Sex Talk

Seems as if today parents wouldn’t have to give their kids a sex talk if they have a TV; it’s all pretty much there.  They show animals openly fornicating on the Discovery Channel.  It’s appalling the way those animals fornicate out in the open like that and that’s just basic cable.  I am not a zucchiniparent, so I wouldn’t know.  But I guess it there’s a sex talk today it’s more like: don’t do it! Or if you do it, do this or that! Not so much a sex talk as a venereal disease talk.

Anyway there’s not much to explain.  The mechanics of it are pretty straight forward.  Sex obviously is pretty much idiot proof.

Back in my day, there was no cable TV or Discovery Channel, but I never got a sex talk.  I had to do research.  My father never said word one on the subject, and all my mother ever said at all about the topic was: your father is like a rabbit; and sex is good once a week like chicken.

But in sixth grade we had a sex talk hour or so that must have been mandated by the state.  It was really odd because they sent all the girls off into one room and all the boys off into another as if one sex wasn’t supposed to know what the other was up to.  But it wasn’t a sex talk as much as it was a naming the parts talk plus some discussion of what would soon—for your average teenager—be happening in those parts.  It was sort of a heads up, by way of a warning.

So all of us sixth grade guys were in one room with Mr. Tode.  He was a really popular teacher, especially with the girls, since he was the only male elementary school teacher we had.  But I didn’t like him much because one day he was playing some music in class on a record player that for some reason he stuck in the back row next to me.  And when a song ended he asked me to move the little needle to another one but I flubbed it and scratched the record and he fucking yelled at me.  He nearly fucking traumatized me because that was the first time I had picked up a record needle since we didn’t have a record player.  But he said it like I was supposed to know how and it looked pretty easy. I mean, I was game.  But I flubbed it.

Anyway, we didn’t have any visual aides back then.  No charts or graphs and no movies because we didn’t have any movie projectors at our school.  So Mr. Tode, who was not a good drawer, had to draw pictures of the parts—penis and testicles and such—up there on the black board.  And then he tried to draw a penis in an erect state to indicate what would be happening.  And I was sitting in the back row and I leaned over to John Cobb sitting next to me and said, “Looks like a zucchini to me.”  Because that’s what it looked like.  And John laugh and the guy next to John laughed and I laughed, and there went Mr. Tode yelling again, “If you are not mature enough…etc.”

So that was the sex talk except at the end he asked were there any questions, and for quite a bit there weren’t any till Lance, who was pretty robust and earnest guy though none to swift, said he had one of those nackturanal emitters Mr. Tode had mentioned and while Mr. Tode said the stuff was supposed to be sort of white, he had noted that his stuff had been sort of yellowish.  And Mr. Tode said there was nothing to be concerned about since it could come out a bit on the white or the yellow side, and I just had to stifle myself from raising my hand and asking what if it come out blue.


In my work trying to teach something to college students I have concluded there are two kinds of women: those who think all other women are backstabbing catty bitches and those who think men homerdohare ignorant, insensitive, assholes.  The latter complain that “they” never call back, and when they think they have something going, they go to a party and he is making out with that their roommate, the bitch!  While I am not much of a tisk-tisker, I wanted to go tisk-tisk at the tales of male disloyalty because I have taken up “loyalty” as a value that needs to be reasserted these days. I even tried to read Josiah Royce’s book on loyalty but he used the word loyalty too much.

I tisked-tisked with purity of heart, I though, until I remembered one day walking up the long hill—in college it was—to the dorm and up ahead of me is a young woman who has one of those double names like Ruth Anne and you are supposed to say both of them.  Her long blond locks are flickering in the sun and she is striding along wearing a skirt—some college women did that back then—cut to just above the knees, and I find myself watching her swaying behind and her bony legs, and yell out, “Wait up!”

I know her from the student cafeteria where she had worked for a while, and I haven’t seen her for a bit.  And we fall into talking and I said something that made her laugh.  And she had this nice laugh, sort of burbling like, and then she said something that made Me laugh which is sort of unusually.  So we walk along for a bit making each other laugh, and just as she is turning off to go wherever she is going, I say, “Hey, let’s go out some time.”

