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The Size of Missiles

This is a short story I wrote a while back.  I'd appreciate any feedback you have to offer.  FYI, I'd give this an R rating...

     In 1962, I was not entirely ignorant of the world but I was close.

     I had not yet learned to strum the bridge to Sam the Sham's "Little Red Riding Hood" and I had heard of but wasn't real sure exactly what marijuana was and had never even heard of a place called Vietnam.  I knew about World War II because I watched TV and killed Japs by the thousands in the woods behind my house; I knew about the Nazis because my uncle Leonard hated them pretty much more than anything you can imagine; I knew about a military draft because another one of my uncles got drafted somewhere between Vietnam and Korea and because Elvis Presley got drafted and if the army can draft Elvis they can draft anyone--except maybe Mohammed Ali who was still Cassius Clay back then.  And I never figured that I would ever be fat, fifty, drunk and thinking about all of this while staring at something called a PC.  I had no idea that I'd ever have two hundred television channels, complete with T and A and even hardcore films, email and a cell phone and hate all of that mind-numbing self-indulgent technology with the passion of Magnus, Robot Fighter.  I hate aluminum baseball bats, too.  What kind of fucking noise is "tink,"on the baseball field?

     But that really isn't the point.

     Elvis was called up to serve in Germany where he didn't do a whole hell of a lot of real soldier work but generally did concerts for the Allied Occupational forces who were finalizing the de-Nazification process of the one-half of Germany that we could indoctrinate with good old-fashioned non-anti-Semitic capitalism while protecting the rest of Europe from the unrelenting Red horde that had been on our side just a few years ago.

     Fucking Europeans.  You can't trust any of them.

     But this didn't bother me much.  It didn't seem to bother Elvis either.  He came out with a movie, "GI Blues," which I did not see in October 1962 and, now that I think about it, it may have been one of those things that came along later, but I'm not sure.  It's not important anyway, at least not to me.  Elvis might have felt differently.

     After all, he did get a sexy new wife out of the deal with a French maiden name (and you know those Frenchies, eh?  Ooo-la-la) who was not old enough to drink, smoke, vote or even drive without a licensed operator in the front seat with her--at least in the states.  Maybe it was a good deal for Elvis that he met her in Germany where they don't seem to much give a shit what happens in the front seat--or the back seat either, if you know what I mean, as long as nobody put anyone else in the ashtray.  That wouldn't have kept the King out of jail in the states except for maybe Arkansas and maybe Mississippi.

     But Elvis' new wife was something.

     She wore too much dark eye make-up and had a jet black cross between a bee-hive hair-do and one of those Marlo Thomas flip-up "That Girl" jobs that even drew attention away from Elvis' own regenerating pompadour.  And she wore cat-eye sunshades and tied a scarf over her head to keep her cotton candy hair in place while she rode in his convertible strapped into one of those Jayne Mansfield bras that made her tits look like the tail-fins of a '58 Pontiac and could be dangerous on a crowded gym floor at the sock hop or at a make-out party.  After all, you could put an eye out, especially in the dark.

     But all that's another matter, too.

     Priscilla was shy and sexy and wore the flouncy skirts that girls still wore at the start of the decade and peddle-pusher pants like Carol what's her name in the first "Lolita" film with James Mason as Humbert Humbert who was even a worse horn-dog than Elvis and possibly even as bad as Jerry Lee Lewis when it came to nailing jailbait.  And I don't think Michael Jackson had even been born yet and, if he had, he was still a little black kid back in those days and probably hadn't even been molested himself yet so he wouldn't have been much competition in the scandal department.  And, even if Priscilla did give twelve-year old guys like me the same problematic and mysterious boners that we got from watching Kitirik, the lady dressed in the skin-tight cat suit on Channel 13, or from watching Annette Funicello's amazing sweater growing tighter by the episode on "The Micky Mouse Club," or from looking at the chick who was the Queen of Hearts in the deck of Mexican playing cards that Ronnie Joe Barrett had pinched from his older brother's porn collection, or even the type of severe wood that could generally only be conjured by being called upon to tackle a linear equation on the blackboard in front of the whole freaking class--that was not what concerned me in 1962.

     I had never even heard of a place called Vietnam.

     Have I mentioned that?

     And Ronnie Joe was one of the most accomplished masturbators I ever knew before he had even entered the seventh grade and long before he joined the marines and fell from the sky in fiery pieces to scatter across the central highlands of the most beautiful country in southeast Asia.

