Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
I want my excuse to be that I was still in my single digit years, and therefore more vulnerable to the Disney like nature of musical theater. But I distinctly remember living in the Lakeview house, and we didn't move there until I was eleven. One of those friends of the family that my parents had me call Uncle was on the outs with his wife. While I was shipped off to summer camp, he stayed in my room. He brought with him clothes, a stack of magazines ranging from The Weekly World News to Newsweek, and a small beige briefcase full of cassettes.
My parents listened to oldies, classic radio shows, and country music. When I was six, I told my grandmother that I didn't like any music made after 1967. That Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller, and an incredibly premature Best Of The 1980s collection. Tony Basil and Donna Summer became my favorite contemporary artists, and my favorite song on the Elks Club jukebox was Kool & The Gang's Celebration. So maybe the whole musical thing shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. Still, I'm thirty-four now, and much more comfortable talking about that hilarious time I ejaculated into a man's anus, then I am talking about the first time I listened to Cats.
Of course it was Cats. The green eyes on the black background, the catchy poems that Andrew Lloyd Webber set to saccharine music, the obligatory tacked on diva belted ballad. If you're going to leave a copy of Cats in an eleven year old's boombox the same week he gets the lead part in a play about fairy tales, you should go the extra centimeter and paper his bedroom's wall with pictures of greased up men with little or no clothing.
It's never been discussed why Uncle Mo spent two weeks living in my room while I slept in leaky cabins, and on the beach, but I suspect it had something to do with marital problems stemming from his pronounced lisp, gravity defying hands, and bright floral print blousy shirts. Or possibly he just needed a break from his own pre-teen boys who, the next year, would introduce me to ACDC, A Clockwork Orange, and the curious site of a twelve year old boy shoving a harmonica up his ten year old brother's ass. Whenever I start to think my own childhood was perversely gay, I think back on Cousin Bruce and Darren's oddly incestual Truth Or Dare games, and a wave of heteronormalcy washes over me. It feels like the opposite of a facial.
Once I'd memorized the lyrics to Cats, I moved on to Phantom Of The Opera, Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, and Hello Dolly. Later that fall, I grew tired of the weirdly homosexual overtones of Boy Scouts, and quit the troop to be in a production of Bye Bye Birdie.
When you grow up knowing all the lyrics to An English Teacher and Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, you have two choices: be a debonair straight boy who spends his teens and early twenties training to be a professional cunnilinguist, or be a fat homo with body issues and a fake girlfriend. All my exes describe me as "charming".
Even at eleven, I knew that liking musicals was, like waking up hard with your arms wrapped around your tentmate in Webelo camp, something you kept to yourself as long as possible. His future boyfriends would call him "charming" too. His ex-wife has other adjectives. Very few thesauruses connect her descriptions to "charming".
When Queen Sarah The Formerly Popular had her parents turn their loft into her Phantom Of The Opera style bedroom, I was the only one who described it as "cool". A week later, we sang a thirty second variation of All I Ask Of You on my answering machine, recording over my auspicious hip-hop debut. "You have reached 428-1383, we're not home right now, as you can see. Leave your name and your number right after the tone cause right now we can't be reached by telephone right now right now right now." I was born a decade too late to be a Beastie Boy.
Our recording caught the attention of precisely no one except for my parents who erased it because it was "too long".
The first musical I was in was You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. I played Linus. I had a crush on Schroeder, and rat tailed Lucy with my blanket on opening night because she decided to improv and kiss him on the lips. That the actor playing Schroeder was hopelessly straight, or that the actress playing Lucy was his sister didn't cross my mind until I was in my twenties. That there was a disturbing amount of vaguely incestual sibling activity on Cape Cod didn't occur to me until I started writing this paragraph.
I'd like to thank my parents for making me an only child.
The closest I had to a brother, growing up, was Kevin Harris, a professional wrestling fan who used to Weird Al Yankovic lyrics to pop songs, and expose himself to passing traffic. But if we were brothers, then our relationship was aggressively incestual.
Cats led me to try out for musicals. Phantom Of The Opera influenced my outgoing message recordings. Les Miserables enticed me to read the unabridged Victor Hugo novel when I was twelve. It wasn't for another decade, when I was playing Eddie and Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show, that I started connecting the dots between my affinity for musicals and long showers after gym class.
