April 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
When I was four years old I lived in a grey house with a breezeway on Walnut Street in a little town in the Missouri River Basin called Anita. I was outside playing in the street one day when my mother emerged from the house running toward me asking what in God’s name I was doing. I was in the street with a box of empty glass Coca-Cola bottles, hurling them one by one onto the pavement, shattering them.
I just wanted to see what would happen, I said.
April 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
My freshman year of college I called my mother from Boston and when she asked what I was up to that day I said I was on my way to a pro gay rights rally. She began to sob on the phone, telling me how she wouldn’t see me in heaven and that she just didn’t know what to do. Don’t worry, I said, there are no tears in heaven, right? So you won’t even know I’m not there.
When you grow up in a home that revolves around the church, when you develop in your earliest years in an environment of certainty and boundaries, breaking away is one of the most difficult things to do in a life. I estimate I attended somewhere around 17,000 church services from the time I was born until I was 17. I spent my youth believing that God was to thank for my successes, not my hard work. I believed I would live forever. I believed in a young earth and a creation easily explained. There were so few questions growing up in this paradigm that my mind was so free. Free to absorb and learn so many other things. Free from existential stress and anxiety and sadness.
When you break from this sort of indoctrination, it is never a choice. You reach a point, maybe after reading Descartes or maybe after losing family members for unjust causes or maybe after smoking pot and thinking about how little sense the Bible really makes, where you’ve already left religion behind – and you can never reclaim it, as much as you might like to, as much as you might pine for days full of clarity and simplicity. You don’t lose faith – that implies that you might one day find it again. No, it simply dies. It dies and there’s nothing you can do about it. It dies and rots away and leaves you with an emptiness that you will later try to fill with an assortment of addictions and anxieties and artworks. It dies and leaves you suddenly an outcast from your family and your childhood home, it dies and you become the desperate cause of your parents and siblings, it dies and you begin that long and futile peregrination across the desert of horrible uncertainty, the desert where you are only certain that some things aren’t right, which doesn’t really bring you any closer to a sort of truth now does it.
I did not choose to let my faith die so I could indulge myself in the forbidden fruits that Christians deprive themselves of. No, in fact I would gladly trade in my vices for that sense of purpose and serenity that fell away at childhood’s end. No, it is not a choice. It has never been a choice.
And when I am on my deathbed, I will not beg for forgiveness. I will not err on the side of just-in-case when the eleventh hour comes. I will move bravely into the end of consciousness and I will say to those around me that there is no need to worry; this will not be an event.
April 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Would I be more truthful to myself if I spoke only in tautologies? You are you. I do or do not love you. I may or may not secretly look forward to death. I am myself and I like grapefruits and whiskey and so I like grapefruits. Perhaps that last one doesn’t quite count.
Fuck language and the way it delimits us. Not a day goes by that I don’t envy the quiet life of a so-called lower animal that communicates in scent and presence and aggression and care and loyalty and order. I am quite sure that most of those synapses that feed my melancholy moods originate in my frontal cortex. Or it is at least that part of my brain that makes those electronic pulses saddening.
Sometimes I think: whereof one cannot speak – [anacolutha] – where can one speak again? And more importantly: why? A question on its knees.
All I ever wanted was to be good to you. How can I mean that? But you know what I mean, don’t you? I mean do you understand.
April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
I was lying in bed feeling myself up. Why I was feeling myself up I’m not entirely sure, but if this were the strangest thing a sixth grader were to do without cause that would be quite an enigma indeed. I was chubby and so I had little man-boobs, or moobs I guess is the colloquial portmanteau. And in the course of gently going to second with myself on this particular night, I discovered hard, quarter-sized disk things behind my nipples.
Understandably concerned, I got out of bed and crossed the hall into the bathroom. I turned on the light and I looked at my shirtless body in the mirror. What a chub-toad, I thought. I leaned toward the mirror and I squished my man boobs, gently fondling the little disk things and I noticed that, now that I was attending closely, my nipples were a tad puffy and sort of, dear God, popping out just a little bit because, as became all too clear, the disk things were taking up not insignificant space in there.
What were these hard, quarter-sized disk things was the obvious immediate question. Certainly this wasn’t normal. I remembered discovering my testicles when I was four. I squeezed one hard. I told my father this and he said in no uncertain terms not to squeeze them hard, and that they were very important for later. This was not like that. This was perhaps idiopathic. No. Cancer. Of course it was cancer! Lumps mean cancer. Oh! And to die so young! Would it be quick? Or would I lose my hair and become pale and skinny and wear a robe and a wrist band and get to make a wish to meet a celebrity, the obligatory flowers and balloons, as if you give two fucks about some balloons at that point. I imagined myself sucking in the helium of the balloons to the protests of onlookers. You’re weak! They would say. It isn’t good for your health! Why should I – and here I would take a big inhale of helium – give two fucks about my health. I’m dying of cancer. And it’s hilarious to talk about cancer in this voice. Cancer cancer cancer la la la. It’s always tough to think of clever things to say when you’re speaking on helium. So much pressure.
I realized that I must tell my parents that it was likely I had cancer. But how? It wasn’t the cancer and death bit that bothered me so much as the talking about my breasts. My family, close as we were in our own dysfunctional ways, did not discuss anything remotely having to do with the physical body, especially any part classified as a primary, secondary or tertiary sex organ.
But alas, the gravity of my self-diagnosis necessitated that I breach this forbidden territory. And so the next evening I approached my parents, sitting in the living room, Dad engrossed in Zig Ziglar and Mom engrossed mostly in Dad. Mom and Dad? Yes buddy boo? Mom asks. I have cancer. What! You don’t have cancer. Dad puts Zig Ziglar down. What makes you think you have cancer? he asks. Well, I have these, uh, er little like lumps in my chest, behind my nipples, little hard disk things. I told the floor, sort of sotto voce. That isn’t cancer. You don’t have cancer. Mom said, with a certainty and lack of concern she did not normally exhibit when it came to health concerns.