And she sort of smiles and looking at me from over her granny glasses, says, “Aren’t you with somebody.”  I sort of shrug.  “With? With? As if the word was ambiguous or something.  What do I know from “with.”  But then it came to me that I guessed I was with BJ since we were at that time regularly engaging in sexual congress.  I just hadn’t thought about it that way, in the “with” way, and it came to me at the moment that she knew BJ.

Well, I said, not in the least disturbed, “You’re right.  But if you don’t mind my saying so I found the idea you know of going out pleasant.”

“Thank you,” she said and went on her way.

I don’t know what the hell was with me that day or at that moment.  It was as if all my nasty and unbalanced biochemicals freaked out for a minute and balanced themselves.  Maybe it was something I ate or the way the stars were aligned.  Or maybe I was on bennies that tended to make me feel confident.  Whatever the fuck it was, I think I acted sort of like a normal guy at that moment, not one nearly dead from depression or gasping with anxiety.  But if I was for a moment there relieved of my misery and somewhat normal, I can only say, by way of apology for the way college guys act, that we are sometimes forgetful.

A Real Piece of Work

My brothers and I over the years took to calling the old lady—after we had recounted some new horror story—“a real piece of work.”  This phrase means something precise to me in my mind at least, but I am not quite sure how to translate into other words.  I think it means something like what people mean when they say of somebody, “he is just impossible.”

 lipsI am not sure what that means either; for certainly to be impossible a person must first be possible.  But whatever it means, my brothers and I didn’t take to calling the old lady that until later in life and we had managed to emerge a little from her emotional strangle hold.  We had achieved a sort of distance which allowed us to express a very, very grudging respect for her abilities to make us (and herself) incredibly miserable.  I think that’s implied in “a real piece of work,” a grudging, very grudging respect.

If this applied to the old lady, it also applied to her sister, Aunt Susan, who was also a real piece of work although apparently crafted by a different craftsperson.  While the old lady was Miss Goody-Goody Two Shoes (whatever that means), oh so prim and proper with her lips that touch liquor will never touch mine holier than thou attitude, Aunt Susan was sort of large and blousy, if that’s a word, gregarious, not above hinting at cleavage and certainly not afraid of a drink.

 So we have Saint Old Lady and Sinner Sue; at least that’s how our mother tried to make Susan feel.  Susan for her part had grown up belittling Saint Old Lady and continued to do so making remarks especially about her attire and her weight.  Although for many years, the Saint had all the leverage since she had a god fear husband and god fearing children, and my Aunt didn’t have anybody after her son, Skipper, died at the age of 13 or so of bone cancer.

And before that her career with men had been, for women of her generation, a bit of a walk on the wild side.  During the war, she met a man, had intercourse with him unmarried, became pregnant, and waited while he went off to the war after they had married in TJ.  She waited and waited; the child came along and still no husband.  Plus, the letters had stopped coming.  She got herself together somehow and went back to Arkansas where his family was only to find out he was already married.  There stood his wife right there on the porch, with one child standing beside her, and another in the oven.  And basically they just laughed at her and told her to get lost.

So Aunt Susan was a single mother.  I expect there have always been lots and lots of single mothers either de jure or de facto.  But she was one before single mothers became a topic of conversation.  And somewhere along there she had an affair with a married man, no less.  I met him once.  I got a call from Aunt Susan to come have a drink with her at a bar over in Lemon Grove.  I guess she had come back to visit her old stomping grounds and she cottoned to me because I had spent time with her dead son.

And this guy comes in—the adulterer, I mean—and I don’t know what I expected—but he is pretty tall, sort of stooped over, nothing to speak of really, and wearing one of those god awful polyester suits fashionable at the time.  The affair—that was long over—but they had remained friends.  So I finished my drink and after a bit I left.

Club 94

When I had my mental collapse, I do believe my brothers were somewhat concerned that I might go completely insane or off myself.  Though I don’t believe we talked about it any.  But one brother I know did try to look after me a bit, and I think it might have been my first quarter working for the mounthelixPhD, and I was down to Casa De Oro to pick up some books and he made a strong point of my showing up for a drink at the local Club 94.  So I went when he said, thinking I might not see him otherwise.