Last week, I found myself at a party with Wiz, Emily, and an assorted mix of poetry friends and strangers, when a girl pulled a eukalale out of her backpack, and began playing songs from The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Evita with honest to tone deaf sincerity. A group of lispers and belters joined in. I knew all the words but had no desire to sing them. This is what I call Gay Pride. Unfuck parades, drag shows, quilts, and rainbow glow sticks. I am proud every time someone shouts "One!" and I don't reply with "Singular sensation!" That's what I call progress.
I buried my depression beneath a pile of CDs. Rock and roll, rap, folk; it didn't matter. Music. Pearl Jam. U2. The Fugees. REM. Radiohead. A Tribe Called Quest. Smashing Pumpkins. LL Cool J. Ani Difranco. Whosoever played a song that didn't mention Jennifer. All the money I didn't have to spend on books or school supplies went directly to my music addiction. Florida wasn't far enough away from Cranberry Lake to keep the sound of Jennifer's voice saying I'm sorry, I just never felt that way about you out of my head, so I had to keep newer, louder music pulsing in my ears. My studies weren't interesting enough to keep my eyes floating out of my books and catching a glimpse of the boy I'd helped Jennifer not have. It would have been a son.
The music wasn't loud enough. The sun wasn't bright enough to blind me. So I abandoned college and Sulfur City, and headed back home. I enrolled in UMass Cranberry Lake, and maxxed out three credit cards buying music from local record stores. My mother, whose condo I was living in, politely suggested that I might want to take a job. Maybe one in a music store with an employee discount. That, or find a new place to live. For once, I took her advice, and set up an interview at Raspberry Records. One of those corporate music stores that adopted a hip, alternative image in the early nineties. Their logo was a face not unlike the old poison sticker faces, with a rolling tongue sticking out of its mouth. Their way of saying Stick it to The Man by buying music from an alternative music store owned and operated by The Man. My interview went okay, but not having any previous retail experience, I was doomed not to get the job, despite the fact that the manager was Fitz, a former coworker of mine from Camp Davis. Still, I filled out the application, and at eight-thirty that night, I drove to the store to turn it in. The store was scheduled to close at nine, so imagine my surprise when I pulled on the door and found it locked. All the lights were on inside, and two women were walking around tossing CDs into shopping bags. I walked over to a payphone and called Fitz's cell. "Did you guys close early tonight to do inventory?"
"No. We do inventory on the last night of the month. Why?"
I explained why. Ten minutes later he pulled up, and walked into the store. It turned out, his assistant manager and some rogue employees had been stealing a few thousand dollars worth of CDs every couple of weeks, and selling them to one of the used music stores in Boston. Every employee involved was fired the next morning, leaving Fitz, and one employee. The employee was Kevin Harris, who'd been working there since he dropped out of Cranberry Lake High. Since the store was now completely devoid of staff, Fitz was authorized to do some emergency hiring, and, despite being only eighteen and having no experience, I was brought on as an assistant manager.
"What the fuck." Kevin said, rather than asked. "I mean, I'm glad it's you and not some asshole stranger, but...I've been here a year, why didn't I get the cushy fucken assistant manager job."
The cushy job which required me to work no more and no less than sixty hours a week. The cushy job where I was not allowed to leave the store for my required, punched out, thirty minute break every six hours. The cushy job where I usually found myself alone, my coworkers routinely coming down with the killer-concert-in-town-flu, or the 24 hour Hangover Virus. The cushy job where the asshole drop out closet case who I'd been buddy buddy with when I was a kid, routinely showed up one or two hours late, and clocked out precisely when his shift was scheduled to end, no matter how much work needed to be done. Kevin fucken Harris.
I was hired in February. By November, we'd gone through four other assistant managers, and roughly three dozen retail associates, most of them named Sarah. The various Sarahs (which included both of the Queen Popular Sarahs from my elementary school days), rarely lasted more than two weeks. Queen Sarah Popular The Second being the shortest term employee in the history of Raspberry Records, when she aced the interview, then showed up positively wrecked on muscle relaxants the next morning, and screaming "This fucken job is corporate fucken bullshit" at the top of her lungs, when I asked her to check and see if we had a copy of the Pocahontas soundtrack in stock. My patience was quickly fagged, and she was quickly fired.
