You all are lined up outside the dressing area, after the flurry of stripping and changing in the locker room.
At first this was the oddest part of high school for self, the hardest thing to get used to. The first day Coach Sick gave you all a talk and told you not to use each other’s towels and to get a jock strap. He emphasized hygiene, saying that there was nothing worse than getting a fungus in a certain unmentionable place. Jurgen raised his hand and asked where that was, and we all laughed. Coach Sick said settle down.
Jock straps are instruments that seem to parody your testicles the way brassieres parody breasts. That is why both brassieres and jock straps are funny; just saying bra or jock strap will make some people laugh. But not self, who has the idea that wit is more than some crass allusion to a natural fact.
Maybe you are ridiculously sensitive about having these balls, suddenly. But that would make sense - balls are things that are notoriously sensitive. If you are hit in the balls, it hurts like hell. Everybody says racked. A tennis ball hits self in the crotch and he crumbles to the ground. God, he cries.
There go the family jewels, Dad says.
But jewels and balls are hard, and the strange thing about the testicles is that most of the time they are sort of slinky. Not hard at all. If they are like balls, they are like balls that haven’t been entirely inflated. You can stretch the skin on your balls like you can’t, for instance, stretch the skin of your hand. On most of your body the skin pretty much adheres to the interior form, to bone or hard muscle. But your scrotum just hangs there, in the center of your body, a little shapeless, like an old hat. It is funny that at the crux of your body there is this soft spot. But when you think about it, you can understand the engineering side. For instance, you are sitting in a chair and you cross your legs and your balls, very slightly, yield. You need something a little padded between your legs, some tampon to absorb the friction between your legs.
You stand in a shower stall and your balls are like two disquieting fruits. Nuts. Nuts is a word that fits, since the hair on them gives them the look of some part of the vegetable kingdom. But nut also implies a hard shell.
Yes, the difficult thing about balls is that every analogy ends up mixing you up about how delicate they are, how yielding, how unevolved they are, like they just crawled out of the sea.
You went out with Mom and got your gym shorts at a local sporting goods shop. The store had trophies in the window, little bronze figures clutching bats or tennis rackets or footballs on top of little pedestals of polished purplish wood or fake marble. The figures look almost somnambulistic, cast as they are in solitary postures of concentration absurd to consider outside of all of that context of fields and hoops and nets, contexts which render purposive those otherwise mysterious stances. Perhaps this is why you always notice the little dents, more or less shaped, that stand for eyes on these figures, which seem to have been pressed into the face as afterthoughts. Eyeless, or with the mere hint of eyes, these figures are inexplicably sad.
The store sold Gladstone High shirts, as well as the green and gold shorts you have to have. Green and gold - school colors. Mom bought four shirts and two pairs of shorts and an economy pack of white socks. Then she brought her purchases up to the man at the cash register. This man, A. Clancy, happened to be the owner of the store, too. He and Mom knew each other from church.
Mom said some things about how much it cost to raise kids these days.
Mr. Clancy said he knew what she was talking about. He said he had a son at Avondale High.
Well, I guess we are rivals! Mom said brightly. Then Mr. Clancy and Mom looked at you, as if you were going to do something. You shrugged. Then, blushing, you said Mom, you forgot the jock strap.
Self rides in the back seat on the long car drive up to Washington, D.C. Dad drives, Mom sleeps. It is frosty outside; Dad said that it was likely that they’d run into snow, and he has the radio on low so that he can keep in touch with the latest meteorological developments. Self looks out at the dark sky, at the host of stars. The sky gives no sign of dawn - dawn is hours off. The car makes a smooth sound over the highway, and self will soon be lulled back to the deep current of sleep, watery sleep, from which he was wrenched at two o’clock this morning by Dad coming in and turning on the light in his bedroom and saying wake up, we have to go. Dad likes to start long trips at absurd hours, like two o’clock in the morning, like he is going to get in ahead of everybody. As if it were a race, and thousands of motorists were going to be jamming the highway with Aunt May’s house as their goal.