Well…then…what is it? I asked, obviously. It’s nothing. It will go away. Go to bed.
And with that, I went to bed, not to speak of the disk things again to my parents for six miserable years, years I spent in anxious anticipation for their withdrawal, but lo, they were steadfast.
Sixth and seventh grade passed with little eventful with regard to the moobs themselves. My chubbiness actually served me well in the way of a camouflage for my breasts. Of course I was mocked extensively for my plump stature, but, as horrible as it sometimes was, I preferred it to the persecution I surely would have suffered had the sadism to which teenagers are so wont been focused entirely on this one unnamable flaw.
Of course, it’s really a Hobson’s choice now isn’t it.
And then I began to grow taller.
Had my physique not transformed into that of a slender, slightly awkward fourteen-year-old girl with newly blossoming breasts, this growth spurt would have been quite a boon. But having been stretched thin by this strange custom of puberty, the full majesty of my breasts was revealed. Perky with nipples suspended in a swollen state by the hard disk things behind them, my breasts could have comfortably filled an A cup and given even a self-respecting fourteen-year-old boy a raging erection.
And so as I entered high school, hiding my nymph-like breasts became my biggest concern. For the most part I was quite successful. Swimming week in gym class was the one time I was powerless in protecting my secret, and I dreaded it in the deep way you might dread death or having to go somewhere where there’s loud and terrible music. For the 51 weeks a year I wasn’t required to go shirtless in front of my peer review panel, I wore at least two shirts all the time: usually one thick, plain white cotton t-shirt and a stiff button-down shirt a size or so too big. On occasions when I couldn’t choose my wardrobe – band concerts and the like – I taped my boobs down with duct tape. I’d put on a small, tight fitting undershirt and then wrap my chest many times over with duct tape as tight as I could manage while still being able to draw breaths enough to fill my horn.
I walked hunched over, so that my shirts fell slightly forward, concealing completely the typography of my chest and making it seem like I just had bad posture. There is comfort and safety in the slouch.
I often fantasized about cutting my tits off with a sharp kitchen knife, just slicing them right off like you might the butt of a ham or the heel of the bread.
On a few occasions I tried to enjoy them, standing on a short stool in my bathroom so that I could see my body in the mirror but not my face. I would then caress my boobs like I thought one might caress Maggie M-‘s recently blossomed bosoms, trying to pretend that no, these weren’t my breasts, these were the breasts of a nubile goddess. But it takes more than hiding your face to convince yourself that the breasts you’re feeling aren’t yours. Just like you can’t really switch hands and pretend you’re getting a tug job.
Why do you change like a girl, I’d get asked in the locker room or the band bus or the theatre dressing room, as I would carefully do that thing at which girls are so adept where they change shirts without ever taking one completely off. Hey fag, why do you change like a girl?
Increasingly my breasts became the chief recipients of my cognitive and even haptic attention. I thought perhaps I could will them or even squeeze them into remission. Lying in bed at night or sitting in class leaning forward covertly I squeezed the little lumps, those cursed nascent mammary glands, squeezed just until it hurt, like if I couldn’t obliterate them with sheer force I would torture them until they relented and retreated back to the dark corners of puberty from whence they came.
My voice began to change. My pubic hair came in (the first of which I discovered while sitting on the toilet one morning and, thinking it was simply a hair that had fallen from my head onto my crotch I proceeded to tug at it quite forcefully before I realized oh shit that hair is actually like attached). I had my first wet dream. I continued to grow taller. And still my breasts remained, determined to make my gender-confused hormones known to the world.
It was at this point that I started to pray with fervor, every morning and every night and sometimes silently or just under my breath during the day. Dear God, I would beg, please, please take my breasts away God please. At night I would beg God to do me this one favor until I cried. I made the typical promises – do this one thing for me God and I will dedicate my life to your service, I will never think of another girl naked again, I will be kind and obedient to my parents always. What do you want from me? I would ask, feeling at this point quite like Job. Why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? And while other kids went swimming in the public pool during the summer or made out with girls and took their shirts off or played on the skins team during weekend youth group basketball tournaments, I hid. I hid from everyone, wearing my stiff layered shirts and occasional duct tape, waiting for God to answer my prayers, waiting and hiding and cursing my moobs.
The years passed and my breasts remained. By my junior year, I was thin, had armpits and a crotch full of fluffy, curly hairs, was singing bass in the choir and was feeling increasing urges to let girls touch my penis. And yet my breasts remained. Perky, soft, with large, pink and puffy nipples, and still harboring those hard, quarter-sized disk things behind them. And I continued to beg God daily, please, please God take these away. I just want to be normal. I just don’t want these tits.
The breaking point came when Eric H., a real dickwad who used to call me lardass in gym class when I couldn’t climb the stupid rope, gave me a titty twister one day. He had to really reach down and around as I was walking at this time with such a Quasimodo-esque slouch as to make my breasts undetectable and unreachable. He grabbed my right tit and twisted- hard. And then: nice breasts, he said. Nice breasts.
It was all I could do to not run to the band room that moment and cry and curse God and tear my hair out and rub my head in ashes. Not knowing where else to turn, I had that night the first conversation about my breasts with my parents since I had first told them I had cancer six years earlier. I sat down and began to try and say what I needed to say, but tears were all that came. My mother put her arms around me. What’s wrong buddy boo? Here I was, a seventeen-year-old man, weeping in his mother’s arms because of his emasculating man tits. Mom, Dad, I said between pathetic sobs and attempts at catching my breath, I still have tits. I still have those hard disc things beneath my nipples. I’m half-woman. I get it. I get it now. But I can’t take it anymore. I can’t. I really, really can’t. And I don’t know what to do.
