Sex again. Subject never goes away. Birds and the bees. Rape culture.
Victims. Accusers. Deniers. Survivors. True confessions.
In Americana the legacy of Hugh Hefner collides again with real politics. The year of Pulling a Kavanaugh. A lodestar of memes. The only way to illuminate the encryption that blocks atonement for the age old subjugation of women is for men to man up and mansplain our own sexism.
Jill was my first fingerfuck. Her wet, silky rough inner flesh swaddled my finger all the way up to the knuckle. Jill was my girlfriend and we agreed to rendezvous on a summer afternoon to make out in the woods.
We knew each other at St Simon of Cyrene, both in the same grade but not the same class. She and her girlfriends came to our football games. She hung out with a bunch of east side girls who hung out with a bunch of us west side guys, meeting up at the record shop at a central shopping center called the Hub. We had cokes and fries at the Pixie Diner, met up at the movies, hung out at kids’ houses and roamed Southdale.
Jill reminded me of an image I once saw of Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen. She had an exotic face, though not especially ethnic, it was mostly her way with black eye-liner and smoky eye shadow. Her eyes were vivid hazel. She had thick, straight black hair, always cut in a bob. Mad eyebrows. Her face was white like ice cream with tiny freckles like vanilla beans across her nose. She did not suntan.
She was not especially a leader among her girlfriends. Mostly she blended in with their plaid St Simon uniforms, red sweaters and fluffed up bobbed hair. They wore bows. They all slung big purses like duffel bags. An aloof sarcasm set her apart. Not outspoken, not especially shy, she spoke in undertones if at all, not even asides. She had a low voice, but not raspy.
She knew me when my name was Sturgis, before my parents divorced and my mom changed our names to Kelly.
I liked Jill. This is the generational origin, by the way, of the social network Like. Back then you liked somebody, and maybe somebody liked you, and maybe you might date for a while. Jill liked the Beatles, though she said she wasn’t a huge fan. Her favorite was George Harrison. She went to A Hard Day’s Night, though not with me. She also went to their concert at Met Stadium, though again not with me. I asked if she screamed, and she said with her usual sardonic undertone, “Are you kidding?”
I don’t recall what her grades were like except she passed. I don’t know what her parents did and never met her family. We talked on the phone at night. She didn’t have a lot to say but she was a good listener. She didn’t gossip but she knew what everybody else was doing. I don’t remember if she had any ambitions.
I thought she was pretty and she seemed to get prettier as she got older.
She was a great kisser. The afternoon we agreed to meet and go to the woods was a lovely day. We met at the Snyder Drug soda fountain — probably had cherry cokes. We held hands walking to the woods. It was the same woods where my guys and I used to play toy guns when we were little kids. Jill and I had a smoke out of sight of civilization. She smoked Marlboros and I liked Winstons. I knew a nice cozy niche in deep vegetation off a remote path. I shared some Stik-O-Pep Lifesavers. And so began the kissing.
Petting. Heavy petting. All me. Her butt under her panties was so round and smooth. Her fuzz was scintillating. Her lips so puffy. Her clitoris like a grape. She just kept kissing me. When her eyes were open they were amber in the shady sunlight. Rapt around my finger, I thought. Gone as far as I could go with one hand, I withdrew to unhook her bra and lift her cups to let her breasts fall free beneath her blouse. I recall vividly thinking these were full womanly breasts with smooth, budding nipples. I confess to this day I regret I never saw them with my eyes.
All too soon she said she had to go. The kissing stopped. We smoked again as she straightened her culottes and fastened her bra. I hoped she would stick around and walk with me on my paper route, but she said she had to go home. I walked her to her bus stop, waited until the bus came. Call me, she said. In those days boys called girls but not the other way around.
If not true love at least I found a mate. If not a soul mate I believed I found a companion, a girlfriend, somebody to like who liked me. I probably celebrated with a cup of coffee and a doughnut at Krispy Kreme, sniffing my finger in ecstasy. When I look back at that day as fondly as I can, it occurs to me I never offered or exposed my penis. What’s more, I wonder, where were her hands — not fondling me, yet not sweeping my hands away. Had she so much as touched my groin I would have gone off like an underground nuclear test.