Unfortunately, having gone through three Sarahs in two weeks, the staff currently consisted of one manager, Fitz; two assistant managers, myself and a thirtiesh veterinary student named Madison; and one non-manager, Kevin. We had three days before Black Friday. Fitz was taking a two week vacation in Fuji, and Madison had to take a week of sick time because she'd nearly had her arm ripped off by some sort of rabid beagle. A couple of local managers had sent us some of their precious employees for a shift or two, but I was scheduled to work double shifts on Black Friday, No Relief Saturday, and Dear Fucken Jesus What Am I Doing Working In Retail Sunday. One of the more saintly managers had volunteered to help me close the store on Black Friday, but the morning shift was just me and Kevin. Kevin who had never been less than two hours late when he wasn't working with Fitz.
"You know we're opening an hour early on Friday, right?" I asked him on the Wednesday before The Apocalypse.
"Yea." He said, as though I had asked him if he knew how to spell his name. "You want me here at seven, right?"
"Yea, we open at seven-thirty. And it's going to be sick with shoplifters and people who absolutely must have that album by that singer who sings the song with love in the title. So, early. Please."
At eight-fifteen on Black Friday, I had a line thirty-seven people long. The credit card machine was on the fritz. I was out of ones, fives, and quarters. The phone was ringing. "Thank you for calling Raspberry Records, this is Adam, how may I help you?"
"Adam, it's Kevin."
"Thank fuc...calling. Are you on your way?"
"No. My grandmother had a heart attack, yesterday. My mom wants me to stay at the hospital with her, so I'm not going to make it in."
The line was now forty-one people long. The fax was beeping. "That sucks. Hope she recovers. I can't stay on the phone, though. Bye." And I hung up.
At three-thirty, I couldn't speak, smile, or leave the space behind the register. The line wound around the entire store, out the doors, and on to the sidewalk. "Criminy jickets!" Madison shouted, as she walked into the store. "Are you by yourself?"
Once she made eye contact, she had my answer.
"For how long? All day? Oh my goodness." She ran into the back, and came out with the cashbox for the other register. "Go. Take a minute in the back."
I expected several of the customers to jump me as I made my way to the back, but they all made space between me and the back door when I stumbled from behind the register. I peed for seven weeks, then refilled my water bottle, and made my way back behind the register. "I thought you were out on sick leave." I said, as I scanned through a pile of Whitney Houston and Jackson Five CDs.
"I was. I just came in to pick up my check, but this store is just sick busy, I can't leave you alone like this. You should have called."
I explained that I had called every store in the region, pleading for someone to send any associate they could spare. But no associate can be spared on the busiest shopping day of the year.
At five o'clock, the saintly manager from one of the Boston stores, showed up, and instead of relieving Madison, ordered me to take an hour long break. "And don't even think about clocking out. You deserve at least triple overtime for working by yourself."
I drove five minutes home, opened the refrigerator, and began devouring one of the tupperware containers filled with Thanksgiving's turkey and cranberry sauce that my mother had left. I drank an entire two liter bottle of Cherry Coke in ten minutes, belched loud enough to rattle the kitchen window, and went upstairs to take a quick shower. Full, clean, and wearing an identical (but different) raspberry red turtleneck, I had twenty minutes to make my five minute drive back to work. I decided to stop at the video store to pick up a movie to put me to sleep after work. I grabbed The Basketball Diaries and Until the End of the World, and made my way to the checkout. And there...there....there, behind the counter, wearing the blue and gold uniform of every Blockbuster video in the known world, was Kevin Harris.
"How's your grandma, motherfucker?" I asked. My smile was so wide, it knocked over a box of Twizzlers on my left, and the hat of the gentleman standing on my right.
"Hey, Adam. Look, I'm sorry I―"
"Does your boss know that you called in sick to your other job, claiming that your grandmother was dying of a heart attack?"
The other blue and gold golems lurched to the scene of the impending homocide. "Is there some sort of prob― Adam?"
The leader of the blue and golders was familiar. "Saint?"
Michael Christopher shook his head and laughed. "Why are you causing a scene in my store?"
"Well, I'm the assistant manager over at Raspberry Records, and I had to work by myself for eight hours this morning because Kevin's very ill grandmother had a heart attack, and he had to stay at the hospital with her."