So well had I hidden my secret tits for so many years even my parents didn’t know about my suffering. Not knowing exactly where to start the next day, we booked an appointment with our family doctor, a Dr. D, a very good natured guy who made a lot of dry jokes about teens behaving and winking after each one. I sat on the examination table, both of my parents in the room, and sheepishly pulled off my shirt. Dr. D. fondled me as if he were giving me a breast exam. Gynecomastia, he said. Gyne-what? Gynecomastia. It usually occurs in boys just starting puberty. It’s extremely common actually. Something like 60% of boys I think. And almost all of the time it goes away in six months or so. How long have you had it? Over six years, I said. Oh, well, and he sort of took a breath looking at the floor, and then looked up at me and said in rare cases, it just doesn’t go away. So that’s it? I’m just a man with breasts? Well, there are options. Like what? Well, you can wait longer. At this point they’re probably not going to go away. It’s possible, but not likely. You could wait until your chest hair grows in a bit more, which will cover your puffy nipples a bit. Maybe do some butterfly lifts at the gym to sort of hide them. Build muscle around them. Or we can take them out. That is an option. I want them out, I said, I want them out right now. Well, hold on. It involves surgery. I don’t care, I want them out. And your insurance probably won’t cover the cost, since it’s technically cosmetic, and the surgery is not inexpensive. Cosmetic? I’m deformed, I’m a mutant. What do you mean it’s cosmetic? I’m not asking for a nose job. I’m a dude who grew tits and I want them cut out of me! Cut right the fuck out. Erik, watch your language around your mother, my father said. Would you have called surgery on the Elephant Man cosmetic? Ok, ok, my parents said. Let’s think about it and talk to the insurance company and we’ll see.
And so we did the insurance company dance. There was no way we could have afforded the surgery if our insurance company didn’t cover it. They said yes, then a couple days later they took it back and said no. We didn’t realize it was cosmetic, they said. It isn’t, I said. There was a lot of praying, though I was by that point beyond having any sort of real hope in prayer. The Church used to say that God answers prayers in one of three ways: yes, no, or wait. Well, then what is the fucking point then? We prayed. We waited. We pleaded with the insurance company. Finally they said fine, since we first approved it we’ll go ahead and cover it. See, mom said, God answers prayers. God is good. Right, I said.
I went in for surgery. Where would you like the incisions, Dr. D. asked me. We can cut two long incisions perpendicular across your chest or we can cut around the nipples. Either way, you’ll have scars. In the first case your scars will be bigger and more noticeable. If we cut around your nipples, you’ll probably lose a good deal of the feeling in them, perhaps all of it. Cut my nipples, I said, cut my nipples open and rip those hard quarter-sized disk things right out. Looking back I’m not sure why I made the choice to have the incisions in my nipples. Perhaps I saw some symbolic catharsis about cutting them that made the choice so easy at the time.
The tissue and glands Dr. D. removed left caverns in my chest that filled with pus and blood and other liquids. For several weeks I had to go back to the doctor’s office regularly to have my breasts drained. I would lay down while they stabbed the side of each breast several times with an oversized syringe and sucked out the bloody liquid that had filled my chest and made my tits even bigger than before and gave them a sort of nice, heavy, warm quality, like the developed breasts of a woman in her twenties. A nurse would carefully empty the syringe into a bedpan, stabbing each tit again and again until they were dry inside and I would go home and wait another week for them to fill up once again. And eventually they stopped filling up. Eventually they stopped growing. Eventually all of my bandages came off. I looked in the mirror at my newly flattened chest and for the first time in six years I felt ok with myself. I put on a single soft t-shirt and stood up straight. I watched the way the t-shirt fell across my flat front. I smoothed my t-shirt over my chest. I smiled.
I still have scars, though they’ve lightened over the years. My nipples are still sort of wonky-looking, slightly inverted and maybe more oblong than is normal. Some feeling has returned to them; not the pleasant feeling I imagine one might get from having one’s nipples explored in a sexual context, but if you bite those fuckers hard enough, I can feel it. They aren’t perfect, but I go swimming in the summer, I stand up straight-ish, I wear t-shirts and get naked with girls.
We are like some subatomic particles, the one’s you know are there until you look and then they’re gone. We try to find ourselves by changing ourselves. How does that work? When I see a woman with fake breasts now I catch myself thinking why? Why did you do that to yourself? I’m sure you were so beautiful. I know you were. You didn’t have to do that. But then I think of my own ‘cosmetic’ surgery. And the truth is that I just don’t know. We hide so much. Shame is the fabric of our shrouds of solipsism. And it hurts like a pain, sometimes much more than being cut with knives.
April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Today is Earth Day. A question that has been on my mind
today is: why don’t we all just say ‘fuck it’? Enough of us do already. Why don’t we just say fuck it and dig up all the oil and cut down all the trees and just fucking party for the next couple centuries, just balls to the wall, live fast and die young.
Because here’s the thing that ‘s always lurking: the undeniable futility of trying to save the planet. Whether you believe in the Judeo-Christian apocalypse or you believe that in some billions of years the sun will explode and that will be it for Earth and all of her history, you can’t escape the fact that one day, sooner or later, this is all going to end and none of it will matter. If we don’t destroy the Earth in the next couple hundred years, the normal course of the universe will do the job for us in five or so billion. So what’s the point then? To make it last as long as possible in as nice a condition as possible? Ok, but why?
