NARRATOR: 1968, I was twelve years old. A lot happened that year. Dennis McLain won 31 games, The Mod Squad hit the air, and I graduated from Hillcrest Elementary and entered junior high school...but we'll get to that. There's no pretty way to put this: I grew up in the suburbs. I guess most people think of the suburb as a place with all the disadvantages of the city, and none of the advantages of the country, and vice versa. But, in a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs. It was kind of a golden age for kids.
NARRATOR: There, that's me. Kevin Arnold, 1968, the summer before junior high school. And I don't mind saying I was a pretty fair little athlete.
[KEVIN drops a pass and the other kids laugh. The ball heads toward WINNIE, who picks it up. KEVIN and WINNIE approach each other.]
WINNIE [sympathetically]: It was a pretty hard pass.
KEVIN: Well, yeah, I think it had sort of a reverse-spin on it...
[Shot of WAYNE in street.]
WAYNE: Come on Kevin, stop gabbing with your girlfriend.
[KEVIN takes the ball, and walks toward the camera. Camera stays on WINNIE as she watches him trot off.]
KEVIN: She's not my girlfriend!
[WINNIE crosses her arms and looks hurt.]
[KEVIN, with the football, walks back toward the others to continue play.]
NARRATOR: This was true, Winnie Cooper was not my girlfriend. When we were very little we used to go down to Harper's Woods and catch fireflies but we really hadn't hung out at all together since we were about nine.
WAYNE: Uh-oh, think girlfriend's mad at you? Maybe you'd better go give her a big French kiss.
KEVIN: Shut up, Wayne!
WAYNE: Hey girls, come on over here. Kevin's gonna show you what a French kiss is.
WAYNE: What did you say?
[WAYNE pushes KEVIN over and pounds KEVIN'S shoulder with his fist.]
NARRATOR: This is the way most of my conversations with my brother Wayne ended. Apparently he just deeply regretted the fact that I had been born, and he wanted me to feel the same way.
PAUL: Come on Wayne, let him up!
[PAUL tries to pull WAYNE away from KEVIN.]
WAYNE: I'm sorry Paul, this is a family matter. [WAYNE resumes pounding KEVIN.]
NARRATOR: That was my best friend, Paul Pfeiffer. Paul was allergic to everything. Wayne used to say he was even allergic to his own snot. Wayne was a really funny guy.
BRIAN [yelling]: Hey Wayne, knock it off before I do the same thing to you.
NARRATOR: Winnie's brother, Brian Cooper. He was nineteen and for us he defined 'cool'. [BRIAN stands near his car and lights a cigarette. WINNIE moves next to him.] He had this really great '59 El Camino, didn't run of course, but he was always out there working on it, sweaty, grease all over his hands...what a guy. That June he got drafted and packed off to Vietnam. But his car was still out front up on blocks as kind of a reminder of who really ran things on our street.
KEVIN [loudly]: Mom, can Paul stay for dinner?
NORMA [V/O]: Sure, if his mom knows.
PAUL: What are you having?
KEVIN: What are we having?
NORMA [V/O]: Meat loaf.
PAUL: I'm allergic to it.
KEVIN: What else?
NORMA [V/O]: Salad.
[PAUL shakes his head.]
KEVIN: When's dad coming home?
NORMA: Any minute. And between the traffic and his job he's liable to be very tense so let's not make him crazy.
KEVIN: He's always tense.
NORMA: That's true. He's always tense but he's not crazy yet so let's try to maintain that sense of equilibrium.
[JACK enters through the kitchen door, walking through into another room.]
NORMA: Hi hon. How's traffic?
JACK: Traffic's traffic.
NARRATOR: Dad had a Spartan sense of language.
NORMA: Karen, honey, you said you were gonna come home early and help me with dinner.
KAREN: Peace mom, okay? [Gestures.]
NORMA: Peace is fine, but you said you were gonna help me with dinner.
KAREN: You have so much bad karma in your life, you know that mom? I'd be careful if I were you.
