Richard Wagner wrote words and music for the next Act.
So it exclaims in my breast.
As of yet I did not know of love
There I feel it deeply seething
As awakening me from a dream.
My heart with trembling beats
Filled the space of my bosom.
The blood wells up
With overwhelming strength,
Swollen with a new sensation
Out of the foreign night,
With overpowering might,
Swells me to an ocean
Of infinite sighs
In wildest writhing ecstasy.
Answers to the call
That brought it new life,
Bursts into song now,
The sublime song of love.
Wagner had singing for him Walther, who is seeking admission to the guild of Master Singers and presents the song to qualify himself. Like Walther, the aspirant Meistersinger of Nuremberg, and 92% of American boys, the Babe discovered masturbation, and with this he revised the sexual dimension of his fantasy life. It happened because, as he turned age thirteen, he began to experience phallic erections more commonly than before, and these found an exciting lustful connection before long with thoughts about girls who were thought to be beautiful and girls who were portrayed as sexy by the media. At one such coincidence, and without prompting, one day, in the bathroom, he stroked himself into an orgasm. He was thunderstruck and quite overcome: all his bodily forces and fluids somehow by the act of a non-descript organ were focussed into a monumental explosion.
Only crazy Wagner then could get by with the frankness of his feelings and put them into an original harmony, musical passages which one must hear to believe. He appreciates, too, that no matter how plainly Walther sings, indeed the more plainly that he sings, his hearers will misunderstand. The Meistersingers, "unconsciously," as Wagner's friend Friedrich Nietzsche would say, are scandalized by the song, on what are claimed to be formal grounds: its rhythm is "wrong" and "nonsense," his meaning is "confused," his singing "poor," his attitude not "correct." So comment the Meistersingers in song.
No one treats the meaning of Walther's song, "The Call of Spring," as of masturbation, just as no one rises to extol the common practice of boys and girls through the ages, but at best defines it as non-injurious, scientifically speaking, and a release of tensions. Some physicians call it auto-eroticism, which is ambiguous because, yes, the mechanism is automotive, but the fantasies that accompany the activity are generally, as with the Babe, heterosexual, and there is a rush to refurbish the halls of fantasy with a sex gallery, if not a harem, of one's own.
Once, when Bro Bus' adolescent withdrawal symptoms -- un- communicativeness, unresponsiveness -- were annoying the Dad, the Babe heard him saying to the Mom, "You know, I think that boy is abusing himself." By this time, the Babe knew what the stereotyped response of parents, echoing societal voices, was, and that it would be phrased in elliptical language. Interesting, he thought; so that is what Dad thinks and so Bus must be susceptible to the same vice. In fact, Bus had pointed out to him a carefully couched sentence in an old Boy Scout Manual advising against some practice that could only be masturbation (the Boy Scout Manual was about as complete a moral catechism as secular America could produce).
But it wasn't too long before Bro Bus began his jazz jobbing in night clubs and came back with a more apt bit of Americana for the Babe. It was a parody on Cole Porter's show-song, "You're the Top."
You're the top!
You're a Pinkham Tonic,
You're the top!
You're a high colonic,
You're the torrid heat,
of a bridal suite, in use!
You're the breasts of Venus,
King Kong's penis,
By then the Babe regarded it nevertheless as a vice, like getting drunk habitually, getting briefly, deliciously, and harmlessly drunk on hundreds of occasions over three years, at which time, with difficulty and reluctance, he gave up the practice, partly for the same reason that a drunkard will sometimes give up his vice: he felt that his self- respect as an adult would depend upon conquering the habit. More cogently, he wanted to be prepared for the "real thing;" he felt that the conquest of his ultimate objective, real women, would be psychically hampered if he did not free himself from his juvenile self. Misinformed regarding heroes, he assumed that they neither drank nor masturbated, nor, for that matter, had much to do with women. His cowboy heroes rode off into the sunset, leaving girls behind. (His sources had not supplied a list of state laws against sodomy with animals or humans.)
