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.