     I could not have imagined Kennedy dying on a day when I was home from school with the flu and cable hadn't been invented.  We only had three channels if you didn't count PBS and I didn't and you couldn't see anybody naked on any channel and no one could say many of the words I've already said here and you couldn't call Oswald a no-good, mother-fucking, communist faggot like you can today, all except for that last faggot part which isn't politically correct at all and might seriously hurt someone's feelings.  And Kennedy and Oswald and Ruby were on every goddamned one of all three channels and probably would have been on PBS, too, if I had bothered to check but I didn't because I'll be damned if I'll ever educate myself anymore than I have to when I'm home on the sofa and watching television with the flu which I was not faking.

     If I hadn't been really, really sick, I would have gotten up off that couch and gone to class, infecting everyone I could along the way, just so I wouldn't have to watch anymore of that shit.  Not that "Queen for a Day" was any better but it was the principle of the thing.  Anyway, if I had felt better I just wouldn't have put up with it.  I think that was the first time I had ever seen anyone killed in real time, even if it was on television and not in person which I saw a few years later.  Ruby came out of the crowd and shot  Oswald and Oswald doubled over and said, "Oh," and it wasn't half as dramatic as Matt Dillon gunning down the same bad guy every week on "Gunsmoke" but it was real.  But I wouldn't have seen any of it if I had felt like getting up and that's the truth.  I was just too damned miserable in spite of the fact that this was in 1963 and what I mean to talk about is 1962 and neither '62 or '63 was when Ronnie Joe's helicopter was shot down and Gary Matthews hadn't got blown to hell and gone about three months after his enlistment at the ripe old age of nineteen.  And his grieving girlfriend, Theresa, hadn't yet hooked up with Freddy, the dealer who was twice her age when she dropped out of high school.  And I still got boners when I thought of Priscilla and had a crush on Dennis who was a girl but had a guy's name because her father, Dennis, had wanted a son and was goof-dick enough to name his only daughter "Dennis."  Dennis, the daughter, was sweet and sexy just like Priscila but had never fucked me or Elvis either for that matter and never did and nothing at all had happened to the president that would be concealed by the government until anyone I knew was way too old to care.


     In October 1962, the East Germans still murdered people at the Berlin Wall and Freud would have appreciated that because it was the German nation in conflict with itself and cathexis and anti-cathexis and things like that which I didn't know the first damned thing about at the time and Freud was dead but he was a Jew and would still have appreciated Germany killing itself one fucking Kraut at a time.  And, even if the shit hadn't hit the fan in southeast Asia where the French gave up on the idea of Indochina because they're the best culture in the world at giving up and make the Italians look like war heroes, there was still plenty to worry about.

     Kennedy and Kruschev were pissed.  No, seriously.  I mean pissed.  They were so pissed that my dad said they were a cunt-hair away (he said this when he thought I wasn't listening but I always was) from blowing up the world.  I was no expert on those kind of hairs, or any other kind of hairs for that matter, but this seemed pretty close to me.  And, in fact, it is very, very close.

     Castro thought he had something to do with it, too, but he didn't.  Not much anyway.  No one cared too much about Castro even then.  In '62 it was like a Mexican stand-off with Russians and Americans.  Nobody else on the planet even mattered, not that I could tell.  It was between the big guys, and Fidel didn't know he wasn't one.  It's a Mexican standoff when two guys get the drop on each other and it's not necessarily a good guy/bad guy thing but neither can shoot because the other will shoot, too.  Hollywood has them all the time.  But this time there was no one's girlfriend or cop's partner or schoolmarm you can stick a gun to and say, "drop it, or the bitch gets it."  (Well, Kennedy did try that a little bit and Castro was the bitch but it didn't work.)  And anyway only the bad guys can make it work because it's only bad guys who will call a lady a bitch for no reason and you already know the good guy will drop his gun.

     I was only twelve years old and I knew that.

     But no one dropped his gun.

     October 1962 was the most fucked-up Mexican stand-off ever in the history of the world.  Somebody had to flinch and everyone wanted it to be the bad guy but Kennedy and Kruschev and even Castro, who still didn't know he was the bitch, refused to even consider the possibility that it might be him wearing the black hat this time.  And, instead of high noon and six-shooters, it was def-con two with planes, warships and nuclear warheads.  The whole thing was godawful.  Everyone I knew was afraid.  If they pushed "the" button--yeah, you know, that one--well, all the practicing we had done up until that time of getting under our desks, covering our heads with our hands and kissing our young asses goodbye wasn't going to help.  In October, 1962, I had a Trojan comdom in my wallet.  It was my dearest treasure.