Casting off the habitual pleasure was not easy, as everyone knows. It was especially difficult because he lacked so-called "socio- sexual outlets," i.e. he had no girls to couple with and give relief to his imagination, with all of its spurious and remote women, ranging from Daisy, the splendid-bodied Texan lover of Uncle Joe, on the closer side, to copies of the Venus of Milo on the far side. There was no easy and quick trade-off to be made, and he had to live uncomfortably and impatiently in sexual limbo because of the other goals that were dominating his life. He might wish for complete sexual fulfillment, for thousands of sexual engagements down through the years, but to manage even a single act of copulation was beyond his means, and as he realized promptly, fraught with embarrassment and risk. He regretted madly the delay in initiating a progressive series of real sexual encounters.
Very few boys then in America drew a different lot. He heard with surprise and distaste about older boys masturbating without shame with their peers in the locker room at Seward Park. He noted duly that a "jerk" could be an epithet for any boy but meant a masturbator, and that "jack off" was the common verb and had the same form when used as a denominator. Such enclaves of lust were not supposed to be of the ordinary adult world.
In the old days of America, so individualist, so wild (its women so independent, the world said), one would imagine the Babe's experiences might have brought him into sexual mating at an early time, if not at thirteen then before sixteen. Never mind the sixteen and onwards, but looking at the zero-to-sixteen period, it is plain that as generally precocious as he was, and possibly for that very reason, and as daring as he was prone to be, and even capable of furious passion, he had small enough experience of the female flesh.
For the adult world, he appreciated, his orgiastic fantasy had to be a secret, just as fantasy in general had to be kept private from the age of five and forward, increasingly so when fantasy concerned family members, but the less so as it became important to the world at large: thus there came to be, as with adults, a high standard of restraint in letting loose fantasies concerning those who were immediately in authority or protected by those in authority. These achieved immunity from direct attack in fantasy and in speech. Anyhow, he was clearly not normally hostile to those near at hand or afar.
Yet, had he wished, he would have been permitted to attack verbally -- that is, in public "fantasy" -- a variety of ethnic or religious groups, races, people who were dirty or poor or ignorant or different, disloyal Confederates, "hill-billies," Jews, German soldiers, extending
to all the enemies of Little Orphan Annie, whose enemies were also public enemies. All of these could be volubly denounced, if he were inclined to do so, and in most cases, his public spirit would be noted approvingly. Enmity and sex were strictly regulated in children, and the adults stumbled through life making a mess of human relations while assuring that their children would go and do likewise.
Typical of children, he had an interest in his "private parts." He appreciated in his early bathing episodes the attention his Mother gave to washing him all over, especially when it came to his uncircumcised foreskin. Then her little gestures ceased and contact with his Mother became no more than a kiss and a hug only when he was sick and had to treated by rectal enema or sponge-bathed to reduce his fever. On a rare occasion, when he climbed into the warm bed of his parents, his Father, entering the bedroom, was annoyed to find him lying beside his Mother and said, "What are you doing here? You are too old to be in your Mother's bed." The Babe was slightly embarrassed and removed himself dutifully.
Actually he did not like embraces and kisses; all of these were suppressed as soon as he could walk away from them, for fear of being a `sissy' or deemed one. The mysterious concept, the machismo of the American male, was defined for him by his Father, who was affectionate and deliberate but routine in his dispensation of kisses to wife and children. The word "sissy" was not his; Bro Bus used it to taunt the Babe whenever his brother weakened in the face of dares, of obstacles and of a need for help, and also when he cried. Strangely, the ridicule did not staunch the tears and the Babe was obsessed with the shame of it until puberty, after which he ceased entirely to express in this manner his chagrin, self-pity, and sympathy for others. The onset of puberty also coincided with a wholesale discharge of early fantasies that had served him well over the years; it wasn't so much fish and babbling brooks that called to him now; and many of his early minor obsessions and dreams of monsters, ghosts, and dark spaces retreated.
A sissy was not, however, a homosexual, who, he learned in the sixth grade, as he descended from one school to the other, was called a "fruit." Hardly had he entered the turbulent ambience when he heard a large, well-set-up though overweight boy, well-mannered, with a slightly stubborn and martyred expression, being called "Fruit," now by one boy, then by another. His name was Vernon Lake, but Tony Nuccio, the tough arbiter of masculine affairs, would call him, "Hey, Fruit," and push him around with cruel casualness. Tony's ilk followed suit.
