Friday, May 27, 2011

Rex Smith, Pirates and Unrequited Love

I was fifteen, I think. Maybe sixteen, but probably fifteen since I can't remember having my driver's license and that's the kind of life-changing event that one remembers, right? Anyway, it was the early 80's and my life was high school, planning for college, writing dark and depressing fiction and poetry, hanging out with friends and nursing a boy crush that lasted seven years.

The details are fuzzy after all these years but it was a warm afternoon, that much I know for certain. Of course, I grew up in South Florida, so a warm afternoon is pretty much expected nine out of twelve months. If I had to guess, I was probably wearing a blouse in neon pink or orange and my tightest Jordache jeans that I would have had to lay down to zip with the help of the hook end of metal coat hanger pushed through the hole on the metal zipper. (I'm currently wearing maternity jeans with no zipper, so I can't check to see if this feature still exists on jean zippers.) It is with all certainty that I can say my hair was big and poofy (and frizzy from the Florida humidity) and I was wearing blue eye shadow and dangly earrings.

Shall we pause to let that mental image sink in?

I don't remember who picked the movie, but it certainly wasn't my crush. There were four of us at the movie theater, two other girls to join my crush and me. It wasn't a date, but I wanted it to be. We sat next to each other and when the lights went down I didn't much care about my other two friends or the theater full of people or even the movie. I just wanted to enjoy that two hours or whatever it was, sitting next to the boy of my dreams.

The movie we saw that day was the film version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. It starred Kevin Kline, whom I'm pretty sure I didn't know, and Linda Ronstandt, whom I did know because of her album Living in the USA. (I even had a satin baseball jacket like the one she wore on the album cover.) The film version of Pirates also starred Rex Smith, a sort of second tier teen heartthrob (at least to my mind). I knew him because he had starred in a TV film called Sooner or Later a few years earlier, which was either based on a book or had a book made out of the film. In any case, I may still have that book in my collection, with Rex in all his hunky heartthrobby shaggy blond haired sexiness.

I seriously doubt I picked that movie. Other than Grease, I don't know that I'd ever seen another musical and even though everyone I knew loved Grease I thought it was kind of silly that they sang throughout the film. (I'm a little more forgiving of musicals now.) But you could have sat me in a dark movie theater watching a two-hourloop of Ginsu knife informericasl and I would have been in heaven as long as my crush was sitting next to me.

As it turned out, I liked the movie. It was swashbuckling pirate fun and Rex looked hot and even the music didn't annoy me. For a few minutes here and there, I forgot that I was sitting next to my crush and just lost myself in the film. But at one point, I remember this clearly, Rex was on screen and my little teenaged heart was swooning for yet another unattainable male and I felt something brush my hand. I looked down and in the flickering light from the screen, I saw that my crush was touching me. His fingers brushing mine on the armrest, not in that accidental way that makes people quickly withdraw, but in that deliberate, secretive way of saying, "Hey, I'm here with you." And then, somehow, with no real effort on my part, our fingers were entwined. It was... if not orgasmic, certainly enough to distract me from Rex Smith and The Pirates of Penzance.

It never went any farther than hand holding for 30 minutes or so in a darkened movie theater. At a time when some of my friends were already having sex or doing "everything but," I was a romantic who read a lot of Harlequin romance novels and fell in love with the wrong boy. The boy who would always be just my good friend, maybe even my best friend, but never my boyfriend or my lover. And so my virginity was preserved. (Though a year or so later he did try to sleep with me and I had the fortitude to say no. To this day I don't know how or why I resisted.)

Over twenty-five years later, I honestly don't remember much about the film version of The Pirates of Penzance. The only other Gilbert and Sullivan opera I've seen is a community theater production of The Mikado, which I enjoyed but didn't have quite the same impact on me. But that memory of holding my crush's hand as Gilbert and Sullivan's pirate operetta played on the screen is special. It's one of those sweet, innocent recollections of youth that stays with me and pops up at unexpected moments-- like while watching the trailer for the newest Pirates of the Caribbean film. It's a memory with a catchy soundtrack that always makes me smile.


  1. Yet another fabulous post, Kristina!

    I have a very vivid picture of you now, as you were in high school.

    And oh, do I understand about all the dark poetry and hopelessly unrequited love!


  2. Kristina - Oh yeah. I remember the Jordache days.

    Such a sweet story about your crush. (But Rex? Really? With Kevin Klein strutting around in tight black pants and his shirt open to reveal all that chest hair?)

  3. A sweet story, Kristina. If you ever actually visit Penzance, in the rocky southwestern corner of England, you would see why it would be the perfect setting for pirates, as well as romance. (This was my perception during a year in England, 1973-74.)
    But darkened movie theaters are universal. :)

  4. I saw this on Broadway, and I confess it was Kevin Kline all the way. Aaaaall the way! Those deep knee stomp/bends during "With Cat-Like Tread"? Raowr!

    (I also appeared in my HS production of the musical, as either Kate or Edith, so it holds a large place in my heart. Thanks for reviving the memories for me today!)

  5. Oh, thanks so much, Lisabet! But I'm not sure I want you thinking of me as my high school self. ;-) The 80s were quite a decade, though...

  6. Kathleen ~ I honestly never really cared for Kevin Kline until I was older. Not sure why. Silly teenage girl!

  7. Jean ~ I think I would very much love to visit Penzance! Sounds perfect.

  8. Dayle ~ I wish I'd seen it on Broadway. I have a much greater appreciation for musicals now than I did then! I'm glad I could revive some happy memories for you! It was a challenging topic to write about, since I know so little about Gilbert and Sullivan!


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