The Larry Dugan complex

There were probably a dozen boys packed into that air-conditioned room at Kyle Gardo’s house in the early ’80s, the first time I saw porn, a lot of hair onscreen and squishing sounds, all of us rapt and speechless; it felt like we’d been brought into some dark secret of adulthood that was terrifying in its absence of meaning or feeling, I felt like I’d fallen with this new knowledge that this was all there was to look forward to, now.

Matt Dugan’s dad Larry was a cop, so big he filled the doorway when he stood. He was a quiet man, more a mumbler: he issued commands at subsonic tones his family understood. His was the recliner in the corner that kicked out to allow the full expanse of him, and it was on the bookshelf by the recliner on the top where he kept a stack of dirty magazines we all knew about, he wasn’t so discreet: they were Penthouse, a notch more provocative than Playboy, as porn was reaching new heights or depths depending on your point of view.

Next door to the Dugans was Francine Grimm, and while she was older than us (maybe 14 to our 12’s and 13’s), she was a much older soul, looking back. She’s the first one in the neighborhood anyone slept with, and she smoked: she smoked there on the front porch in her athletic shorts without crossing her legs and sometimes you could see a lot. These are the things you remember, at least I do.

It was the son of the police chief Tom Ring, who bragged about sleeping with Francine. I immediately hated him for it. Francine was never much to me, but she didn’t deserve that. She didn’t seem surprised or upset by it though, probably expected it from Tom, all part of the plan.

Tom Ring’s dad came to our junior high to give a speech about drunk driving or something. He was quite a bit older, balding, thick glasses, looked like a real square. He had a couple signature lines (“if you ever have a problem, give me a RING”) and ended his speech by pointing to all of us and pausing, he said now remember, Don’t Do Drugs. I didn’t know anything about drugs but now I was curious, anything to distinguish me from him.

Matt’s younger brother Damian was like a smaller version of their dad, but quite a bit younger, maybe 10, still prone to crying, and we’d make fun of him when he did, and his face would flush up and he’d start swinging his arms, long like crocodiles. And we’d often go down to their basement where they had wrestling mats on the floor and turn out all the lights and play the cassette Back in Black, and beat the shit out of each other.

Matt’s mom Cathy was more like Matt: red-headed, quiet, restrained…but she too was big, big-boned, and we’d go through half a loaf of white bread when she lined up the PB&J’s across the kitchen counter, and set us all up with big cups of milk and chips. I went there often, and was always invited to their family gatherings for the Fourth of July or Labor Day; their clan filled the picnic areas and volleyball courts and all looked alike, all of them were kind to me.

But there was one time we were out front of Matt’s and we’d just learned to spit, that kind of spit where you gather up the phlegm in the back of your throat and launch it to see how far you can make it go, and it would catch a blade of grass and just hang there, and we’d marvel at the grossness of it.

It was that one time Larry Dugan called out to us, he really shouted, he said QUIT THAT FUCKING SPITTING OUT THERE I’M GOING TO BE FUCKING SICK, and we all got quiet, and did as he said.

There was a night last week Lily was up in her room with the music going really loud and I called up to her in all capitals like that, like Larry Dugan, and remembered him, and thought I sound just like my dad, I sound like Matt Dugan’s dad.

When I drove up that street our last time home for Easter a couple years ago there was no sign of anyone, no memory or attachment to that small front stoop where Francine sat smoking, smiling: and I didn’t look too hard through the windows or back yards, it felt voyeuristic looking into the rooms of strangers…there were no pictures from that time, no FaceBook friends…this was all I had left from my first time seeing porn, from the picnics with Matt Dugan’s family, from the one night his dad came home late from a poker game in his uniform still, looking frazzled, with a color TV he’d won in the game…and one day we just fell out of touch, and that was it…poof…I wanted to remember, I wanted to believe it was still there, even if it wasn’t.