Cliquefree and a skeptical enquirer, the Babe was sympathetic and perplexed. "He sucks," said Tony. "What do you mean?" "He is a cock-sucker," said Tony impatiently. "Who?" "Anybody... Hey, Fruit, suck me off," he called, but Vernon only looked flustered, not resentful, because Tony would probably have slapped him a few times if he had shown any anger.
The Babe wondered whether Vernon was forced to do anything. So he watched Vernon carefully but saw there merely a harmless fellow, pleasant of speech, well-behaved, and Vernon went off the next year, and didn't graduate with the class, which marked the end of the Babe's observations, except that the same year he went alone to Oak Street Beach and the whole beach was empty of people that day, but while he sat watching the surf, a man sidled slowly, very slowly, closer to the boy, who was noticing him side-wise, until he crouched down nearby and, after saying hello, said, I like you and I would like to hold your peter in my hand, is it alright if I do so, I'll give you five dollars? He was a nice man, rather delicately built, well- dressed, over-dressed for the Beach.
The Babe felt no inclination to consent. It would definitely be an intrusion on his privacy, at any price. No, he said, without hostility. The man said, well, can I just look at your peter, I'll pay you five dollars. The Babe considered; he thought, that's a lot of money to pay. He's very foolish. But what's the harm? So he exposed himself, still with no feelings of sexual excitement. The man looked, and said, I have to go now and get the five dollars, and disappeared. After a while, the Babe, unsurprised, went into the surf, which was good and high that day.
"How can you tell a homosexual?" he inquired further, and was told "By the look in their eye." Not explicit: Vernon did have an embarrassed look, naturally. When, later on, the Babe encountered a handsome suave youth with a peculiar light blue eye that went through you and out the back of your head, he wondered. Unlike Dante, he had no Virgil to guide him through Hell, who came upon a troop of sodomite spirits that "towards us sharpened their vision as an aged tailor does at the eye of his needle" (Canto XV). Perhaps the youth with the peculiar blue eyes was schizoid, though.
On the occasion of Halloween, the Mom, who sometimes longed for a girl child who would stick by her and not respond to the call of the streets, aided the pretty boy in masquerading as a girl, a role that he denounced as soon as he came to realize the contradiction.
Once again, when he was ten and at Camp Olivet with his brother, they appeared together in an impromptu skit and he made a hit with the crowd of boys by stuffing two tennis balls beneath his shirt and painting his face.
Sissy-scorning American males, young and old, are often sent into gales of laughter and cries of admiration at the simplest transvestism. That was that, and the Babe scrutinized otherwise every article of clothing, every gesture, posture and utterance so that he might avoid even a unisex semblance. Although he was friendly to whoever was friendly, he was being careful not to let anyone imagine that any sexual pleasure was to be derived from or found in the company of boys.
He knew how he wanted girls to appear, not full of bangles like Carmen or demurely country-kitchen-style like the Montgomery Ward Catalogue portrayed them, nor drab and neat like most of his schoolmates, but self-contained, chic, somewhat boyish, clothed in red and forest green and grey, whether blond or brunette or taffy didn't matter, with an alert eye, like Eloise, or Marion who lived somewhere around the corner and passed him from time to time, with never an exchange of words but many significant non-glances and could not know how often he had saved her from various fates worse than death when held by pirates, badgered by nasty boys, or pursued by wolves while sledding behind horses. Whenever he heard the Mom call a girl "adorable" he knew she was not for him. There was a fine mixture of goody-good and goody-bad femininity in his mind, and he was going to have a lot of trouble reconciling contrary ideals in the spirits and bodies of real women.
For his only sexual trauma, one has to resort to a thoroughly deflated meaning of the term; it was heterosexual and happened during his sixth grade at Franklin Fresh Air School. He was undressing in a compartment set apart for the boys whenever they were given a physical examination by the school doctor, perhaps once a year. The girls' compartment was closed off from them by a high partition, which was not, however, high enough.
As they were waiting for their names to be called, he was attracted to a commotion of jumping and laughing and loud whispers outside his dressing stall and he heard, "Oh, boy, the girls are all naked! Climb up and you can see them!" and other loud whispers. A boy jumped down from a bench from where he had been peering over the partition, confirming the vision excitedly, "I saw them! I saw them!" The girls could be heard squealing about the peepers. The Babe started to climb up, as it seemed the thing to do. The nurse entered: "What's going on here?" and with an "Aha!" took down his name.