NORMA: Thank you, I'll keep an eye out. In the meantime, when your father gets back try not to make him crazy.
[JACK re-enters kitchen, takes drink from Norma and sits down at the kitchen table. He takes a sip, then turns toward PAUL.]
JACK: Hi, Paul.
[PAUL waves his bread at JACK.]
NARRATOR: Dad always said "hi" to our friends, but it was like he had this understanding with the family - he worked hard for us, he provided for us, and he certainly didn't want to have to talk to us on top of that.
[Shots of individuals.]
NARRATOR: My approach was to not make any sudden moves or sounds until he'd finished that first vodka tonic and hope that nobody else did anything that might upset him too much before then.
(Editor's comment: The following scene in red was deleted in some reruns for obvious reasons and to make time for commercials)
KAREN: I’m gonna get some birth-control pills. I thought you should know..
[Sound of tea-pot whistle starting. Shot of JACK.]
[Shot of whole group as JACK bangs the table with his fist.]
JACK: I did'nt hear what I just heard.
[Everybody starts arguing and KEVIN starts laughing.] [Joni Mitchell “Both Sides Now” starts and continues.]
NARRATOR: And that’s pretty much how that summer went.
[“Home movie” clips of street football and baseball, WAYNE beating KEVIN’s shoulder. Final clip of KEVIN and PAUL walking up street, camera settles on Brian’s car as they walk past.] [End music.]
NARRATOR: This was it. The last night of summer.
[Camera pulls back to show KEVIN and PAUL sitting on the bed looking at the book.]
PAUL: Holy cow!
KEVIN: Try not to drool on it. If Karen finds out we have this, she’ll kill me.
NARRATOR: Paul and I had decided the best way to prepare for junior highschool girls was to look at them naked.
[NORMA knocks on door and enters. PAUL tries to hide the book behind him.]
NORMA: Paul, your mother called. She wants you to come home right away.
PAUL: OK. [PAUL starts to walk out of bedroom. He pauses and turns.]
PAUL: Well, I guess I see you at bus-stop.
PAUL: Last night I had a dream that when I got to school I realized I had no clothes on.
KEVIN: If you’re naked when you get to bus-stop, I’ll tell ya.
PAUL: Thanks. [He hesitates again.] Do you know what you’re going to wear?
KEVIN: Paul, I have no idea.
NARRATOR: Actually, I had been planning my wardrobe for about six weeks.
NORMA [concerned]: You're not gonna wear that to school are you?
KEVIN [sarcastically]: No mom, I got a job as a male model.
[WAYNE enters, looks at KEVIN, then bursts into laughter.]
KEVIN [to PAUL]: Don't worry about it, you look fine.
[Camera pans to include PAUL. He is wearing a bad outfit, and carries a violin case.]
[PAUL fishes in his pocket.]
PAUL: Let me see our class schedule one more time.
NARRATOR: He was gonna have to get a grip on himself. This was the junior high bus stop.
[Camera pulls back to include WAYNE measuring boys tongues with a ruler.]
NARRATOR: And if we were gonna hold our own with the older kids we were gonna have to act mature.
[WAYNE measures PAUL, then smacks him on the head. Two older girls walk past camera.]
NARRATOR: We seemed to have something of a height disadvantage, but we did out best to fit in.
[KEVIN and PAUL turn to look after the girls, with their tongues out. They spot a girl (Winnie) in the distance walking toward the bus stop.]
KEVIN [with tongue out]: Hooth that?
NARRATOR: What an incredible stroke of luck, a new kid. A helpless waif would be even more lost than we were, a helpless waif in fishnet tights and gogo boots.
[Shot of WINNIE joining KEVIN and PAUL.]
WINNIE: Hi Kevin. Hi Paul.
PAUL [amazed]: Winnie Cooper?
WINNIE: Gwendolyn. I don't want to be called Winnie anymore, my real name is Gwendolyn.