I called Jill that night and she told me we were breaking up. What?
“I only let you do what you did to give me a reason to break up with you. I can’t trust you,” she said. “We’re breaking up.”
And so we never dated again. We kept running into each other at school and around the record shop, soda fountains and Southdale but we never got close again. There was no sense of shame between us so much as Jill’s vibe that we weren’t meant to be. If I felt a little paranoid and somewhat shunned by her girlfriends it was temporary. Soon my family’s scandalous discombobulations altered my social life and I didn’t see her after we graduated St Simon of Cyrene. I called her once in a while in high school to confide my angst and loneliness and ask her out, and finally she said I should stop calling her when I was horny and depressed. That was about as close to talking about our afternoon in the woods as we ever got.
I never apologized and never felt sorry. Far from consenting adults at the time, we were well beyond the age of reason. It was wrong for a lot of reasons in the way that the songs say makes it feel so right. It’s the essence of that song by Neko Case about “That Teenage Feeling”. My lust for Jill remains justified somewhere deep in my soul’s memory that’s almost too genetically territorial to surrender. An instinct of sovereign exception. There was no drug administered or shared except nicotine and Stik-O-Pep Lifesavers. Hormones. Pheromones. To me it was Adam and Eve in the woods. I am sorry now because #MeToo and #balancetonporc call me forth to account for my examination of conscience.
From this pubescent romantic interlude flowed a template for future adolescent seductions leading to seeking Peacock rubbers from a sympathetic pharmacist and learning the benefits of K-Y Jelly versus Vaseline, all based on kissing it might seem. I truly hope the incident didn’t cause Jill harm or trauma and I would offer her just reparations if she wouldn’t cynically question my intentions.
Whatever she may say about me, this is the first time I have ever told about our encounter. No, I never bragged about it to the guys. Never told my best buds around the campfire. Never confided to another girl, or to my wife. Never confessed to a priest. To me sexual intimacy is the only sacred kind of shared secret worth keeping.
Sure as I would like to cast my lesson from Jill as a saintly Pre-Raphaelite painting, if this whole polemic is going to get real I’m obliged to confess to the devil’s truth. I was a boy in a locker room. I shared Playboy magazines like book club. Anybody remember a Terry Southern novel called Candy?
My best friend at St Simon of Cyrene was Micmac Murphy. Murph. He had a voice like a foghorn, even when he whispered. He was a natural comedian whose quips in class got him the most face slaps and trips to the principal of any kid in the history of St Simon’s. Class clown, school wiseguy, always in trouble with the nuns and suspected of being up to no good, he nonetheless got A’s and give all the right answers when called upon and never got expelled or suspended. He was also known for great kindness and stood up against bullies. Played football. And was the most obsessed guy with sex I knew besides myself.
Especially after he transferred to the public junior high after sixth grade at St Simon’s. He said he’d finally had it with parochial school, always getting blamed for making people laugh, sick of getting ragged on by nuns, tired of getting treated like a moron when he was smarter than half the other kids, and wary of getting queered by a priest who liked to hug altar boys. Murph said the last straw was when in sixth grade the school instituted uniforms for boys. In the whole history of St Simon of Cyrene since 1948 only the girls were required to wear uniforms. The rationale was to cut clothing costs and equalize fashion. Who knew in the 1960s boys would dress like mavens? The school introduced standard light blue short sleeve shirts with flyaway collars for boys and blue and white flecked Tweedaroy pants. Red cardigan sweaters. Murph hated the Tweedaroys the most, the flyaway collar shirts next. He couldn’t wait to get out of St Simon’s jail and wear sporty Levi’s and shirts with button-down collars to school. He said he heard that next year we would all have to wear saddle shoes. Since he wasn’t going to go to St Bernard’s, Cretin or De La Salle for high school, why not make the break to public school with junior high.
