Art by Geoff Grahn
I was third in line the first time I ever actually “did it.” This was 1970. I was 15. The girl involved was a plump, freckled nursing student named Sharon Schmidlap, a ponytailed barber’s daughter who lived with her parents three blocks from the small-town boarding school to which I’d been shipped and who had, apparently, been of special service to a select few of my schoolmates for a season or two before my own arrival in 11th grade.
“Who’s the Nervous Nellie?” young Sharon giggled, gaping up at me through gapped teeth while Number Two in line, a carbuncled Southern boy named Tennie Toad — on account of his Tennessee roots and his bumpy epidermis — humped away and turned his sizable head to wink repeatedly in my direction.
Number One was a boy named Farwell whose father’d been Ambassador to Turkey until Farwell’s mother found him hanging from a chandelier in the embassy banquet room. Rumor had it Daddy Farwell checked out in stockings and heels, and his mother’d slapped the body in a tux before the guards came. His son hadn’t said one way or another.
On account of he’d only just come back from Istanbul, where he met his bereaved mom and waggled smelling salts at her nose on a State Department jet, Farwell got the leadoff slot with freckled Sharon. This seemed like the least we could do. It took no more than a minute for him to do his job, and he didn’t take his khakis off.
As it happens, we were all of us fatherless sons. My father had stepped in front of a streetcar the previous spring, and Tennie’s died in a boating mishap when he was 9 and a half. “Before we could grab him, the sharks ate his calves,” the toothy Memphis boy liked to say. “He was six-three in life, and five-two in the coffin. The bastard thought he was John Wayne, but we buried him like Mickey Rooney . . .”
When Tennie was done, or when I thought he was done, he hopped onto his knees, reached under Sharon’s ample hips and kind of flipped her over to her stomach on the wall-to-wall shag that covered the rec room floor. “This is what she laks,” he giggled, in that half-screechy, half-cackling way he had, like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, but grown up and nasty. “My gal laks a li’l bit o’spankin’, don’t you honeybutt?”
Before I knew what to make of that, Sharon gave a little coo, adjusted her pillow-sized nether-globes for maximum impact, and Tennie let rip with a meaty thwack to her left buttock. I was amazed, horrified, nervous, and sort of in love. Sharon kept whipping her head from side to side. Her chocolate brown eyes rolled back, so that the whites showed down to the bottom, reminding me of pictures I’d seen of horses in barn fires. She looked scared. She looked content. I thought my brain would leak out of my ears.
By the time Tennie rolled off of Sharon and onto the shag, her whole body had sprung a sheen, a glistening coat of sweat that made me think of supermarket chickens. Skinless and boneless. ã
I’d become so transfixed, when it was my turn I all but forgot I had to mount the girl myself.
Sharon wrapped a strand of mousy hair around her finger and ran it between her incisors, teasing. “Whatsa matter, Hercules, your pants glued on?”
I never even liked undressing in gym, and now I had to de-pants in front of two older guys and a girl who looked like she could eat me on toast. But I had to do it. I had to!
Without letting myself think about it, I took a deep breath. I fixed my eyes on the rec room TV, a Motorola with tinfoil balls wadded on each rabbit ear and a one-armed brass bowling trophy plunked beside it. That trophy began to speak to me.
Weird but true. I knew the thing was just broken. I knew that Sharon’s barber dad had probably gotten drunk after a tournament and dropped it stumbling out of his Pontiac. But still . . . It may have been the marijuana — we’d huffed a busload on the way over — but that trophy wouldn’t let go. “Look at this little bowler,” I thought to myself, “he’s got one arm, but he’s not afraid! He’s not ashamed! HE’S not going back to his room and sitting under a blanket. HE’S got a goddamn trophy!”
By the time I finished my crippled-bowler meditation, I was loaded for bear. I was finally hard, though not so much from the sight of Sharon’s spread pudenda as my own visions of handicapped tenpin glory. The noble feelings it instilled. I must, however, have looked like I was dawdling, because Tennie Toad stepped up and shoved me hard between the shoulder blades, right into Sharon’s saddle.
Amazing, the softness of her, the slightly tangy, slightly vinegary taste of her skin. But when I tried to kiss her, she moved her head so I got just a lick, a slurpy smush from below her chin up under her ear.
“Oh, a romantic,” she sneered, and I pulled back just enough to see her roll her eyes. “Cary Grant wants to smooch.”
Still making a face, she reached between my legs with her left hand and grabbed me. Then she snapped her fingers with her right and Tennie tossed her a Trojan. She snagged it in midair, as if she’d been practicing for years. Sharon Schmidlap, Queen of the Condom Toss! I had a sudden vision of her naked on Ed Sullivan, squeezed between Herman’s Hermits and a troupe of plate-spinning, festive Rumanians. Sunday nights always made me nervous.
I wasn’t too sure what was happening, but Sharon made short work of it, keeping up the chitchat as she unwrapped the rubber. “One size fits all, lucky for you!” Right then, I remember thinking: but I thought she was a cheerleader. No time to muse, though — she was already wrapping me. “Okay, big boy, let’s get dressed for church!”