I came into the bar to find him and behind the bar itself a youngish woman with large breasts accentuate by a somewhat tight t-shirt.  She had red hair, like me, so immediately a narcissistic thing was at work, and then I realized that I knew her—and said so—and well you might, she indicated, since she had been a cheer leader when I was at high school.  Whereupon I made a roundabout libidinal connection, remembering I had sat watching her breasts bounce up and down while sitting on the bench at a basketball game.

She was quite friendly and I sensed that my brother had set me or, or should I say, attempting to set me up with Jane, let’s call her.  And she allowed, upon inquiry, that just possibly that was the case.  I felt awkward though drinking a good deal helped with that, and we established some sort of connection, so that when the bar closed down at 2 she asked did I want to come over to her place.  Sure, I said, and she drove since I was a bit inebriated.

Her place was an apartment about a mile away, and upon arrival, she shoed out her sister, maybe it was, fast asleep on the sofa, who left still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.  And then Jane said she would going to check on her son down the hall and would be back in a little bit.  I said, could I smoke, and she said yes and gave me an ashtray, and I sat there feeling sort of vaguely depressed and unlibidinal, smoking one cigarette after another, until she returned attired in come-hither night gown and not much else.

While I am generally completely stupid about such matters, the signals in this situation clearly indicated that were I to engage her in amorous activity I would not be met with resistance.  She reclined Cleopatra like on the sofa, and we began to talk a bit about people we had known in high school, and when I mentioned this one guy, she just launched in calling him an asshole and a mean mother fucker, etc.  Whereupon, we moved briefly to the subject of her husband, also a major league asshole.   And something about the way men general treated women lead her to tell me about how her brothers would push her down to the ground and pinch her breasts till they were black and blue.

I guess I talk too much because whatever remained of my libido was just a shadow of its former self.  I sat there paradoxically full to the point of breaking with a sense of emptiness.  I lit another cigarette, and noticed that she had gone to sleep.  I sat a while longer, got up, and covered her against the morning chill, kissed her on the forehead (as I remember) and left. 

Outside the sun was coming up and I found myself standing opposite the old Junior High.  I had not seen that place in years having no occasion to go down the street it was on.  I walked over to the steps of the Junior High and looked back from where I had come.  Once, looking where I was looking, there had been a big empty field and on the opposite end of it the Catholic church and school  But now the whole area, filled with apartment buildings, was just unrecognizable.

 I walked back to my car but it was only as I said about a mile away parked in front of the Club 94.


But certainly I was most powerfully influenced by stories from the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  I still think about these and over the years have written a couple of cheerful attempts at blasphemy.

An idea for one such story came to me as I was driving along a few days ago feeling mildly depressed.  I call it:

The True Story of Jonah and the Whale:  As Told By Jonah


 If you have the time you might also want to check out an informal lecture by Doctor Peter Pedanticus, PhD (or PP as he is known by his friends):

“What’s the Big Deal About the Pelvis:  Or: Re-probing Evolutionary Theory


Very little, if any, knowledge of evolutionary theory is required to grasp PP’s major point.  I have made no attempt to imitate PP either as I have no idea what he sounds like.

Brer Rabbit

Because she didn’t want us to grow up to be uncouth yokels like our father, the old lady started reading to us boys pretty early.  She’d start off with the Child’s Garden of Verses which she acted brerrabbitlike was real special since Robert Stevenson had something to do with it.  This I didn’t like as much as Mother Goose featuring Humpty Dumpy and that woman who lived in a shoe.  And some of the Grimm stuff too.  But the stories that tended to stick in my mind were by Uncle Remus and involved Brer Rabbit.

I don’t know if people read Uncle Remus anymore.  People might think it is racist.  But I am not sure what reason for that there might be.  Maybe the Tar Baby?  But as I understand it these were African Oral Tales that a white man named Chandler Harris compiled and put out under the nom de plume of Uncle Remus.  Once at some function I sat next to a young black lady in anthropology I think, and I asked her about Uncle Remus and she said there was nothing racist in it, and we had sort of a debate about what Brer Rabbit represented  She said he was a common figure in African tales; he represented the trickster.

