by Joe Lombo
I knew I was in big trouble when the old man came up to my room after dinner instead of watching TV in the recliner or nursing a beer out on the front step. While I tried to figure out who I could blame for god knows what, he plopped down on the radiator and picked his teeth with the tip of a matchbook cover. When the cover got soggy, he stared at his fingernails. After that, he tied the laces on his work boots half a dozen times. When the old man ran out of stuff to do, he drew in his breath and opened his mouth like he was about to say something. I snapped to attention, but he drew long and hard on a cigarette instead.
My sorry butt had barely hit the bed when the squeaking frame reminded me that my legs were jiggling at warp speed. My flimsy mattress was bouncing around so much I swore I was going to get seasick. I pressed my palms against my knees to keep my legs still, but that just made my arms shake too.
Then the old man headed towards me. The thwack of his boots against the linoleum sounded like the steps of a giant eager to grind my bones. All my jiggling was creating so much friction I was on the verge of setting myself on fire. I couldn’t believe it when he marched right past me and into the hallway. While he gave my brother Mike an earful for eavesdropping, I decided to make a break for it. My plan was to jump out the window; drop and roll down the shed roof, and take my chances with the patio breaking my fall.
I didn’t even make it off the bed before the splintered bottom of my bedroom scraped shut.
The old man went back to the radiator. He took another drag on his cigarette before grinding the butt into the bottom of a glass ashtray.
“Uh, your mother thought,” he said before clearing his throat, “your mother wanted me to talk to you about your trip to the store this morning.”
“Mommy wanted me to give the note to Helch but I’m not a baby anymore, Dad. Besides, Helch gives me the creeps. She smells like Old Spice and she greases her hair up like you used to.”
“She’s a he-she. That’s a woman who should have been a man. That’s why she drinks so much.”
“Matt said he caught her peeing standing up in the alley next to her house.”
“Who cares? Helch didn’t make you buy your mother dinner napkins instead of pads.” The old man rambled on about women bleeding every month when they weren’t pregnant and how they were always bitchier than usual right before they got their period.
I knew that. I didn’t understand what they did with the pads. “They put them in here,” he spread his legs and placed his palm over his crotch. “They have a V-A-G-I-N-A,” he said vagina loud and slow like it was a disease. “They stuff the pad in there so they won’t bleed all over the goddamn place.”
So the pads were like giant bandages or superabsorbent paper towels.
“I should have seen this coming. I wanted to nip this shit in the bud a long time ago but your mother swore you’d outgrow it. Christ, it took us years to get you to finally stop peeing sitting down. And last summer when you came to get me at the bar remember how you freaked out in the men’s room because there wasn’t any toilet paper and you hadn’t wiped yourself after you peed.”
“I didn’t want to get an infection.”
“Just jiggle it like every other guy does, for chrissake. A few drops on your underwear won’t kill you.” The old man turned his back to me and stared out the window. I listened to raindrops tap against the sill as the smell of wet concrete drifted into my room.
I decided to sneak out the door while he wasn’t looking even though the scraping door would probably give me away. I’d barely slithered off the bed when the old man spun around. That set off a new round of jiggling.
“Do you know about sex?” he asked while down on one knee in front of me.
“I think so.”
In fits and starts, the old man put on a show and tell with an unlit cigarette and the webbing between his fingers.
“Any questions?” he asked when he was through. He was sweating so much he looked like he’d just come out of the shower.
“Yeah. Is Dave gay?”
“The guy around the corner?” He’s married.”
“Whitey says you have a kid every time you do it. He says Dave must be gay because his wife hasn’t had a kid yet.”
“Whitey and his father need to have a talk real bad.” The old man started rummaging through my drawers until he found a sweat sock that didn’t have a hole in it. He put it over his index finger and explained how Dave might be keeping his wife from getting pregnant. Then he poked a hole in that one to show me why no sock was a hundred percent. “Just one drop gets loose, bingo, you’re a daddy. Then you have to do the right thing and marry her even though she’s not the marrying kind.
I didn’t know what he meant by the marrying kind, but I doubted any of the girls in my sixth grade class would ever be. I could see myself marrying a few some of the high school girls that waited on the corner for the bus every morning if I could ever get them to stop giggling when I walked by. Maybe they’d stop if I ever grew into my front teeth and talked my mom into letting me ditch the coke bottle glasses for contacts.
“There are two kinds of girls, Joey,” the old man said. “Those that do and those that don’t. Those that do are probably not just doing it with you. You have to marry those that don’t before they’ll do it. You want one of them to be the mother of your children.”
I figured Mom must have been a girl who didn’t if the old man married her. That didn’t seem to make much difference to him now, though. They were always fighting. Maybe I’d take my chances with a girl that did.
“It’s nice to know the woman you wake up next to every morning hasn’t been with another man,” the old man said.
“I guess women feel the same way, huh Dad?”
The old man took his welding cap out of his back pocket. When he put it on, he pulled the brim down real low until it almost covered his eyes. “A man can sow his wild oats a bit before he settles down. If a woman does that, she gets a reputation.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
“That’s the way it is. We’d be having a completely different conversation if you had been a girl. For one thing, your name would be Lisa Marie…” The old man worked that Lisa Marie angle into a lot of our conversations. Usually I didn’t know what to say afterwards. This time I picked up right where he left off.
“Did you sow your wild oats, Dad? “
“Let’s just say I enjoyed my time in the Army.” The old man smiled out the side of his mouth like he did when he heard a dirty joke.”
“So what exactly did you do in the Army?”
He scratched his head and the smile slowly faded as I waited for him to say something, “Never mind about that. You understand about the pads now, and that Dave isn’t gay and to use something when the time comes, right?” He shook my hand and slapped me on the back before he headed for the door. “One more thing; if your mother asks you what we talked about, just tell her I set you straight about the pads and the birds and the bees. That stuff about sowing wild oats in the Army was just guy talk between us, right pal?”