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  LIFE AS A LOSER #191: "WHAT'S HAPPENING TO MY BODY?"  
   
   
 

Note: The Life as a Loser series is ending at No. 200, which will run on March 29, 2004. There are now nine left.

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Did your parents ever talk to you about sex? I mean, did they sit you down, parent to child, and explain everything to you? Did they have charts and graphs? Did they use dolls?

Mine didn't. They tried a couple of times, though. The first time was one summer, when I was maybe 13, and my father came home from work at 1 p.m.. Dad had assigned me a job for the morning. He was putting up a new

 
 

fence around our backyard, and he told me to use a spade to dig six holes of about one foot diameter and about two feet deep, at various spots around the yard he'd marked with a spray-painted red X. It was an easy job. I rolled a wheelbarrow along side me and fished out damp mud for about an hour, finishing five holes. I came to the sixth one.

I kicked in the spade and immediately felt resistance. I figured there was just a stick down there or something, so I pushed harder. Still stuck. So I lay on my belly and looked in the hole. There was a plastic tube, white and slender, and it was oozing out air. I had punctured it. Even though I couldn't figure out why there was an air line buried in the back yard, I knew Dad would be mad. So I figured I'd try to fix it. Dad had told me just a couple weeks beforehand that plastic was easy to repair. Just take a match, melt the plastic and smooth it over. But I searched left and right in the garage for some sort of incendiary device and couldn't find one. Then I saw Dad's work truck pull in the drive. He was definitely going to be mad. It seemed like every time he gave me a job, I broke something. I prepared for the yelling.

He asked me if I'd finished the holes. I told him I'd completed five, but, um, in the last one, I'd accidentally severed the air line hose in the yard, and that I'd tried to find a match to fix it, just like he'd taught me, but I couldn't come up with one. He looked at me with puzzlement. "An air line? What the hell is an air line?" I took him to the hole, and he looked in. His face went pale.

"Will … this is a gas line." I couldn't have known. Then, like now, I had no sense of smell, and had no way of determining that the rush of invisible gaseous material was not air, but gas. "If you would have found a match, you would have blown up yourself and half the goddamned neighborhood." My Dad has a funny way of showing fear; he yelled at me for being so stupid -- when I saw him through the window minutes later, he held his hand to his heart and shook, silently; his son was a misplaced matchbox away from death -- and told me to go inside. "Geraldo's on at 3," he said. "I think we should watch it." My father had never watched Geraldo in his life. Why did he suddenly want to watch Geraldo?

I picked up the TV Guide. The listing was plain as night: "GERALDO, 3 P.M. TELLING YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT SEX. HOW TO DO IT WHILE LETTING THEM KNOW IT'S WRONG." It was now my turn to go pale. My God. Was I going to spend an hour sitting with my father, watching Geraldo talk about sex? I suddenly wished I had blown up in the backyard.

After fixing my mess in the backyard, Dad came inside to fix some cheese soup and watch Geraldo. I sat on the couch, petrified. I had to dissuade him. "So, um, Dad, do you think it's true that [Cardinals manager] Whitey Herzog might leave after next year?" He was usually up for any baseball conversation; not this time. He set me up a TV tray, handed me a bowl of cheese soup and said, "Watch this."

Geraldo came on. I always thought Geraldo was cool when I was a kid. It was probably the mustache. "Today's show …" -- here we go -- "features John Metzger from the Aryan Youth Movement and former Black Panther Roy Innis." Wait a second! This wasn't about sex at all! This was the Geraldo episode where they have a fight and some dude breaks Geraldo's nose with a chair. This ruled! This is what he wanted to watch? My dad rocks!

We sat and ate our cheese soup and laughed and laughed and laughed. Two bullets had been avoided. For now.

*****

About six months later, my mother walked into my room, unannounced. Around this time, I had pictures of supermodels on my wall, with little thought balloons made of construction paper coming out of their heads, saying things like, "Will is so sexy!" and "We love you Will!" Mom, while doing her son's laundry, had noticed certain yellow stains in some of his underwear and his socks. It was time to step in.

She, like Dad, had decided to use television. "There's a show you need to watch, right now." She dragged me to the living room, sat me in front of a PBS Nova special called "The Glorious Reproductive System," and left the room. "You better be sitting here when I come back in an hour."

The special was horrific. I remember diagrams of the human body, wriggly sperm cartoons, and, most damaging, an intense closeup, in black-and-white through miniature camera, of a penis firing semen into a vagina from what seemed to be about six inches away. The Nova special seemed far too fascinated with this particular shot; they slowed it down and reversed it several times. Even if I hadn't been a 14-year-old kid petrified that his parents were going to find out he was a chronic masturbator, it would have been disgusting. I still have nightmares about it today.

