When Tony actually called that next Saturday, I was surprised. In fact, I’d forgotten all about our conversation at the beach. But I was more than happy to meet him and his brother Joey, who said they’d pick me up in front of the Woods, because it sure beat what I was doing, which was nothing. I took a shower and put on my navy blue halter top,the one with the white polka dots, faded bell bottoms, tan suede belt, and white Adidas with blue stripes. Of coarse, I added my ‘gang-affiliated’ red, white and blue terrycloth sweatband, lest I run into any of my fellow Top Sixers out for an afternoon cruise.
I rolled out of the house, down my steep front lawn, and stood at the end of Ronnie’s driveway. Cars flew by, zooming up and down Wolfpit Avenue, and horns beeped, guys shouting ‘wooo!’ and other stuff as they sped past. It kind of scared me when they did this, it sounded so aggressive; almost threatening. Of coarse, I’d get used to it, and eventually even (kind of?) welcome it, but this was a confusing time, hormones, like drugs, affecting everything in our lives now.
After a few minutes, I spot what Tony had described as a ‘silver’ Chevelle driving towards me. I guess primer gray is a kind of ‘silver’. Joey slowed down and pulled carefully onto the strip of grass and dirt in front of the Woods. I look both ways and crossed the street, skirting around the back of the car to the passenger side. As I looked in, Icould see Joey pushing Tony, and Tony pushing back, and I hear Joey say, in a growl ( I suspect this is a familiar tone to Tony) “Get in back, asshole!”but they both stopped short as my bare midriff is framed by the open window (super sexy with dabs of pink calamine lotion from yet another bout of poison ivy). Tony scrambled to open the door, then scoots into the back, while I slipped into the front seat.
“Nice car!’ I say, as I get in. It’s not exactly super nice now, but I see it’s potential, without a doubt. There’s no hiding the beauty of an American muscle car, regardless of condition. Good bones are hard to come by.
Joey blushes, then grins with pride and says ‘Thanks!” and I can tell it’s already the best car to him. I turn around and say “Hey!’ to Tony, who smiles and gives me the thumbs up sign. We sit there for a minute, no one saying anything. “Welp….where are we going?” I ask, anxious to get a move on, and verbally dancing to cover up the tension and any signs of it being awkward, since I can’t deal with uncomfortable silence. It’s too raw, too real. I also want to leave before I’m spotted ‘in a car’, as I’m (technically) forbidden to drive in cars yet, though mustn’t we all agree that as far as that goes, the train left the station a long time ago?
“Where do you wanna go?” asks Joey, which I take as a good sign. A team player. I quickly look him over and decide he’s pretty cute. His hair is in a neat white-boy ‘fro, and he’s wearing a Stones Tongue t-shirt and jeans. This, though is somewhat problematic, as music wise- it tells me nothing. The Rolling Stones in the 70′s are the kind of jumping off point that can land you anywhere. Joey could be into Black Sabbath, Loggins and Messina, or the Dead for all I know. And only one of the three is acceptable. Still, it beats Tony’s iron-on transfer t-shirt: two cartoon frogs underneath which reads: “Your Pad Or Mine’ (no question mark) with little green hearts above their heads. I know one of the frogs is a girl, because she has on lipstick and mascara. If the lilly-pad’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin?
I suggest the pool hall over by Bagel King, which is close by and probably pretty happening on this early Saturday afternoon. The guys agree it’s a good idea. Joey adjusts his side and rear view mirrors, and is very thorough and careful about pulling back out onto the road. He’s only had his license for two hours, but to his credit, drives like someone who’s had it all day.
Sure enough, the pool hall is bustling, the parking lot is abuzz with people milling about and we wave and nod to those we know, or with whom we feel an affinity through t-shirts and hair lengths. Joey parks a good distance from anyone, so I assume parking isn’t his forte yet. Inside there’s a fury of commotion. Joey holds the door open for me (another good sign), and I feel a strong, welcomed blast of a/c, and hear the opening notes to ‘Summer Breeze’ coming from the jukebox, along with the crack of ball-on-ball action atop the green felt covered pool tables. There are no open tables, so Joey tells me he’ll be right back, and heads over to put his name on the list and to pay. Tony and I walk the perimeter of the room, looking for familiar faces. I always feel so exposed in places filled with people until I find refuge in a familiar group of buds.
Joey joins us again, and asks me if I want anything from the vending machine. Nah. We lean up against the wall, and watch various games in progress. I like that Joey’s taller than me, so that also gets an invisible thumbs up. At 5’9, you’d be surprised at how few guys are even close to my height, especially at 14 years old. The jukebox plays ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and the mood gets funky. Well- as funky as a room full of white people can get, anyway. I see that guy again- the one who looks like the singer in Pink Floyd, the one with the suede fringed jacket who has the chopper right out of ‘Easy Rider’. He stands to the side of one of the tables, holding a pool cue by his side, waiting to take a shot. He looks me in the eye, winks and smiles. I smile back, then avert my eyes and blush.