I’m as big of an environmentalist as they come, but I often find myself coming back to this question. It’s the same impulse that often makes me want to just blow a couple grand flying to Paris and drinking fine wine and doing coke with some high-class hookers instead of leaving the money in the savings account. At the end of the day, which is really worth more? The memories of a good time, or some extra money just sitting in the bank, waiting for…something. And how do we know that this isn’t exactly what our great-great grandchildren will do? Do we really want to work so hard to keep the planet nice for them just so they, like a third generation heir, can blow the whole thing on a really good time? Do we really want them to have that privilege? Why not seize it now for ourselves?
Think about it: we could just pillage the earth in one big fuck all century or so long party. Get all that coke from the rainforest. Let’s feast on bear cub and exotic fish. Let’s burn all the oil and keep the lights on all night for a few decades while we do all that coke. I mean, as long as we’re destroying the Earth we might as well have a good time doing it, no? Time is illusory. We give it a prima facie value. Why? Is the goal of life really to simply live as long as one can? Why should it be different for our species as a whole? We could spend the next 5 billion years trying to save the Earth, only to watch it all go up in flames, or we could all get down right now.
I don’t know how serious I am about this, though I do know I’m not completely un-serious.
April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
A long story about sex ed in Middle America:
In fourth grade, Scotty and I confided in each other, finally, about our boners. This was something that had quite obviously been on both our minds. It was recess, a sort of modern equivalent to the symposium, if you can imagine such a thing. The inquiry began with that eternal and totally absurd but for some reason formally necessary meta-question, Hey uh Jorg can I uh ask you somethin’? Shoot, I said, as we stood with our hands in our coat pockets, Starter coats, his a Dallas Cowboys and mine a rare and much envied Air Force Falcons. It was that time of year with the most miasmatic breath, opaquely so, breath melting the very air you breathed by breathing it. We pretended to smoke with an ersatz existentialism, steam rolling from our mouths, sideways peace fingers holding invisible Marlboros.
Your uh yang ever uh like um uh grow? Scotty asked, taking a deep inhale of unfiltered winter air and exhaling it in that serious way philosophers smoke. It was fitting; this was a most serious question. Like um when you uh when you look at Maggie McConnell, does um it like uh grow longer, he continued, Like um when you look at like uh look at her butt?
Maggie McConnell was the uncontested Helen of Whittier Elementary. She had a duck wings haircut. She was always, always – without exception – referred to both with prae- and cog- nomens.
Yeah yeah, like grows like a lot, I answered in a hurry, half shouting, relieved that what I had previously thought to be a potentially serious medical condition was perhaps something completely normal, or worst case scenario the result of some sort of major breakout, and then at least I wouldn’t suffer alone. And it gets hard too. Your yang get all like hard too? I asked with a distinctly non-philosopher non-coolness, unaware I had inadvertently dropped my imaginary cigarette on the real ground.
We started talking over each other, so thrilled were we to be having this discussion, like when lovers discover to their surprise and immense delight and indeed relief that they share some strange and inelegant kink. Yeah like um all that um like extra skin bunched up at the top like, you know all that skin – Yeah yeah yeah the skin at the uh top right it like – It uh like stretches/yeah yeah like stretches out/out, and the whole thing gets all like um stiff, you know? We were both circumcised, though we had no idea that there was any other way a yang could be. Scotty’s was the only other yang I really ever saw regularly, when we’d shower together on Saturday mornings after our weekly sleepover. We had a custom of pissing on each other during these showers, which gave us kicks.
Yeah yeah stiff. Like hard. Yeah hard and big and/ and all um stickin’ like straight/straight out, exactly…yeah. We were gesticulating in such a way as to sort of pantomime the object we were describing.
Intimate pausing here. For a moment, cigarettes materialize in both our mouths and again we take up our imaginary habit. After some drags of good air, I continued, Feels like kinda like weird yeah? Yeah yeah but it doesn’t like um uh hurt or anything. No no it sorta like feels like kinda cool. Yeah yeah, Scotty said with an innocent eagerness that would never really exist in the same form ever again.
So why do you think Maggie McConnell’s butt like um makes our yangs grow? We had both sought her out with our eyes from our perch on the four square court. We watched her chase a soccer ball toward the prairie at the edge of the ball field. The grass was dusted with a frost in a way that resembled the powder on the hair of teenagers playing old people in a school play, though strangely it made the grass look young. Maybe it’s because I um like her Jorg. Well yeah Scotty but I mean like everybody likes Maggie McConnell. But I mean I like uh like really like like her. Well yeah Scotty but I mean my yang gets hard when I look at Maggie McConnell’s butt too. And if both our yangs get hard when we look at Maggie McConnell’s butt than probably everybody’s yang gets hard when they look at Maggie McConnell’s butt.” This was Aristotelean logic at its best. Our hands in the pockets of our Starter coats, we were now holding our respective coats several inches out in front of our bodies. It was clear that this action had been performed by each of us many times. Silence for some moments as Maggie McConnell was chased by Cody R. and Brandon K. She passed the ball off to Hattie T. but Cody and Brandon continued to chase her, making it clear it was not the ball they were chasing at all, and my deduction about their yangs gained some unspoken gravity.
The bell rang and Scotty and I both looked at each other and quickly and without ceremony reached under our Starter coats, into our pants, and tucked our hard yangs under the waistbands of our blue jeans. While we did a sort of waddle thing toward the door it was decided that Scotty would consult his dad, Mr. Stan G., on the topic, as Mr. Stan G. was not only the pastor of our church but also a Major in the Air Force Reserve and therefore an obvious authority on all things yang.