NARRATOR: Well, there was no question now, we were entering uncharted territory. Even the familiar was cloaked in the vestments of the devil. Junior high school was a whole new ball of wax.
[KEVIN, PAUL, and hundreds of other kids are entering the school. KEVIN and PAUL walk past worker changing school sign.]
NARRATOR: Like about half the schools in the country that year my school was being renamed Robert F. Kennedy Junior High. As we approached those doors for the first time, we felt we were approaching the portals of manhood.
[KEVIN is sitting at his desk in home room. He is sitting between ERIC and GAIL who are holding hands and staring at one another admiringly.]
NARRATOR: Home Room. I sat between Eric Antonio and Gail Aslanian. They had met on the bus and had taken a liking to each other.
ERIC: I love you.
GAIL: I love you too.
[ERIC and GAIL move in to kiss. KEVIN interrupts.]
KEVIN: And I love you both, but I'm having a little trouble breathing here.
NARRATOR: I was about to have my first sexual experience, and I wasn't even one of the principal players.
[GAIL and ERIC resume their positions.]
[MRS. RITVO knocks against the desk. ERIC and GAIL separate in a hurry.]
[Shot from KEVIN's perspective. MRS. RITVO glares at KEVIN.]
MRS. RITVO: Kevin Arnold, you're Wayne's brother, aren't you? [She frowns.]
KEVIN: Well, well according to my mother, yes. But my own theory is...
MRS. RITVO: You've got a tough row to hoe young man, a tough road to hoe.
KEVIN [quietly]: Yes.
NARRATOR: The first major accessory of adulthood, our own lockers. I couldn't believe my good fortune.
[DEBBIE looks a him and smiles.]
NARRATOR: Two lockers down from mine was Debbie Ackerman, one of the prime knockouts of the seventh grade.
[KEVIN bashes the door of his locker against his head as he opens it. DEBBIE smiles in amusement.]
NARRATOR: There was only one problem.
[A student moves to the locker between them.]
NARRATOR: Charles Manson had the locker between us. A seventh grader with a beard - this wasn't junior high school, it was a freak show. I hoped none of the girls would have beards.
(Editor's note: The following scene in red is not shown in some reruns to make up time for the commercials.)
GUY: What’s you locker combination?
KEVIN: Well, I appreciate your asking, but actually they told us we’re not supposed to tell anyone.
[The guy picks KEVIN up and presses him againt the lockers.]
[KEVIN indicates the paper in his hand.]
KEVIN: Here you go.
GUY: If anyone finds out about these...
[He puts a knife, then some pot, into KEVIN’s locker.]
GUY:...I’ll know who told.
NARRATOR: It was my only thought. Maybe I could trick him...
[Shot of guy thinking.]
GUY: You...You! That’s who!
KEVIN: Oh, right.
NARRATOR: In one of those quirks of scheduling my first class was gym. This meant that I had to wake up in the morning, shower, get dressed, go to school, get undressed, run around, shower and get dressed all in the space of about 45 minutes.
CUTLIP: Well, people. A lot of you probably think this is gym class, huh?
NARRATOR: I was overwhelmed by a sudden panic. Things hadn't been going that well so far but if this wasn't gym class I was in bigger trouble than I thought.
CUTLIP: Well it's not. People, it's physical education class. Through those doors they educate your minds. In here, I educate your bodies. I'm an educator, okay? A body educator.
[Camera pans boys.]
NARRATOR: Of course, we didn't realize it at the time, but this guy had the biggest inferiority complex since Napoleon.
CUTLIP: People, when you leave this class, you're gonna have smart bodies. Smart [he thumps stomach], smart bodies.
NARRATOR: He went on educating our bodies for about half an hour. By the time he'd finished I was ready to let my leg take a math test.
CUTLIP: One more thing people, before you do your laps, the jock strap: A, what is it? and B, what can it do for you?
[CUTLIP looks down at his list of students.]
[KEVIN takes a half-step, and straightens up.]
