It took me a long time to get used to kissing. It didn’t seem natural or healthful. In my earliest days, it was scary with big people hovering over my crib, baring their teeth and talking gibberish while lifting me towards their mouths. I was afraid I was about to be eaten alive.

Later, as a toddler, I was a little more tolerant and gained a few insights about the barbaric ritual. Females of all ages, it seems, are very eager to kiss babies, whereas men prefer to throw them up in the air and catch them. I enjoyed the male approach except for the few occasions when I threw up on an uncle.

As I grew older I realized kissing is a firmly established custom and is unavoidable. Refusals were taken as personal insults resulting in pleading and pouting. I usually gave in but sometimes I found a good hacking cough was an effective defensive maneuver. Also, I discovered if I took it like a little man without biting a lip, there were rewards of lollipops and cookies.

My attitude changed dramatically when I entered kindergarten. I still disliked the gushing advances of female relatives, but there was a pretty classmate named Barbie for whom I was willing to make an exception. She had blond curls and a knockout smile that was going to be even better when her new front teeth grew in.

But Barbie didn’t share my ardor or even suspect it. Following the advice of my buddies, I tried to reveal the depth of my affection by frequently punching her on the arm, but to no effect. A more direct approach was needed.

Just before the dismissal bell one afternoon, I slipped into the semi-dark cloakroom and hid behind Mrs. Abercrombie’s faux fur coat. When Barbie approached in the shadows I jumped out and kissed her on the mouth like I’d seen Clark Gable plant one on Vivien Leigh, except our noses met dead center and it hurt a little. I realized a romantic declaration was called for, so I blurted out, “Hullo, I think I like you.”

Unfortunately Barbie had left earlier and, in the dim light, I had kissed surly Wanda Gurndelstaff who weighed more than any two kindergarten girls. She slapped my face and reported my “assault” to Mrs. Abercrombie. I was sentenced to clap our dozen blackboard erasers for two weeks as punishment. I’m sure Clark Gable was never sentenced to clap blackboard erasers.

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