I said, true, he did trick Brer Fox on a number of occasions, but on one occasion at least he tricked himself and that was one of my favorites, the tale of the tar baby.  Seems Brer rabbit was out walking one day—well, you know the story.  And he came upon the Tar Baby who refused to returned Brer Rabbit’s salutation and that pissed off Brer Rabbit and receiving no apology for the insult, he attacked the Tar Baby and the more he fought the more he got tangled up in the Tar Baby.

So I said, Brer Rabbit didn’t seem to represent a trickster in this story; instead, I proposed, he had received his comeuppance for being the egotist that he was and getting so easily insulted.  The black student allowed that in this particular tale, true, Brer Rabbit had been chastened, but as a trickster he was also understood to be an egoist.  I allowed as how she probably was correct and obviously Brer Rabbit was a more highly complex character than I had supposed.

In one of the trickster tales, Brer Fox gets his hands on Brer Rabbit and is going to eat him.  But Brer Rabbit starts saying stuff like before you eat me please don’t stick me with a knife because there’s nothing I hate more than being stuck with a knife.  So Brer Fox would go to stick him with a knife and Brer Rabbit said something like oh don’t stick me with a knife before you eat me because even more than being stuck with a knife I hate being…and so on and so forth, till he said there was nothing he hated more than being thrown in the blackberry patch.  Whereupon the Fox did that and Brer Rabbit just laughed because there was no way Brer Fox was going to get him in there.

I was particularly fond of this story because of its mention of the blackberry patch.  There was one of those maybe fifty yards across down in the hollow beyond Grandma’s house.  I loved those blackberries.  They were free food.  Sometimes towards the middle of the summer, I would crawl out under that big black berry patch getting stuck now and then, but out as far towards the middle as I could go and find a nice spot with a bunch of berries, and lie on my back with the sun filtering through the leaves and eat blackberries, at times each one being sweeter than the next.  I guess I identified with Brer Rabbit because out in the middle of that black berry patch I felt off in my own place and safe from bigger people should they want to get at me.


Back in SC, we had no sweets around the house.  Except possibly vanilla wafers, and those quickly became tiresome.  Sometimes we had bananas, and when they went over the edge, the old lady would hashmash them up and put cream and sugar in with it, and then cover the whole thing with vanilla wafers, and then cook it in the oven for a while and then we would eat that.

We never had potato chips either.  That’s hard to imagine today what with all the sorts and kinds of chips wherever you look.  But I don’t remember a bag of potato chips in the place.  I guess we were deprived.  But every once in a blue moon on a Friday evening, when maybe he had a good week money-wise, the old man would stop at this place by the Laurens Drive in and buy hash and he would buy potato chips then.

That was about the whole meal unless the old lady made coleslaw which was a possibility and something she knew how to do.  So we would eat those chips, and you put that hash in the middle of a piece of white bread, and if any bread was left you used it to sop up the hash juice from your plate.  I don’t know but I loved that hash and missed it deeply when we moved to California.

Many years later when we went back to SC for a visit I was happy and proud that my Uncle Earl had gone into the hash business.  He didn’t do it on a regular basis but for holidays, especially the Fourth of July which is celebrated down south for different reasons than the rest of the country.  Fire stations would make hash too.  Uncle Earl just attached a cardboard sign to his mailbox and at one point he sold the hash at eight dollars a pint because it didn’t come by the pound but in little containers, like they have at Chinese places, with little wire handles on them.

I thought maybe I had built that hash up a little in my mind and when I sat down to eat some at Uncle Earl’s place I was prepared to be disappointed.  But I wasn’t.  Maybe it wasn’t quite what I remembered but it was near enough.  I am not entrepreneurially inclined, but I did sit around some and thought about how I might mass market that stuff.  People by that time had all become calorie counters and nutritious-wise and since that hash was probably about as God awful as any meat could be for a person, I figured I would have to market it as anti-health.  Put maybe a little American flag on the container and advertise it as “Not Meat.  The Pure Essence of Meat.”