NARRATOR: This was it. I felt like a fighter pilot under heavy enemy fire.
KEVIN [unsure]: Well, the jock strap, sir, is a particular type of strap that's constructed of a strap type material which is utilized exclusively for the purposes of jocks.
[Sound effect of diving airplane. Shot of KEVIN waiting for reply. Shot of CUTLIP deep in thought as the sound gets louder. CUTLIP glances away.]
[Shot of boys fliching at sound of airplane crashing.]
NARRATOR: Lunch, at last, something I figured even I couldn't screw up.
PAUL: Where do you want to sit?
KEVIN: Anywhere. Let's just sit here.
[KEVIN and PAUL sit down at a table.]
NARRATOR: A suburban junior high school cafeteria is like a microcosm of the world. The goal is to protect yourself, and safety comes in groups. You have your cool kids, you have your smart kids, you have your greasers, and in those days, of course, you had your hippies. In a fact in junior high school, who you are is defined less by who you are than by who's the person sitting next to you ...
[Shot of PAUL sucking spaghetti.]
NARRATOR: ... a sobering thought.
KEVIN [to PAUL]: Try to look like you're having fun.
[Shot of WINNIE in distance, looking for a place to sit. She approaches KEVIN and PAUL.]
WINNIE: Hi. Do you guys mind if I sit with you?
KEVIN: Sure, Winnie. [Music “Winnie’s Theme” starts.]
NARRATOR: We were on our way. Our group was forming. And Winnie, I mean, Gwendolyn, was not chop liver. Who knows, maybe we even had an outside chance to become the cool seventh grade group, if we could just remain inconspicuous until we picked up a few more members.
[WAYNE, at another table with friend STEVE, spots KEVIN, PAUL and WINNIE. He approaches them.]
WAYNE: Hey Steve, it looks like my baby brother and his girlfriend have found each other.
KEVIN: She's not my girlfriend.
[WAYNE looks at KEVIN but talks to WINNIE.]
WAYNE [to WINNIE]: He thinks you are so cute.
KEVIN [trying to control his anger]: I don't think she's cute.
WAYNE: He wants to give you a big... wet... kiss.
[Shot of WINNIE.]
[WAYNE makes sucking noises and turns to WINNIE.]
WAYNE: He told me.
[KEVIN stands up.]
KEVIN: You liar, I never said that! I don't want to kiss her, I don't even like her!
[KEVIN picks up his apple and walks briskly to exit the cafeteria. He is stopped by MR. DIPERNA who is standing by the exit.]
MR. DIPERNA: Young man.
[MR. DIPERNA indicates a sign which says "POSITIVELY NO FOOD OUTSIDE THE CAFETERIA". KEVIN looks at the sign.]
MR. DIPERNA: What does that sign say? Hmm? You take that apple through that door and you're asking for detention.
[KEVIN defiantly releases himself from MR. DIPERNA's grip and marches through the exit. He is followed by MR. DIPERNA.]
MR. DIPERNA: Young man!
[MR. DIPERNA grabs KEVIN.]
MR. DIPERNA: I think we have a problem.
NARRATOR: He was right, there was a problem.
KEVIN: Oh yeah, the apple.
MR. DIPERNA: That's right, the apple.
KEVIN: You wanted it inside the cafeteria.
MR. DIPERNA: That's right.
KEVIN: And now it's outside the cafeteria.
MR. DIPERNA: That's right.
NARRATOR: Conversation was getting stale. I asked myself "Now, what would a guy like Brian Cooper do in this situation?".
[KEVIN looks at MR. DIPERNA, then throws the apple back into the cafeteria. Sound of silverware flying and a girl screams. MR. DIPERNA gives KEVIN a withering look.]
KEVIN: Umm, uhh, if you want, I could get that.
[MR. DIPERNA hooks KEVIN by the neck.]
NORMA [sternly]: Well, Kevin, perhaps we should start by asking you to explain what in god's name moved you to do what you did.
