! I had to consume all 10oz. while discussing halfbacks, fullbacks, fastbacks and scratching my bathing-suit area. It made no sense to me at the time, but I eventually grew  to love fastbacks and my bathing-suit area.

Flash forward 30 years later, my stomach is as tough as the hull of the USS George Bush. Lined with the remnants of thousands of pots of java, it could be used as in an emergency as Kevlar by Knoxville’s Finest…although I hope it never comes to that. I take my coffee black, strong and hot. Extremely hot.

Ideally, I would like it served with tongs at a rolling boil by a man in a fire retardant suit. I would also pay high dollar to have a cup of joe filtered through the hide of Juan Valdez’s mule. But, that’s just me.

Coffee (like Leonardo DiCaprio) is an acquired taste. No one takes their first sip of piping hot black coffee and thinks, “Wow! Where have you been all my life?”

Now yes, your first sip of a Caramel Frappa Mocha Hydro-chino Latte? Sure. I imagine you would go back for seconds. But to us this is not true coffee — more like pecan pie in a cup. (Oh, pecan pie in a cup…great business idea.) Drinking black coffee is like driving a 5-speed—our numbers are diminishing.

Unlike other beverages, coffee is a common thread in the world today, bringing people together with just a few simple words. “You want to get together for coffee?” Absolutely. “You want to get together for root beer?” I’ll have to check my schedule.

I don’t understand decaffeinated coffee, though. What’s the point? It would be like having a marine life preserver lined with tuna fish. You’ve missed the purpose.

Speaking of porpoise, I could go for a cup of coffee in a thick restaurant mug right now. Who’s got time?