Uncle Earle had a hash house built right next to his real house.  Inside, he had a couple of forty gallon vats.  He would put the meat in those and add some little water, and vinegar, he said, and some secret sauce, though I believe he was kidding.  His recipe as I recollect was something like 300 pounds of beef plus 300 pounds of pork and slow heat for 48 hours, stirring constantly so it did not stick to the bottom of the vat, and a whole bunch of onions. That was it.  Plus salt and pepper, and slow cooked that meat just broke down yielded up to the quivering palette the Pure Essence or Nectar of Meat.

Fry It!

So we ate pork chops fried.  We also ate fried chicken.  I always got a drumstick.  I have to say though there wasn’t much to these chickens.  They had been out running around in the yard a little before you ate them, and being all active like that they just didn’t build up much.  Like two bites and the meat would be all off, it seemed like.  So that’s when I got into the habit of also eating thechickenfriedsteak gristle part of the drumstick.  It was chewy and if I was feeling particularly famished I would break open the bone and scoop out the marrow.  Not everybody does that.

When we were done with a chicken there wasn’t anything left.  The old man gnawed through the neck and back and we ate the livers; about all we didn’t eat was the gizzard and what we called the Pope’s nose that was this flap of fat that was over the chicken’s a-hole. I didn’t know what a Pope was back then so I didn’t know I was insulting anybody when I called the a-hole flap the Pope’s nose.

In addition to fried chicken we ate fried ham.  I liked the ham part but not always what went along with it which was black eyed peas.  The old man liked those though; a huge pot of them was usually made up with the ham bone; and the old lady would make up a black eyed pea sauce to pour over the black eyed peas.  This was made of canned tomatoes with lots of salt and pepper and a whole cup of sugar poured into it and then boiled down.  I didn’t like that stuff at all.  And when the old man ran out of ham to eat the beans with, he would eat it with whatever there was and to get a little ham into the mix he would polish it off with pickled pigs’ feet.

And we also had chicken fried steak.  This wasn’t chicken and I really don’t think it was steak either.  I guess it came from a cow but calling it steak seemed a bit too fancy for what was this flat flappy piece of meat with all sorts of sinews and gristle and shit running through it.  To make it eat ready, the old lady would pound it with a hammer that was made for hammering meat.  She called this “tenderizing.”  After it had been tenderized, the big flappy piece was cut up, dipped in egg and then in flour and then fried.  The only way it was like chicken was that it was prepared like chicken and fried like chicken.

All of these fried meats came with rice.  The old lady used Minute Rice, though way back then I don’t expect it was minute rice, but more like five minute or even ten minute rice.  I don’t know but I expect it wasn’t as fast as today.  And with the rice would come gravy that was made from the grease of whatever had been fried.  So technically we had chicken grease gravy and chicken fried steak grease gravey.  And you could make a gravey out of ham too though it tended to be thin and pretty watery.

Fat or grease was not to be wasted.  Once many years later in college I fried up a pork chop for a friend who had stopped by, and I couldn’t the fuck believe it when he sat there and all dainty like cut the fat off the pork chop.  I mean, hell, doing that reduced the pork chop by a third—because he cut away the bone too and would not stoop to gnaw on it after—and besides that was the best part.  Honestly, I was a bit insulted like the guy seemed to think he was too good for a pork chop or at least parts of it.

Lima Beans

Because of my southern heritage, my idea of soul food is a pork chop.  A fried pork chop.  I can remember staring at the pork chop plate and wondering who was going to get that last pork chop.  Usually, the old man.  But you never knew since I was a runt and perhaps needed more protein.

jollygreenWe were not overflowing with food back in SC.  But I don’t remember having wandered around feeling hungry.  Once I did climb up the persimmon tree right out by the kitchen door and eat too many green persimmons and got a stomach ache.  Also it seemed like all the green stuff we had to eat came out of a can and tasted like crap—peas, green beans, and those goddamn lima beans.

Just looking at those fuckers there on my plate next to my rice was enough to destroy my pleasure in the whole meal.  They would say, like, eat your vegetables because they would see that I was putting off eating them, and they were right. If you were going to get those fucking puckered up looking little peas down it was best to eat them with the other stuff.  But with the limas I just couldn’t do it because eating them with the other stuff would just ruin any pleasure a body might take in eating the other stuff.

