The only way I could get out of Mr. Wasserman's chemistry class was to register for something else at the same time. There weren't many choices. "Since when have you been interested in ceramics?" my advisor asked, his nose twitching suspiciously. "Oh, I've always been interested in ceramics," I told him, trying to get the right look of honest enthusiasm into my face.
"Come on, Lyons," he said, "get off it. Guys like you give me a pain! You're only trying to get out of Mr. Was-serman's class. You can't fool me."
"Uh uh," I said earnestly, shaking my head. "I really want to take that ceramics class. I've been wanting to take that class ever since I started high school, but I never could fit it in."
"Well, you can't fit it in now either. It conflicts with your chemistry class."
"There is another chemistry class," I reminded him gently, "in the fourth period."
"It's filled," he said.
"Well, I did go over and talk to Mrs. Humphreys just before I came here, and she said if it was all right with you, she could squeeze me in."
My advisor looked at me with disgust. Behind me, at least ten other students waited to see him, and a low, restless growl permeated his small office. He was pressured and I knew it, and he knew I knew it. "You're just handing me a line of bull," he said. "None of you kids want to work. That's the trouble. That's the way it is with all of you. But I'll tell you something, Lyons. If you're planning to go to college, you'll learn a lot more about chemistry in Mr. Wasserman's class."
As usual, my advisor was missing the point completely. I did want to go to college, and that was why I couldn't afford to take Mr. Wasserman's course. I already had a couple of Cs and didn't need another one. Everybody knew that Wasserman was a tough marker, so I wasn't taking any chances.
"I really want to take ceramics," I told him. "I've always wanted to take ceramics."
Later, on the way to the ceramics class, I figured I would wait a couple of weeks before dropping it. My advisor wasn't particularly vindictive, but he might've just switched me back into Wasserman's class if I had irritated him too much.
I never did drop ceramics that term. Instead, I fell in love and spent the best and the most miserable year of my life. All because Mr. Wasserman was such a hard marker. None of any of this would have happened if it wasn't for him.
The fat girl and I arrived at the door at the same time. Since she was twice my width, it was obvious that we couldn't get through the door at the same time. So I gallantly stood back and held out my arm, directing her to go first. Somebody behind me snickered, and she looked up at me as if I'd goosed her.
"I didn't do anything," I said.
She hurried inside and I turned, raising my eyebrows at the guy in back of me. "What a butt!" he said. "Did you ever see anything like that before?"
Inside, people were already working. You have to understand that ceramics is a religion to its disciples. They don't do anything else but worship clay. They eat, sleep, drink pots. Nothing else matters. Some of the people in the class had been taking ceramics for years. They came before classes started in the morning and during their lunch hours, and they stayed as long as they could into the afternoon until Ms. Holland, the teacher, threw them out.
She wasn't in sight when we first arrived. The fat girl moved off to a corner, and the rest of us newcomers stood around at the front of the room, waiting and watching the regulars. At the back of the room, a girl was slamming clay down on a table. She threw it down, picked it up, and slammed it down again. A few kids were sitting at a long table, working on various clay projects, their faces solemn and intent. At one side of the room, two others were turning pots on potter's wheels. Then somebody cried out, "Oh, my God, how gorgeous!"
A girl came through the door at the back, from the kiln room, holding up a large, round bowl. She was caressing the bowl, running one hand up and down its side in a way that made me feel warm.
"Look at this," she hollered. "I added a little copper oxide and just look at that color. It's so beautiful I can't stand it."
A few people stopped their work to murmur approval. The guy next to me, in a low voice, made an unflattering comment about what he thought the pot could've been used for. But I hardly listened because I had fallen in love.
The girl looked like what I had been dreaming about ever since I started dreaming about girls. She was tall and slim and very fair, with long blonde hair flowing down her shoulders and deep, deep blue eyes.
I cleared my throat. "It's beautiful," I said. "How did you do it?"
"Well, I mixed copper oxide with my standard mottled semigloss glaze and . . ." she began, moving over toward me and speaking in an excited voice. Close up, I noticed a tiny ridge of pimples between her eyes and also that her ears were rather large and stuck out. But aside from that, she was about as perfect as a girl could be.
Her name was Norma Jenkins. She sat next to me once the class started and gave me a lot of useful information about clay. I didn't hear any of it. I was busy admiring her even, white teeth and blessing Mr. Wasserman.
On Friday, I helped her carry four pots home from school.
"Don't you do anything else?" I asked her. "I mean besides make pots?"
"Sure I do," she said, "lots of things."
"Well, I . . . I . . . No." She began laughing. "Not too much. I've had a love affair with clay since I was eight, I guess."
"Only clay?" I said, my elbow brushing against hers.
"Be careful," she cried, holding out her arm. "That pitcher . . . I'm going to give it to my mother for her birthday."
There was a clay smudge on her chin and her fingernails were caked with a pale, green glaze. Around us, a cold San Francisco fog pressed down against our heads. I remember looking at her pink cheeks, at the alarm in her face over the thought I might break her pitcher, and I felt warm and happy to be alive.
"Only clay?" I repeated, cradling the pitcher against my chest.
"I mean, you've had a love affair only with clay? Nothing . . . nobody else?"
Her cheeks grew even pinker. "Well, there was this boy . . . he took ceramics last year . . . he made some nice mugs but . . ." She shook her head. "He really didn't
"Is that why you broke up with him?"
"No . . . Anyway, he broke up with me."
"Because you knew more about glazes?"
"Now you're laughing at me." She tilted her head and laughed up at me. I was so happy, I pressed the pitcher hard against my chest and heard her shriek, "Watch out, you'll break it!"
"So why did he break up with you?"
"Because he found somebody he liked better," she said carefully.
"No," she said softly, "he wasn't. I mean, he isn't a jerk. He's very nice, very smart, but I guess he just found somebody he liked better. I guess she's a nice girl. She's more interested in the kinds of things he likes to do. I don't know her-she never took ceramics-but I guess she's nice."
"I felt bad for a while, but I'm over it now."
"I'm glad," I told her, and we both smiled quickly at each other and looked away.
"How about you?" she asked. Our elbows brushed again, but this time she didn't yell anything about her pot.
"Oh, I went around with a girl in my sophomore year. She was the big one in my life. Then there were a few in between, and this summer there was somebody I met at the hardware store-I work part-time at a hardware store- but she was kind of a birdbrain, talked on the phone all the time, and had a weird laugh. That's all over now."
"How about the girl in your sophomore year?"
"Kendra Gin? I know her. She's gorgeous."
"Yeah, I guess she is."
"Was the girl this summer . . . was she pretty too?"
"Yeah, I guess she was."
"I guess you like pretty girls."
"I guess everybody likes pretty girls."
"Well," she said, very seriously, "it doesn't matter to me. I mean, I don't care whether a guy is good-looking or not. It's what's inside that counts."
"Sure," I told her, "that's important too, but I don't think I'd ever be attracted to a girl who wasn't pretty. I mean, she has to be pretty for me to get interested in her, and then, after that, there has to be something inside for me to stay interested."
She argued with me. She said that physical beauty was only skin-deep. She said to look only for physical beauty was superficial and demeaning. Her voice was husky and filled with warmth. We walked together through the gray fog, arguing-comfortable and happy in the certain knowledge that both of us were good-looking, and that something powerful was beginning between us.