And so the next day at lunch, as Scotty and I sat over turkey fritters and what I suspected were instant mashed potatoes, Scotty enlightened me on the teleology of the erection. We had chosen a secluded spot at the far end of a table, within only the earshot of Danica H. and Shelby R. Danica ate exclusively mayonnaise and marshmallow fluff sandwiches on white wonder bread from the wonder bread outlet, which had recently received an automobile through its front window, and Shelby mostly just licked the bottoms of her shoes or consumed the occasional glue-stick. It was a safe spot. So? I asked as I picked up my fritter, examined the fritter, put down said fritter and contemplated beginning with what I suspected were instant mashed potatoes. So…? Did you ask your dad about the yang thing? I said with that voice that people make when they are eager about a secret and confounded that the other person isn’t, the voice that is made by sort of over-blowing a whisper through a clenched jaw. Yeah yeah. Well…what’d you ask him? Wanting to know the exact phrasing of the question so as not to miss a single nuance of what I was certain would be an utterly complex and most beguiling answer.
Again I considered the fritter.
Same thing I asked you. Why our wang yangs get all like um hard when we look at Maggie McConnell’s butt.
Another pause here, this one appropriately pregnant. Such moments as these are the folly of man, for while choosing to go no further at such junctures would lead to the bliss of ignorance, nothing seems worse at the time than the want of knowledge. And thus the eternal conjunction was uttered. And…? I took a bite of the fritter, if for no other reason than that the anticipation of both the fritter and the mystery of the hard yang was simply too much and something had to be DONE, clearly.
Another pause. For Scotty it was too late, but no soldier of courage leaves his brother on the battlefield without at least an attempt to restore life, even if he is injured beyond hope. It is the same logic that draws one to seek answers.
He said our yangs get hard so that we have better aim. I stopped chewing my fritter and looked at Scotty. What? Aim for what? Chew your fritter Jorg that sounded all like frmmm mahr wckk frckkmlw… I swallowed hard, forcing a soggy mess of processed white flour, ground turkey bits and sodium nitrate down my unsuspecting throat . I thought for a moment that maybe I had given my esophagus a Charlie horse. But I was fine. Aim. For. What.
For you know…like…you know…” Here Scotty got unrealistically interested in his fritter.
Yeah me neither. And that’s all he said?
Yeah that’s all he said. You didn’t ask him about what our yangs need like good aim for? Well it got all like weird in the room and Shannon – Shannon G. (everyone’s name in Scotty’s family started with an S – (they had this thing about alliteration)) was Scotty’s younger sister – started like asking what a yang was and dad told us both to drop it.
… I gave up on the fritter and moved to what I suspected were instant mashed potatoes. They were. I felt neither relief nor disappointment at this discovery. Instant mashed potatoes are fine. It’s just the thing was that you actually never knew if what you suspected to be instant mashed potatoes were in fact instant mashed potatoes until you had the first bite, as it could very well have been, given that the same utensil was used for the distribution of each thus making their overall shape and texture sitting on the tray nearly identical, vanilla ice cream.
Some moments were here devoted to chewing. I finished my single scoop of what were in fact instant mashed potatoes and suggested to Scotty, We could ask Mag- No way Jorg. No way. And Scotty was right. Neither of us would have had the balls, even if we had the balls.
Some more pausing. The pausing, it turned out, was genuine, which pausing rarely is.
We could ask Shelby, Scott proposed, not looking at me, and then looking at me, and then looking at Shelby. I followed Scotty’s gaze. Shelby looked like a brown squirrel.
Hi Shelby, Scott said. … Shelby replied. So, uh, Shelby we, uh, wondered if we could like, um, ask you a question.
Shelby took a bite of her glue-stick. Scotty looked at me. He looked at Shelby. So, uh, you know like, uh, yangs. Well, uh, they get like hard sometimes and – What’s a yang? Shelby said, licking some glue from her bottom lip. You know, like a ying yang, a wang yang – A ding dong, a wong schlong, I jumped in. Shelby looked perplexed and took another small bite of glue-stick. She chewed slowly, silently. Private parts, I whispered, is what they are really called. And sometimes, you know, like they get hard and grow and stuff. At this point Shelby’s face took on a sort of House of Usher expression. It’s a terrible thing to faze a girl who eats glue. There were glances all around. Something terrible had been done here.
And then the bell, that eternal source of joy and dread, rang out. There are times when a school bell can easily be mistaken for the opening of Mahler Eight, if you listen carefully, and we did.
Veni, it sang, Veni Creator Spiritus.
Five years later, I saw my first vagina.
The diagram, black and white and labeled with all the appropriate biological components, appeared on the overhead projector on my first day of sex ed – my first day ever, which was in eighth grade.
Of course sex ed had begun much earlier for most of the kids in my class – five years earlier, to be exact, just a few short weeks after the fiasco with Shelby and the question about my long hard wang yang, a question she surely had answered by an expert of some kind during those two weeks I spent in the school library researching Neil Armstrong. Yes, that is what I did the first year of sex ed – Neil Armstrong. Scotty did Buzz Aldrin. Not totally unsexy topics, really, and certainly there are interesting questions which could be asked, scholarly wise, given that rockets are so small and three men in there so far away from home and all. But of course this notion never crossed our minds, as we were researching Apollo 11 not with regard to sex but instead of.
Why was I sitting in the library reading anecdotes about the favorite pre-flight breakfast of Apollo astronauts (steak and eggs, it turns out)? Because of the sexual education permission slip – an unassuming half sheet of paper, sent home to each parent of every child every year a few weeks before sex ed begins. Each slip contained two unassuming boxes: the yes, please thank god for sex ed in school so I don’t have to have that horrifically awkward conversation with my child oh my god finally taxes well spent box; and the no, sex is sacred and holy and you’ll just ruin it with all your science and your reason and besides if my kid learns about it in school with all those other kids he’ll be fucking like a rabbit in the bathroom during recess and will be fathering a child by next semester box. And every year Scotty and I ended up in the library. And every year at the end of sex ed, Scotty and I would have to stand-up in front of the class and give a presentation on whatever topic we picked. And you would stare into this classroom full of people, holding back grins, like they were all in on some secret that you weren’t apart of, because they were, while you stood there and told them that Neil Armstrong was from Ohio. Or that Einstein’s violin playing had a tremendous influence on his later work on the theory of everything. Or that entropy was really great. And as it turns out, entropy is great, but it’s really hard to tell that to a classroom full of middle-school students who only the day before at the same hour were discussing the finer details of intercourse.
