fter I interrupted Tony and Sarah in their anatomical machinations in my garage, and was humiliated as a result, I worked hard for Sarah’s forgiveness. The female trouble all around me was so dense with disdain, I didn’t want any more. I also enjoyed ironing her hair, since she was the prettiest of the three next-door sisters, and also the most willing to flirt with me, though of course I had no idea that was what she was doing.
I sought her out time and again, but she wouldn’t see me. I also stayed away from the garage and said nothing when Tony sneered at me and called me names he’d borrowed from his mother’s anthology of anti-husband rage.
I stayed out of sight as much as possible, camping out in the woods nearby, where I built a hut I named None, and sitting atop the telephone pole in the alley, surveying birds and cars, not boys and girls.
It struck me one day, while carefully scanning the neighborhood horizon for new cars and alien landings, that I hadn’t had the slightest idea what was going on in the garage, except for legs and faces not being where they usually were on people and Sarah’s skirt akimbo, hanging from a knee, as if wishing to escape the scene. I hadn’t known what I’d rudely walked into but paid the price nonetheless.
Since Sarah wouldn’t talk to me, her sisters knew little of Tony’s skill in flesh mechanics, and even if they did, they considered Sarah something of a renegade, I decided to take up Boris Winkle’s offer.
Boris Winkle lived three doors down and was always making offers, such as inviting others to participate in deflating car tires or setting fire to leaves or even jumping over picket fences so angry dogs would charge — only to leap back over when they got to the fence. He’d then jeer the dogs and announce his overall superiority.
None of this much interested me, not in my lordly position atop the pole or safe in my branch-concocted hut where I could play my “I am a rock” game and pretend I would forever live in a fortress deep and mighty.
Boris Winkle threw a spanner into all that at the height of my Sarah contrition period. He did so with one sentence: “Want to feel a tit?”
The offer intrigued me, because Boris Winkle usually didn’t talk about feelings and I didn’t know what a tit was. I thought maybe he’d found some strange and wonderful igneous rock, maybe pulling it from the jaws of a snarling dog or digging it out from his “mine of wonders,” the place where he claimed to keep strange and magical things.
So his offer caught me flat-footed.
“I’ll only charge you a quarter,” he added.
Now things were very interesting indeed, since not even Boris Winkle would charge to feel an igneous rock.
I then spoke the line that immortalized me in my alley’s closed tribal culture: “What’s a tit?”
It took Boris Winkle so much laughter to get over this, he was unable to continue. He first had to tell his acolytes, and then make all sorts of announcements to neighboring blocks. This, of course, made me instantly famous in a way social media would envy, since what’s a tit soon became what’s an ass and even what’s a girl. When Boris told Tony, the eruption turned cosmic, so much so that Tony broke from his delinquent routine to actually walk up to me and say, “What’s a tit? What do you think you saw in the garage?”
Only then did the laws of anatomy begin to dawn on me. I felt suddenly like Galileo, who could tell long-dead Copernicus, “Silly man, it all starts with the sun, and all rotates around it. It’s not earth that’s at the center of all things.”
In my mind I made the leap from tit to breast and found a book on anatomy my father had that further explained the strange reality of female orifices and extrusions and how male and female parts were intended through some complex equation to formulate a whole, which might or might not result in more humans, and, if you did not believe in God’s wrath (I did not know God), pleasure.
After taking all this in and letting a day or so pass, I found Boris Winkle and his brood and boldly said, “Yeah (which I never used), I wanna see a tit. And I even have a quarter, may’ve two.”
Now the others were speechless. My vernacular was so flawless they just stared at me. Finally, Boris Winkle said, “The second quarter and you can actually put your hands on them, like, feel them.”
Two igneous rocks. Imagine.
As it turned out, Boris Winkle had conned his extremely entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old cousin into moving block-to-block, lifting her blouse just long enough for those boys who had the necessary capital to feel her lumps, which is what she called them. This process lasted less than ten seconds.
So it came to pass a week later that I met with Boris Winkle, two other boys, and his cousin Samantha in the park near my secret outpost. Samantha seemed bored by the whole thing, like the maker of chocolate chip cookies who has tired of the compliments, and the cooking, and wants only to check her bank account (and maybe sell her cookies, as Mrs. Fields did some years later).
The two other boys were already well into their teens, leaving me as the only rookie, since I was thirteen.
I watched how the other two boys “performed” and they seemed oddly shy. Sam would lift her blouse and they’d try to move in, propelling their hands forward, but then some sort of gravity in reverse appeared to slow them, as if God or a similar reptile had intervened, making me think of the phrase, “Cat got your tongue?”
Sam would say, “Look. Here they are. Touch them or get lost.” Both finally did, and it was the boys, not Sam, who then got lost, as if they’d been enchanted or horrified by what they’d felt. Made no difference to Sam, who counted her change and would let Boris Winkle close.
When it came my turn, Sam said, “You’re tiny. Just a kid. Want my advice? Don’t. Save your money. Go buy some taffy. I feel these every day…” and she pointed to her breasts…. “and they’re really nothing special.”
Boris Winkle tried to say something but she said, “Shut up.”
For whatever reason, as if she somehow telepathically knew what had happened with Sarah (and maybe she did), she decided to like me, which in my world meant would talk to me.
She dropped her blouse before I had a chance to touch her (which I would not have done; I had already decided to drop my quarters and run) and continued:
“Boys are so weird with this. I mean, what else are we beside a big bunch of flesh and blood that doesn’t even stick around for long. I wouldn’t pay a quarter. Maybe a nickel but not a quarter. You know what I call all those other kids, ‘tit chumps,’ because they basically give me money to touch two bits of me that didn’t even exist two years ago.”
Now I was in love. Not with Sam but with the idea of a talking girl who put Boris Winkle and Tony and so many others to shame. Female troubles became female grace, because this girl Sam was my kind of tit-haver, who seemed in charge, so much so that Boris Winkle couldn’t do or say a thing.
I didn’t run. I listened.
Finally, I said, “Samantha, if you ever want to just talk I’m usually on the telephone pole.”
“You’re a good kid. Go get some taffy or gum. Don’t pay for tits, mine or anyone else’s. Stick with the telephone pole.”
She then said, “See you around,” and left.
Boris Winkle sulked and also left.
I never saw Sam again. Apparently she left Washington and went to Dallas, where later she became a high-price litigator. I looked her up decades later, name and surname. She’d never married. She’d done with herself what she wanted to do, and how she used her Washington tit income I’ll never know. But I admired her.
And yes, in that fleeting moment I did see her breasts up close and something stirred in me. Trouble maybe, but that I could live with. So, apparently, could Tony and Sarah. Which meant it was time to get back to the real world, to go home and get an earful from my father about the coming Middle East war (right again: it began in 1967).
My mother was gone, and there was no fixing it. The depressed and alcoholic women continued to rant. Tony was eventually arrested for vandalizing a car.
But thanks to Sam, I still had two shiny quarters I refused to spend until I just had to have two milkshakes, which I drank in her honor.