When Dr. Smooth-face-in-a-white-coat Johnson was thumping his chest a few minutes later, he said to the Babe, "You're perfectly healthy. You don't belong in this school." And he was promptly informed by the nurse that he would be transferred out, her tone sounding like the pronouncement of Zeus upon Hephaestus as he hurled the offending god down from Mt. Olympus.
The Babe reflected but a moment on the shame and injustice before deciding that this was indeed a heaven-sent opportunity to get to the scene of the action, the infamous regular downstairs school. At lunch that day, he noticed his teachers whispering to each other and looking his way. It confirmed that a certain disgrace was inextricable from his demotion by reason of good health. Again he was annoyed. Still it couldn't be helped.
At home that afternoon, when the Dad arrived, the Babe informed him of the transfer, already completed, and the Dad was displeased. The Babe was abashed at what he believed to be the real reason for the move, and would not mention it for fear that the Dad would rise up early in the morning indignant and appear at the school to demand a rehearing and recision of the action taken. So the Babe expatiated upon the glories and richness of the regular school, besides which, Bro Bus was now going into the Junior High School where they would soon then meet again. The matter was closed, leaving the Babe in eager anticipation of purgatory.
A friend in Junior High School, Joe Farina, kept him au courant on sexual affairs, not minding, even while knowing, that the Babe was not yet smitten by lust. Joe was a couple of years older, tall, handsome, and a rake. "Al," Joe would say, calling him by the only name he carried at school, "You know that Hilda fucks around." "No, I didn't know," and his heart began to sink, for Hilda was Clara's older sister, in the same class with them, as dumb as Clara was clever, larger by far, a big brash, breasty girl. Joe continued talking as happened when they walked homeward from school, "Boy, she was wrestling with me all over the bed, she's always asking you for it." The Babe and Hilda were friendly; she was amusing; but he was worried about Clara. No, Clara is different, Joe told him, she is a nice girl.
Joe went on like this. He told of how a young woman, for she was older than both, whom the Babe did not know by name but thought was lovely and unapproachable when he passed her on the street, was gang-fucked under the Elevated between Orleans and Franklin off Wendell Street. Joe related his story soberly. He was not part of it. It was beyond his cognizance and approval. The Babe was shocked and disenchanted, but couldn't disclose his feelings to Joe.
As his mediocre grades disclosed, Joe was functioning scholastically sub-potential. His outside reading was in sports and pornography. He pulled a book from his briefcase once to get the meaning of a critical word from the Babe. The sentence had to do with a woman in the throes of sexual excitement whose "cunt was seething." "What's `seething' mean, Al?" It was explained. "That's good writing," Joe said.
He was also a comic book buff, pornographic comics. They paused for a while at Sedgwick and Elm Streets one afternoon so that the Babe might better peruse the adventures of Tillie the Toiler, Maggie and Jiggs, and the Katzenjammer Kids, in versions surprising to the boy. The typical Loop office, the rough-and-ready Irish family circle, the kraals of German Southwest Africa, with all the folk made famous to him over the years, with settings and characters intact and seemingly genuine, were suddenly conducting Saturnalia of the most licentious kind, caught by the pen of the artist in flagrante delictu.
If, as wise educators say, thought and learning progress with contradictions, here were potent learning tools. So much so, that in what were probably the most informative ten minutes of his existence, the Babe had absorbed the idea, the format, the functions, and the contradictions, reckoned moreover that, yes, this was a part of the way of life, and handed the books, smiling and grateful to Joe, who felt a greater need for them than the younger boy, from whom we may take another pedagogical hint, also known to educators nowadays, that sex information had best be taught to children before they take their plunge into the hot pools of passion.
He did not seek to acquire pornography for himself or to borrow it, now or later on, possibly because he thought the stuff was ungraceful, vulgar, rowdy. He preserved a secluded and romantic view of sex; not without some hypocrisy, he opposed the besmirching of the ideal. The Babe, though irreligious, was caught up in the vast heritage of the Virgin Mary myth that permeated Christian societies. Nonetheless, when once he would uncover photographic and cartoon pornography, and well-done they were, too, stashed in Katie's bureau drawer, he exulted in them, and it had something to say about his relationship with the Mom that he felt small sense of revelation, shock, dismay, or disenchantment; parents were after all, only human.