Looking back I can appreciate my parent’s intentions. To them, as to many, there was a very clear line between what is taught at school as a matter of fact and what is taught at home as a matter of philosophy; money, sex and the origins of the universe were the core of the at-home curriculum. What was good about this way of doing things, and what has been somewhat lost, is that there was a great responsibility on the part of the parent to be heavily involved in the education of their children; it wasn’t entirely the burden of the school teacher as is all too often the case in our present times. The problem with doing things that way was that certain subjects just can’t really be taught at home – calculus is one; sex is another, if for no other reason than that learning about sex from your parents, who you slowly come to realize during the course of ‘the talk,’ had on at least, in my case, three occasions engaged in this activity, is so terribly awkward for all parties involved. This awkwardness combined with the ever-present disclaimer that having sex with anyone you aren’t married to will secure your suite in Hell meant that the Talks my Dad and I had made me only vaguely familiar with the whole mechanics and purpose of the thing.
Luckily in seventh grade Scotty started working out at the school gym and was therefore privy to so-called locker room conversation. He became my mole, my man on the inside, and one day, finally, Scotty confided in me once again about his boner. It was recess; Scotty and I stood leaning casually against the back wall of the school, hands in the pockets of our new skiing jackets. The inquiry began, Yo Jorg ask you somethin’? Yo man sup. You whacked it? Whacked what? You know, your wanger. You been whackin it? Whatchu talkin’ ’bout man? I’m talkin’ bout whackin’ it man, you know, beatin’ it. I tried it last night man. It’s awesome. Whatchu gotta do? You gotta get your yang hard, you know like think about Maggie McConnell’s tits or whatever. Then when it’s all hard and whatever you just start beatin’ it. Just like WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! He made a gesture of violently backhanding his penis. What’s it do? Oh man it feels great man. You gotta stop after awhile ‘cause it starts to sorta hurt kinda you know but it’s totally awesome. Whoa. Yeah. Cody said you can do it with a bean bag too. Like the ones we use in gym? Yeah yeah. You should try it man.
And so I did. That night I locked myself in my room, stood facing my desk, and focused in a rather yogic fashion on the newly blossomed breasts of Maggie McConnell. My yang rose slowly to the challenge and I was filled with that sort of paternal pride of a father who never tires of seeing his son step courageously up to the plate. I stood there for several minutes, boxers around my ankles, completely still except for my lengthening wang, and I contemplated this most seemingly unnatural act I was about to perform. But as strange and unintuitive as it seemed, there was little, I had to admit, about the mysterious yang that seemed anything but strange and unintuitive. And so I drew my right hand back a little more than waist high, palm facing up, and with a swift and only slightly hesitant swing, I backhanded my yang, sending it swinging back and forth like some sort of rubber pendulum until inertia took hold and my yang was still once again. And I raised my right hand, a little higher this time, and with no hesitation whatsoever backhanded my yang, WHACK! And then a forehand, WHACK! And another backhand, WHACK! Forehand, backhand, forehand, backhand, forehand, WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
At this point I realized two things: 1) my yang was starting to go a bit numb, an effect I was fairly sure was not the intended one, and 2) I actually had no idea what was in fact the intended effect of this activity. And so, disheartened, confused, and somewhat fatigued, I let my yang fall flaccid. Stepping out of my boxers I crossed the room, collapsed onto my bed, and, gently cradling my slightly throbbing penis, resolved that next year I must attend sex ed at school at any cost.
As it were, it wasn’t hard to convince my parents it was time for me to go, seeing as Scotty’s parents had also agreed to let him go that year. Quite frankly, I think there was a certain relief on their part, though it was disguised under the guile of ‘we think you’re old enough now to separate lies from the truth and to not get swept up in the glamorization of sexual intercourse and if the Giles think it’s ok, well then.’ And so it was that I found myself finally, in eighth grade, looking at my first vagina.
Who can tell me what this inner lip around the vaginal opening is called? Ms. Bopson-Olps asked while pointing nonchalantly to the projection with a pointer stick. Yes, Shelby? The minor labia! That’s correct. The minor labia, shown spread apart here, is enclosed within this fatty tissue here, which is called? Yes, Shelby? The major labia!
Very good. The major labia. Now, if the labia were not spread apart here, what would the vulva look like? It was at this point that I started to become a little lightheaded. Yes…Shelby. It looks like just a little crack down there.
Ok, yes. This, um, ‘crack’ is called the pudendal fissure, or the Cleft of Venus, as it is sometimes referred. Now, you might wonder how something large like a penis could fit into a tiny hole behind such a thin little crack. Well, during intercourse, both men and women undergo what’s called vasocongestion. Vasocongestion is just a fancy word for the hardening of our muscles due to the increased blood flow that occurs when the human body becomes aroused. Vascongestion is what makes the male sexual organ stiff, or erect, as is the proper term. Vascongestion is also what causes vaginal mucus to form in the vagina, lubricating both the vaginal opening and the vulva generally. This mucus allows the erect penis to slide easily through the labia and penetrate the vagina. Now, I have some worksheets here which breakdown the chemical components of vaginal mucus – some of which I think you’ll find surprising. As you can see on the worksheet, vaginal mucus is considerably acidic, and it can really vary in consistency, smell, taste – I’m not dull and I know you’ve probably heard that vaginas tend to smell a little ‘fishy’ and taste a little ‘battery acidy.’ Ok, maybe, but, vaginal mucus can be an important indicator of sexual health so I want to make sure everyone understands the sort of normal range of vaginal secretion.