     It had never been used.

     If you had two bucks in 1962, you could go to a Saturday matinee at the Granada Theater and see something like "Tarzan the Magnificent," or "Queen of Outer Space" or "Angry Red Planet" but you couldn't go see "Hud" or "The Sins of Rachael Cade," or "Imitation of Life" or any other films like that with "mature" subject matter.  Not at Saturday matinee.  Not if you were twelve years old.  But who would want to anyway?  I didn't.  It wasn't like you got to see someone naked.

     But for two bucks, you could catch a Saturday matinee.  And you could have some popcorn, a soda, and still have change left over for after.  I knew, because I hung out with my dad and my uncles, that you could get a bottle of Falstaff beer for a quarter, songs on the jukebox for a nickel apiece and, at the Eagle's Den hamburger joint around the corner from where I lived, you could get five regular-sized hamburgers for a dollar if you bought them all at once but fries and drinks were not included.  And Miss Winnie, the huge black lady who worked at the counter and who seemed to always have at least one blood-shot eye, tended to misinterpret your helpful intention and tell you were a smart-ass when you pointed out to her that eagle's don't have dens.

     They have nests.

     And you couldn't buy a rubber anywhere.  Not legally.  Not in '62.  Not if you were twelve.  I think there was a law against it.  Probably a misdemeanor but I can't swear to it.

     My rubber was a significant investment and was a risky piece of contraband to have in your possession.  I bought my condom in the public restroom at the Refuge Lounge on Fulton Street in North Houston back when most of the people in the neighborhood still spoke English and the guy who owned the joint had cancer of the throat because he smoked too much and, even though it was 1962 and cancer of the anything pretty much meant you were fucked, they still removed his voice box.  And he had this artificial larynx he had to wear over the hole in his throat and it, too, had a hole in it and he had to put his finger over the hole when he talked and his voice sounded weird, artificial, kind of like one of those Chatty Cathy dolls that has the ring on her back that you pull and she talks but her voice still sounds funny.  His was like that, stange, artificial, only harsher, raspier.  And it was in the summer and I had just turned twelve, and somewhere between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis when John Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev were really pissed at one another and the Jews had caught Eichmann and hanged him in Tel Aviv because of the Holocaust, and now they didn't have to follow the same rules as the rest of the world anymore, and the Japs were our friends again and playing baseball, and Castro was an annoying little bitch, and later on some guy named Martin Luther King was stirring things up about who could sit where on a bus and eat the crappiest food in the world at Woolsworth lunch counters, I bought some condoms and something called a 'pussy-stretcher."

     I walked past the bar at the Refuge Lounge and the guy who owned it watched me watch him and he put his cigarette in the hole in his throat and inhaled and made the end of it glow and grinned at me as I walked past like he knew something about me.  I had my quarters in my pocket, a lump in my own throat, and two Camel cigarettes I pinched from my father, wrapped in cellophane and stashed in my wallet.  If you wrap cigarettes tightly in cellophane, you can usually carry them in your wallet where they tend to flatten but not break and they won't fall out in front of your father like they will from a shirt pocket.  This was good information to have for other contraband later in the decade.  I also had a half book of Seven-Eleven matches I had bought from Stella Dillon's mother two books for a penny in the front pocket of my jeans.

     When I'm ninety-seven years old, not as far from fifty-five nor nearly as much an abstraction as fifty-five is from twelve, and pissing blood and won't remember ever getting laid but might still hit on chicks without even knowing why and won't have a clue who Kennedy was, I'll still recognize the smell of the bathroom at the Refuge Lounge.  It's not all horrid and umpleasant really, at least not to me, unless someone has just thrown up--entirely possible--or taken a crap.  But if that hasn't happened, well then it's all tobacco and sweat and alcohol--and piss, of course.  And, even though I wouldn't go out of my way to smell it, it doesn't make me gag either.  Maybe because it reminds me of my father, my uncles.  Drinking men,  hard drinking men like the men who plopped me on the bar, gave me money for shuffleboard and taught me how to cheat on women, sometimes do this thing; they drink with both hands, drink a whole lot, drink like there's no tomorrow and don't like to leave their tables, at least not while they still have drinks.  They sit and drink and wait and wait and sometimes wait too long before going to the john.  Late in the night, my uncle Rayford, totally wasted, moved in lurching urgency, his tool in his hand by the time the weak-springed plyboard door banged the wall, let fly with a stream in the general direction of the urinal and followed it home.