We kept in touch until high school because he lived in the neighborhood and was still eligible to play on the St Simon football team through eighth grade. Murph extolled public school. What he seemed to like best were the girls. They dressed foxy in tight v-neck sweaters and short skirts and flirted all day long. He said they padded their bras, used the word fuck, wore heavy make up, dared you to look down their v-necks and some didn’t even wear panties. Some kids even made out in the hallways. Public school was to him like moving into the Playboy mansion. He said public school girls were practically asking for it. I knew better than to believe too much of what Murph told me, though I had to think public school more libertine than parochial school and looked forward to serving my sentence at St Simon’s and going to public high school too.
One of Murph’s fascinations with the hijinks of public school was a practice called Bagging. You staked out a vulnerable, voluptuous girl and, seeing the right moment, under cover of a crowd and distraction, give one or both of her breasts a squeeze and run away. Like the pantomime of Al Franken pictured in the USO airplane reaching over the sleeping Leeann Tweeden. A sort of game of Ring and Run played with boobs. Murph swore he hadn’t done it himself but said he knew some guys who had and he was always on the lookout for an opportunity. He named some girls he would like to stalk, whose names meant nothing to me but he assured me were true babes, one of them he speculated had tits so big she might not even feel it.
This kind of conduct to me crossed the line beyond the Irish pale. This was something nobody should ever do to the most disrespectable girl ever, much less nice girls like Jill and her friends. Thinking guys behaved like this with impunity made me reconsider public high school. I didn’t want to spend four years with any preponderance of these kind of clods, and gradually I lost touch with Micmac Murphy. I heard he became a lawyer.
One night at the end of a movie — Khartoum with Charlton Heston, I think — I was exiting the theater during the credits when I abandoned impulse control. The girl was among the crowd waiting for the theater to clear for the next performance, behind the velvet rope. Public school. She had short blond hair and oval glasses. She wore a red and white horizontal striped jersey. Her breasts jumped out at me across the rope. In one sweeping motion to run to the exit I honked her right breast. Before I could take my first step in flight she shouted, “Hey you fucker,” and punched me with her fist with her left hand and slammed the side of my head so hard my legs and feet could barely keep up as I reeled out the exit and down onto the asphalt of the parking lot like a drunken bum, where nobody asked me if I was okay or offered to help me up.
That summer my clique of neighborhood pals talked furtively about a new pastime at the municipal swimming pool they called Getting Some Tit. Essentially it was a variation of Bagging conducted under water. They would survey the females in the moderate and deep end of the pool. When a guy saw someone vulnerable, and the coast was clear (as they put it) he would swim as deep as possible below the subject, give her a gentle fondle, and keep swimming like Aquaman along the bottom into the crowd as far as he could hold his breath.
There were five or so in this club, three active submariners and two or so voyeurs who talked big but didn’t really have the nerve to try. A hot, crowded day was optimum and would bring out the best array of babes. They had wish lists of known mature girls by name they hoped to target and made up nicknames for girls they didn’t know, not from our school, like Plaid One and Budgie. Jill may have been mentioned on somebody’s wish list but I didn’t warn her. She didn’t sunbathe much but some of her friends did, who were definitely on the lists.
I didn’t do this. Like my opinion of Bagging before and after I learned my lesson I considered Getting Some Tit at the swimming pool a cowardly, lowlife act and totally disrespectful to the girls. What’s more, with lifeguards on deck patrol and sitting in highchairs above the water it seemed too easy to get caught. Far as I know none of them got caught and by the end of summer abandoned the practice and lost interest in hanging out at the pool. I did nothing to stop them. All I did was not join.
Now that I have confessed to at least three felonies — the last one a plausible charge of conspiracy to commit Getting Some Tit, along with two counts of actual sexual assault — what do I expect to get? Amnesty? Immunity? Time off for good behavior?