Farwell chose that moment to put on a record — Mister Schmidlap favored Perry Como — and Sharon plugged me in at the exact instant Perry asked the musical question, “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” I actually liked that song. My father used to whistle it. That’s how I knew when he was happy. I imagined Dad looking down from the sky, as if summoned from death by that cheery tune, watching his son fumble his way to Shameville atop the spongy Sharon.
Every Sunday my mother sent Dad out for corned beef. But one time, instead of going to the butcher he just parked at the streetcar stop. On Sundays they only run once an hour, so he got out and bought a Newsweek. Spiro Agnew was on the cover in golf togs. I know that ’cause the doctor at the hospital said they found it in his hand. One of the nurses gave it to me. Not his hand — they found that in a patch of poison oak by the tracks. If she’d have given the hand to me, I’d have probably gotten poison oak. And then what? Like Tennie said, “Slap Calamine on that rash, you’re wipin’ out the last thing your daddy left you. It’d be like killing the poor fuck all over again . . . “
Still, there was some stuff I never told anybody. Stuff that, for whatever reason, I was thinking about now. Seeing Sharon Schmidlap splayed before me, I remembered my mom, how she started flopping on the ground at my father’s funeral, how her dress split up the back when she tried to climb on the coffin. And worst of all, I remembered how she screeched, in front of everybody, that she knew I wished it was her stuffed in that casket instead of my father.
All I had to do was think about that screeching, the foam-flecked lipstick, glittery eyes, the way she stared right at me and pointed, “Walter, this child hates me . . . this child wishes I was dead in a box. Make your son happy, Walter, make me die, too . . .” All I had to do was think of it and I was right back there . . . She shrieks in my face, then she drops down in the fresh dirt beside the grave. Her stockings rip at the knees and her girdle shows. Mud splotches her funeral dress. I don’t know what else to do so I get down with her, try and budge her back up. My relatives turn away or glare at me like it’s all my fault. I can smell their hate from five feet away.
What I didn’t tell Tennie, what I never told a soul, was what I whispered to my mother when I was on my knees. With my face right next to hers, it seemed like the rest of the world had disappeared. Like there was nothing but the broken glass of her eyeballs, her clamcake skin, the tear-making stink of her White Shoulders, her hairspray and her filter-tip Kents. The big empty space where my father used to be just swallowed us up. And somewhere, inside this hollow of grief, I listened to my mother’s screams.
I listened, and then I leaned in as close as I could, and whispered, so quietly I wasn’t sure I was really talking, “You’re right, Mom. I hope you die. I hope that more than anything.” After that she stopped screaming. She just stared at me. She stayed quiet long enough for the rabbi to clear his throat and proceed with the funeral.
Toad got me out of my reverie. “News flash for Bobby, you’re supposed to move. Don’t just stick it in and take a nap.”
“I know,” I cried back at him, adding inanely, “I’m just warming up.”
More than what was happening in front, it was the action behind that had me squirming. The second Tennie spoke, I became uncomfortably aware of him staring at my ass. I had never, to the best of my knowledge, showed it to anyone before. Not, at any rate, for extended viewing. Self-consciousness burned my cheeks. I felt, with almost crippling intensity, split between two planes of reality: on one, I was timidly lunging into Sharon, poking her, or so it felt, like the fork my mother used to check if her cupcakes were done. On the other, the plane I couldn’t see but the rest of the world could, my rear end was popping up, then popping down, popping up, then popping down again for Tennie Toad and Farwell to gawk at and mock.
I was so sure they were making fun of me I actually tried to crane my head all the way around, like an owl. Before I could, Sharon grabbed my face and held it.
“You pay attention, you little turd! Pay attention!”
My apathy, or whatever she thought it was, had the odd effect of making her more passionate. And as much to my horror as my excitement and fascination, she began to mumble like someone half asleep, or half alive.
“You don’t give a hoot about me . . . Oh no, you’re not like my boyfriend, you’re not like Charlie, with his roses, with his chocolate-covered cherries . . . Ho no, you don’t care . . . you just want my hole . . . You just want to . . . Oh! You just want to . . . Oh! Oh! You just want to . . . you little bastard, you little creep, you just want to fuh, wanna fuh . . . you just wanna FUCK ME, you wanna FUCK MY GIRL-HOLE, my VA-GEE-NA” — that’s how she pronounced it, va-GEE-na, like Pasadena — “Oh yeah, that’s what you want . . . Oh God, oh goody God, that’s what you want! THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT . . . !“
She went on like that, until I actually got scared. Confused. I kept feeling those eyes on the back of my skull. Finally I did turn around and see that Farwell had come out of his Turkish slouch to watch. Tennie, too, wore a new look on his pitted face. An expression, I realized, of respect. I had just gotten the hang of it: the in-and-out, the shoulder-holding, the whole idea of nipple-squeezing, hair-pulling, pawing — in a mild way — when Sharon went after my tongue. But no sooner did she start to kiss than she stopped. She pushed me off, called me a Communist, and repositioned her face on the woolly carpet.