What I remember most about these early relationships is that I had no idea (nor did I spend much time contemplating) what they were, or what they were supposed to be. At fourteen, the thought of sex didn’t even cross my mind! Making out did, but certainly not sex! Bad things happened in the ‘sex world’. Girls ruined their lives with bad reputations (yes-this actually happened back in the day, you didn’t get rewarded with a reality show) and babies could be conceived (there goes all the fun in life!I knew that from babysitting!), and evidently, once you ‘did it’ guys would never call you again. Which was part of the confusion. Why did guys even want to do stuff with a girl that would make him not like her anymore? I realize how laughable this is now- but in a way I’m glad I didn’t know much about the inner workings of guys minds. I would have been appalled! In fact, it wasn’t until I was in much older (in my thirties!) that I could even begin to understand a man’s natural drive! I would’ve been mortified that I was so replaceable….with practically any other female. Or a hand for God’s sake! I took it as a compliment that guys liked me, and thought it was something involving how ‘witty’ and ‘deep’ I was that attracted boys (and made me unique)- when in fact, at that age, the last thing on a guys mind was a girl’s mind!
Still, I had known, since last summer in Florida, that something had changed in the way guys were looking at me, by the way they were yelling things out of cars and whistling, and the way that the gross businessman had twirled his tongue at me, day after day (scaring me), as I rode my beach cruiser around the neighborhood, looking for a pick-up game of kickball, or someone with a pool. Mr. Business-man was simply trolling for a ‘pick-up!’ I knew things were different from the way my grandfather and grandmother discussed what I was wearing all of a sudden (Grandfather: ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph, she’s dressed like she’s on her way to Bourbon Street!’ Grandmother: ‘Oh Peter! She’s wearing shorts and a bathing suit. It’s 99 degrees in the shade out there and she’s going swimming!’) I knew when the lady next door predicted I would be a ‘heartbreaker’ and then she and my grandmother laughed. That sounded awful, like I was going to be cruel! But nothing was clear. Except that a shift had taken place, and that there might be no going back. The thing was: I liked the anonymity of being a kid.I liked being autonomous-I’d gotten comfortable with it.. I liked living life under the radar. I liked not worrying about my appearance, or wearing make-up, or putting together ‘outfits’- I’d been taught early I didn’t fit in, so why try? I liked to roll out of bed, grab a ping-pong paddle and find someone to play me. I liked eating and running and playing outside without worrying ‘how it looked’. I was uncomfortable, and achingly self-conscious in this new ‘spotlight’. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who measured their self worth by how desirable they were to the boys. I didn’t care what the boys thought, and didn’t want to. If anything. let them be the worried about what I thought! But I could feel the whole mess coming…complications and drama, like a Tsunami- and I knew I couldn’t run far enough away not to get wet-or hurt- or drown. I never would have willingly left the cocoon of feeling as I did- resigned to certain things- like not being a beauty- but overall fine the way I was- or at least, used to my flaws and able to push them to the side and just live! I would have happily gone back to where I had been, if I’d been given a choice, and to this day I’d give anything to have that lack of self-consciousness back.
PART 2: THE FACTS OF LIFE
My mother was pretty easy-going and open, but when it came to the subject of sex, she wasn’t exactly forthcoming. I was eleven when she decided to tell me the facts of life, though had I known this was the plan I would’ve been much less on board. That early summer night, we stopped at Venezia’s and got a mushroom pizza, then drove down to Shady Beach in her Gold Duster to have dinner by the sea. An uneventful, but pleasant evening- or so I thought! Until, after some brief small-talk when she suddenly changed things up on me and announced: “It’s time we had ‘The Talk!” She may as well have pulled out a switchblade- that’s is how ambushed I felt. It was ‘shady’ beach alright!
About to take a nice bite of delicious pizza when she said this, I stopped abruptly, furrowed my brows and asked ‘What talk?’ in the same way little Arnold might say: ‘Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?’ Remember, this was the 70′s-the decade of After School Specials, and ‘talks’ abounded. The Drug Talk, the ‘I Have Two Mommies or Daddies’ talk, the ‘Someone’s Dying/ Already Dead’ talk, the ‘Hitch Hiking Leads To Murder’ talk ,and of coarse, the classic ’Dirty Old Man In The Park’ talk…..you name it -there was a talk. But of coarse, this was the worst one of all-the Sex Talk. I rolled my eyes and realized my mother had cunningly set the trap by luring me in with mouth-watering Venezia’s pizza. Well played, Mary Jayne…I made a mental note to stop liking pizza so much.*
“Can we at least wait until I’m done eating? Because I know this is gonna make me sick…” I said petulantly, rolling my eyes.
My mother let out a big sigh, and stared directly at me “Well…..I guess….” she said, obviously disappointed. I proceeded to take tiny bites of my slice, and even began pulling off some of the cheese in little strings in a lame attempt at stalling. Is there anything grosser than your mother talking about sex? (Well, maybe your father talking about sex? Or greasy strings of pizza?) She kept staring at me, and I kept pretending I didn’t notice. In the distance a dog barked, a man’s voice yelled ‘Where’s the god-damned lighter fluid?’ and gulls squawked. The air smelled like barbecue and salt water. The sun was turning from yellow to orange as it began its descent.
