Saturday, February 6, 2010


It is 1974. The Complete and Total Loser, age 15, is hitchhiking home from school. He does this often. In the morning, he takes 50 cents from his mother's purse for the bus home. (His father drops him off in the mornings on his way to work.) He pockets the money and buys cigarettes or candy with it. This is when candy bars were a dime and a pack of Vantage cigarettes, his preferred brand, is 45 cents at a pharmacy. He goes to an all boys prep school that requires short hair and a jacket and tie so he gets rides easily.
The ride, down his suburb's main drag, is around four miles. He meets many types while hitching and in the hundreds of times he does from age 14 till he had wheels senior year he has just one scary incident ("Are those pants reinforced?" the man said before checking). On this day it is spring and warm, a hint of summer heating the air. His ride is from an older man, a cigar smoker, well dressed, gruff, in a Cadillac.
They're going through a town eponymous with a Seven Sisters college, and the women are out in force, strolling the sidewalks, window shopping. Mid-70s feminism and youth combined in such a way that women frequently went braless, something clearly evident on this day. The man and boy take this in.
Half way through the town, the man says, "What is it about a woman's jugs? I'm 64 years old and I'm still looking."
The Loser, being as articulate as most his age, says, "Huh. Yeah."
The conversation ends, but not the fact. It is true for the Loser to this day, that the sight of breasts catches his eye, even when they're the plastic, un-nippled ones of a mannequin at work, and even though he's put sex permanently on the back-burner. He can answer it with psychobabble—they're a pronounced gender difference, the first source of nourishment, it's women's fault for shielding them so often—but while understanding usually leads to a cooling of passions, in this case it doesn't.
The Loser uses the word "boobs" when referring to breasts in informal instances. It's a womanish word, but he dislikes "tits," which he finds sharp and crude, and words like "hooters," "knockers" are not to be said with a straight face by anyone under 70 and not in the Armed Forces. The newer words like "cans" and "fun bags" aren't ones the Loser would say unless he were simultaneously making fun of his age when talking to his younger friends and addressing them as "dawg."
Will breasts always have this hold on him? he wonders. He does the simple crossword puzzle in his city's Metro and when the clue is "bikini part," three letters, beginning with "b," he takes a little more time care writing "bra" than other words. The Loser was 21 when he felt a breast for the first time. He was surprised at its inconsistency. His partner, a sweet, patient, smart woman a year behind him in college, let him feel her in a clinical way. The soft fat, the lumpy glandular tissue. It's been years since he felt one and it's unlikely he'll feel another unless his body goes completely to seed and he develops the equivalent on his own chest.
But it wouldn't be the same.

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