So I would do what I could and sort of casually bump off a few of those lima beans unto the table and some onto my lap and if I could manage it onto the floor.  I was like fucking surrounded by lima beans, but no matter what I did there would still be a pile of them on the plate.  And of course the longer I put it off the colder and uglier those beans got.  I don’t know how many times I heard about those people in China just dying to get their hands on a fucking lima bean.  If that was really the case, I figure those people in China was either crazy or goddamn raving hungry.

So the kitchen would be empty except for me and the lima beans because I had to clean my plate since money doesn’t grow on trees.  I don’t know how long I would sit there staring at those fuckers.  I just plain hated them.  It wasn’t the taste really.  Well, maybe it was, because that was pretty bad.  But it was more the texture.  It was like the lima bean had a really leathery hide and you had to bite down on it hard and when you did and broke the leathery hide out would squish this soft shit.  I couldn’t stand it.  Like every time I bit one this shit was exploding in my mouth.

So I did what I could and I would swallow the things whole like some goddamn big green pill.  Gulp, gulp, gulp—one after the other….Anything so I didn’t have to use my teeth on the goddamn things.  And they would feel like lead in my stomach and sometimes I would get a stomach ache.  One day I noticed that these fuckers came in a can with this fellow on it that was called the Jolly Green Giant.  As far as I was concerned there was nothing jolly at all about this Green fucker, and to this day I refused to buy anything with the Green fucker on the label.


For a while, during the time I was living in the hole, Roland and his brothers lived in a place right next to the freeway over in Lemon Grove, the place with the big lemon by the railroad tracks.  This place had to have been a migrant workers shack at one time because there was nothing to it.

guruI found Roland and his brothers interesting not just because they were clearly strange and thus accepting of a perpetual stranger like me but because they were all smart and had thoughts on things.  True, these were strange and aberrant thoughts but they were thoughts.  For example, Roland and I are talking one day sitting on the wooden floor of the migrant worker’s shack, and he says, have you ever thought about the concept of no man’s land.  I said, no.  He said, well think about it.  So I did and concluded that it was a strange concept.  Yes, he said, like a place nobody wants to live because nobody owns it.  I feel like I live there some times, he concluded.

They also thought a great deal about religion, mostly Eastern religion.  I sort of put up with that.  When they started talking about levitation and pulled out books with pictures of people levitating I wanted to say, this is crap.  Back then I was pretty cocksure. I still don’t believe people can levitate, but who knows for sure.  I did get upset when they joined a cult led my some guy from India.  Roland and his brothers called the guy Babu or something, and I think he was a guru named Sathya Sai Baba who had a pretty big cult and performed miracles of various sorts.

This was awful fishy to me.  These guys had no money at all to speak of; they never made any effort to hold down a steady job.  And here they were giving their money to this cult guy who came over from India now and then just to drum up some money as far as I could tell.  One day they were talking about how much they could give because their guru—whoever the fuck this guy was– needed a new carburetor for his Lincoln.  In mean at a recent gathering of the faithful, the guru had actually asked for contributions for a new carburetor because he lived over in India where the roads were dusty and he needed a special carburetor to keep it from getting jammed up.

This time I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and asked if they had ever thought this guy was not a holy man at all but a charlatan who just wanted to take their money.  They looked at me like I was stupid.  Of course, they had thought about it.  How many people would follow Jesus Christ, I asked, if he came down and asked for a carburetor for his Lincoln?  They said Jesus Christ was not a guru.  They said a guru was not about other worldly stuff.  A guru could drive a car and have sex and eat fruit or whatever just like anybody else.  So how the hell then did they know if he was a guru or not, except that people gave him money when he asked for it.

I had no effect on them on this guru issue.  Part of having a guru seemed to involve questioning whether the guy was a guru or not and when he didn’t act like you thought a guru was supposed to act you were supposed to find some guru like message in the action and if you couldn’t find that to question whether you had the right conception of what a guru was supposed to be.  They were with this guru a long time, and at one point to show their allegiance to this guru they all changed their names.  Roland became Ezekiel and since he didn’t seem to have any of his usual sense of humor about this I started calling him that.  He wouldn’t settle for Zeke either.  It had to be the whole thing.