About the same time, one afternoon, he spotted a musician flicking a little booklet similar to Joe's under the eyes of his Father at a slack period of a rehearsal, and then withdrawing it as soon as he saw the Babe approaching. "Oh, I know what those are," he said indifferently, "they're dirty cartoons. I didn't want to see them." The Dad, a tough man to surprise, still managed to say "You do? You did?" before the Babe walked away. He was "showing off." Still, what else could the boy do without implicating himself in the transaction, or making the man feel guilty for producing the pictures?
The Dad was not so hypocritical; he made his disposition clear on other occasions. Venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies were the fruits of illicit encounters. He was rather free with the word "whore" and "putana" in his opinions of certain female characters, and imparted successfully somehow the strong aversion against resorting to prostitutes that the American midwestern mind ordinarily possessed, even though the City of Chicago was regarded as a moral cesspool by much of the Western world and indeed had for long the largest collection of organized whorehouses in America, serving to sake the lust both of Chicagoans of every social standing and also the cumulative lust of Middle America, that third of the whole male population that had to pass through Chicago to get anywhere or had to go there on the productive business of the nation.
But the Babe was of the levites and not of the levee. A while later the Junior High School held a dance and he found himself, knowing nothing of dancing besides the infant turns he had skipped with the Mom, at a disadvantage that might have been overcome had he thought dancing fit for boys, but worse, unapprehending of social rituals connected thereto, standing uneasily near the doorway, when Joe Farina appeared, smiling confidently as usual and bearing a note.
That new girl over there gave me this for you, Al, he said. The Babe looked over there and his heart leapt. She was Eloise James, a fantastically fetching girl to his mind, a petite brunette dressed fancily as from an artistic mother from Little Bohemia, bright as well, peacock-postured, object before of his studied glances, with whom a starved few words had been exchanged.
What does she say? Joe asked excitedly. This was too much, even for him; notes were secretly exchanged of course, but not publicly despatched, certainly not by the most dashing of couriers, himself. The Babe read the note: "I would enjoy the pleasure of your company. The Mercenary Lady."
"What's `mercenary' mean, Al?" asked Joe, who had to read it, too. He wasn't sure, something to do with making money, he guessed. Joe was thrilled; this was heady stuff, the way things should be done and never are.
The Babe was flattered and paralyzed. He looked over at her and attempted a smile. She gave him back a gioconda smile. He would not go over to her, of course. He did not speak to her. He did not write her a note in reply. He simply pondered and wondered. He was infatuated. If only he had known that such a thing as an open friendship could exist with a girl outside of the classroom! They might have talked and revealed themselves and posed to each other and had moments of great charm. Not so.
But it was generally known who his best girl friend was. You could ignore a dalliance of several months during which, because his best boy friend was Donald Sproat and the idea of Donald's sister
Margaret being his best girl-friend had an appealing romantic twist, he went about claiming that he had a girl-friend and that Margaret was The One. "Tell her," he instructed Donald carefully, "I like her a lot." He would treat Donald to lunch at the schoolhouse, dividing his twenty cents into two on those occasions, not without a mind to how this expansive generosity would ring in Margaret's ears. What he lost by way of food was dietetically unmentionable.
His true girl was Clara Zeutschel. Clara was in his class for two years, matching his high grades, younger than her classmates, too, picture-pretty, smile-ready, blonde with sympathetic blue eyes, kind and liked by all, clean and open-faced, rather small among the outsized girls that had been set back or transferred in, such as her sister Hilda.
What can be said of such romances? If Eloise were the goody bad girl, then Clara was the goody-good girl. There was so little action in the thousand pleasant glances, the hundred brief remarks, the continuous security of sympathy felt for one who knows as much from the school books as oneself and sits nearby, and understands as much or more of what is going on in one's mind as anyone else in the whole wide world.
Yet these are the bonds that hold couples in life-long marriages. And consider this: that apart from his many day-dreams, that in his night-dreaming, then and perhaps always, the Babe might now and then dream of Clara, poignantly, sweetly, nostalgically, an endless romance without climax. It was no small affair.
