Oh no, not the sex talk, Dad. Please. But he does, and it’s worse than I imagine.
Some conversations you never want to have. Ever. I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine that I’m at the beach, or in jail, English class—anywhere else. The crack of the ball hitting the polished wood, the rolling sound followed by the crash of eight pins keeps me alert and tense. My dad is screwy. Every other kid in the world gets his sex talk in the privacy of their own home. My dad takes me to the bowling alley to do it.
It’s not like I even need it. Girls have been sexting me since I was twelve, and over at Jordon’s we’ve looked at a ton of the shit his step-dad has hidden in a file called “Taxes.” Some of the stuff looks like you’d need to be an athlete in top shape before you could do it, but otherwise it’s insert tab a into slot a, b, c, or if you’re weird like Jordon’s step-dad, the ear.
All casual like, my dad tries to relate to me, “When I asked Marcy Hiller to the junior prom, I got so antsy I could barely speak. You ever feel like that? Around boys, I mean.”
Oh god, it’s even worse than I thought. “Um, are you asking me if I’m gay?”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. There used to be, but now you can get married in New York and everything. Well, when you’re older.”
“Dad, I’m not gay.”
He takes a sip of his beer and looks up at the scoreboard while he nods. “You’re up.”
I let the air blow over my fingers before I pick up the eleven pounder. I stand up straight, pace out my steps and let it roll down the center. Strike. I walk back and give my dad a high five because even though it’s dorkier than shit, we’ve been doing it since I was two when he first started taking me to the Split Decision Cocktail Club and Bowling Alley.
He rolls another split and picks it up. He sucks at bowling when he’s stressed. A few years ago, during the week my little brother and my mom were in the hospital because of complications during the delivery, he bowled the lowest scores of his life. Not every man boasts about a streak of barely making 100 pins a game, but he does. To him, and my mom, it showed how much he cared. Dad and I got to eat in the lounge every night that week, so it was all right with me. The waitresses here are hot.
Dad comes back and sits at the video screen desk and looks over his score. “This sucks,” he says.
I throw a gutter ball, “Yeah.”
“Is that how I taught you to bowl?” he chides.
“Naw, that’s mom’s side of the family showing,” I joke, hoping the talk is over and we’ll be going home soon. I roll again, get a strike this time.
“Better,” he says when he smacks my hand.
He rolls three strikes in a row to save his score at the end. I get a split, pick it up and only get nine pins on the last frame.
“Good game. Lunch?”
Now I’m feeling antsy. “Sure.” Once this is over, we never have to speak of these things again. Please, God. We walk through the double doors into the lounge area. Ginger, the hottest waitress there, is hostess today. She smiles and we follow her nice round ass to a booth in the back corner. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dad had asked Ginger to seat us back here before we even showed up.
I sit across from him on the almost orange colored vinyl and stare at the menu I’ve had memorized since I was six. The prices have gone up a few times, but the selections haven’t changed. Erin comes over and fills our water goblets.
“How are my favorite guys today? What can I get you?”
“Cheeseburger, curly fries and don’t tell my wife.”
Yes. Seriously, that’s the same thing and the same way he has always ordered lunch.
“You want another Bud, too?”
“Please. What about you, Devon? You hungry today?”
I’d been trying to figure out how to deal if the conversation turned really gross, like old man erectile dysfunction gross and my lunch decided to come back up again, “Can I have a few minutes?”
My dad looks nonplussed, but Erin is confused. “Don’t you want the chicken fingers and poppers basket?”
That is my most frequent order.
“Hey Erin,” Dad says, “Why don’t you get him a Coke and fetch me my beer. He’ll be ready when you get back, OK?”
She glances backwards at me, not sure what to make of my violating the protocol of our long standing orders.
“You OK, Devon?”
What am I supposed to say? No Dad, I’m not OK. I’m ready to hurl thanks to you. “I’m fine. Not really hungry, I guess.”
“Get some wings then. Ain’t hardly any meat on those things anyway.”
