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

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

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.”


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!


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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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