09/24/2012 05:50 pm ET

Happy Birthday, Olivia Newton-John: A Childhood Memory

I don't remember thinking about girls before a certain age, but when I saw her for the very first time, I knew she had to be mine. I find it amusing in retrospect to think of the manner in which I first perceived her, as my initial reaction to her conforms so closely to my definition of beauty and elegance today.

Obsessed with sports, Star Wars and Land of the Lost, I was hardly enthusiastic when a friend's mother took us to see a musical about puberty and high school romance. If we don't have to play its Little League team, then what does Rydell High mean to me?

But there she was on the large screen, her soft, angelic features and sweet, accented voice filling my heart for the first time with warm feelings of unfulfilled fantasies. There were two Olivias in the movie, if you will recall. The first humbly pinned her hair back and carried her books with arms crossed against her delicate school-girl dress; the second, by contrast, wore black tights, a revealing top, and her hair in large curls. The second won high school dance contests. The first won my heart.

It was Olivia Newton-John, oh sweet Olivia, who nearly drove me to a Dickensian beginning in a reform school for boys or whatever society did with young hooligans in the late 1970s. My afternoon babysitter, Martha, took me one day to the local convenience store, which was filled with sinful delights. Martha was under strict instructions not to buy me candy, so she told me instead to pick a pack of baseball cards, which she knew would add to my considerable collection. What could be better than baseball cards?

When we entered the store, Martha immediately went her own way to distance herself from her young tag-along.

The farther the better, I thought.

I strolled quietly past the main counter and turned left down the middle aisle toward the baseball cards. I rejoiced at the thought of a brand new pack, and with it the chance to find the treasured Yankees' team card, which, my friends and I were certain, the owners of Topps had made as rare as possible.

The Yankees would have to wait until another day.

As I surveyed the many card offerings, there she was in her simple dress, her beautiful blond hair pinned back so as to reveal her delicate features. Fair Olivia! I was in shock! No one had told me! Was I the last young boy to discover that a genius had captured Grease on trading cards?

Fair Olivia, oh figment of my young imagination, rendered perfectly on glossy prints. Collectible. Delectable. As I stood in the aisle, my choice of cards became clear. Suddenly, however, I was overcome with embarrassment, for Martha soon would discover that I preferred Olivia Newton-John to the possibility of American League All-Stars, and who knew how quickly the word would spread from there.

My plan formed in an instant. There was no reason to hide. In full view of the store clerk, I placed the pack of cards halfway into my front pocket, the other half covered by my hand as I made my way toward Martha at the counter. I planned to flash the cards quickly at the clerk, who, no doubt sympathetic to my plight, would simply ring up the pack and make some passing comment like "I hope that pack has Reggie Jackson in it."

As I reached the counter at the same time as Martha, a bulbous, hairy hand reached out and grabbed my arm, sending my secret tumbling onto the counter for all to see.

"Thief!" the clerk cried at the top of his lungs, his fat chest heaving over the thick belt that prevented his belly from grazing the ground.

"Thief!" he bellowed. "I saw you from the moment you touched that pack of cards! Do you know what this means? Why I oughta call the police, or your parents. What's your phone number? Why I oughta...."

Martha and I both stood speechless. The pack of Grease cards sat prominently on display, Olivia Newton-John now staring right at us. She bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Yankees' mustached Chris Chambliss. I had been exposed.

"Don't ever let me see you in my store again, do you hear me?" the clerk exclaimed. "Don't let there be a next time, young man."

His voice droned as tears streamed down my face, fear and confusion replacing my initial sense of embarrassment.

I didn't try to explain to Martha what had just happened. My brush with juvenile delinquency would remain our secret, for she knew that I would never take a pack of cards she was going to buy me. She shook her head in disbelief and smiled. And although I never asked, maybe--just maybe--Martha had a crush on John Travolta, for she never said a word to me about my fair Olivia.

She knew that I knew that she knew about Olivia, and that was just fine.