At this point what started as mere lightheadedness had become full-on fuzz face accompanied by that rushing sound in my ears. I started sort of nonchalantly shaking my head back and forth, trying to clear it. Ms. Bopson-Olps must have noticed my slightly queer behavior and she asked me if I wanted to pass out the handouts, have a bit of a walk. Pass Out? Oh, handouts. Sure, I said. As I stood up and wobbled to the front of the class to take the stack of informational documents on vaginal mucus Ms. Bopson-Olps asked me if everything was okay. Yes, yes I’m fine Ms. Bopson-Olps. I’m just a little – And then I actually up and fainted. I must have hit the floor pretty hard. Scotty got up and dragged me by the shoulders into the hallway, where Ms. Bopson-Olps (a rather burly woman) grabbed my ankles and she and Scotty carried me to only place they knew to take me – the band office – which is where I woke up, in the arms of my band director Ms. Gwee, sipping water out of a bottle she held to my lips.
What happened? You had a bit of a fainting spell in Ms. Bopson-Olps class. We can’t get ahold of your mother, so Mrs. Giles is coming to pick you up and take you home.
But…but… I stuttered before I blurted out, I didn’t pass out because of the vagina you know. No, of course not. You’re probably just a little dehydrated. But as you might imagine, it was nearly impossible to convince anyone of this, especially my fellow classmates who witnessed me being brought down by a medical diagram of a vagina and the mention of pussy juice. Ms. Gwee helped me into her office chair and I was rolled out of the building to the parking lot where Mrs. Giles was waiting for me with the sort of consoling and empathetic expression that seems so disingenuous on most people but not on her. Ms. Gwee and Mrs. Giles helped me into her Ford Aerostar. And so it was that my only exposure to public sex ed came to an end, for there was no going back after that. The next day I returned to the library and sullenly hid myself behind a copy of Enrico Fermi’s Thermodynamics which would become my study subject that year. Entropy, I told the class during my mandatory presentation a few weeks later, is really, really cool because it represents the potential for chaos, and it’s always increasing as we move forward in time! That means that the future will be nothing but chaos! A smirk, a snicker, Brandon K. sat in the back wiggling his tongue between a peace sign he was making right in front of his mouth. I became flush. Ms. Bopson-Olps asked me if everything was alright. Yes, I said, yes I’m fine. Are you sure? You look a little faint. Ms. Bopson-Olps had little penchant for discretion. I’m sure, I said as I put transparency of an equation of which I hadn’t the slightest understanding of on the overhead projector. So like I was saying, entropy is freedom. The more freedom something has, the more possibilities it has and so there is more entropy.
Cody R. pantomimed stroking his cock underneath his front-row desk.
Children can be so very cruel, which I guess explains a great deal about the world, and I get some strange comfort from knowing that now, perhaps because I hope it means that the grown-up cruelty is somehow innate, and none of it is really anyone’s fault, exactly; but at the time it stung, it really, really stung, like a getting shot point blank with a pellet gun.
A bit over a year after the fainting incident, I had my first orgasm. Of course, still having a general lack of knowledge regarding the subject, I had no idea what it was when it happened.
This girl Jaci and I had started going out during the school musical, which this particular year happened to be a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Jaci played Alice and I was the Mad Hatter. Destiny or stochastic beauty, call it what you will. Jaci was hot and she was in marching band and she had breasts; she was everything I had ever wanted in a woman.
Marching band meant frequent bus trips together. Bus trips, as any public school marching band member in the midwest can tell you, are the bar and bedroom of band nerd romance. On the marching band bus, revelations are had, love is found and lost, shame and infamy are introduced and innocence is forgotten.
The first marching band bus trip Jaci and I took together after we started going out was the annual end of the year trip to Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin’s grandest water park. This was a blessing and a curse.
Conveniently, Jaci’s best friend Keely and Scotty had also started going out, and they were both in marching band as well. Scotty and I both played sax, I was first chair. Jaci was first chair flute. Keely played third clarinet. We all sat together on the way to Noah’s ark, Jaci and I just behind Keely and Scotty. As we all sat watching A Night at the Roxbury on the little TV screens, (the band boosters, bless their hearts, always managed to get the band a chartered bus for the end of the year trip) Jaci slowly moved her hand onto mine and we interlocked our fingers and for the first time I was having direct physical contact with a girl (except for that time when I was four, which hardly counts). Instantly, my already aware yang became a raging, gooey erection. This, I suddenly realized to my horror, was, while manageable under the current circumstances, going to pose a serious problem at the water park, especially considering the dress code at such places and the excitement I would experience because of it. When we arrived at Noah’s Ark, Scotty and I headed toward the boy’s locker room, having made plans to meet our ladies outside the gift shop after we were changed. As we shoved our bags into lockers and started to strip, I turned to Scotty and once again confided in him about my boner. Scotty. Yeah man. What are we gonna do when we see Jaci and Keely in swimming suits. What doya mean what are we gonna do. I mean like don’t you think like them being in their swimsuits, I mean, it’s practically like seeing them in their underwear/no it isn’t. It’s totally not the same. Well, ok, but I mean, what are we gonna do about you know like our yangs. Like what about our yangs. Scotty and I had never been awkward about having our yangs out in front of each other, but now that we found ourselves naked in front of one another while we were at the same time talking about our yangs there was an abnormal sense of urgency to getting our swimming trunks on. Like I mean what if our yangs get hard and stuff yo. Just like if your yang starts to get hard just like think of your grandma naked or something yo. Dude! Step right off mofo. That is nast. Duh dude that’s why it works. Or just try to get some cold water as fast as you can, you know, shrinkage.