Mom came in after an hour. "So, did you learn anything?" I told her no, I hadn't even watched it, I don't know why you made me sit here, jeez, Mom. Flustered and angry, she screamed, "Well, you need to know about this stuff! You're not a little child anymore!" But rather than tell me what I needed to know herself, she gave me a book she had bought, called "What's Happening To My Body?" She then sent me to my room and shut the door. I was grateful. I suspect she was too.

That night, I masturbated to my pictures of Elle McPherson, and the next day, I took the book to school and had a good time making fun of it with my friends. "What's Happening To My Body?" Please. We all knew what was going on, and whatever we didn't know, well, we'd just bluff our way through, in case anybody asked.

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There were no more conversations about sex until I was 17, when I'd already established some real-world experience. I was over at my friend James' place, studying for a Physics test -- all right, so I was just copying his notes -- when I called home to say I was getting ready to leave. My sister answered the phone. At the time, she was 12.

"Oh, man, you're in so much trouble!"

I scrambled to think of what I'd done. Sure, I'd taken some change out of the drawer, but that seemed a minor offense. I'd lied about working late a couple of nights before, instead spending the evening with my girlfriend, but I couldn't imagine how they'd found out about that. I couldn't come up with anything else I'd done. I asked Jill what I'd done.

"They found some …" she paused … "they found rubbers in your closet! Oh, man, you're in so much trouble!" Having that conversation with my parents was bad enough. I certainly wasn't having it with my sister, and I hung up.

I stalled for time to come up with a cover story. I even told James about it; his advice was, "oh, you're screwed." Why would I possibly have condoms in my closet for anything other than their intended purpose? How could I weasel out of this one? I then thought of my friend Lonnie. My mother hated Lonnie, found him a bad influence. She was convinced he was out drinking and drugging it up, trying to lure her son into a life of crime. Anytime I brought up his name, she cringed.

Yep, Lonnie would do.

My mother was waiting in the driveway when I pulled in. She was holding the box of Trojans in her hand. "What is THIS?!!!" In retrospect, my mother probably wishes she had just complimented me on being safe and careful. But I was her oldest child, and she clearly wasn't ready for her oldest child to be having sex. So I jumped into my story.

"Well, you see, Mom, you know Lonnie?" Mom's face tightened.

"Well, Lonnie, um, Lonnie and his girlfriend just broke up, right? Yeah, they just broke up, and he was really upset about it. So he got really drunk at lunch one time and came to where me and James and Tim were sitting. And he took out these condoms … those condoms." Mom was now listening intently.

"Yeah, and he was like, 'I'm not going to use these anymore, because Rebecca has left me. I don't care anymore. So you guys take them, take them away from me, because they just remind me of her.' So yeah, that's what happened." Mom interjected. "So why do you have all of them? And why are four missing?"

"Well, because James and Tim were afraid, you see … they were afraid they were going to get in trouble with their parents for having them, so I offered to take them, because … um … because they said I had such understanding parents." Flattery, with a dash of my-friends-think-you-guys-are-less-moral-and-meaner-than-theirs paranoia. Couldn't hurt. I was trying anything.

"So you see, it was Lonnie. They're Lonnie's. I wouldn't even know what to do with them."

She surely didn't buy this shit, right? I only had a car ride to come up with something; this was the best I could do. Mom paused. "Well, OK. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I'm going to throw these away. And stay away from Lonnie."

Deep down, I know my mom must have known the truth. But she didn't want to face it with me anymore than I wanted to with her. So she let it go. And we never discussed it again, and in a couple months, I was off to college, where it's much easier to hide everything, for the both of us.

******

Last summer, my parents came to visit New York to see the Cardinals play at Yankee Stadium. On the day their flight left, they met my girlfriend and me at a restaurant across the street from my office. They'd met her earlier in the week, had liked her very much and were starting to feel comfortable around her. Too comfortable.

We were talking about my girlfriend's stepniece, or whatever term you use for someone who is the stepdaughter of your brother. She's about 15, and she's going through that evil transmogrification that all teenage girls go through, where they grow scales and can breathe fire. My girlfriend made a comment how she was bad too when she a teenager, like all girls.

My mom chimed in. "Yeah, boys are so much nicer. All I had to worry about when Will was 15 was cleaning the disgusting stains he'd make in his underwear and socks."

The table went silent, and I turned a sharp shade of maroon. Dad coughed, and we started talking about the Cardinals game last night, and all was well, and hopefully that's the end of it.

 

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