“Now what?” I heard myself say, almost in a whimper. Toad made a swishing motion with his hand, as if signaling a runner home from third, then Farwell chimed in with a single clap. This was as animated as I’d seen him since the Embassy thing.
“Well?” Sharon angled her face sideways, so that I could see her tongue wiggle out of her lips, “Daddy don’t wanna go fishin’, Daddy shouldn’t bait the hook.”
“What?” I said.
“What do you mean what?” Tennie leaped off the couch. He grabbed a book off the end table — a Reader’s Digest condensed, including Treasure Island, War and Peace and Gigi — and swung it off the back off my head.
“Ouch,” I hollered. “What are you doing?”
“What are you doing,” he hissed back at me. “You silly fuck! Give it to her!”
At which point Sharon herself piped up. “What do I gotta do, paint a bull’s-eye?”
Her voice had gone all low and throaty. Tennie dropped the book and backhanded me across my left ear, but not as hard this time. Then he leaned in so his breath tickled the back of my neck. I could smell the cheese-steak he’d eaten earlier that afternoon, what seemed like a century ago, when I was still a virgin, as opposed to a half-virgin, or a near non-virgin, or whatever I was now.
“I’ve been bad,” Sharon cackled, with a low little laugh. “I’ve been so dirty-bad, you don’t even know.”
“Jesus, you’re a feeb!” Tennie whispered. Still leaning in, he reached over my shoulder and clapped one of Sharon’s ample haunches, leaving a handprint the size of a pie plate. “Didn’t you see me before?” he asked. “Did you think that was my idea? It was hers, you retard. She laks that stuff!”
As if I were indeed too feeble to act on my own, my impromptu mentor grabbed my wrist. He drew my arm out to one side and swung it so my hand flapped off Sharon’s bottom. “Git it?” he snapped at me, “you git it, stud-boy, or does Tennessee gotta slam the Spam in for you, too?”
“Okay,” I protested, “okay!“
But it wasn’t okay. Not even close. I wasn’t inside her now. I was just . . . in the air. Worse, so much time had passed my organ had begun to sag. Panic grabbed me by the throat: What if the rubber slipped off? What if I just shrunk? What if I had to unpeel the Trojan and slink back to the dorm with Tennie and Farwell calling me “Droopy,” or “Homo,” or worse?
“Daddy, spank!” Sharon whispered, breaking my reverie. Perry was now singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.” No matter how I squinted, my dead father’s face peered out from the blank TV screen. He was shadowy, but he was there, and he wasn’t happy about it. The rec room air seemed to have gone all electric, as if they’d dropped the Bomb on Pottsville and nobody was left but us. My whole body began to shake. I was trying to decide if I was hot or cold, when Sharon reached around and slapped herself. She did it again, then slipped a finger under me, tickling beneath my testicles. The sensation was so strange I juked sideways and swatted her hand.
“Cut it out!” I heard myself squeak, as if I’d been inhaling helium.
“Ooh, widdle girl make her poppa mad! Widdle girl do a baddie!”
“Cut it out!” I repeated, my voice still Jiminy Cricket–like, and cracked her across her goosebumped caboose. I was suddenly tired, and I didn’t know if she was making fun of me. I slapped her a second time, before I had time to think about it and scare myself some more. To my surprise, I was erect again. More surprising, each time I spanked her Sharon gave a tiny cry, a pouting little “Meanie!,” and wiggled her behind as if asking for more.
“Now you git it,” Tennie hooted. “Now the cowboy’s gittin’ up to a gallop. That’s what you’re s’posed to do,” he said, speaking very succinctly, as if teaching a Mongoloid to wait at the curb for the light to change. “That’s what a girl wants, that’s what a boy gives her. It’s just po-lite-ness, son . . . It’s just na-ture.”
I didn’t see it that way. But I didn’t not see it that way, either. The fact was, I sensed that the best thing about this experience was that I didn’t have to think about anything. That, for a few blessed seconds, maybe minutes, if I got lucky, my brain could just shut off. So that, against all odds, my dead father’s eyes, my mother’s graveside crying, the echo of Farwell’s shrieking at three AM, when I heard him through the flimsy walls, “Daddy don’t! Daddy come down from the chandelier” — all that pain-fuel that flew around inside my head would just DISAPPEAR. I could escape, or at least block out the Bad Thoughts for however long I could slap or fuck or just hang on to the willing local girl in front of me.
But, of course, I was wrong about that, too. No sooner did I pop off than I saw Sharon glaring at me like I’d burped in church.
“Oh, that was magic,” she sighed. “That was heaven on earth.”
No doubt she would have gone on like that, but something happened. Her eyes opened wide, her mouth twisted sideways. And then —
I heard the voice a second before the slam of the basement door and my companions scuttling up the outside steps.
“Daddy, NO!” Sharon screamed. But it was too late — the belt caught me across the back, a flaming lick.
“Jesus H. Fuck, what’s going on down here?”
Jerry Stahl is the author of Permanent Midnight. He lives in Silver Lake. “Daddy’s Girl” is an adapted excerpt from Perv — A Love Story, a novel forthcoming this fall from William Morrow.