We were still in double sessions but now I had the afternoon shift. We had something called “X Period” which was the first period every day. It was essentially a twenty minute homeroom filled with boys only. I guess it was by design. I have a hunch that the “Adults with Children” somehow convinced the “Adults without Children” (who ran the insane asylum), that this was in everyone’s best interest. Anyway, I was assigned to sit in the back of the room. Right in front of me sat Cal. Cal was the only eighth grader I knew who drove his own car to school.
I was minding my own business, keeping a low profile, just trying to get some last minute math homework done, when Cal turned around and nodded his head at me. He got my attention. What else could I do? He was twice my size and ten times more hairy. He pushed something partially hidden by his large matted hand onto my desk and left it there. He signaled with his eyes to take a look. He turned around to continue whatever it was he did: chew wood, tattoo his arm, write poetry, whatever.
I sneaked a peek down. Based on the box, it appeared to be a deck of "Bicycle" brand playing cards. I checked on the teacher in charge of monitoring us. He was completely preoccupied with a crossword puzzle while he mauled an egg salad sandwich. I leaned back, pulled the box underneath the desk and into my lap. I searched around again for any suspicious onlookers.
So I returned to the deck, flipped opened the top and pulled out the cards to have a gander. I thought big deal, a mere deck of cards, Cal must be bored, but if I want to grow up and have a family of my own someday, I must entertain his wishes.
There are times in one’s life, very rare moments, when words like “surprise”, “shock” or “astonishment” don’t quite capture the essence of the event. One second you are minding your own business. The next, you find yourself in the middle of something big, something spectacular, something outrageous. What was about to unfold falls into such a category.
It was a deck of cards all right, but they weren’t for playing. On the face side of each card was a black and white photo of a fully explicit sexual pose between an assortment of male/female combinations. As I leafed through the cards, the images were not registering at first. For instance, there were male body parts that scooted by completely unidentifiable because of their grotesque size as they reached skyward out of a jungle of thick underbrush. There were shots of impossible body juxtapositions and strange intertwined limbs. There were even some close-ups of what I thought might be tongues touching strange unidentifiable objects. I couldn’t be sure though. I just could not comprehend. I was incapable.
Slowly however, my brain began to connect the dots. It took some time, I’d say about twenty different cards, held in four different directions, before I could link the images to those of human kind. But once the identification was made, and I had a frame of reference, I raced through the remaining cards, while my heart pounded. I had become oblivious to the world that swirled around me. As my hands nervously fumbled through the deck, my eyes bulged wider and wider with each new picture. It was as if I had been suddenly kidnapped by aliens. I didn’t know what world I had entered.
Cal turned his head around with this strange smirk plastered across his face. He winked as he asked, “Whadda ya think?”
I don’t really know what I must have looked like to him but I know my eyes were desperate with shock. I just blankly stared back at him. I also believe that a bit of foam may have accrued around the corners of my mouth. I couldn’t muster a response that was intelligible. I was attempting to say, “not too bad”, but my mouth was full of saliva. I couldn’t control my tongue. I made a gurgling noise instead.
“Nargahh ta bah,” I answered.
I fumbled to get the cards back in the box but moisture from my wet palms must have soaked a couple, making them difficult to slide together. Eventually, I was able to maneuver them back into the box. The traces of black ink smudged on my thumbs were the only proof remaining of the bizarre world I had just visited. I slowly pushed the deck back to Cal. My fingers were involuntarily twitching. He scooped the box up and muttered, “Pretty cool heh? Pretty damn cool.”
He paused a moment.
“France! They’re from France. Yeah, they're French.”
He turned back to his desk.
BEHHEHH! BEHHEHH! BEHHEHH!
The buzzer for “X Period” blasted.
The alien spaceship dumped me back in my chair as suddenly and coldly as it had picked me up. I felt like a rejected specimen. I scrambled to collect myself when my worse nightmare struck in full revelry. I couldn’t leave the desk. Things had moved. The pictures had turned sawdust into iron without any one telling me. I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. I could’ve used a Snickers bar.
My friend Jimmy waltzed by, “Hey Crane com’on. Whadda waiting for?”
“I’ll catch up. Just need to write something down before I forget.”
“Will it take long? I can wait if you don’t take long.”
“No. Go ahead. I’ll catch up. Go ahead.”
The classroom had emptied. It was only me and Cactus Jack, the sandwich gobbling, crossword teacher.
“Mr. Crane? Gotta problem?”
“No. No Problem. Just writing some notes. No problem with notes. No. No problem.” I don’t think I fooled him. There was plenty wrong.
The gig was up unfortunately. I had run out of time. I needed to get up and go. So I grabbed my books and pads, tucked them under my left arm, squeezed my free right hand deep into my front pants pocket, and did the best I could do. I forced myself to straighten up even though I was really doubled over in agony. I shuffled out of the room and made my way down the corridor.
I survived, as we all did somehow.
I left school that day in a drunken stupor of swirling gray images. I will never, ever forget the very first card that registered. In a split second, I went from knowing nothing to knowing it all. Well actually, as it turned out, I still knew very little but it seemed like everything at the time.
With my memory banks now loaded with mental pictures, I was much more equipped to sift through and make sense out of the endless sexual references and innuendo that dotted the language landscape of a fourteen year old male.
I was still missing a big piece though. Who were these people who did these gross things to each other and why? The faces I recalled from the French deck of cards all seemed grimaced with pain, every single one of them. It didn’t appear that anyone was having fun. Certainly, my parents were not doing this stuff. In fact, not any parent I could think of was carrying on like those French people. It was bad enough that parents did what they did just to have kids. I couldn’t imagine they’d do this just for the hell of it. I figured maybe it was just a French thing and left it at that.
All was not completely lost though. On my own, I had figured out a while ago that some manual stuff plain felt good and didn't seem very harmful—despite all the warnings to the contrary. I have to confess though, the first time the feel good part happened, probably back in late seventh grade, I thought I had broken something. I was a whisker away from telling mom that a substance of unknown origin shot out of me. I was going to lie about where it came from, what color it was and how it happened. I unwittingly thought for a moment she wouldn’t catch on. However, for some unknown reason, a little voice in my head screamed, "Danger! Danger young Bobby Crane!". I decided to keep it hush-hush and hoped the unidentified goop would go away like a rash or jammed finger.
Well, it never went away, but I sure was glad I kept it hush-hush—in retrospect, reason enough to believe in God.