the first time I said “I love you” to a woman

THE PHOTO OF THE CLOWN at the top of this page is me hitch­hiking from Wilkes-Barre to Pittston on Route 11 along the Susque­hanna River in North­eastern Penn­syl­vania. This was a spe­cial day: I was on my way to tell my girl­friend some­thing that I had never said to a woman: I was gonna tell her that I loved her and ask her to move in with me!

This took a lot of balls/gumption for me as I had re­cently failed in a brief re­la­tion­ship with a sweet hip­piechick in Boston and was feeling less that “manly.” (If you catch my meaning if you get my drift …)

But first, for younger readers, in the ’70s adults still “went steady” (even those over 30!), and moving in to­gether was a VERY BIG DEAL. In those days, the only people who did it lived in a big, evil city like New York, Philadel­phia, or San Francisco.


Goodbye cruel world, I’m off to join the circus, gonna be a broken-hearted clown.


I cer­tainly didn’t know any un­mar­ried cou­ples that lived together—not even hippie cou­ples. At least not in Wyoming Valley! I mean, there must have been some, but they didn’t broad­cast it, you know?

Hell, in those days, it was like knowing someone who was di­vorced! They ex­isted but no one knew anyone who had done it.

And people still used terms like “out of wed­lock” and “living in sin” and “shamed woman.” (As usual, the chicks got the heavy schidt from society.)

But it was time.

Now, I cher­ished my in­de­pen­dence and knew that I would be “tying my­self down” at a time when I was still a ram­bunc­tious sorta fellow. I knew that I should sow a few more wild oats.

But I was deliri­ously in love so it was an easy decision.

I did not have a car then—no self-respecting hippie did. So I did a lot of hitching, and today get­ting to my girl was no exception.

And hitching was weird be­cause well, the early ’70s were our ’60s back East. Lotsa dope and acid and, well, we did dress a little dif­ferent from what normal people were used to, so sticking your thumb out and ex­pecting a ride was al­most al­ways an ‘ex­pe­ri­ence.’ I met some people who didn’t need clothing or even drugs to be more out there than all the acid I ever took took me!

But usu­ally the ex­pe­ri­ences were good, like this one.

The folks that picked me up here were older.

To me.


In their six­ties, like I am now.

They pulled over, I hopped in the back seat, and the hus­band said, “You kids sure are col­orful these days. A lot more than we ever were, I can tell you! Where you headin’, sonny?”

The wife asked me who the bal­loons were for, and I told her. “She’ll love them,” she smiled at me and nodded. “Yes, she will love them.”


Elvis Presley-I Gotta Know HQ

Now when I am out and about, I usu­ally sing to my­self. My go-to song was then and re­mains Elvis’s I Gotta Know from 1960. I sorta sing as sexy as I can, even to my­self, thinking it will help me give off sexy vibes to the women that I pass on my way.

Get up in the morning, feeling mighty weak,
a tossing and a turning—well, I ain’t had no sleep!
Oh, baby, what road’s our love taking,
to ro­mance or heartbreaking?
Won’t you say which way you’re gonna go?
I gotta know, gotta know, gotta know.

As ap­pro­priate as those lyrics were, that is NOT the song that was stuck in my head. In­stead it was James Dar­ren’s Goodbye Cruel World from 1961. This was NOT a song that I wanted to be singing, but the damn thing wouldn’t go away!


James Darren - Goodbye Cruel World

Goodbye cruel world, I’m off to join the circus,
gonna be a broken-hearted clown.
Paint my face with a good-for-nothing’ smile,
’cause a mean fickle woman turned my whole world up­side down!

Okay, it was a sorta road song and I was on the road, if only for half an hour. By the time that I got there, I was as scared as I had ever been. My girl took one look at me and said, “Babe, what’s wrong? You don’t have any color in your face!”

When I said nothing, she smiled and said, “Here, let me put those bal­loons some­place nice and get you a drink. You want Boone’s Farm or Annie Green Springs?”

After we drank our wine—strawberry some­thing or other—I looked her in the eye and said, “Now, if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public. But when it comes down to fooling you now, honey, that’s quite a dif­ferent subject.”

She said, “Huh!??!”

So I fi­nally blurted out “I LOVE YOU!” and pro­posed that we live to­gether. Whew! She smiled, took my round red nose be­tween her fin­gers and gently squeezed, causing it to honk lightly.

Then she whis­pered, “Neal, honey, you’re not clowning around this time, are you?”

“No, I’m not,” I re­sponded. “Look at me—can’t you tell how se­rious I am?”

“Okay. I’m glad.” And she twisted the cap off a second bottle of wine, she smiled, nodded, and said, “And I love the balloons …”


WavyGravy flag 1500 copy

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of Wavy Gravy: poet, stand-up comic, im­pro­vi­sa­tional the­ater artist, psy­che­delic bus car­avan lu­mi­nary, rock con­cert MC, and has been called the “clown prince of the counter-culture.” Along with his wife Ja­ha­nara, he has brought joy and helped to re­lieve suf­fering for count­less people around the globe, largely through his fa­vorite projects, the Seva Foun­da­tion and Camp Win­narainbow. Now in his 80s, the refers to him­self as a “temple of ac­cu­mu­lated error.” Ram Dass said, “Every­thing Wavy says is true, al­though it’s all un­be­liev­able.” (Wavy Gravy)


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Rita Harris, Broker

Ab­solutely heart-warming story! I’ve never met a man in MY life­time that has been that ro­mantic - to dress up, bring bal­loons, of­fering to have me move it. Nay, this is a charming time in his­tory and I’m deleted that you doc­u­mented it for family, as well as all of us “lurkers” out here to read. Thanks for the share.… Rita

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