This goes back more than fifty years, so the prosecutability of these crimes is moot and the statutes of limitations only provide guidance in framing an academic discussion of what if any penance is due. Obviously I welcome arguments or I wouldn’t write and publish this. Risking recriminations and unanticipated dangers is explicit with free speech. Confession might make my soul feel good, more good than somebody might think I have a right to feel. Had I and my cohorts been found accountable back then we would have been disciplined at home and shamed at school, possibly expelled, forced to apologize and been placed on probation for the foreseeable horizon. Some may have been severely beaten. There may have been increments of restorative justice involved but more emphasis would have been placed on keeping us and our victims apart. Apologies would have been mandatory but not necessarily forgiveness. Eventually we would all have been allowed to outgrow our bad experiences, learn and get along.
Today we would be facing trials as adults with possible jail time, perpetual registration as a sex offender. Ankle bracelets. Community service. We would be called terrorists like the wilding young men at the Christmas market at Cologne. Since we know today what the consequences are, a guy would have to be pathological to indulge in sexually harassing behavior, or very stupid. Fifty years ago formal sexual education, secular or faith based, emphasized biology and the hollow ethics of abstinence for the sake of staying out of trouble. At St Simon of Cyrene if you wanted to go deep with St Paul, or St Augustine, or St Teresa of Avila, there really wasn’t anybody capable of guiding and explaining chastity as a philosophical moral imperative. It was just no. Just so. I can imagine now that it wasn’t just us Catholics, but the Lutherans, Episcopals, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, obviously Moslems, all had their own sex rules against sex — they said the Baptists were the strictest Christians. Besides church, we had vague civic reminders of the boundaries of sex. There was this crime some of our friends called Statuary Rape, sometimes mentioned in the bull sessions of the swimming pool offenders — bagging Venus De Milo. It was also against the law to peep in windows. We were over the age of reason. We sensed if we were doing something this secret it might be something wrong.
And yet our informal sex education teased us to immerse ourselves in the inevitable essence of the subject, the sex. The biological reason we are all here. The reproductive imperative. The complex moral and emotional ways we attract and repel attraction. We were schooled in the street. All that rock and roll radio going on about holding somebody tight. All that flirting and courting on TV. Movies and movie stars. Fan magazines. Sexy novels. Playboy. Masters and Johnson. Secrets of sensual pleasure were being revealed, and yet it seemed if something used to be kept so secret it still might be something wrong.
Like I say sometimes, in the wrong hands Jesus is the devil.
What do I expect to gain from this confession of pubescent pornography? You could say it’s all better left unsaid. What’s to gain — another cautionary memoir where the confesser gets off scott free and the confessor, or confessee gets to bear graphic scars.
Or better yet, a retrospective homage to a more innocent time, the era of Free Love.
Needless to say, I won’t be running for public office soon. Or seeking a high ranking job. Or coaching any more girls basketball teams. It could be my eulogy at my funeral I went down as a known lecher. Maybe this essay will fall to the very bottom of the Google search engine, however the algorithm sorts these things, and I won’t get so much hate mail, and maybe I’ll remain undiscovered. They say what you say into cyberspace remains out there forever, although I suppose infinity still allows room for errata.
On the album Rubber Soul the voice of John Lennon sings, “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to see you with another man… Run for your life if you can, little girl…” When he recorded that song he was confident everybody knew what he meant, literally. Love in song can be torturous that way. John Lennon’s dead but were he alive he would very likely repudiate the song as misogynistic. Still, so far nobody has risen to have “Run For Your Life” deleted from future releases of Rubber Soul.
President Donald Trump says it’s a very scary time for men in America. Man, I hope so. Women in America have had a scary time this whole while. This whole American Experiment. Trump speaks for American men and their dedicated ladies. The old pussy grabber knows what to be scared of. He’s 72 years old, old enough to know. He aspires to be an icon to admire. He has a lot of followers — obviously, he’s President of the United States. He’s scared his followers will find out he is a fraud, learn he has been scamming them, his whole life is a hoax, and they will turn on him. He is scared of truth.
What scares me is that Trump indeed speaks for a lot of Americans who are like him, corrupt and sleazy and proud, who will never let truth get in the way of power, privilege and a social order of an elected authoritarian oligarchy. If this is what passes for moral leadership in the 21st century then there’s little hope truth will be enough to educate his base to reject him. Woebetide us if his base of followers expands due to desperate men with something to hide. Sad.
