At 13, Stephen G. Bloom wasn’t getting much action—until a family vacation to Miami Beach changed everything.
When I was 13 I was girl crazy but, like most 13-year-old boys, I’d had very little action. Maybe it was my curly hair during the era of the Beatles. I was not athletic enough to play on any of the junior-high teams. My grades sucked. Girls were foreign territory. They terrified me. They were strange, wondrous, fragile objects, something to steal glances at in math class. Approaching them was out of the question.
“Talk to him, Harold! Talk to him!” my mother used to nag my weary father, dog tired from yet another day at the shoe store where he cajoled Cobbie pumps onto fat ladies’ triple-E corn-callused feet.
My first real encounter with girls was during the summer of ’64, which my family spent in Miami Beach. We drove our beige 1959 Chevrolet station wagon with the fins past Pedro’s South of the Border, past the “Impeach Earl Warren” signs, past the Georgia fireworks stands, and onto Miami Beach in all its orgasmic splendor.
We drove on the Arthur Godfrey Causeway, along neon Collins Avenue, our eyes bugging out as we passed palace after palace: the Sans Souci, the Versailles, the Fontainebleau, the Eden Roc, the Seville, the Deauville. We avoided the haute chateaux and opted for the Roney Plaza, a worn-out beachside stucco place that used to be the grande dame in the 1930s. My father got a deal because the Roney was about to be torn down and turned into condominiums. Besides, who left the summer heat of Hartford, Connecticut, for the 100 percent humidity of Miami in August?
We drove up the Roney’s half-circle driveway and under the breezeway, unloaded our unmatched luggage, and walked into the lobby with white and gold provincial furniture everywhere—gilded mirrors, puffed-cushioned sofas and sectionals, drop-leaf tea tables. The royal-blue velvet wallpaper would have been too opulent for Marie Antoinette, but Miami Beach tourists loved it.
My mother stuck out her hand and introduced herself to the social director, Lillian Ross, a ditzy divorcée from Great Neck, New York, who looked like Carmen Miranda without the fruit. All Miami Beach hotels had social directors, syrupy matchmakers in Capri pants and see-through high heels whose job it was to ensure that the guests had a grand time. Lillian was the one who organized Mr. and Mrs. Biederman’s slideshow of their trip to Majorca, the Sunday afternoon volleyball games, the luaus (no pork), bingo, canasta, mahjong, and excursions to Hialeah.
“We have a lovely group of families this season,” Lillian cooed as she poofed up her beehive and reached out to shake the old man’s hand.
A little guy wearing khaki shorts and an orange T-shirt that read “I’ve been to Parrot Jungle!” suddenly materialized from nowhere.
“Arnie here is from White Plains,” Lillian said proudly, pulling the runty kid toward her. “Arnie’s parents are spending the whole summer with us at the Roney.”
“Gimme five, pal!” Arnie said, sliding his right palm waist-high to me.
The two of us immediately went to the pool to survey the girl situation. Arnie pulled out a black comb and slipped it through his amber waves. Arnie could comb his hair, whereas mine was so curly I could barely get a steel-bristle brush through it.
What impressed me most about Arnie was what he told me within 15 minutes of meeting him: he had touched a girl’s breast. Actual skin to skin, not any through-the-sweater feel.
My only experience with sex had been at a hot and heavy spin-the-bottle session on a sultry June evening when six boys and girls gathered on Carol Klinghoffer’s veranda. Carol pulled out a six-and-a-half-ounce Pepsi bottle, and when my turn came up, the bottle spun to Karen Resnick, a pretty girl with a mouth that to this day reminds me of Jean Seberg’s. Puckering my lips, I leaned across the circle of wide-eyed kids, tenderly brushed aside strands of Karen’s blond hair and planted my trembling lips on her rosy right cheek. It was wonderful.
At the Roney that summer, my sister, Penny, four years older than I, was already planning her own series of sexual exploits. Penny’s plan was to pick up guys who drove Corvette Stingrays up and down Collins Avenue. She quickly teamed up with a girl named Bobbie from Brookline, Massachusetts. The two would idly stroll up and down Collins and tell boys they were college students staying at the Fontainebleau, studying art history.
As for me, I spent every day with Arnie, who took up residence poolside on a chaise lounge. The only things missing were a cigarette holder dangling from his mouth, a martini by his side, and a racing form from Hialeah. In the afternoon, we bodysurfed in the Atlantic before baking on the sand listening to “Telstar” on my transistor radio, furiously strumming on imaginary electric guitars.
Midway through the summer, we were following our daily routine when two girls we had never seen before placed their Coppertone beach towels 15 feet away from us on the sand. Arnie poked me in the ribs.
“Ac-tion,” he whispered, raising both eyebrows.
The girls pretended to ignore us, setting up for the day: transistor radio, Johnson’s baby oil, cardboard metallic sun reflectors. Arnie swaggered over to the bustier of the two, the one with Jean Shrimpton legs. She had on an olive-green bikini bottom and avocado shapes to cover her melon-size breasts, which were spilling out all over the beach.
