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Local View: Must be someone out there for everyone

Joe Heller

"I wandered lonely as a cloud."

— William Wordsworth

I used to dread Valentine's Day. Even my chemistry lab partner piled on: "I can probably make my sister go with you to the dance." He probably meant well. But from age 16 on, I was valentine-proof. In high school, I steered clear of the fairer sex, owing to debilitating shyness and a case of "intuitive" acne; I seemed to break out on the eve of any social event.

So I kept busy fishing, playing hockey, and hanging out at the bowling alley with other part-timers from the grocery store where we worked.

But when fellow stock boy Mike Michau reported that Debbie Glick would be among the girls at a party Saturday night, I could not stay away. Debbie was a vision, as fetching as Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and with the same Hollywood smile.

Preparing for the big night, I put on the pale yellow qiana shirt I got for Christmas, and I applied an extra layer of Clearasil before heading out the door.

The party commenced in routine fashion, with girls chatting on one side of the basement and the boys milling around the water heater on the opposite end, one or the other of us occasionally erupting in nervous laughter.

Around 9:30, when Bob Remiasz was the first to cross the divide, the rest of us migrated en masse, and I found myself face to face with the angel herself, in an ivory white sweater and a thin gold crucifix around her lovely neck. I asked her to dance, and she hesitated. Surveyed the room. Then suddenly brightened into that luminous smile: "Yes."

My hands were sweaty, but she didn't seem to notice as we danced to Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet." We danced close enough for me to smell strawberry in her hair, but thankfully not close enough for her to feel my heart throbbing like an outboard motor.

I thanked her as the music stopped and retreated to the water tank to savor my good fortune.

I did not fully realize how kind-hearted she actually had been until I went to comb my hair and saw in the bathroom mirror that my Clearasil was caked and cracked and orange, forming a perfect Halloween mask for Mr. Teenage Frankenstein.

Years passed. I tried compensating for my looks by pumping iron. Entering college, I had arms like Popeye, and my face started to clear. My one remaining impediment was a pair of black-framed eyeglasses, as thick as swim goggles, for an acute case of astigmatism.

One night, when I attended a college "mixer" — and left my specs in the glove compartment — the sultry Linda G. saw something in me that none had seen before: a guy she wanted to leave with — in his car.

"Leave now, Davy?"

I panicked. Should I call a cab? Offer to walk her 7 miles home? Or sit with her in the front seat and say I lost the keys? I needed to think of something — anything to avoid her seeing me in those Mr. Magoo eyeglasses I had to wear to drive through the night.

I tried stalling: "Mind if we stay a bit longer?"

She shrugged. She wandered into the crowd, never to be seen again. Or else I just couldn't find her through my astigmatic haze.

Granted, there may have been a psychological component to my troubles. Something subliminal. Something in my id of which my ego was unaware. Therapy was one potential solution.

Marianne, as it turned out, was the other. The woman of my dreams had been standing in front of me all those years, a cashier at the same grocery store where I worked. Pretty, intensely curious about everything in the world — there was no hiding my imperfections. But she said she saw something else.

I never dared asked what, afraid to press my luck.

Which, so far, is still holding.

David McGrath

David McGrath is an emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page, and the author of "The Territory." He can be reached at