Dear Reader. I like you, do you like me? Your eyes sparkle like diamonds and I think you’re neat. Don’t tell anybody, OK?

OK.

In Florida, a 9-year-old fourth-grader is in trouble in BIG trouble, little mister for passing a love letter to a classmate. Apparently the lovelorn lad wanted the girl to know that he liked her school uniform and that he thought her eyes sparkled like diamonds.

You didn’t really think I invented that line just for you, did you? My apologies. No fully grown adult will ever be able to pen messages of deep love like a heartsick schoolboy. It just can’t be done.

The kid in Florida has been threatened with a charge of sexual harassment after a teacher caught him handing over a note that said, “I like you,” inside a heart. He has been informed that one more letter of such a lascivious nature could land the dreamy dickens in hot water you know, as though being formally charged would somehow be worse than his romantic writings being featured in news stories across the land.

It seems to me that punishment has already been doled out here in the form of public humiliation. Every school kid in the world, after all, has by now heard about the stupid dork in Tampa Bay who got caught writing words of smoochy-woochy to an icky girl.

I know a thing or two about public humiliation. When I was a kid, I passed notes all the time. I drew the hearts with the arrows through them and would use them liberally while vowing everlasting love for three or four different girls a week.

Back then, nobody ever threatened to throw my butt in the clink, but I did have a few hateful teachers who knew what kids fear even more than they fear the law.

“Mr. LaFlamme,” my third-grade teacher would say into the silence of the classroom, and my blood would go colder than the waters that ran alongside Brookside School in winter. “Why don’t you come up to the front of the room and read your note to the rest of the class?”

No thank you, Miss Jones. I’d prefer to go to prison.

What is some vague legal term like sexual harassment, after all, compared to the tittering and nose-thumbing of your classmates? Kids fear being ostracized and ridiculed way, WAY more than they fear talk of criminal mumbo-jumbo from the droning adults who inhabit their worlds.

Of course, the aim of note passing was to not get caught in the first place. If you were lucky enough to have the object of your desire seated right next to you, it was simple. A yawn, a stretch and you could fling your note, folded exactly 30 times for ideal compactness, directly onto the divine one’s math book. Miss Jones might get a whiff of mischief behind her as she labors at the chalkboard, but by the time she spins around, eyes narrowed with adult suspicion, the note recipient (I think it was Betsy this week, although it might have been Becky) will have concealed that hard block of paper with the speed and stealth of a prison convict plotting escape.

If the desired one was seated in another row on the other side of the room (damn alphabetical seating arrangements), things got considerably trickier. To get your scribblings into her lovely hands before the end of class, you would have to employ the help of trusted friends, if you had any friends left after that day’s bloody kickball match.

You might drop your note to the floor and give it a swift kick with the side of your Adidas (you know what that stands for, don’t you?) coughing strategically to cover the sounds of paper sliding across tile. With the right level of force and the help of an updraft from the rickety heating system, you could send that note (To Becky ONLY!!!!) whizzing beneath two desks and to the feet of your old pal, Norman, who hopefully has forgiven you by now for that ball to the face during recess.

If Norman is on his game today, he’ll retrieve the note by pretending to drop his pencil, coughing a bit as he does so to mask the sounds of this intrigue. Once he has the note in hand, he must then get the attention of the comely Becky (or Yvonne or possibly Tisha) before doing the old yawn-and-stretch maneuver to drop it onto her lap.

Mission accomplished. The note has been delivered and nothing but bliss awaits.

Of course, by that point, Miss Jones would have been alerted to skulduggery by all the coughing and pencil-dropping going on behind her.

“Mr. LaFlamme, why don’t you come to the front of the room and read your note to the rest of the class?”

How did she know it was me? Take Norman, he’s the one you want! I’m innocent! Innocent, I say!

In my school career, I probably passed a thousand notes to 500 different lasses. Only twice was I actually sent to the front of the room to read a note aloud. I still remember the horror, standing up there in front of my smirking peers, trying desperately to improvise a less-embarrassing narrative, but in the end, reading the wretched note verbatim.

“Dear Becky. I like you. Do you like me? Yes or No. Check one. Love Mark.”

Titter, titter, nose-thumb, smirk.

My shame was indescribable and I never passed another note.

Not on that particular day, anyhow.

The story about the poor Florida kid wasn’t shocking to me because of the insipid threat of legal action, it was shocking because in today’s world of texting and Facebook and Snapchat, here was a boy doing it old-school. Here was a kid who perhaps felt, and rightfully so, that high-speed pixels fired through cyberspace are no match for a simple pen and paper when it comes to expressing deep affection. This is a lad from another age, a true romantic who got absolutely fried for his efforts.

I’d tell him what somebody told me back in my day. It happens to the best of us, kid. Take your licks and move on.

Only, because the world has become an insane place, I’d add one more piece of advice that wasn’t needed back in the day.

Get a lawyer, kid. Get a lawyer.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Lovesick 9-year-olds can email him for advice at [email protected]


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