Moving in the rear guard of pubescence, the Babe became a kind of wise eunuch for some of the kids. Or perhaps they could not distinguish one sort from other, since for most of them sexuality was a private affair in the beginning, hardly comprehended by those it struck down at Franklin Junior High, which the Chicago Board of Education had created partly to segregate those affected by the onset of puberty. Heavens forfend that the authorities should expose children to sex education! It would have been easier and cheaper, though, than setting up a structure that collapsed in the flood of social processes.
"Look, Alfred," whispered Hattie Bonus, as the class arose from its desks, and she showed him a stretch of her bare body where she was adjusting her skirt and blouse. So Hattie's into "It", thought the Babe, whatever the "It" was that was going around and hadn't been felt by him; so he looked at the sheer expanse of skin and felt his usual friendliness for the grinning girl. He also clucked appreciatively; wasn't that what one did? There were boys in the class who would, if he told them, have revelled in his experience and heated up, but the Babe was naturally discreet about "It."
Precocious youth and retarded age occupied the same classrooms, and the Babe knew well the set-back sons of European immigrants and the South. There were also the privileged youths who must have been travelling with avant-garde families in their earlier years, like Derwin Elliott. In sum, what was supposed to have become a well- ordered class of pupils of the same age and level of advancement became a pentafurcated aggregation of bright young, mediocre- median, clever-median, old slow learners, and intelligent elders.
There was nothing in the nature of things to cause difficulties when the Babe was placed at the age of eleven with Jonas Gillespie of Mississippi, aged sixteen; they got along fine. Education became difficult when trying to teach them all as if they were dwelling at the same level of culture and consciousness, and as if they required the same subjects of study. The Babe gobbled it up, however inconsequential it was, and needed more; they needed something quite different and did not get it. Jonas, that stalwart youth, in full possession of a general intelligence, as even or especially the Babe could perceive, barely graduated, forewent further schooling, was unemployed, and got a job as a laborer in lieu of permanent charity.
Unskilled labor is as noble as any other work if applied to worthwhile projects; that's not the point to be made; rather, he could have handled more general education and could have found honorable work that was not a boondoggle, in a more intelligent social system, rather than gone along as the Babe glimpsed him a couple of years later, when a spark of recognition passed between them before the heavy traffic closed down their vision.
When last he saw Clara, he was at her flat in a wooden working- class building, at a kind of Junior High reunion, or perhaps it was a rite de passage for puberty, but the Babe could still not boast of that. It was a mixed party, without adult supervision, his first, a calm party, as Clara would have it, with soda pop and cakes, with preliminary games that he knew and then a serious attempt to explore the contactual possibilities of the game of "Spin the Bottle."
I cannot draw a sociogram of the guests; at least we know that there were strangers to him present, but, too, that he felt at ease. Also in the company was a well-grown lean girl, a stranger with knowing eyes, not pretty or nicely dressed -- she wore a drab brown chiffon smock, but, oh yes, high heels; whereas Clara's high heels seemed recently and awkwardly emplaced, Helen's were very much part of her as she kicked her legs about to advertise her silk stockings.
The bottle spun to the Babe and he kissed the spinner, Clara, like a person is to be nicely kissed, and they smiled, and the game went on. But when his bottle spun over to Helen, the lean and hungry one, she kissed him as he had never been kissed before, an unimaginable kind of kiss, a kiss with a darting tongue, a long kiss. Clara must have noticed. (Helen may have really been a friend of Hilda playing with the younger set while waiting for Hilda.) He felt sorry for Clara. But here he was, in a well lit room among a dozen kids, feeling the forceful premonitory surge of the juices to come. He was not so polite, not so considerate -- perhaps because Clara and he had never exchanged even weakly voiced pledges of affection -- that he could or would conceal his eagerness in discovering how he could spin the bottle to Helen or get in the way of hers.
After the game ended, he succeeded in kissing Helen once more, to corroborate his sensation. He simply blundered after her like a drunken sailor and seized a kiss. He wondered why Clara had not learned to kiss this way, should she be willing to kiss him more, which he felt sure she must be, or whether such a shock and thrill could only come from a demonic woman. It was something to tell Joe Farina about, a bit of a brag as well, and Joe said, yes, that was a columbine kiss, which the Babe later figured out to mean the kiss of doves. He observed the fat waddling dirty pigeons of Chicago more carefully for a time thereafter until, sure enough, there was more than a passing resemblance.