     I'm not lying.

     Two bucks would buy a lot in 1962 but I wouldn't walk into that bathroom barefoot for a hundred dollars.

     I left the table where Rayford and my dad and Uncle Brad drank and dad was flirting with one of the ugliest women I'd ever had leer at me in my young life.  The antique Rosie the Riveter barmaid had jet-black hair, like Priscilla's and the color might even have come from the same bottle--but that's where that similarity stopped--and wore the brightest red lipstick I've ever seen on a human being.  The lipstick was a shade brighter than the candy apple red of a Corvette.  Her tanned, way tanned, way too tanned and wrinkled skin made her look like something small and animated stuffed into a leather sack.  She winked at me and blew me a kiss.

     Shit, it's tough to be cute.

     I meandered past the shuffleboard table and pinball machine, past the two pool tables and a neon sign where the Hamm's beer bear frolicked in the land of sky-blue waters and the ubiquitous painting of Custer's Last Stand hung above the bar, above the guy with the hole in his throat, above the leather-sack barmaid and drunken patrons dancing and singing along to "There Stands the Glass" and "Walking  the Floor Over You."  And the painting, though covered with dust, always fascinated me as it chronicled, in bloody, graphic detail, the artist's scalp-fest interpretation of the last victory the Indians had in all their sad, sorry history of warfare with the cavalry and hung in every beer joint and ice house in the southwest except for possibly those on reservation land.  I had not yet gone drinking with Jimmy Tall Man and Noah Red Shirt, David Many Mules and Clyde Begay who wore tee shirts that said "Custer Got What He Deserved" and became pretty revisionist when they got drunk.

     I leaned into the plyboard door, with its weak spring and chipped paint and let it close behind me unchecked.  The spring provided little impetus and it swung closed with a soft thump.  First things first.  I lit one of my cigarettes and smoked quickly, taking deep drags and fanning the cigarette constantly to dissipate the smoke in case someone walked in.  I had a "hot box" going in no time and the cherry end of ineffectively burned tobacco was three-quarters of an inch long.  I smoked fast and deep, and got dizzy for my efforts before thumping the fire into the toilet and saving the butt for later.  There was a urinal and a sink outside the stall that some of the guys, including Rayford, had difficulty telling apart and one of those roller towels that the guy with the hole in his throat changed every three or four years whether it needed it or not.

     Above the urinal, a sign admonished, "We Aim to Please--You Aim, too, Please."  Cute.  Someone with a pencil added, "Please don't throw matchsticks in the urinal, our crabs can pole-vault."  But it was the machines on the opposite wall that commanded my attention, that were as fascinating to me as the deck of Mexican playing cards and the thing that the Queen of Hearts was doing to a guy.

     "Sold for the Prevention of Disease Only."

     And in pencil, "Don't buy this gum, it tastes like rubber."


     I invested in three prophylactics.  This was some years before Francis Boudreaux, who once had some French relatives but was nowhere near as French as her name but she was still a little exotic to me I guess and sexy, too, but more in a chubby, funny, don't give a shit way than an unattainable Priscilla way and she and I got drunk and wild and she went into the men's room at the Tenneco station and jacked the jimmies.  She must have swiped two hundred condoms and we pulled the liberated rubbers over our heads like hats and she stretched them over her marvelous tanned legs like hose and we blew them up, tied them off, and tossed them out the windows of the car for forty miles down State Highway 59 like nipple-tipped party favors and never used a single one of them for the purpose for which they were intended.

     I was still a virgin.

     But that wasn't in 1962 either.