“Let me assist you,” Arnie purred.
She handed him the baby oil and Arnie started rubbing this total stranger’s back!
“You girls new on the beach?” Arnie asked, deftly slipping his hand under the bikini strap.
“We’re at the hotel for two weeks,” the chesty girl volunteered. “We just got here this morning from New Jersey.”
They had a reputation for two things: complaining and giving it away. One Jersey girl every Connecticut boy knew about had taken on four boys at the same time. Another Garden State lass had entertained every player on a high-school football team in the back seat of her father’s Corvair. The players waited on line at the open car door.
And here before my eyes were two live saucy Jersey dishes in the flesh!
Arnie motioned me to join him. “This is my good friend, Steve. He’s from Connecticut.” Arnie could just as well have said I was from Outer Mongolia. The girls looked bored, but that meant everything was going fine.
“Hi,” I said with a nod.
Meanwhile, Arnie had reached a critical juncture. He had finished slathering the built girl’s back. Would he go for the other girl? No way.
“Fair maiden,” he ventured where few had gone before. “May I assist the sun gods by applying some oil to your lovely back?”
The other Jersey girl said nothing. She shook her mane of tawny hair, turned over on her flat stomach and gave Arnie her lithe back. As he started rubbing the small of her back, I heard an almost imperceptible sigh ooze from her mouth. It seemed as though her body quivered as Arnie started massaging her Clorox skin, inches from the split orbs of her buns. Zowie.
I flashed on the Trojan I had stolen from my father’s dresser drawer, now stored in a secret recess of my wallet, patiently awaiting service.
Then it dawned on me: the wallet was back at the hotel! After carrying around that cockamamie thing for a whole year, I was caught unprepared. Jersey girls don’t materialize every day.
Arnie set down the bottle of baby oil. “Steve here is a wonderful swimmer, aren’t you, pal?”
I had a rough time doing the dead man’s float. I looked out at the blue expanse, and said stoically, “I do five miles a day when the surf’s down. Sometimes 10. The lifeguards here depend on me.”
“You don’t have a swimmer’s body,” said the busty girl.
“Looks are deceiving,” I replied, nodding my head, then winking.
And she bought it! The girl with the avocados looked at me with a wicked smile, exactly how Jersey girls were supposed to smile.
Thus began two remarkable weeks. Joan (the one with breasts) became Arnie’s girl. Audrey (the one with the back) was mine.
After our waiter, Oscar, cleared away the dinner plates every night in the Roney’s main dining room, the old man and my mother played bingo in the upstairs game room. Lillian Ross called out the numbers. Penny and Bobbie painted makeup on their faces and strutted Collins. Arnie and Joan hung out at the pool. Audrey and I walked the beach. My M.O. was to drape my right hand over Audrey’s shoulder. This was serious business. Slowly and surely, like a crab moving in the night, my hand would creep down under her arm, through her sleeveless blouse, and touch the stiff fabric of her brassiere.
Actually, I was more like a barracuda on a feeding frenzy. I crooked my arm and twisted my hand into the hole of her blouse. Then I slipped my hand under her bra and tentatively touched with the tips of my fingers whatever was there. It was great while it lasted, which was never more than a second or two. Audrey was an expert at wiggling her right shoulder, which sent my hand scurrying back to her shoulder. The portions were small, but that hardly made a difference. Once landed, for however brief a moment, I had the same singular sensation Neil Armstrong would experience four years later when he walked on the moon. “Apollo to Earth! Apollo to Earth! We have made contact!”
Sometimes Audrey and I ambled down to Wolfies, where we scarfed egg creams and coconut cream pies. In and out of the grungy grease pit, Audrey seemed unaware of my roving claw. Not once did she glance at my bathing suit, which looked like a tent from an erection so potent I could spin a set of chip-proof plates on it. We were raising our cholesterol and glucose levels, but doing nothing to lower our pants. Through it all, Audrey chattered away.
Forget about talking, I had trouble breathing. Audrey talked incessantly about everything under the Miami moon. Our nightly discussions involved philosophical tracts about how her sister had ruined at least six of Audrey’s A-line skirts, why her sister’s feet smelled like rotting cheese (she ran around in Keds all day), and when her sister was going to get her own bathroom (never). How could she possibly think that crap interested me? I didn’t care about Audrey’s sister. I didn’t care about Audrey’s clothes. I cared about what was under them. I wanted some deep love talk, about the waves, the silky sand, the moon dipping low, you and me forever, baby. I think Audrey must have talked to me in the same way she talked to her girlfriends. Maybe the same way she would someday talk to her hairdresser, her shrink, or her drippy husband.
A couple of days after my exploits with Audrey began, my mother started up: “Harold, talk to him! Talk to him! You better tell him about the facts of life before it’s too late!”