Kiss of life: The peck that saved me

“Gimme a kiss.” This time she closed her eyes and her flexing lips looked like thick, velvety flower petals

When I was stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana near Virginia Beach, Virginia, my best friend was a guy I’ll call Rick. Rick and I were beach and club buddies and were considered rebels among our shipmates because we flaunted regulations and generally behaved like sailors always looking for a good time.

Sailors, New York, NY, May 2011. © Kathryn Mussallem

Rick is from the hood of Whittier, CA, and sported a cheesy mustache and looked like Sonny Crockett from “Miami Vice” when properly duded. In club mode, he wore white slip-on shoes, linen pants and pink long-sleeved shirts rolled up to showcase his muscled forearms.

Credit: kocojim on Flickr

Rule benders

My shipmates called me “Shoney’s Big Boy” and “Bouffant” because I kept my wavy hair so much longer than regulation that I had to tuck it under my ball cap. Rick and I bent the rules as far as we could, and I think the “lifers” resented us for our devil-may-care attitudes. They especially resented Rick.

Rick is HIV positive and had to check into a Navy hospital annually for tests. Our shipmates’ dislike of him may have been more from fear than anything. Back then if you were HIV positive, you might as well have AIDS and be a dead man walking. I didn’t think much about it—I might have even drunk after Rick a few times.

Rick and I hit nightclubs in Norfolk every weekend. Not the beaten down, sailor dives where the few women there are life-worn things. Rick preferred “the sisters” so we went where African-American girls were. I was more into white girls, but sometimes played the dutiful wingman. It’s not that I found African-American girls unattractive; it’s that I felt so stiff and so, well … WHITE around them. I was an okay dancer, but ran out of moves in about twenty seconds. Rick was a dancing machine.


Once, after dancing the night away, Rick steered us into an after-party with three young ladies. They wanted to stop at a burger place, so we pulled up and they went in. Well, Rick and two of the three girls went in—one stayed in the back seat with me.

She was a big girl—and strong—when she grabbed my arm and urged me to stay, it hurt. For the first time in my young life, I felt fear and doubt about my ability to fend off a woman. Not that I’d ever had to before, but at that moment, I thought there was a real chance I could be raped.

She looked at me ravenously, and I knew then what it must feel like to be a woman cornered by a lustful man. I felt like a piece of meat, and this girl was a tiger—a big, heavy, hungry tiger.

“Gimme a kiss,” she said lustily.

(Oh, no.) “Umm … are you hungry? They’re about to come back.” I thought it a good idea to remind her that the others would soon return—AND with food.

“Gimme a kiss. Yooz a FINE-lookin’ piece o’ white boy. GIMME IT.” She began to purse and flex her ample lips.

“Uh … (Please come back, Rick and girls. Please, someone, help me.) Oh, here they are now,” I said brightly.

They walked up giggling and carrying cardboard trays of burgers, fries and drinks. When they saw my wide-eyed relief and the way the girl had me cornered in one end of the seat, they looked jazzed for a show. Rick gave me a wink, as I shot him a “please help me, look.” All he did was start making moves on one of the girls as she tackled a burger.

“Gimme a kiss.” This time she closed her eyes and her flexing lips looked like thick, velvety flower petals opening and closing like in time-lapsed nature videos. Then she leaned in even closer.

“I . . . I really don’t want to,” I stammered.

She opened her eyes wide. “Why not? Somethin’ wrong wit me?”

“Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with you” (beside the fact that you don’t get that no means no). I guess I’m just hungry.”

“I’m HUNGRY, too—for YOU. Now gimme dat kiss!”

She flexed her lips again, and I could see there was no way out. I HAD to kiss her.

“Okay, but just one kiss, and then we can eat, right?”

“Okay. I’m ready.”