     In '62, I stood casually by the rubber dispensers, hands in my pockets, rocking  back and forth on my heels, whistling, too, I think, as stereotypical a picture of unconcern and feigned indifference as Foghorn Leghorn in a Loony Toon.  I did not hear anyone coming.  I walked toward the door and stopped a few feet from the entrance, creating a safety zone in the middle of the floor between the door and the urinal, the stall and the condom machines so, at the first hint of someone coming in, I could hitch up my britches like someone who had just finished his business and was on his way out and no one would be the wiser.  I practiced looking innocent while I listened.  I still didn't hear anyone.  I moved quickly back to the condom machines.  Four of them hung in a row.  I put money in one of them and jumped back to the sink like I had been washing my hands (but I wouldn't touch anything on that sink if my hands were rotting off with nuclear waste).  No one came in.  I went back to the condom dispenser and twisted the knob and the internal mechanisms clicked and slammed like a freaking train wreck.  I just knew the leather sack barmaid could hear it over "Hello Walls," on the jukebox.  I was at the urinal with my fly down by the time the product appeared in the little tray.

     No one came in.  I finished my mission at the rubber machines and stuffed the packets into the front pocket of my jeans, flattened a little toilet paper to serve as packing between them and the denim so no one could see the shape of what I carried, and pulled my shirttail out to complete the camouflage just in case someone were to look.

     I also bought a "pussy stretcher."

     That's what the machine said it was and I was just twelve years old and had never made out with anyone and wasn't really sure about the whole business, except for the images on the Mexican playing cards, but here it was for sale and I didn't know what to do.  And even if I had never heard of any such thing as a pussy stretcher, I was pretty sure that there were lots of things I hadn't heard of yet and what if it turned out that I needed one and they only cost a quarter and I was either too cheap or too stupid to buy it?  What then?  So, how could I not?

     I went back to the table for half a Seven-Up, then back to the restroom again.  In the stall, with my pants down just in case someone looked under the door, I took out my loot.  The pussy stretcher was a disappointment.  It was not really false advertisement but it was a clear manipulation of fact.  The entire package consisted of a small stretcher, a litter like you might find ambulance guys using or medics like on the t.v. show "Combat" when they carried wounded men off the battlefield, with a very tiny, foam-rubber cutout silhouette of a presumably disabled cat on it and, now that I think about it, I was more relieved than I was disappointed.  After all, I don't know what I would have done if it were an actual device and I was expected to know how to use it.  Since it was worthless, I flushed it and the wrapper it came in.  I always feel better when all evidence is erased.

     But the condoms were another matter.

     I opened the first and looked it over.  It was apparently an excellent product.  Scientifically designed and engineered to give her maximum pleasure, it had a nipple-tipped reservoir and was pre-lubricated so it would slide on better I guess, or slide in.  This worried me a bit because if it slid on easier with the lubrication, didn't it make sense that it would slide off easier, too?  And, if it slid off easier, might that not be inviting trouble?  I thought perhaps I had better check.

     There were no directions on the package but it was not hard to figure out.  In the summer of 1962, Eichmann was dead; Kennedy was president; Kruschev was pissed; no one knew shit about Vietnam but maybe the Vietnamese; the image of the guy smoking through the hole in his throat haunted me; the last dog I risked loving was run over by a car; I figured out my uncle was drinking himself to death; the space race was cranking up and I was ready to enter junior high school and --after sacrificing two of my condoms to scientific research on fit and containment variables--I was also ready to enter anything else in the 98.6 temperature range that may have worn a skirt.

     All I needed was a volunteer and this was tricky.

     In 1962, I decided to bide my time.  I kept my condom in my wallet while men orbited the Earth, U.S. involvement in southeast Asia increased, Che Guevara basked in the glow of his victory at the Bay of Pigs and, no doubt like Kennedy, could not foresee his own approaching demise looming on the horizon.  The Belgian Congo, the Congolese Free State, the Congo Basin, the Heart of Darkness was once again seized by madness and seized by the ANC and Jomo Kenyata and Patrice Lamumba.   And my uncle Leonard who killed Nazis in Europe and in Africa and hated them like fire and who would never consent to eating white bread and black-eyed peas together and who voted for Wallace for president a few years later when I didn't think it mattered much anymore who anybody voted for because they all wanted me and my whole generation dead anyway, remarked cynically that "this is what happens when niggers try to govern themselves."  And I didn't really know any because I'd never even been in an integrated neighborhood or school until my last year unless you counted Mexicans--which Houston ISD did not--and one Chinese kid.  Nobody knew a Vietnamese.