"You can't let them out of your sight for a minute," the Mom would say, and she was "right as rain," for the seedlings do open their leaves to welcome what waters will fall. Lorraine was a big sister over the years and stayed so for the care of the young brothers, but stayed too long to be only a sister to the older ones. On a summer afternoon, parched from the long sexual drought, the Babe implored her and she rained kisses upon him. With his freshly supplied hormones, it was not difficult to transmute from an irascible insolent charge to a passionate lover. She held him off, after a fashion, but he gained ground in his several attempts, and each time he emerged a little more educated in the feel of a woman's body and its orifices, a little more ambitious, too.
One afternoon, Lorraine brought an amazingly curvacious girl friend, who appeared to be wide-awake to the consequences of her visit but perhaps not alert to how rapidly and wolfishly she would be accosted, and she let out a yelp when he exhibited himself as prepared then and there, as he told her, "to go the whole way," and she fled to Lorraine in the next room, whom he had thoughtfully supplied with a tall eligible young man of his acquaintance, none other than his sparring partner, Hank, who had been as usual hanging around John's candy store and who had been promised an exciting encounter if he would tag along with the Babe, but who, it developed, was idling his motor in embarrassment all the while.
Why do so many simple wants remains unfulfilled? Perhaps this is not the proper question. Why would not the Babe, having gone this far up the road to the pudendum, have persisted at all costs and had his love affairs -- with Lorraine, with Clara, with je ne sais qui? The answer, I would guess, is that at the age of fourteen, and before he was sexually fulfilled, he was already beginning to behave as though time spent in flirtation and love play, even if it brought full fornication, was not time most efficiently spent.
There was both a boldness-shyness contradiction and a commitment-withdrawal aspect in his case with the large brunette, bursting out of her sweater and skirt, never known by name and nowhere else encountered, who let him squeeze tightly to her body as they regularly exited with the crowd of students from Study Hall.
It was his old problem, in every sphere: he could not be single- minded. He was lustful and passionate, true, but also he was mastering the scale of "C sharp" and its chords, with another coming up next month, together with jazz and classical scores that tided across the threshold daily. There was too much travelling to do in other directions at the same moment. He was also studying harder than ever before at a new High School at subjects that were beginning to beckon toward some hazy but grand intellectual and political achievement. He was preparing himself for whatever college was to come. He was readying to leave friends and acquaintances. He was swimming and running like crazy, for no immediate reason except fitness. For the first time, too, he had found male companions who were mature, serious, and oriented to his feelings about what should be done with the world.
With all of this, his being penniless and underequipped, sartorially and automobilistically, for forays into the sexual world, were contributing problems, even though small. Finally, given his romantic idealism, sex entailed responsibilities. He would be incapable of "lov'em and leave'em."
He developed, as it turned out, a principle for dealing with his sexual drive. "Don't go out of your way for girls -- not far out, anyway." It rationalized his situation. He would not have to run the risks and embarrassment of his sexual ignorance; his remaining shyness would not be taxed; his poverty would not humiliate him, nor would he have to run around looking for better equipment for social forays; he could espouse the ideal woman in his fantasies (he was too clever to go around proclaiming her); and his pride was assuaged.
All of which set apart and made unique the most joyful party of his life, where he met, in the comfortable apartment of the friend of a friend (Aaron Zolot being the first friend) a group of swingers more sophisticated than any he had known so far, where alcohol flowed in some quantity and catalyzed friendship with strangers, where the suited gang danced to good jazz records, and where he met Marge Wilson, who defined his notions of beauty, maturity and intelligence -- a classy broad in Joe Farina's lexicon -- and they liked each other, so that, for a while, the Babe could think, as he was busy with these many other things, I can always telephone Marge, meet her, and get closer to her, and some day or some evening we shall go beyond kissing and fondling, and find ourselves making love together. So he dwelt upon this thought, and the months went by, and he hardly saw Marge though he recalled her often with enthusiasm and hope, until, until nothing; and years later Marge married his friend Wally Wiejola, whom she had met at the same time.
So passed the short and unsatisfying sexual life of the Babe. It could have been a lot worse.