"Really?" Michael asked. "The same grandmother whose funeral he had to go to last Tuesday?"
"Couldn't be." I said, pleased that Michael and I fell so easily in stride with each other. "Kevin was working with me last Tuesday. His car ran out of gas on the way over, and he was about two hours late, but he wasn't wearing funeral clothes."
Kevin was the color of my turtleneck. "Guys."
"You are so fired." I said.
"From your place, too?" Michael asked. "Damn. Fired from two jobs in two seconds. That's rough."
The person in line behind me cleared her throat. "Well, I've got to go back to my sixteen hour shift. It was fun talking with you, Michael. I'll stop in the next time I have a day off, which I think is March, and we can catch up."
"Have a good one."
And I drove back to Raspberry Records, so happy, my smile could barely fit through the door.
Michael Christopher had a mouth like a sewage volcano. He knew how to swear in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, and Japanese. And thanks to the two weeks I'd spent hanging out with Deaf kids in summer camp, he know knew how to make ten dirty hand movements in American Sign Language. "You're a lot cooler than you were in elementary school." He said.
I was grateful for his approval. Mostly because in sixth grade, he'd made it a semi-weekly habit to beat the everliving shit out of me, for no other reason than beating the shit out of me was much more entertaining than not beating the shit out of me.
Somehow, in middle school, he'd transitioned from unpopular bully, to extremely popular bully. He'd earned the nickname The Saint, because he only beat up people who deserved it. It was kind of an honor to have him smack you upside your head. But, despite the fact that I was smaller, weaker, and had the social skills of a shaved rabbit in a beehive, he went out of his way to be nice to me.
A few weeks into the school year, his mom asked him to move a couch from the basement to the living room on the second floor. I had no concept of why he called me to help him out. I suspected subterfuge. When I got there Michael and Bird Dick were giggling up a storm. I suppressed my fight or flight instinct, and asked what they wanted me to do.
"I am so fucken high right now." Michael said. "We just" giggling "we just" giggling "oh, man, so fucken high."
I grabbed one end of the couch while Michael and Bird Dick grabbed the other. When the job was finished, Michael hugged me. "Thanks, deeeeeeeeeeewd, we totally fucken owe you one. We're gonna go out on the powerline paths and smoke some more sticky stuff. Wanna join us?"
I remembered that commercial where little Gary Coleman says "Say no. Then go. And tell." But I couldn't remember whether that was about drugs, sex, or getting into cars with strangers.
"Yea, but I've got a doctor's appointment tonight, and I can't go stinking of pot, you know?"
"That's cool." Michael said.
I waited for Bird Dick to make a comment, but he was too out of it to speak.
Michael giggled out a "Later deeeeeeeeeeewd."
Later that week, we had gym together. It was still warm enough that the teachers were making us go outside and play soccer or run track. We were supposed to come to class wearing our school clothes, change into shorts or sweatpants for class, then shower, and change back into our normal clothes when class ended. Only losers wore sweatpants in ninth grade, so we were expected to show up in shorts. Usually, I packed a clean pair in my backpack, but on this day, I'd forgotten. But, I remembered, Saint Michael 'owed me one'. "Hey, Saint, I forgot my shorts at home. Do you have a pair I could borrow?"
"Sure," Michael said, pulling his off, "take these." I turned away as quickly as possible. His ass was exquisite.
"Stop looking at his ass, you fucken cocksucker." Said one of Saint's sidekicks. "I'm going to pound the fuck out of you."
I balled up my fists. I knew I couldn't take them, but I was determined to fight as long as it took to save heterosexual face.
"Yea, Bruno." Michael said. "My ass is no entrada, viado."
Oh, they weren't talking to me. Bruno was a kid named Liam Brunelli who'd moved to Cranberry Lake from Chicago at the beginning of the school year. He was chubby and red faced. His head was too large for his body. And, at the moment, his too large head was being slammed into a locker by a member of Michael's meatheaded fan club. I decided to risk detention by wearing my jeans, and ran out of the locker room before anyone remembered me.
That weekend, my father decided to play a round of golf at the local country club, and I screwed around at the putting green and the driving range while he played. I was on the green when I saw Michael drive by on a cart. "Hey, Saint!" I shouted.
He drove the cart toward me. "What's up?"
"Not much. I didn't know you worked here."
