Learning to Misunderstand Sex
By ice rivers
When I look back at my childhood, I'm staggered by the innocence.
I grew up deep in a city in the time that it was inevitably turning into a war zone.
My next door neighbor was named Mrs. Good. Her yard was separated from our yard by barbed wire.
I always called her Mrs Good. I called her husband Bill.
Bill was easy going. I found out decades later that one of the reasons Bill was so calm was that every day he drank whiskey on his walk down the Avenue from the bus loop on the corner of Parsells and Culver so that by the time Bill got home to Mrs. Good, Bill had a good buzz on.
Next to Mrs. Good lived the bad influence of our neighborhood...a kid a few years older than me and my friends. His name was Kenny but he called himself Duke. We were all afraid of Kenny/ Duke and that's the way he liked it.
When he wasn't listening, we called him Big Duke Clod. Of course, he never knew that.
Needless to say, there was bad blood between Duke and Bill and Mrs Good especially if a ball got knocked into her yard. Clod's house was also separated from the Good House by barbed wire.
We learned how to climb barbed wire early on the Avenue.
When we got into Good's backyard, we were amazed at how well taken care of it was. Fountains, flowers a cherry tree etc.
Duke's backyard was all concrete.
My backyard was almost as nice as Good's.
We had a cherry tree back there and a summer house and a shrine to St. Theresa which of course had been blessed by Father Murphy one proud day.
We learned to play baseball in my backyard.
Every once in awhile, a pop foul would land in the Good yard.
The Goods' didn't mind if we went in their backyard as long as we asked them.
Duke wasn't gonna ask anybody about anything, especially when he could pound one of us until we climbed the barbed wire.
Mrs Good loved my parents who called her Connie.
Every once in awhile. she'd catch us in her yard without asking. When she did so, she immediately told my parents. My parents would get kinda mad at me but they also thought that Connie was overreacting.
Before baseball, I used to run around in my beautiful backyard and didn't always have clothes.
I hadn't yet learned about shame.
That would take awhile.
Duke helped with that.
He also helped me to misunderstand sex.
One of the first sexual misrepresentations that Duke hit me with was this:
"How'd you like to go to bed with THAT"
Duke would ask this as a reaction to seeing a pretty girl walking down the Avenue. He would say this when looking at an actress in a movie magazine.
He would say this all the time.
I didn't know what the heck he was talking about but I kind of figured out that what he meant was the girl or woman or picture of a girl or woman that he was questioning me about was someone he thought was attractive.
I learned to say " Yeah, I'd love to go to bed with THAT".
I can't be more than six years old at the time.
Later he would ask if I'd like to JUMP in bed with that BROAD
Of course I would LOVE to JUMP in bed with that BROAD.
I figured Broad mean't woman and jump in bed meant that the woman was good looking.
Other little neighborhood kids my age didn't quite know how to answer Duke's question.
He called those kids Fairies.
He made them eat grass
The only fairy I knew about was Tinkerbell who I kinda liked. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with being a fairy but I didn't want to be called one. I could avoid this by giving Duke the right answer when he asked that question.
"Of course, I'd LOVE to JUMP in Bed with that BROAD"
I'm no fairy.
I don't need to eat grass.
In the twenty first century, I knew that there was a relationship between distance and time.
Back in the fifties, at the age of eight, thirty miles was a world away from Parsells Avenue
Crystal Beach was thirty miles away.
In the summertime, which in itself was a loooonnng time, I spent most of my weekends far, far away from the city at place called Canandaigua Lake at a beach called Crystal.
Duke Clod was nowhere in sight but his influence tended to linger.
I was blessed to be relatively middle class so guess who WAS in sight...that's right my relatives especially those on my father's side.
Many of them had collaborated on the actual construction of 'the ranch house' which was the name of the second cottage that my grandfather built in 1952.
I caught a lot of that sound and fury which later proved to have great significance
By 1954, the arguing, cursing and drinking that went on during the building of the Ranch House had dissipated. The place was inhabitable and open to all my kin.
Not all my kin appreciated the muddy road to the ranch house nor the 'honey bucket' that passed as the toilet nor the fact that the only water available other than the lake required a trip to the well and a return trip bucket lugging fifteen pound of water,
None of this bothered me too much so we were the most regular visitors to the Ranch House.
One time, we were down there and my Uncle Bill showed up.
Uncle Bill was an elegant old guy. Always well dressed and in great posture, Uncle Bill was an engaging figure whom I saw rarely enough to render mystical. The main thing about Uncle Bill is that he was ancient. My grandfather, even though everybody called him Danny Boy was old but his brothers Mike and Bill were older still. Bill was the oldest of them all.
He was known, naturally, as Old Uncle Bill.
Me, I was the first son, the grandson, the first nephew and the youngest kid at the Ranch House. I was held in a position of esteem.
Everybody knew my grades were excellent, that I read with uncommon comprehension as well as speed. I had a commensurate vocabulary and consequently admirable spelling ability. Most important of all for life at the Lake, I could swim.
All my relatives knew this.
What they didn't know was the influence and existence of Big Duke Clod.
Sooooo, one July weekend, I found myself alone in the company of Uncle Bill. I found a movie magazine lying around. I was looking through the magazine when I came across a picture of Anita Ekberg.
I had never seen anyone who looked quite like Anita Ekberg.
I figured I'd ask Uncle Bill if he had an opinion about Anita Ekberg.
I called him over. I showed him the picture and asked 'Hey Uncle Bill, how would you like to jump in bed with that BROAD'
It's hard to describe the look that crossed Uncle Bill's face at that moment. It was a look that reflected him pulling a visual of his 200 year old self jumping in bed with Anita Ekberg which he must have been spontaneously cross-referencing with the dueling visual of his 60 pound, 8 year old grand nephew jumping in bed with Anita Ekberg.
The expression transmogrified and concluded ended when he must have visualized all three of us ...he, me and Anita Ekberg all jumping into bed together.
To this day, I've never seen an expression like it.
Basically it was a look of astonishment with shades of consternation, curiosity, fear, hopelessness, surprise and suspense all colliding in a complicated, asymmetrical smile.
A smile was his answer to my question.
So I took it to the next level.
'I'd LOVE to JUMP in bed with that BROAD.
Even more complicated smile accompanied by a couple blinks that might have been intended to be winks.
Somehow, I stopped myself from asking Uncle Bill if he was a fairy.
I knew Goddamn well thatI wasn't.
I definitely wanted to go to bed with Anita Ekberg.