Kind of a Drag
“Kate,” Part III
Kind Of A Drag, sung by the Buckinghams (1966), encountered 1966
[To paraphrase Huckleberry Finn, you don’t know a thing about this story without you have read the two previous entries. Read them first, and then come back.]
I learned upon getting back to high school in the fall, and finding Kate in my German class, that she was not tied up with the guy from the party now. (Maybe all my hallooing had done some good.) On a Saturday at the beginning of October, Kate let me take her to a University football game. She let me put my arm around her in the cold, and hold her hand, and she did not demur when I told her she was the only girl in the school worth troubling with.
No Making Out
But. But we talked about “making out,” which I commented to my journal had been the real thing I thought had come between us the previous year. I paraphrased her stance as “She doesn’t like to do it except when the situation calls for it.” Whatever that meant, it couldn’t be good for anyone hoping to do that with her. Useful information to me, though. I could do respectful; I could do it well. And she faulted the late unlamented Jim for spending all his time doing that with her replacement. She blamed his proclivities that way for her dropping him. So I thought maybe I could provide some kind of contrast.
I was smitten in a way I had never experienced before. Too beautiful for words, I called her. I admired her strength in class. I admired her vulnerability discussing her parents’ impending divorce, now shared with me.
She certainly kept me off balance. We went to the theater a couple of times. But then there were other times when she would not come out with me, and I thought she didn’t really want me. Then she would tell me, for instance, that she would blow off her Saturday night Quaker group to go out with me, whatever I wanted.
And so we approach the crescendo. And here my journal fails me. It was both too confusing and too painful to write down coherently. But in brief, a competitor appeared at her Quaker teens’ circle, and he played in a brass rock band. I should have known I held no cards to match those. But still I kept on, and still she accepted some of my invitations for a while. So for a time I regarded myself as in a contest I could perhaps win (the Four Seasons’ repeated refrain notwithstanding).
This much the journal confirms: There came a moment when I kissed her and told her I loved her, and that was kind of the end. I have a picture in my mind – a picture of whose accuracy I am not sure – of the location and some of the circumstances. I think this happened near my house, when we were walking from there. I cannot construct a plausible explanation of why it would happen so far from her house or so near to mine. I seem to picture her face filling with dismay after my kiss and my avowal, and her refusing to let me hold her hand the rest of the way to wherever we were going.
This I did not write down, but am absolutely clear on it: I lost several hours. This has only happened that one time to me. After that moment when I had put my heart on the line and knew I had lost, I went back to my room, and lay on the bed for several hours, my mind a complete blank. I mean I was not even conscious of being unconscious. The time just passed without my being in any sense aware of anything. Swoons were very popular in the 19th Century, I read. I think this may have qualified as a swoon. I came to with my mother calling me for dinner. My heart was officially broken.
Yet even this was not the end, exactly. I drew the conclusion I should have been more bold – not recognizing the insuperable advantage that being in a rock group and part of Kate’s Quaker circle gave Michael. I got invited by Kate to go to a coffeehouse and see Michael’s group perform – and had to agree I found him likeable myself. (How much better it would have been if I could have hated him!) I went around miserable a lot of the time.
And eventually, sort of – I got over her. And when, in December 1966, the Buckinghams’ Kind of a Drag started climbing the charts (“Kind of a drag/When your baby don’t love you” – over upward cascading brass choruses – brass, damn it!) – that became my theme music for a while. Well, until Sgt. Pepper pushed it and everything else into oblivion right around the time of my graduation that June. (More about that in a later piece.)
Nor, interestingly, was it quite the end of the story with Ella. Just after graduation, Ella came back into my life for a few dates. They were fun, if frustrating. She let me take her canoeing, and allowed me to me nibble on her ear as July 4th fireworks went off, though I saw her holding hands with another boy a couple of days later.
Kate managed not to deal with sex with me, but she had to do it with someone, and in fact it was reportedly Mike from the brass band. She confided to me worriedly that summer that she was concerned that the liberties she was allowing him might result in her pregnancy. At my school, that wasn’t a far-fetched fear, but Kate was spared that.
You might think that at some point I would finally have washed my hands of the friendship underlying the yearnings. But that didn’t happen. We have stayed in touch, off and on, over the years.
The Buckinghams prophesy that “Girl, I still love you,/ I’ll always love you,/ Anyway.” That’s the way it feels at the time, but of course we all move on, especially from yearnings that afflict us in younger years.
When I see Kate now, I am glad to see her. It is a very pleasant time, but I do not hope for sparks to fly, and they do not. Effectively, our relationship now is a descendant of our friendship, not of what I tried to make of it. My on-again, off-again romancing for a couple of years almost half a century back is not even referred to, and is simply not a factor, not even as a trying experience that somehow bonded us. This is not uncommon, I have found. A business associate and friend of mine today is a woman with whom I was, shall we say, close as our respective first marriages were crumbling. When we socialize now, as a middle-aged Carly Simon ruefully sings: “I don’t try to seduce you/ We don’t even flirt.” I certainly appreciate her attractiveness, but only the friendship remains. If you live long enough, you can get over pretty much everything.
Ella never married, I learn from Kate. She lives happily on the West Coast. I think what Ella thought she was doing with me was summed up by another female colleague of mine who spoke appreciatively once of all the boys she had kissed. At first blush I thought she meant all the boys she had had sex with. But then I reflected that this woman is quite unembarrassed about herself (I learned in more clinical detail than I cared for about a pregnancy of hers), and far freer with the expletives than I have ever been. If she had meant fucked, she would have said fucked. No, she meant kissed. She was telling me that there was a stage in her life when she had luxuriated in flirting with boys and sharing kisses with them. I believe that this was what I was to Ella: one of the boys she kissed. Something fun that she correctly surmised would wind up, quickly enough, in her rear-view mirror. And I now know that there was nothing wrong with that, though it was a little harder to accept at the time.
Zsuska is not even mentioned between Kate and me now.
I do not long for Ella or Kate. I long for the feelings I had then. I long for the intensity that a few strains of music could stir up in emotions, when love was as yet unachieved, when sex (a somewhat distinct thing) was terrain I was exploring at my own leisurely pace, when, in one’s expectations (doomed though one might have sensed they would prove to be), embraces and endearments could lead to lifelong magic, magic in whose presence the music in one’s head would never stop.
 I don’t think it’s accurate to speak of the Buckinghams as a rock band with brass the way Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago were. When you look at videos of the Buckinghams from that era, all you see are the core guys, none of whom goes anywhere near a mouthpiece. The brass players must have been added in production, probably by James William Guercio, who became their producer toward the end of 1966 and who very shortly went on to produce both Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago, where the brass were full members of the band.
 Out of the approximately 30 girls in my class we had four unwed mothers.
 From the song Happy Birthday from the album Have You Seen Me Lately (1990). There seem not to be any videos out there of her singing it. Buy it here.
Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for commercial images