"Yea," he said, looking in the direction of the clubhouse, "my dad owns it."
"Cool." I said. "Listen, they closed the boathouse at Davis Pond for the winter, and Kevin Harris and I were thinking of breaking in next weekend and having a party. I was thinking, if you wanted to come and bring some beer or whatever..."
Michael looked at the ground. "Look." And then he paused doom. "You're a lot cooler than you were before you went away to military school or wherever, but. Look. You've got to stop hanging out with that Harris kid. Jeremy says he's a total fucken froot loop who used to, like, grab Jeremy's junk when he was just a kid. I mean, you do plays and shit so, you know, I get that you're probably a fag, too, but you're at least cool about it. But if you spend any time hanging out with Kevin Harris where people can see you... I don't know how much longer people will talk to you."
I froze. Bird Dick. That stupid, crying, faggy...Bird Dick. I started to say "I'm not gay, you know." when I realized that Michael was already halfway to the clubhouse, and he didn't look too pleased with himself. A look I wore later that day, when I told Kevin Harris I wasn't going to break into the boathouse with him.
On the ride home, I became convinced that we were going to be in a terrible accident, both of us killed by a tractor-trailer speeding down the wrong side of the highway. When my mom came to identify the bodies, and collect our things, she'd tell the nurse how sweet I'd been, how I'd never cried as a baby, and how I was so smart that I'd been attending private school. And when she got home, and started leafing through my backpack, she'd cry a bit at my tattered Tolkien, she'd cluck her tongue at the blank sheet of graph paper in my algebra book (I was supposed to have finished my homework that afternoon) and then she'd see the Wall Street Journal, and marvel at what an intelligent boy she was raising. A few seconds later, when the porno fell out, she'd realize what a complete sexual deviant I was, and she'd cut me out of all the family photographs.
Luckily for my family, there was no terrible accident between my dad's work and our house. I ran upstairs the moment we got home, and stuffed the magazine under my mattress. During dinner, I realized that my father kept his porn beneath the mattress, so, clearly, my mother would know that that's the first place to check for those kinds of things. I asked to be excused. I ran back upstairs,and began frantically looking around the room. The desk was out, as I'd known for years that my mother liked to go through all of my drawers while I was at school. I couldn't hide it in my closet because my mom had once found a turtle I'd been keeping in a shoebox in there, and she had dug through it once a week, ever since. Under the gerbil cage! Perfect. I hid the magazine and returned to dinner. After dinner, I leisurely watched four minutes of TV before heading back to my room. Under the gerbil cage was a terrible place. What if my mother decided to clean the cage while I played with my friends? Or what if Rhoda or Ralph (the gerbils) decided to make a bigger nest, and moved enough wood chips out of the way to expose the magazine's glossy cover? Doom! I decided that under the mattress was the best I could do for the moment, and decided to go to bed early to protect it.
The next day, my parents let me stay home. I searched the basement for an appropriate hiding place for my new treasure. Under the carpet? Inside the jacket of my old Mousercise record? Every possible spot seemed too conspicuous. The magazine was just too thick. There was no safe place for it. I was a wreck. There were only four hours before my parents came back from work, and I had no idea what to do with it.
I had a small heart attack when the phone rang, and my mom asked me what I was doing. "Playing....Nintendo." I said. My hands were shaking.
"Ok, hon, see you soon."
Soon? Oh, God. Not soon. Anything but soon. I had to do something. Something must be done. Drastic measures needed to be taken. And that's when it hit me. I didn't need the entire magazine. Most of the articles didn't make any sense to me, and I had no use for the pictures of just women. I ran up to my room, took out a pair of scissors, and cut out my favorite fifteen pages of the magazine, which I tucked between the covers of my Where's Waldo books. Then, I brought the rest of the magazine downstairs, tore it into tiny pieces, and used it to start a fire in our charcoal grill. After about twenty minutes, there was nothing left of the magazine but ashes, and my fifteen favorite pages.
But what if my mom picked up the Waldo books while she was dusting, and the pictures fell out?
I went into the basement, swiped a roll of my father's electical tape, and attached the top of each page on the inside covers of all four of Waldo books, so that they were secure, but I could still flip them over to see the other side of the pages. I was clearly well on my way to becoming a criminal mastermind. I longed to tell someone about my evil genius. But who? Jennifer would be grossed out. Scott was treacherous scum. I couldn't risk showing the Waldo books to the other kids in school, lest a teacher discover my secret.
