Mud Finnegan began it all, holding court with a rapt group of adolescent boys sitting around a long wooden table on a warm, thick day at our local summer hangout, Carteret Park.
He asked, “What did Roy Rogers say to Dale Evans in the bedroom when the lights suddenly went out?”
Mud was twelve years old, a year older than I and several years older than most of the kids sprawled across the benches. That was age-wise, but he seemed a generation older than all of us in every other way.
He squinted a dare, working the table like a seasoned Catskill comedian. The smartest of us had no intention of answering the question because it really wasn’t a question at all. It was an obvious lead-in to the punch line of another fantastic dirty joke; besides, no one had a clue as to the possible answer—no one, that is, except Moon Muller, who was always quick to be dumb.
“I know!” Moon yelped, crossing three octaves in the process, in a lame attempt to impress the guys, as if he was really in the know.
“Shut up! You don’t know crap!” Fitzy snapped back, warning that one of his patented headlocks might be coming Moon’s way, if he didn’t keep his big trap shut.
“Do too!” Moon fired back in a surprising show of bravado.
“Are you two f*#kin' jerk-offs through?” Mud, as only Mud could do, used the “F” word sometimes purposely, other times gracefully, but always effectively. He truly was a master, a Shakespeare of swearing if you will. Having regained the attention of his fickle audience, he moved ahead to close the deal.
“Do you f*#kin' dick heads wanna hear the f*#kin' joke or doncha?” His eyes got wide and crazy, one eyebrow climbing forebodingly higher than the other. Of course, we wanted to hear the punch line. Everyone settled down, even Moon. Mud waited a moment longer, after all, comedic timing was everything. He delivered the goods.
“I’ll pull out my flashlight if you turn on your headlights.”
A silent wave of vacant thought rolled across the sea of open-jawed faces. It was like the eerie stillness before a tornado strikes, as our feeble brains scrambled to “get it”. Then, as if prompted by an audience monitor, a tsunami of rip-roaring, doubled-over laughter swept across the table. Ah, Mud sure could bring it home.
Making it all the more incredulous was that most of us struggled to understand the gag. But we knew enough to laugh. To not laugh at a Mud Finnegan dirty joke was tantamount to a social misstep, opening the possibility to being tagged a “fag”, whatever that was.
Mud proudly acknowledged his success with a wide grin, as he watched us wipe tears from our eyes, boogers from our noses, and drool from our chins. He was on top of his game. Being the veteran performer he was, he launched into an encore with another doozey about some lost traveler asking some guy with his naked girl friend, "How far away is The Old Log Inn?” You can guess the answer. Another eruption of roaring, clueless laughter followed. Another tidbit of prurient information tossed at the knowledge-starved masses to chew on for a while.
That was my introductory class to sex education.
We weren’t taught concepts like “private parts”, and never heard of or cared much for formal words like “penis” or “breast” or “vagina”. Our language was narrow and practical. "Logs”, “rods”, “headlights”, and “cams” were all we knew, or needed to know to communicate with each other when in the sudden throes of carnal conversation, which in the summer of '62 was becoming as routine as Little Rascal reruns.
Of a specific note, regarding “vagina”, only a few guys with older sisters had even the slightest notion of what that might be. Most of us were under the delusion that girls had simply broken their logs off at birth, possibly by accident, more likely through carelessness. So really, all we had were Mud’s dirty jokes, and embellished stories of older sisters spied on or caught in some state of undress.
Our full understanding was limited to the obvious symbolism of certain words to body parts, resulting in mindless sophomoric banter—a primitive survival technique if it was anything. Make no mistake, underneath all the big talk lay a constant uneasy sense that there was more to this stuff than met the eye. Something sinister. I suspect even for Mud Finnegan.
As I’d soon come to discover, there sure was.