“A few months ago, the two of us were getting a drink on our way to a party and we ended up talking about first kisses,” explain Elizabeth Spiridakis and Marisa Meltzer in the intro for their new zine, First Kiss. “There’s something so intrinsically fascinating about first kisses: they’re awkward and funny, less revealing, maybe? — than talking about other formative adolescent experiences, like the loss of your virginity or getting your first period.” Here, we talk with both editors about compiling the zine.
If you’re in New York, be sure to check out their launch event tonight at the 92YTribeca, where readers will include Lesley Arfin, Tavi Gevinson, Emily Gould, Gavin McInnes, and Doree Shafrir, who has graciously allowed us to excerpt her contribution to First Kiss after the jump.
Flavorpill: Were most of the submissions from people who you didn’t know? Was reading strangers’ stories different?
Elizabeth Spiridakis: We emailed a few of our friends and colleagues that we had a feeling would have very special tales to tell, but for the most part we just put out an open call on the internet trifecta (blog/FB/twitter) and the response was pretty amazing!
Marisa Meltzer: We were surprised by how many we got — definitely over 100 — and so many were from people we’ve never met. I loved reading stories from people I didn’t know. It was like a peek into a parallel adolescent experience.
FP: Did you have a certain rubric for what was included?
ES: We had no criteria other than we both had to like it. The process was wholly based on our instincts… we made piles of favorites and compared notes and we liked almost all the same ones.
MM: The ones we loved were all different lengths and tones but were honest about that rite of passage. I think we have certain weaknesses, like references to ’90s clothing fads (Starter jackets, scrunchies, chokers), and summer camp, but one of the best was Katie Notopoulos’s, which just said, “teeth teeth teeth.” That’s definitely getting to the heart of something!
FP: Were there any submissions that you liked, but just didn’t work in the zine format?
MM: No, we used all the ones we loves. Jon Caramanica’s map of his first kiss or Jaimie Warren’s photos would have been much more clear if it was, say, a blog post, but we were dedicated to making a cut-and-paste zine, so blurriness was part of the program.
ES: We loved the ones that were really unconventional — I am actually surprised that we didn’t get more art submissions!
FP: Has the experienced of compiling these stories made you look at your own first kiss story differently?
ES: Only in the way that it’s apparently kinda rare that I still see mine on occasion (we are Facebook friends). A lot of our stories ended with “..and I never saw him again.”
MM: had always thought that I was SO old when I had my first kiss — nearly 16 — but then one of the themes that came up again and again was people thinking they were way too old to be having their first kisses. I took a lot of comfort in that.
FP: Is there a writer (dead or alive) who you would have loved getting a submission from?
MM: Oh wow, so many. Joan Didion. Liz Phair, in song form. Kenny Shopsin. Gisèle Prassinos.
ES: Kelly Cutrone. Serge Gainsbourg. Myself right after it happened to get the real untarnished-by-time story.
[Editor’s note: What follows is an excerpt from First Kiss by Doree Shafrir, who is one of our favorite writers. Read more about her here.]
The summer I was 13 I got back to overnight camp and everyone had hit puberty with a vengeance. I’m not talking about getting your period or having to shave under your arms, or getting zits and/or tits. I’m talking about how it suddenly seemed like every girl in my bunk had decided that this was the summer they were going to begin exploring the genitals of the opposite sex while I was more interested in learning how to water-ski.
First Kiss by Doree Shafrir cont.
It was a Jewish camp in New Hampshire that I’d gone to since I was 9, skipping a couple years when I was off at arts camp. Until then things had been pretty chaste; a few girls the summer before had been French-kissed; it was rumored that a couple of the especially adventurous ones had gone to second base (a camp relationship generally lasted anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks — more than a month meant you were practically married). The summer before, I had been awakened at 2 a.m. a couple of times by the fumbling amorousness of the girl across the bunk from me, a shockingly large-chested (for a 12-year-old) bottle blonde named Beth who liked to have her boyfriends sneak into the bunk in the middle of the night so they could make out. But that summer we were 12, Beth had been the exception. That summer it was still okay that I’d never French kissed a boy. At school I didn’t really feel like I was behind. First of all, my school went from kindergarten through eighth grade, so I’d been stuck with the same 25 or so boys from the time I was 5. No one really did anything. The concept of a middle school, where suddenly all the kids from every elementary school in town were dumped into one teeming mass of hormones and band practice, seemed incredibly exotic. Of course, all the girls I went to camp with went to middle school. I was convinced that the American educational system, or at least the public educational system in Brookline, Massachusetts, had horribly shortchanged me. No one seemed to understand that if I had gone to middle school, I definitely would’ve gotten to second base by the time seventh grade rolled around.
But that summer, the summer I was 13, second base — or really, any base — seemed depressingly abstract. I pondered the logistics of it over and over again in my head, images cobbled together from Heathers and the more advanced Judy Blume novels. So we’re kissing, me and imaginary guy, and then he just sticks his hand up my shirt and touches my boobs. Hmm. That sounded… okay, but not particularly interesting. Let’s try again: We’re kissing — I pause here to note that since I had never, actually, French kissed, the kissing part of the fantasy tended to look something like the scene in Top Gun when Tom Cruise and Kelly McGilliss finally have sex, and sound like it too in that “Take My Breath Away” would inevitably be playing, somewhere, in the background — and he slowly, carefully unhooks my bra and we kiss some more, and then he touches my boobs.