We left the locker room, our locker keys safety pinned to our swimming trunks. Jaci and Keeli were waiting for us, each standing with one hip out, pulling the bottoms of their bikinis just slightly in the direction of their jutted hip, revealing a little of the opposite ass cheek. Jaci’s bikini was a solid yellow, with just strings holding the parts in place. It was just slightly too small for her figure, allowing the bottoms of her breasts to hang just below the cups of the bikini top and letting the bottoms sit low on her hips, exposing just a little more of her lower abdomen than is generally socially condoned. I scanned clandestinely, or so I thought, for a rogue pube (it wasn’t until late in college that I learned that women always know exactly when and what you’re checking out). Keeli’s bikini was athletic and black, holding her large tits closely to her chest and letting her nipples poke through. Hey, we said, Hey, they said. Naked grandma, I thought, naked grandma naked grandma. Nasty naked grandma with a crusty vagina. Wanna get a pop or something before we hit the slides and stuff, Keeli said. Jaci and Scotty shrugged in apathetic agreement. No! I blurted. No, no I think we should get in the water right away, I mean, we’ve come all this way, you know, and like I just can’t wait I mean look at that wave pool it looks like the most amazing wave pool I’ve ever seen right? While the three of them sort of stared at me, a little nonplussed by my sudden enthusiasm for the wave pool, I was trying desperately not to look at Jaci’s soft underboobs while trying to let myself imagine my grandmother in the buff. I could feel my penis warming with that slow rush of blood that gives form and function to one’s floppy cock. Um, yeah sure, whatever, that’s cool, they all sort of grumbled and, making sure to lead the way in a manner that hid the front of me from them and the fronts of them from me, we headed to the wave pool. Without any sort of hesitation, and indeed with an earnest yearning for safety and relief, I flung myself into the mechanical ocean. Feeling my cock and balls retreat toward my torso for warmth, I turned around to see Jaci, Keeli and Scott tepidly making their way into the pool. Isn’t this great! I said. This is so great. Ah, I feel much better. The girls looked at me with a strange inquisition on their faces. Scotty rolled his eyes. I grinned and flung myself farther into the pool.
The fall after the marching band trip to Noah’s Ark we once again found ourselves sitting next to one another on the marching band bus, returning home late from an all-day tournament that we’d barely managed to place third in. I blamed our poor placement in part on our musical selection – a medley of tunes from Porgy and Bess, which just doesn’t hold up on the field like a retrospective of Michael Jackson hits or Holst’s The Planets. Plus the trombones couldn’t glide step for shit and none of the saxes could get their horn angles right. In any case, there we were, melancholy from our loss to Ankeny and Muscatine, sharing a seat on a dark school bus, interlocking fingers, snuggling just a little. At that point we had only kissed once. It was my first kiss and it happened on her doorstep on the night of our six month anniversary not long before this particular trip. Her lips were warm and she was an experienced kisser. I let her tongue into my mouth just a little as I stuck my ass out behind me, trying to not stab her abdomen with my cock, which had been so stiff for so long that it hurt, as we’d been standing on the doorstep talking, the possibility of a kiss racing through my mind. Before the kiss, our physical relationship had not gone beyond passionate hand holding and the occasional hug, which were always made slightly awkward by me trying to sort of hug her enough off center that she wouldn’t feel my erect penis. I would have been perfectly happy to stay at that level of intimacy probably indefinitely. But then Jaci, who had made a point earlier of changing out of her uniform in such a way that I got a clear glimpse of the back of her bra and whose head had been resting on my shoulder, turned just slightly and began to nibble gently on my lobe and before slowly putting her tongue into my ear, letting the rushing whisper of her heavy breathing sound in my ear like the inside of conch shell that’s trying to seduce you.
I felt my face get red and warm and flush and then suddenly the muscles in my penis and my scrotum began to spasm. A hot rush shot through my cock and I felt a warm and sticky liquid move quickly from origins unknown up through my shaft and then out, filling my boxers. I suddenly felt light headed. My body trembled and I jerked upright. Jaci looked at me quizzically and asked if everything was alright. No, no I said, no I don’t feel good, I feel really not good. Uh uh uh uh, I don’t what’s wrong with me. Something is wrong. I need to lie down. I need to lie down right now. I think I might pass out. I don’t feel good. What’s wrong what’s wrong? Jaci pleaded. Nothing nothing I just I really don’t feel very good. And so I grabbed a small navy blanket from my bag, wrapped myself in it, and proceeded to lie down in the central isle of the bus, contorting my body around some mellophones and a hat box. I curled up there, on the bus floor, and shivered in a sort of half-conscious state the rest of the way home, Jaci alone in the seat wondering what the fuck was wrong me, slightly perturbed. Everyone else on the bus went about their secret bus business, canoodling or making out or giving or receiving clandestine hand sex. A couple days later Jaci broke-up with me.
It was another few years before I finally understood what Stan G. meant when he said that our yangs got hard so we’d have ‘better aim,’ though to this day I think that’s one of the oddest and unsexy ways to explain the functionality of a boner. And besides, even the straightest and truest of boners often still need a little help to guide it in the right direction.
It was another few years until I realized that what had happened to me on that band bus was my inaugural orgasm.
It’s been a decade since that orgasm on the bus, and while I don’t come when a girl looks at my penis the right way, and while I now know all the anatomy and physiology involved, I’m still, in most ways, just as confused by sex as I ever was.