Like a frightened bird

She closed her eyes, pursed those colossal lips, and leaned in. I gave her the quickest peck in history—even quicker than one you’d give your grandmother as a kid. Her lips felt hot and formidable—like if I’d lingered, they would’ve pulled me in as a writhing, muscular vortex of lusty, unquenchable desire.

Happily, Rick bailed me out by opening the door and offering us burgers. With her distracted by food, I fled the back seat and made like I had to use the Hardee’s bathroom real bad. Actually, I did—she scared the pee out of me.

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Tripping over Time: Why it’s inscrutable


I’m utterly fascinated by time. Specifically, its passage and how difficult, no, impossible, it is to comprehend. I think about time a lot. Time is a simple, linear, straightforward concept that trips me up every time.

Are you comfortable with it? Try this: stare at an atomic clock for three minutes. You’ll see that there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the tick-tock passage of time. But think about getting through the first week of a new job or waiting in a doctor’s office or for the first day of school. Time slows WAY down.

C.S. Lewis on time:

“The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

C.S. Lewis

Lewis wrote of our inability to grasp time in his Reflections on the Psalms: “We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

We struggle to grasp time passage because we weren’t created for it. It’s linear and limited; we’re fashioned for forever. We’re trapped in its constraints just as we’re trapped in our fragile bodies.

We know that time passes at the same rate regardless of how we spend it. But IT NEVER STOPS. We’ve all heard the expression, “Time marches on.” What a sobering thought. Sometimes it seems as if you can slow time to a wonderfully comfortable pace while at the beach at 10 a.m. on a weekday with only a few lifeguards, some hopeful seagulls, the bubbling surf and a good book.

It’s about perspective

I arrived at Navy boot camp on a balmy Florida night around midnight. They processed us, formed us into companies, assigned us “racks” (Navy-speak for bunks), had us fill out tons of paperwork and then finally, two hours later, led us to a sleepy barracks.

I climbed into my rack thinking how incredibly long the day had seemed. Up at 5 a.m., waiting in the processing station, then at the airport, flying to Orlando, riding a shuttle to boot camp … you’d think with all the activity it would have flown by. Not so. Everything was new. And I’d just been baptized in the Navy way—“hurry up and wait.”

pj in boot camp, November 1986

I fell asleep and what seemed like five minutes later some crazy man was banging a trash can, calling us names and yelling for us to get up. I blearily looked at my watch—4 a.m.—only two hours after I’d lain down. Two hours had felt like five minutes.

See what I mean? It was like the clock slowed and then sped up. Like in the movies when they make the hands spin.

Ever catch yourself trying to slow a wonderful moment? At that special, “timeless,” instant, you realize how much you’re enjoying life and how quickly the moment morphs into a memory. Oops—there it goes. Better take pictures.

Spaghetti monster

I worked at an advertising agency with a guy who was a bit of a Bohemian. I’ll call him John. John grew up as a hippie with hippie parents; he wore the same clothes to work each day and claimed that God is a spaghetti monster in the sky. And he made fun of people who think God is not a spaghetti monster in the sky.

John was for legalizing marijuana (and drugs in general) polygamy and other illegal activities. He was for whatever people want to do “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” He lived for the day. No rules. No worries.

I’m not saying John’s philosophy is ALL wrong. I think he’s half right. There’s something incredibly freeing about taking each day as it comes and living in the moment. But when one lives in the moment with little thought for others or for the future, does he truly live a life worth living?

Carpe diem

Another guy, I’ll call him Harry, loved to get John to talk about God as the spaghetti monster in the sky. I think Harry longed to live like a Bohemian, but didn’t have the guts. He was more like George Costanza. He lived vicariously through John (but only when it was safe to do so).

What do John and Harry have to do with anything? This: Seizing each day and living in the moment is the way to go, but, it seems to me, only if it’s a lived with forever in mind. It took me a long time to get this. But I think, in the end, everyone does. Even the atheists.

If you trip over time, too, and/or enjoy this article, please let me know. I want to hear from you.