Brookhurst Street wasn’t so busy in the fog as I, a high-school freshman, carried my Bible home from Wednesday evening prayer meeting with my older sister and the church librarian, a young woman with a 10-year-old son and a non-believer husband and a seriously messy house, the cause of occasional screaming arguments between my sister and our mother, also a non-believer, because my sister’s room was always seriously messy, too. “You can spend time working in that church library but you can’t clean your own room!” Mother would scream, eyes bulging, veins popping. These arguments began as aggravated exchanges–snippyness–but escalated into hair-pulling bouts that sent me hiding in my room.
On Thanksgiving Wednesday evening Mother and Aunt Lacy–a meliorating force when sober–were baking pies and getting the turkey and stuffing ready for the oven at dawn (we ate Thanksgiving dinner at noon or one). On these holiday eves Mother didn’t digress to the fact that the house of Alice, the church librarian, was the disaster of our block, of which none of the homes sported more than ill-kept, working-class, little-kids-at-home yard and interior. To be the disaster of our block, one really had to be the Phyllis Diller of house-keeping. (In her stand-up act, comedian Diller complained that the kitchen floor of her neighbor, Mrs. Clean, was so spick-and-span spotless you could eat off it. “You can eat off my floor, too,” Diller said. “Ketchup, mustard, whatever you want, it’s all there.”)
The trouble with sending your kids to the closest church, the only one they could walk to–a Southern Baptist church–is that your kids, in particular my older sister and I, become “saved” and think you, the parents, are unsaved sinners, since you don’t go to church. Getting my parents “saved” (it never happened; so today Adolph God has them in the concentration camp he calls hell?) was the subtext of my pubescent years. The angst, the necessarily embarrassingly emotional discussions about Jesus, which in the case of my mother and sister escalated into the familiar screaming and hair-pulling, kept my stomach churning.
But youth is like nausea: when you’re nauseated, you vomit and feel new, at least for a while. When you’re young, over a few years of growth you vomit some of the poisonous nonsense you’ve been fed, and feel new. A freshman reinventing myself in the anonymity of 20,000 Cal State Fullerton students, I’d go occasionally to Hollywood–to Grauman’s Chinese Theater or to another movie premier setting–to see a film before it showed elsewhere. As I and a new college acquaintance walked along Hollywood Boulevard, a girl with friends coming toward us stopped and said to me, “You’re the one.” I smiled and said, “The one what?” She stared a minute, laughed, and walked on.
I knew “the one what.” A grocery-bagger I worked with at the East Fullerton Alpha Beta had a van he drove to Hollywood every Saturday night. In a curious mixture of what today we’d call sexual predator and future family man, his life plan included never living anywhere but Southern California because he wanted his kids to grow up able to drive to Hollywood and ball away Saturday night in their vans, like he did. He’d told me so when I mentioned that I wanted to live where it snowed.
I acquired a girlfriend, a dance major whom I’d stand behind on a sixth-floor balcony of the science building and look out over North Orange County while I pressed my erection between us. Soon she dropped me without comment beyond, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
So on Thanksgiving Wednesday I went to a stag dance at the Cal State student commons. With strobe lights and rock music and several hundred boys hoping to meet girls to ball that night, and several hundred girls hoping to meet boys to ball eventually, I lasted one dance. On the way home I stopped at a Snack Shop or a Coco’s or a Denny’s–I can’t remember which–and sat at the counter drinking coffee from a mug or a cup-and-saucer that was refilled whenever half-empty. I still got home earlier than I wanted. Mother, working on the turkey or the pies (always two pumpkin and one mincemeat–Dad liked mincemeat), commented that I was home early, as I suspected she might. “It wasn’t my kind of crowd,” I said.
I went to my room and listened to one of my Broadway soundtrack albums or to Gordon Lightfoot or Barbra Streisand or Hedge and Donna. In bed I had a fantasy in which a boy from the dance–no particular boy–lay naked in his van while one of the girls fingered his erection. I saw him climb on top of her, saw his tussled hair–blond or brown or dark–saw his broad shoulders, the small of his back, his buttocks and thighs, muscular calves, and the soles of his feet, toes alternately clenching and flexing.
It would be at least one Thanksgiving later before the boys in my fantasies occasionally–hesitantly–did things with other boys.
Turkey at top of this post: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=284803