NARRATOR: I wanted to tell them that Wayne embarrassed me, that the other kids were laughing, that Mr. Diperna had played power games with me, that Winnie had seen the whole thing and that she'd been wearing pink fishnets and gogo boots.
KEVIN: I dunno.
NORMA: "I dunno?" That's all you have to say? "I dunno?"
MR. DIPERNA: Kevin, the question is, what did you hope to achieve by throwing an apple into a cafeteria?
KEVIN (V/O): No butthead, the question is why do you have a brain the size of a baby pea?
NORMA: Kevin? Mr. Diperna just asked you a question. What did you hope to achieve by throwing that apple into the cafeteria?
KEVIN (V/O): World peace.
MR. DIPERNA: Well, Kevin, that's exactly what you did achieve, nothing. Now, I'm going to let you go without any further punishment. But I want you to know that I'll be keeping my eye on you. Do you understand that?
NORMA: Kevin? Do you understand that?
JACK: I'd like to take him home now. [Simon and Garfunkle’s “Mrs. Robinson starts.]
NARRATOR: In my twelve and a half years, my father had never struck me. But he'd given Wayne a beating, twice, and I recognized that glazed look in his eyes. Besides, maybe I deserved it.
NARRATOR: There really is no good excuse for hurling food around the cafeteria. He probably figured that if he laid down the law now I'd stay in line, and he was probably right. Anyway, I could take the pain. I decided I'd just shut my eyes and imagine it was Wayne. [Music ends]
[NORMA, JACK, and KEVIN get out of the car.]
JACK [to KEVIN]: Come on, inside.
[JACK is holding KEVIN’s arm and neck.]
NARRATOR: And then it happened, I think we were about halfway to the front porch.
[KAREN and WAYNE approach JACK, NORMA, and KEVIN. They appear on verge of tears.]
[Shot of KAREN.]
KAREN: Brian Cooper was killed.
NORMA: Oh my god. When did they find out?
[KAREN shakes her head.]
NORMA: I'm gonna call Evelyn and see if there's anything I can do. Oh my god, poor Evelyn...
[NORMA hurries into the house.]
[Shot of WAYNE.]
[Shot of JACK.]
[JACK looks down and squeezes KEVIN’s shoulder.]
[KEVIN looks up at JACK.]
NARRATOR: That night I decided to go for a walk. The days were still long and back then kids could still go for walks at dusk without the fear of ending up on a milk carton. I went down to the big climbing tree in Harper's Woods. I didn't admit it to myself until years later but in my mind was the shadow of a thought that Winnie might be there.
[KEVIN sees WINNIE, who is sitting on a rock next to the big climbing tree.]
NARRATOR: She was sort of hugging herself, and rocking slowly back and forth. There was a bit of a chill in the air and she didn't have a sweater. For a minute I was scared to approach her.
[WINNIE looks at KEVIN. KEVIN approaches.]
NARRATOR: I didn't know what to say. [KEVIN sits next to her.] I had the strangest feeling. It was impossible for me to believe that Brian was dead.
KEVIN: I'm sorry, about Brian, and I'm sorry about what I said today - it wasn't true.
WINNIE: I know. [She looks off and hunches up. KEVIN looks at her a few seconds.]
[KEVIN removes his sweater and places it around WINNIE's shoulders. He puts his arm around her.]
[They sit a few seconds.]
[She turns toward him.]
[They move in and kiss.] [Music: "When A Man Loves A Woman" starts.]
(Editor's remark: This was Danica McKellar's first kiss, see interview. She was 12 at that time.)
NARRATOR: It was the first kiss for both of us. We never really talked about it afterward. But I think about the events of that day again and again.
[KEVIN and WINNIE hug.]
NARRATOR: And somehow I know that Winnie does too, whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation.
[Camera starts to pull up and back.]
NARRATOR: Because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love.
[Image freezes. Picture fades to sepia tones.]
NARRATOR: There where moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.
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