It never really progressed much more beyond that, if only because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why this would be particularly pleasurable.
Even more confusing to me was the concept of getting “fingered,” which was a term thrown around rather loosely by the other girls in my bunk. Each night we had an evening activity in the auditorium-slash-gym, and afterward everyone went to the dining hall to eat cookies and drink fruit punch. It was on the way back to the bunk that certain girls would slip away with their “boyfriends” to the soccer field, the official makeout spot of Camp Young Judaea. Twenty minutes or so later they would return, triumphant, to the bunk. “Josh fingered me,” Caroline basically announced to the bunk one night.
I had no idea what she was talking about. All I could piece together was that Josh had probably stuck his fingers in Caroline’s vagina and possibly left them there for a couple minutes. Why, or how, that was fun, I hadn’t quite figured out yet. What I had figured out was that a) having a boyfriend was cool, b) going to the soccer field after eating stale cookies and drinking warm bug juice was even cooler, and c) getting fingered — a term that today makes me squirm because it’s so gross, but at the time was thrown around like people were talking about going swimming, or making a gimp bracelet — was, at the age of 13, the pinnacle of cool.
Maybe it was because I didn’t have older siblings to tell me what was what, but I felt like somehow every other girl in my bunk had gotten the top-secret memo, and had studied it cover to cover, committed it to memory, and then watched it self-destruct. Clearly, something was undeniably wrong with me because I wasn’t getting fingered by Josh Levine in a soccer field in Amherst, New Hampshire.
Of course, I focused more on the possibility that it wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten the memo but that I was some kind of freak, way beyond the help even of memos. It didn’t work in my favor that I hadn’t been around for the first session of camp that year; instead, I had chosen to go to nerd camp that July, further ensuring that by the time I showed up for August, even the girls who hadn’t even made out before were now confidently bragging about their sexual prowess. Even Lisa Block, who was fat and had braces and a huge nose, had gone to second base!
Or maybe I was a lesbian, and I emitted a secret lesbionic vibe that only 13-year-old boys, known for their astuteness, could pick up on.
The four-week session was drawing to a close, and I was still chaste, though not by choice. I knew my only hope was the last night of camp, a free-for-all when anything could happen. Boys tromped into girls’ area; we went and hung out in the boys’ bunks; people were probably having sex on the tennis courts. (In later years, the last night chaos was severely curtailed, probably because the camp directors wisely feared a lawsuit.) At some point in the evening, I found myself in the company of Lauren Cole. Lauren was the meanest girl in the bunk, a skinny, black-haired, foul-mouthed member of the popular clique. She, as she made sure everyone knew, had definitely been fingered. Lauren had found out through someone else — Lara, maybe, or Lisa — that I was desperately trying to lose my French kissing virginity before I went home, and the minutes were ticking by way too quickly. “So you know Scott Cohen?” she asked.
I nodded in the affirmative, even though I thought I might have him confused with the other average-looking guys in our age group: Jeff or Mike or Jason. At least I knew he wasn’t one of the ugly guys.
“He said he’ll make out with you.”
The whole time, it never really occurred to me to think about whether I was interested in making out with Scott Cohen. He wanted to make out with me! That was enough!
“So? You wanna do it?” It did occur to me for a split second that I was being set up. After all, Lauren Cole was the meanest girl in the bunk; she had never once deigned to be particularly friendly toward me. Why now?
But these were fleeting thoughts. Even if I was being set up, I reasoned, to what end? So Scott could brag that he’d made out with me? All the better! Then a darker thought occurred to me: Maybe I was, actually and indubitably, the ugliest, freakiest girl in Bunk 10, and it was some kind of dare like in that movie Dogfight with Lili Taylor and Scott would go back to his bunk and he’d have won $100, $20 of which he would promptly kick back to Lauren for her role as pimp, and then I’d walk through the door of my bunk and everyone would be laughing hysterically, Lauren loudest of all?
As my mind raced through these scenarios, I could tell Lauren was getting impatient. “Okay, yeah, sure,” I said, trying to act nonchalant, like it was the kind of transaction I did every day. Quart of milk? Snickers bar? French kiss?
I believe at that point Scott materialized and we walked wordlessly toward the volleyball courts. Out of the corner of my eye I could see other couples writhing on the ground. We sat down. “So do you wanna make out?” he asked. And then, gloriously and triumphantly, we were kissing, and his tongue was in my mouth, and mine was in his, and then we paused for breath and kissed some more. This went on for 10 minutes or so, after which point I think I wandered back to my friends who were hanging out in a bunk in boys’ area. “I did it!” I said. “I made out with Scott Cohen!” (A boy, I should add, that I don’t think I had ever spoken to or really knew who he was before our volleyball court rendezvous.)
In some universe, but most importantly in my mind, I had won. So what if I hadn’t been fingered on the soccer field? I was this much closer to being fingered on the soccer field!
Then an amazing thing happened. Lauren came back. “Scott wants to know if you’ll go to second base with him,” she said. I looked at my friends. What should I do? Did girls like me go to first and second base in the same night? On a volleyball court? At summer camp? With a guy they hardly knew?
I went back to the volleyball court. This time we didn’t even have to say anything. Before I knew it his hands were under my shirt, groping me.
I never made out with Scott Cohen again. And I never had a guy come visit me in my bunkbed in the middle of the night, or got fingered on the soccer field. But that was somehow okay.