     My condom nestled into the leather of my brown cowhide wallet and carved a niche for itself.  I learned to be careful and only expose the tell-tale ring to those who might consider it cool and that would not include my grandmother, Reverend Jack T. Clary of Loyalty Baptist Chruch, anyone on the faculty at Northwood Junior High School, and member of the Houston Police Department or any other law enforcement agency, your parents, any girl you might want to marry or any girl whose father might find out.  Carrying a condom in your wallet was dangerous as hell and might be harder on your mother than if you died wearing dirty underwear.

     Stella Dillon's mother saw it, just once, while I was buying a soda at the Seven-Eleven and I handed her a dollar and she wore a tight tangerine sweater with a deep vee neck and a matching scarf around her neck and she had freckles all in her cleavage that I couldn't stop staring at and would have stared at even without the freckles because her breasts were absolutely magnificent and she worked the counter at the Seven-Eleven and probably saw the rings of lots of condoms in lots of wallets all week long.  But she looked at the circular indentation in mine and smiled at me.  It was the strangest smile I had ever seen with her head cocked to one side and one eyebrow raised and the tip of her tongue slid out between her teeth and touched the little bump right in the middle of her upper lip while she blinked her wide green eyes with exaggerated slowness and made every drop of blood that wasn't south of my belt-line settle in my cheeks while she gave me change for the dollar and brushed the palm of my hand with her red nails all electric and everything and chuckled softly and said, "My, you are growing up aren't you?"

     And I couldn't say anything back and my cheeks were red and my jeans too tight and I still hadn't met Brenda Brewster who made out with me in the back seat of Pee-Wee's father's car in front of Walter Johnson's house so I really didn't understand all of it.   But, God, it was intense.  And Stella Dillon's mother enjoyed my discomfort.  So, after that, I was careful not to let her see the ring in my wallet.  I think she enjoyed my secretiveness even more because she would make a show of trying to see it and then I'd blush harder than ever.  Years later, when I was twenty-five, I would buy beer and cigarettes from her and I knew she looked at me and I liked it and I'd let her see me looking at her and when she made the casual contact with my hand, I would hold the contact until she blushed.  And once she squeezed past me in the small, cluttered aisle where they kept toothpaste and razor blades and things of that sort and she brushed across my groin with her ass and it felt like a grind and that was all electric, too, and the touch shocked us both but we never did anything about it because her daughter was a friend of mine and she died when she was sixteen and it was horrible and her mother looked so much like her and I'd seen her in her grief and that was more naked than anything and I held her then and didn't know what to say.

     But that was later too.

     In 1962, I didn't mind taking my wallet out at Guerra's drugstore on the corner of Lorraine and Terry where Aracely worked and where next door at the Mexican bakery the world smelled wonderful and they sold fresh fruit Empenadas right out of the oven two for a nickel.  I'd been caught shoplifting in the drugstore when I was six and had to apologize to old Mr. Guerra who was such a sweet guy and so hurt by my admission and I could see it in his eyes and I never wanted to steal anything ever again and, so far, I've been able to hold to that one.  But I'd have made away with Aracely in 1962 if I could have.

     Aracely was an older woman and a Mexican although she didn't have an accent and she was about fifteen years old and gorgeous and I still hadn't met Brenda Brewster and made out in the back of the car in front of Walter's house or Francis who would get drunk and wear condoms for hats.  But I could get a cherry Coke from Aracely and she would smile her brilliant smile at me.  And she would see the circular indentation in the brown leather of my wallet and I  would cock my head to the side and smile and lift one eyebrow because I could do that now but I never did get any good with the slow blink or the tongue on the bump of the lip thing even though I admired that move.  That was okay because I didn't need to do that with Aracely since she would blush anyway and it always made her even prettier and that's really saying something.  But she married some guy a couple of years later because her parents wanted her to and moved to Illinois and never came back and that was sad because she always hated cold weather.

     It was cool for certain girls to know that I was like a priapic boy scout and was ready for anything, but I really wanted all the guys I hung around with to know that I had a condom.  Really I wanted them to think that I had a lot of condoms and used them regularly because I thought that about Ronnie Joe, who wasn't dead yet, and Jerry Harmon and John Whittington who once tried to talk me into doing oral sex on him while he wore a condom and said it really wouldn't count as being a faggot because my lips would never really touch his skin and I wouldn't get anything in my mouth but rubber.  I told him I could see his point and couldn't agree with him more.  Then I showed him my own condom and said, "You first, punk."

     We had a fist fight and were never really good friends after that.