The Hope found last in Pandora’s Box is Pandora herself willing to bear responsibility to account for all those things set free. One hopes she did not close the lid and lock it before letting Hope fly out to compete and contend with all the other vices and virtues set free in this world.
The prevailing attitude we were taught at St Simon of Cyrene was sex was ultimately a matter of self control. Boys were predictably more aggressive and more prone to strong urges. If ever the phrase boys will be boys rang true it was like a known fact boys were genetically hardwired — naturally prone — to sexual desire, more so than girls. About this fact the experts stumbled into getting right. What the authorities tried to do about it was vaguely chickeny. Girls were appointed guardians of boy virtue. Boys were taught to respect girls, and girls were obliged to act respectable. To dress modestly. To resist and say no at all times to sexual advances. Boys were taught to use self control to resist asking. Boys were obliged to take no for an answer, but the onus was on the girl to say no.
Other than this they tried to keep us as separated as possible during adolescence.
The fundamental theological premise of sex being sin is based on the Roman Catholic number six of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery. The other nine were pretty straightforward and simple to impart to elementary school minds — thou shalt not have strange gods, honor thy father and thy mother, thou shalt not kill, not steal, even thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife was comprehensible in a family context — but what the hell was adultery?
Turns out there were several amorous stories of the Old Testament we skipped for our own good at St Simon’s. They tried to portray celibacy as the ultimate choice virtue of Jesus God Himself, they being the priests and nuns, symbols on earth of Christ and Virgin Mary. Adultery, they vaguely implied, was for us kids a matter of semantics, engaging in sinful behavior reserved for adults, acting as an adult in such a way as to have knowledge of such adult behavior as unchastity and therefore committing the sin, adultery. Some kids inferred it as a sin to contaminate or corrupt something or somebody — to adulterate. Otherwise we would have to grow up and become adults to learn more about the Sixth Commandment at St Simon of Cyrene.
Out here in the secular world so many decades later it’s women who set and enforce the standards of sex. Better than Women’s Lib, this latest wave of female empowerment promises to tip the male monolith. Two Nobel Peace Prizes in five years. Michelle Obama’s Global Girls Alliance. The lasting impact of the testimony of citizen Christine Blasey Ford will inform cultural history beyond the token flimsy tenure of the accused judge. (Judge not lest ye be judged, my hyperbolic, hypocritical mom used to say, usually when she had something to hide — she would have loved President Donald Trump.) The open season the president and his sleazy minions fear is that what goes around comes around moment when they get what they deserve, what they’re asking for, all in enduring good time. For women there is no walking it back, no backing down, no retreat, no surrender.
If Lysistrata really happened, the women would win. Ultimately most powerful of the species, women will determine the survivability of the planet. Men who contribute to survival of the species and civilization as we know it could be, already recognize women’s just and inevitable participation in the events that shape the world. Men who man up and stop sexist preoccupation with themselves as a divinely dominant gender will survive where bully guys will not. Natural selection. Humanity will benefit like workers covered under a bargaining agreement who don’t belong to the union. Observe the next span of time, so many news cycles, TV seasons, Oscar years, time it takes for daughters and granddaughters to go through high school, see where the drama of gender and sex boundaries of behavior will go. How it will affect fashion and justice, politics and economics. How it affects love and romance.
It’s been many months since I’ve seen a commercial for Viagra or Cialis on TV. It’s highly possible our post-modern society has lost interest in sex. Who would know? Playboy magazine is long defunct. Even Spike Lee doesn’t make movies sporting breasts like Rosie Perez anymore. What titillates the libido today is up for grabs, eludes description. Leonard Cohen passed away. They say there’s all the porn you want on the internet if that’s where you want to plant your computer cookies. Aside from justified rage against human trafficking and exploitation of children, the righteous moral guardians who used to rave about the evils of our permissive society seem satisfied with the current level of exposure to sexiness. Maybe it’s gone underground, like reruns of Two And A Half Men and Two Broke(n) Girls on cable. Showtime network ceased its late night explicitly raunchy movies. The sinister agenda of homosexual promiscuity the Tea Party people warned us about didn’t actually happen. I’m lucky I have a loving committed relationship to keep me aroused. I can only imagine what motivates other consenting adults to find others to consent with or how they rendezvous. It’s gone from lowdown to the down low. It’s not sex in your face 24/7 anymore. Has it gone out of style?