“Okay, missy!” she announced, after finally seeing through my ploy- stopping short only of adding ‘chop! chop!’ “Let’s get this show on the road!” I threw my crust in the box, and slumped down onto the picnic table, crossing my arms on the table, then resting my face in them.
“LISA ANN(E?!)” she cried “SIT UP! PAY ATTENTION! AND CUT THE MALARKEY-NOW!!” I instantly sat erect, even folding my hands neatly in front of me, twirling my thumbs in circles. I was deathly afraid of anyone over-hearing us. I gazed with dead eyes over her shoulder. I looked everywhere but in her eyes. She pulled out a Virginia Slim and lit it. She inhaled deeply, then exhaled a bullhorn shaped cloud of smoke directly into my face. The After-School Specials hadn’t covered the ‘Second Hand Smoke’ talk yet.
“Now…’ she began, “There are certain things in life that involve a man and woman..”
“I know-a!” I said, frustrated and embarrassed.
“And there is the whole sperm and egg thing….that…….well, you need to know about it”
These words sounded so obscene to me. Even sex vocabulary was nasty!
“I know-aaa!” I said, this time more forcefully, teeth gritted.
“The man’s penis…you do know what a penis is, right?” she asked. Seriously.
“OH MY GOD! KILL ME!” I cried, covering my eyes with my hands.
“And there’s, the vagina-which is on the woman, and where…..”
“OH MY GOD! STOP!” I looked up into the sky and put my hands over my ears.I couldn’t be less mature.
My mother’s tongue started blending her right cheek from the inside. She was getting riled up.
“Y’know?” she said, disgusted, her voice taking on a ‘let’s cut the crap’ tone “Ya can’t make this easy, can ya?” she threw her cigarette down and crushed it under her sneaker forcefully. Then she leaned down and brought up what was left of the unlit cigarette and placed it on the table, readying it for the trashcan. My mother would never litter. She would not be held responsible for making an Indian cry.
“So- I take you to Venezia’s, out of the goodness of my heart-” she continued. ‘I try and-”
“Well, we didn’t really go in…. sooooo….” I said, interrupting.
My mother’s mouth formed an ‘o’ and her eyebrows shot up to her hairline. Her face was red. The tongue was going. But right before she blew her top, she seemed to think the better of it and switched her approach. She began talking softly, sweetly- like she was trying to lure a squirrel to eat peanuts from her hand. We both knew that I was not being disrespectful out of spite, but because I was crazy with embarrassment, and trying to distract her. I would rather have a terrible fight with her than listen to her talk to me about sex.
“Why do you do this? This is really all I want to know. It really is.” she said, her hands fluttering about, almost as if she was talking to another (invisible) adult. “Why? I ask? Are you just contrarian by nature? Is that it?” she asked gently, like it was an affliction I was not responsible for, and couldn’t help. At this my eyebrows shot up, and my eyes popped. Hadn’t we already established this? Like ten years ago? “You know who you remind me of right now?” she asked, arms folded across her chest, tapping her foot annoyingly in the grass, eyes wide
“Your father” “My father” …we both answered simultaneously.
She reached over and picked her cigarette up, walked to the trashcan a few feet away and tossed it. She peered inside for a second, and I’m sure it pained her that she couldn’t take that garbage can and throw it into another, bigger one like she did to me at home when I so much as tossed a kleenex into the bedroom wastebasket. The tissue wouldn’t have time to hit the bottom of the basket before she was emptying it out into the kitchen trashcan, and twisting that one up to go out. God forbid a wastebasket contain actual waste!
Somehow though, she tore herself away and walked back, perching on the edge of the picnic table bench, a signal that indicated we were leaving soon. She secured the pizza box, still half full, and took her keys out of her purse, placing them on the table. Then she cleared her throat.
“I need to know if you have any questions about the Birds and the Bees?’” she asked.’And I’m not foolin’ around here, young lady!”
“No-aah! I already know everything….I swear!” This was not true, but someone opened the gate and I was getting the hell out of this conversational pen.
“Well, young lady-let me tell ya…. you’d better bet your sweet bippy that you do! Because this is important stuff! And you don’t want to end up…with…well…you know…” her eyes darted furtively back and forth,as though checking for bystanders who might accidentally hear the horror that was about to come out of her mouth. Certain the coast was clear, she then leaned in menacingly and hissed: “with child!” Her argument couldn’t have been more valid. After all, look what she was going through right now with her own child!
“No, Mom- I don’t! You’re right…..Now can we go?”
After heaving a big sigh in my direction, she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She’s done all she could.
And thus ended the ‘Great Sex Talk’ of 1972.**
*it didn’t ‘take’
**She ended up buying me a book about it. It was gross….