And there was a host of angels... Maybe there was just a bunch of stars. Self doesn’t say anything to Mom and Dad, but he thinks Christmas is bullshit. He’s been convinced of this for a year, and at school everybody knows it, but at home he keeps mum. He knows that this is a sensitive point with Mom, and he doesn’t want to argue with her. Jesus, he thinks, is just a myth. He has been reading up on myth in The Golden Bough, which he checked out the abridged version of from the Decatur Library. Basically, people used to view autumn as the time when the sun itself was dying, and spring as when it came alive again. Jesus is obviously a form of the sun myth, like the phoenix, or Apollo. Self feels he could be extremely erudite about the whole subject if called upon.
Self has tried praying to the sun, but it was a hollow gesture. The pattern of that pagan sanctity has been irretrievably broken for people like me, self thinks. But self takes comfort in thinking that maybe he will create a new pattern through his art. Self has decided that he’s going to be an artist.
Meanwhile, in his pants self is dealing with a hard on. His dick is a little log of warmth stuck uncomfortably in the constriction of his underwear, and he has to shift around on his seat. Once he sort of adjusted his pants so that his dick had some room. It likes to stand up at some embarrassing times. Oh well. He will wake up in the morning recently and there is this marvelous heat, a honey like flow of heat that travels from his dick to his stomach and into his chest. He will loll in bed, and his dick lolls too. Lolling is somehow erotic. These hard ons are symbols for a completely different lifestyle. A lifestyle of laziness. No, make that languor, which is a better sounding word. It almost sounds French. Dad is always complaining that people on welfare just sit around and make babies. Self understands why: in self’s fantasies he is always on some tropical island like Tahiti where nobody wears clothes or works, and inevitably two or three women (who will focus as variations of this picture of a Tahitian woman he cut out of the National Geographic) will want to fuck him. This fantasy, like all his fantasies, dissolves or gets out of focus at some crucial points, unfortunately; usually when he tries to fit Waylann’s face over one of the Tahitian faces. But the part that makes him feel that lascivious spread of warmth under his skin is the idea of being so mindlessly, beautifully idle, of lying around and stretching and yawning and watching his dick slowly awaken, a homunculus imitating its host and patron. The real choice, self thinks, is between working and fucking. Hedonism, in other words, paganism, art. The splendor of sunlight on the beach in Southern France - where he hasn’t been yet, but is planning on going.
Dad keeps telling self that he ought to be a lawyer.
At home there is a whole ecology of doors opening and closing, determined by putting on and taking off clothes, so it makes self feel a little alienated to have a real member to stuff in his underwear at last and at the same time have to strip to his underwear with the other boys on cold, public mornings in school.
Everybody talks about dicks or fits the word dick into conversation in the locker room, it is a big topic, you all are interested in one way. But the interest has shifted from what it was last year, in the seventh grade. Back then it wasn't uncommon to pull your underwear off, or have it pulled off, at a slumber party and compare your growth with the other boys. Once, staying over at Mark's, he came up with a magazine that he stole from his older brother with pictures of nude women in it. The centerfold was a blond chick, naked, leaning back on a vague decor of fur. Mark took the head of his dick and traced a line from her thatch of pubic hair up through her belly button, around each breast, and to her mouth. The interesting part was how he was using his dick like it was some kind of sexual magic marker. In the eighth grade self would never be in that situation, he would avoid it. He knows that you aren't supposed to look too closely at the other boy's dicks.
But nevertheless he has an outlet for his interest in dicks. He sits on the toilet and with a real magic marker he draws a dick and balls. Then he draws a tongue, and for effect he draws a drop. He puts little lines around the drop and the tongue, so it is like the tongue is licking the dick. Maybe this drop is sperm, maybe it is saliva. Then he flushes. Then he quickly sketches long hair, eyes, a line for the chin, two for the neck, and one circle, two circles, dot, and dot for tits.
The only comparable episode in his pre-eighth grade experience to all the locker room business is stripping in the boy’s area of the Verona Park Swimming Pool. That goes along with the clammy feel of wet concrete under his bare feet, and the smell of chlorine and a sort of old aquarium smell, as if there were algae growing in the corner near the decrepit urinals. Self would loosen the wet pullstrings of his bathing suit and wiggle his hips out of the suit and towel off, his dick curled up like the cotyledon inside a pea. He always felt this should be done very quickly. Yes, he always felt a little conspicuous, even though he was just one naked boy, and there were fat naked grown up men bustling about soaping themselves and showering and talking, like fabulous mammals of another species, chests hairy, chins pendulous, balls swishing about like punching bags. They are walruses, bulls, minotaurs, and you don’t know if this is what you want to grow into.