I nod and order ten hot when Erin comes back with my drink. I make a big production out of unwrapping the straw.
“Your ma says Mrs. Colter called. Said you and the guys were looking at some porn. That true?” I look down at the chipped table, waiting to get bitched out. “You know that’s fantasy, don’t you?”
Now I’m disoriented. I look at him, his eyes are sad like when mom was in the hospital, “What do you mean?”
“I’m no saint, Dev. I’ve looked, too. Now think about it. This lounge excluded, you see any girls in this town that look that good? Hell, Ginger is one nice piece of ass, but look at her middle. You get her naked and she ain’t gonna look as tight as the women in the videos. Real life girls don’t come airbrushed.”
Oh, God, I am antsy. Buggy. Wishing I had mandibles to scratch my ears out.
“Hell, you hear half the moaning those girls do in the videos, that’s going be when you’re rubbing their feet after they get home from work. Or their back.”
Erin comes over and with practiced flair puts the platter in front of my father. She takes the top bowl off the bottom bowl of my wings and sets the container of blue cheese and the bottle of mustard down on the table at the same time.
“Getcha anything else, guys?”
“We’re good. You good, Devon?”
“All right, then. Enjoy your lunch.” Erin wiggles back to the waitress station to roll up silverware into neat little bundles.
Dad picks up the ketchup bottle by the napkin holder against the wall. He liberally douses his burger and fries with ketchup while I peel off the foil top of the dressing and plunge a carrot stick in to stir it up.
“I’m just trying to let you down easy. The sex you saw might feel good, but it’s hollow,” he says and bites into his burger. I dip the fat end of a wing into the blue cheese and wait. He takes a few more decisive bites before he sets it down and starts to eat and talk around his fries. “You’re gonna try to prove me wrong. That’s fine. I’m not saying don’t have any fun. Use a condom. You’re not stupid, are you?”
I think I am, but I shake my head.
“Kids are fine. Kids are great. When you’re ready for them.” He dips a few fries into the pool of ketchup and brings them up close to his mouth, “I’ll be ready to have some myself any day now.”
I laugh. I can’t help it. It might not be the funniest line in the world, but the awkwardness is killing us both.
“I’ve always thought you were a smart kid. I didn’t think I’d have to have the sex talk with you. I take that back, I figured you’d be giving me pointers, but hey, I just don’t want you to get confused is all. I was for a while.”
“What do you mean?”
“I learned about sex in school. Real dry. Clinical. In the army, there was a whorehouse close to the barracks. A bunch of us guys went.”
I set the bone in the empty dish.
“You’re going to go to college, so you’ll probably go to a sorority house instead. Doesn’t matter. It’s sex. It feels great.”
“I kind of figured that.”
“It’s not love.”
“So I know I give your ma a lot of shit about her hippy-dippy beliefs sometimes, but occasionally she’s right. You make love to a person you love and it goes beyond getting off. My Sarge, he took me aside, told me that. I didn’t believe him. I was screwing around and it felt great. Then I met your mom.”
I start to make a face.
“Yeah, that’s what I want to do when I think about Meemo and Papa doing it, too. Face it, it happens. Ain’t no one I know around here that was made in a test tube.”
“Allison Brady, I think.”
“Well, can you blame Paul? Look at Loretta.”
I laugh at the meanness but feel weird about it.
“I’m just letting you know, man to man. All right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
We eat in silence for a while. Erin comes over with another beer and a fresh Coke. The celery sticks are rubbery, but I eat them anyway so I won’t have to talk. I think Dad is eating slow too, giving me time to come up with questions that I don’t have. I’m still working with the same premise: Insert tab a into slot a, b, c, or … .
“I have a question.”
“Shoot,” he picks out several napkins from the metal box at the end of the table and sets to work, rubbing off the ketchup from his fingers.
“Well, I know the how and stuff, but why would a guy want to put it in a girl’s ear? Does that feel good?”
My dad sits there, his hands mid-wipe, his mouth partially open for a very long time.
Image credit: Anderson Mancini/Flickr