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Monday, September 30, 2013

Mentioning the Unmentionables by John von Daler


                 Something happened in the summer of my twelfth year, that long break between sixth and seventh grade: the deep breath before the flight and crash landing of my teenage years.

                Everybody suddenly looked different.
                Before the vacation we played baseball and danced square dance in gym class. We played together with the girls. We were washed and ironed and fragrant, at the very worst, of lunch milk and bologna sandwiches. We would sometimes get dust on our trousers and once I cut my arm by putting it through a pane of glass in an opening door. Otherwise we were pristine, virginal, spick and span, like sugarplum fairies.
                Then the fall came and we entered junior high and seventh grade. We also went to a gym class that was run like the first day in some Foreign Legion. The girls were somewhere else. We boys were lined up, shouted at, admonished, ordered, marginalized and ridiculed. We were to buy athletic supporters and other intimate paraphenalia. We were to act like men. We were to perform at our best. The world awaited our results. We ran and hopped and threw and kicked and caught.
                Then we were ordered to bathe, even though some of us still lacked the right equipment and only had worked out in our streetclothes. It was then that the great epiphany took place.
                On benches in front of our lockers we undressed. Out of shirts and underwear and straps and buttons and other indescribable devices appeared the best kept secrets of the last decade. There was hair, curly, straight, dark, light, red. There were all kinds of skin, white as clouds in a blue sky, dark as a moonless midnight, red as the morning sun, brown as the freshly tilled soil. And there were smells, of sweat with salt, oiled hair, greasy feet, unwashed teeth, strange soaps, defeated deodorants and bodies, bodies, bodies.
                And last there were of course the apparati: I saw Harpo Marx and Sigmund Freud and Wilt Chamberlain and Mickey Rooney and Jackie Gleason and Sammy Davis and Arthur Godfrey and Jonathan Winters and Jack Paar and Tennessee Williams and Ernie Kovacs and Red Skelton and Rock Hudson and Beethoven and Toulouse Lautrec and Quasimodo and Erik the Red and  ... they were all upside down.
                It occurs to me now that whatever insecurity any man may have probably is the result of seeing his own paraphenalia from above, foreshortened, like some upside-down portrait by Caravaggio, while seeing every other man's attachments full on.
                Oh, brave new world.


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