     And that was in '62, and the world didn't end even though everyone thought it was going to and I thought that twelve years old was as old as I was ever going to get and that I would die with my condom in my wallet and Hurricane Carla was fresh on our minds and the kids in Scenic Woods found a body in a pile of drift below the railroad trestles over Hall's Bayou.  And in '62, no one in my crowd had yet been to jail or wasted a zipperhead or taken our first shot of dope and Dip Cameron was still alive and I can just see him smile and that stupid greasy haircut of his and Rudy Rudolph hadn't yet cut him in half while fucking around with a shotgun and Dip's dog, Elvis, howled all night long when Dip died and so did Dip's father.  I inherited Dip's clothes and his parents broke down when I tried on his shirt and I felt worse than bad like it was my fault or something.  Dip was like five friends down from the best friend position and maybe I was closer by wearing his clothes but I missed him and I still hadn't made out with Brenda Brewster in the back of Pee Wee's father's car.

     And I didn't know what I was missing because if you don't know, you just don't know and that's just how it is.  And I don't know how Brenda felt about it or anything or if she even remembers.  We weren't boyfriend or girlfriend or anything like that and, if she ever reads this, well, I hope she doesn't get annoyed or want to sue me for taking her name in vain or something or think that I'm trying to embarrass her in public or whatever because Brenda is an icon.  And, Brenda, if you ever are reading this and I really hope you do, I remember the smell of Doublemint on your breath and that stupid song about "Love is all Around Me" on the radio and how awkward the whole thing was and I thought about you when I read The Summer of '42 and cried and, shit wouldn't Ronnie Joe have ridden me hard if he knew that.   And I don't think I did even one thing right and I was uncomfortable and excited and that made me even more uncomfortable and excited but you didn't seem to mind and I was trying to be cool and even if I wasn't doing anything right you wouldn't say and that made everything cool.  And I touched your hair--and this is no critique because it was the fashion of the day, I guess--and you had so damned much hair spray on it that it felt like a spun-glass hard hat except that it was sticky and I was like the little guy with the fly's body at the end of the Vincent Price movie, "Heeeeelp meeeeee!  Heeeeelp meeeeeeee!"  But I didn't mind and, really, I didn't want to get unstuck even when touching your hair was the one thing that annoyed you.  And you had that same  Pontiac tail-fin bra that Priscilla and Jayne Mansfield and Anne Margaret and Stella Dillon's mother wore but you let me reach inside it and it wasn't like that scene in the Summer of '42 where the kid grabbed the girl's arm in the movie theater and caressed it but couldn't find the nipple because, after all, arms don't have them and he didn't know that he had an arm.  But, even then, it was more than he could ever have expected.  And I didn't know what to expect and you stuck your tongue in my mouth and let me stick my hand inside your bra and I found a nipple and forever avoided sexual identity crises because it made me a confirmed heterosexual for the rest of my life and screw John Whittington and his theories about oral sex not counting if you don't touch skin anyway.

     I didn't love you Brenda and I still don't but there was nothing about you that I didn't like and there's nothing about you that I still don't like and it seems I like you better every time I think about you and I think about you a lot nowadays.  Come to think of it, maybe I do love you.  But that was in '66 and I didn't know anything and i felt so many things in the back of that car that I'm still sorting them all out and you made me feel like laughing and crying at the same time and then that thing happened that I hoped you couldn't see on the outside of my pants and I don't know if you appreciate the power that you had and that you still have.

     In '62 I had a condom that I never used but that I thought a lot of anyway.

     Some years later, I finally got laid and it wasn't Brenda Brewster and there wasn't a condom around for miles and I didn't care and still don't and Kennedy and Kruschev didn't  blow up the world and we didn't all die and I did grow up after all and Castro's still alive but no one cares not even him.  And the first Earth Day was held and everyone was concerned with a coming ice age that somewhere along the way became global warming that somehow got twisted around to an ice age caused by global warming which sounds a little bit like killing people for peace and Vietnam screwed us all up and AIDS came along and me nostalgic as hell for the clap.  And now all the seven food groups with the red meat, butter, eggs and other "healthy" stuff have suddenly become toxic and everyone's freaked out and eating tofu and afraid to drink tap water and I don't carry a condom in my wallet for status anymore.

     Now, I've got a gold card.

     Stella Dillon's mother died in '98 and I can't imagine her tilting her head, blinking those beautiful green eyes and touching her tongue to her upper lip at the sight of a gold card.  Somehow, it's just not the same.