Kevin! Kevin would appreciate my burgeoning life of crime. I tossed my Waldo books into my backpack, and walked down the street to his house, and knocked on his door. He was in his room, playing Ninja Gaiden with Jeremy. When we were done marvelling at the graphics of the game, I opened up my backpack, and made them both swear not to tell anyone about what I was going to show them.
A week later, every kid in my neighborhood had borrowed my Where's Waldo books. When they were safely back on my bookshelf, I breathed for the first time since I found the stupid magazine. No one had been caught.
By then, school was back in session, and life had returned to passably normal. I kept my Where's Waldo books in my backpack at all times. Nobody at school knew I had them, and there was never a moment when my mom might stumble upon them while she was cleaning.
On a Saturday night that seemed as docile and soothing as any Saturday night, my parents invited Jeremy Burdick's parents over for dinner and drinks. I knew that Mr. Burdick and my father worked together, but I didn't know they were friends. And I'd never seen Mrs. Burdick out of their house before. After dinner, while the adults sat on the porch, drinking cocktails and telling stories, Jeremy and I went into the basement to play Kid Icarus. I had just been turned into an eggplant when my mother opened the door to the basement. "Hon?" She called.
"We're getting a little bored of playing cards up here. We were wondering if you'd mind going up to your room and bringing us a couple of your Waldo books. We want to see who can find him the fastest."
My little eggplant eyes bugged out. "Uhhhh...Sure."
I ran upstairs and tore all the pictures out of the book, leaving noticeable rips. I asked Jeremy to fold up the evidence and hide them somewhere. Crisis averted.
I went back to the basement and tried to de-eggplant myself. Jeremy came down a minute later.
"Where did you put them?" I asked.
He smiled. "I'll tell you later. Our parents might be listening."
We played the game a few minutes longer, and then he said "How come all the pictures in that book had guys in them? You gay?"
I paused the game. "They had girls in them, too."
"Fag." Jeremy said. Then he went upstairs and told his parents he wanted to go home.
After he left, I scoured my room for my pictures. When I didn't find them, I knew that Jeremy had taken them home with him. Oh, well. I hoped his parents found them and grounded him for a year.
I never had a coming out. Melissa Etheridge never stopped by my house with a toaster. Alan Ginsberg never wrote a poem about my anus. I never even had a hokey after-school special sort of moment with my mom, telling her why I was suddenly so interested in the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. What would I have said at some mythical Coming Out party? There was never any light emanating from some guy's cock or ass pulsing out "You're a big homo" in Morse Code. I never got inappropriate erections when watching "Saved By The Bell". And I didn't wake up one day and say "I've always wanted to be persecuted for something I have no control over. And since I'm white and male, I suppose I should just start lisping and paying attention to fashion trends." My sexual identity came in a series of slow flashes.
The first one I remember is Kevin. A year younger than me. A lifetime older. We'd be playing basketball in my driveway, and he'd pull down his sweatpants and start stroking himself. When I visited his house, he'd keep getting dressed and undressed, bending over to pick things up while he was naked. When he was over my house, he'd sit just outside the bathroom door when I went in for a piss, and as soon as my stream of urine made contact with the awaiting toilet water, he'd rush in with my mother's camera, and take a picture. My mother kept wondering what she was doing wrong when all of her film came back exposed. I figured, better the film than me.
And that was the problem really, I was afraid of being seen as gay, because I had a friend who kept taking off his clothes around me, and taking pictures of me while I peed. I never asked him to take his clothes off. I certainly never posed for him. And most of the times that he pointed his naked ass in my direction, I'd look away. We were twelve or ten or thirteen, some age before hair and deliberate erections. I had a vague understanding of sex. Like Japanese porn. A bunch of naked people with the genitals blurred out.
"My sister invited me to an orgy." Kevin said.
This was most likely a lie. No sixteen year old girl, no matter how inbred and slutty, invites her ten year old brother to have indiscriminate sex with people she has to see on a social basis. Or would she? I'm an only child.
"Do you want to come?"