Categories: Memoir

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25 replies

  1. You had me at porn. No, that’s not right.
    Yes, you’re right … it’s amazing how we sound like our parents and our parents friends once we become parents ourselves. Those words come out of our mouths and … wait a sec, is my dad here?

    And, yes you’re right, in the end as well. As my kids grew up, I thought of the different friends I had over the years and how they were there and then they weren’t and I wished there was a way to get my kids to recognize the beauty of these friends that meant everything to them in this moment and to try to find a way to hold on to them. Because, yeah, they were there. And then they weren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think I’m sentimental about the actual friends themselves as much as what it represents, those seemingly vivid memories and associations that vanish. That’s what drives me to write memoir maybe. I don’t know, maybe it’s the porn. You know, the fact memoirists are like porn stars. In a way.


      • I get this as well. I have now lost so many memories I thought I would have forever. I have a group of friends I hung out with a lot during my college years. A lot. As we married and had kids, we somewhat grew apart. But now we are re-connecting and spending time with each other again. And inevitably when we get together somebody will talk about a memory they have and I’ll look at them and be completely baffled by the memory because I don’t have it anymore. It’s sad in some respects — some of the incredible memories of those times that I have lost along the way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, we have that between us then. Weird: we’ve never met but can connect over memories we don’t have with others. There’s that. Thanks Mark for the chat! Bill

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting, isn’t it, how as young people we always look forward, so that shedding the odd friend here and there means very little as we’re already on to the next experience, the next person. Then we get older and we look back more, wonder at how easy it was to lose contact with people and how we should have taken better notice of everything passing us by.
    Great memoir, Bill, as always. When are you going to write a novel or a movie script based on all this? I’ll watch and read 🙂


    • I love your encouragement and your thoughts Lynn, thank you. Often I won’t reply to your comment right away because I feel like I need to think about it, but that’s probably stupid. The intent is there, at least. I’m very capable of stupid. We’d have a good laugh together some time in the pub, hope we get the chance. Smile, raise a glass of something to that. Hope your personal life settles soon and things go well in your pursuits of a new house. That’s huge…wishing you well, sending you beams 🙂 — Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, thanks so much Bill. Well, next ime you fancy spending a chilly, gloomy Christmas across the pond let me know and we’ll find a pub with a roaring fire to meet in! I’m thinking the opposite of The Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf in London – now, that place gave English pubs a seriously bad name 🙂 All the very best to you and yours

        Liked by 1 person

      • That sounds super. I think we actually might journey to Germany for Christmas later this year, getting a strong hankering to be back in Europa.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Germany sounds like a good place to spend Christmas – markets, stollen, mulled wine … Krampus.


  3. This, of course, got me thinking. It’s what your posts usually do. You’re an instigator. I don’t remember the first time I saw porn. Maybe it was so horrific I blocked it out. I just upgraded my FiOS contract and increased my internet speed to 75/75. My porn streams seamlessly now. I’m so happy!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. isn’t it interesting looking back? people seem to come and go in our lives, like a snake shedding its skin as we continue to grow.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This piece holds together really well. I don’t remember my first exposure to porn but I remember the first time watching it with other boys. That felt weird, this idea of group arousal. You kind of had to push it down, make it analytical, add colour commentary, like it was baseball stats.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This had me laughing like a crazy person in front my wife, as we chilled before bed. So funny. The worst is when you start hearing your Dad’s voice coming out of your mouth. Then you know the circle is complete. Finishing up my piece tonight, should have it to you tomorrow afternoon.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I visit places I lived in childhood, I feel like we’re all still there but in another dimension. Like time gets captured in a place somehow so that everything that ever happened there is still happening.

    That’s my observation on 4/20.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, that made me smile. An auspicious date! I have two antique grandfather clocks in our house (yes, from flea markets in Europe, purchased by my stepdad) and neither work, but both are set for that time to see who will notice. No one does.


  8. Real good stuff here. I could read a whole book of these.


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