Thank god, you might say, for dating websites, social media. Maybe my perspective is just jaded, being older and so experienced — which is a way of saying having gotten away with a lot of things leading up to where I am today in life. Jaded and almost willfully unhip, looking through the telescope with a blind eye, there’s a chance I’m not seeing something hidden in plain sight because it’s none of my affair to look, none of my business to see. For me it’s a delight to see female undergarment shops as prominent legitimate businesses at the fashion mall, free to ogle, stare and admire lace on mannequins. Lingerie. I’m not really the target market for who’s buying and wearing this apparel, but somebody is and does. Once upon a time I was a member of a modern generation. It was the hippest generation ever lived. That was then.
It’s my impulse to cry out to the generation after the next one after the next one, risk spoiling all their fun. I feel impelled to chaperone from the grave, as it were, a version of JD Salinger’s catcher in the rye where he imagines a kind of guardian angel protecting kids from falling off a cliff (a problematic metaphor considering Salinger’s relationship to a young Joyce Maynard, which I suppose ironically illustrates the futility to project innocence upon a future generation). Some writers write about yesterday for yesterday, for today about today and tomorrow, about yesterday, today and tomorrow for today and tomorrow. Usually it all ends up yesterday.
In high school my daughter Michel absolutely forbade me from volunteering to chaperone any high school social events like hayrides and dances. She clearly told me she didn’t want me hanging out where I could spy on her. So I never did. Never dared to question if she was hiding some kind of behavior, I believed Michel simply didn’t want me inhibiting her social life, not her anticipating my acting out a helicopter dad. Not that she was ashamed. It was enough I coached her basketball team three years in middle school. I respected her demand to allow her privacy at the sacrifice of my never getting the experience of observing my daughter partying with her peers in high school. I had to get to know her as an adolescent in other ways. I am not disappointed in the adult woman she became.
My son Vincent may have had an even more obscure, enigmatic adolescence and he turned out good too.
Congratulations, you say. Thanks. I am proud of them both. Their mother seems to have had an extraordinarily magical influence on their character. My influence, however well-intentioned, cannot be retrofit into my own past. Their dad’s dinner table opinions came from a man otherwise renown as an expert in pictures of naked women. Pictures. Sometimes I look at my grown kids and appreciate what they put up with me as a father, and what I really wonder is how I get treated so respectfully as an older old man. This calls forth testimony. I know stories I am reluctant to tell my granddaughters which for now I prefer they simply do not read — until they are older. Adults. My son and daughter may prefer I bury my stories for keeps but they can’t help me. Can’t keep me from singing. Coming clean.
Will sex ever be clean again, well yes of course. We used to talk about rebelling against Victorian mores and now there’s a popular historical drama series on TV portraying what a pair of rompers were Victoria and Albert behind closed doors. Perhaps from a discreet parallel baseline a civil dialog of sex will arise beyond the recriminations, criminal convictions and revelations of debaucheries yet to come, after guilt is adjudicated and innocence restored. A normal bandwidth of appropriate interlocution will need to volunteer itself or sex will only belong to the clinical and the depraved.
The arts will be expected to express the vocabulary of the future of Eros, but everyday workaday life gets to be where practical Eros is acted out and explained. For example, normal people will listen to Top 40 radio and buy the songs. Listen up, watch and see these young crooners all falling down all over themselves mansplaining their feelings of deep respect for Aphrodite. We’ll see who’s sincere and who’s zooming whom as time goes by, as this is the nature of mating in the real world.
Buffalo M Kelly