I tried to picture myself in a room full of naked people. I was eleven and fat, and I hadn't...bloomed yet. My hair didn't comb properly. I was perpetually bruised or skinned from falling off my bike on one of the dirt paths at the end of my street. I had seen exactly one naked vagina in my so-far life. I had been five, the girl had been three, and peeing. Sexy wasn't part of my vernacular. "No. I've got baseball practice."
While I never asked whether or not he went to the orgy, I know he didn't. If he had, he'd have spent every afternoon for the rest of our friendship detailing the parts of women's bodies they only show on late night Cinemax.
Instead, life went on as typical. Me playing Nintendo or basketball, or riding my bike. Him following me around, occasionally exposing himself. He must have gotten bored of me when I turned twelve. He started hanging out with his next door neighbor, Jeremy, a professional wrestling fan who liked to reenact his favorite matches.
Jeremy Burdick and I had never had a strong connection. When my family moved to Cranberry Lake, I was five, and just beginning my ten year lust-affair with bicycles. I was riding around the neighborhood, looking for kids my own age, when I saw three year old Jeremy, playing in a patch of dirt with a stick. When I asked him what he was doing, he picked up a huge rock, hit me in the face with it, then ran off with my bike. I don't remember how badly my cheek was cut, whether I had a black eye, I just remember the confusion on my father's face when I told him I'd been mugged by a toddler. Two years later, I'd tried to befriend Jeremy again, inviting him to play baseball with me, Kevin, and a couple of other kids we'd rounded up. Jeremy agreed. When it was his turn to hit, he picked my baseball bat up off the street, walked to the curb, and dropped it into the sewer grate. We didn't seem destined to be friends. So when Kevin and Jeremy started spending their afternoons taking off each other's clothes and putting each other in headlocks, I decided to seek out new companionship.
After a few failed friendships with some of the more popular kids in the neighborhood, I came to the conclusion that Kevin and Jeremy were the best friends I could possibly hope for. So I started watching wrestling, and learned to pepper my conversations with words like "deeeeeeeeeeewd" and "oh my head". It wasn't long before I was sitting in my basement, watching Kevin and Jeremy pull each other's pants down and smack their asses. When it was just Kevin taking off his clothes, I'd wondered whether he was weird for doing it, or if I was weird for not doing it. Jeremy's existence in the world seemed to prove that I was the strange one for wanting to keep my clothes on. Still, something felt horribly wrong with shaking my ass to provoke someone. And putting my hand on another guy's ass wasn't on my top ten list of things to do. Yet.
The afternoon wrestling sessions were a completely different world from my school life. Since I was a year ahead of Kevin, and two years ahead of Jeremy, they failed to exist between the time the buses dropped us off in front of the school, and the time the last bell rang at 3:15.
Most afternoons, just after the bell rang, the teachers would march their students out of the classroom to the bus loop behind the school. At the loop, the teachers would take out their clipboards, and check off the names of all the students as they got on to their appropriate buses. First Bus One, then Bus Two, all the way through Bus Twelve. Sixth graders went out first, and took the back of the bus, then the fifth graders, and so on, until they lowly kindergartners took their place in the front two rows. While the ritual took place, the bus drivers stood on the far side of the loop and smoked.
Jeremy almost always sat in the seat in front of Kevin, and the two of them would smack each other with Trapper Keepers until the bus driver threatened to throw them off. One afternoon, between the fourth and third graders getting on the bus, Kevin called Jeremy an asshole, and Jeremy pulled down his sweatpants, stuck his ass over the seat and said, "No, this is an asshole." At which point, Kevin smacked it as hard as he could. One of my fellow sixth graders, Queen Popular Sarah the Second inhaled her top lip through her left nostril and said "Oh, my. You're such a faggot."
Were they? I'm twenty-six now, and while I can no longer stand musicals, and have never been one to wear makeup or read fashion magazines, I do enjoy having sex with men. At no point, however, have any of my dates mooned me or smacked my ass during a naked reenactment of a sporting event.
The afternoon that Queen Sarah called Kevin a faggot, I went home, and looked the word up in my dictionary. I'd heard her use the word a few times before. Once or twice to describe me. The only definition was "a bundle of sticks or twigs". The definition for fag was "to make tired". And since I was growing weary of my afternoons with Kevin and Jeremy, I decided that while they might be fags, I wasn't. And for a few weeks, I stopped hanging out with them.