The Greyhound bus continued in its monotonous voyage. The darkness was punctuated by the occasional headlights of oncoming vehicles, luminous streaks of light that almost immediately vanished. Passing through the emptiness of central Arizona only an occasional faint light in the distance gave any evidence of life. I alternately dozed and then would suddenly wake up, becoming aware of the discomfort of trying to sleep in a semi-upright position and the constant hum of the bus tires on the seemingly endless highway. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. Though I had, gypsy like, wandered over what seemed like half of the planet with my mother Bozhena, and my bothersome younger sister Cristina, for the first time I was traveling alone.
I closed my eyes again. For no seeming reason I remembered Susana. I was in the fourth grade, newly arrived in Caracas, Venezuela, and during class break Susana, a bold young lady, reached over and held my hand. Wow, she liked me. Or perhaps she just enjoyed hearing my strange accent as I attempted to navigate the intricacies of Spanish pronunciation. For a day or two I thought it was love, but the feeling soon disappeared to be replaced by another momentary infatuation. Perhaps it was María Carmen. Remembering the two years spent in Kansas after we finally arrived in the United States, it appeared to have held no twitters of the heart. Probably much too busy adapting to our new life to give it much consideration.
When I arrived in California I was placed in the seventh grade at the local grammar school. During my two years at there I spent nearly all of my time with Kobuko, a young Japanese-Hawaiian boy who had just come to California from Oahu. Perhaps because we were both newly arrived, and both several days late in starting class, it seemed natural that we should become friends. It appeared that everyone else in our class had known each other the previous year, or perhaps much of their lives. We had no self-evident credentials upon which to base our worth, and hence were apart from the group. Then the significant thing that seemed to seal our friendship was when we discovered that our birthdays were only one day apart. Mine was on the 6th of July and Kobuko's was on the 7th. That, and the fact that we both had unusual first names. At one point we surmised that he was probably the only Kobuko and I was the only Igor in the entire California school system. We may have been correct in our assumption.
I suddenly had no interest in having other friends and couldn't envision being with anyone else. I played with Kobuko, ate lunch with him, studied with him and my immediate vision included no one else. I couldn't possibly explain it to anyone, but this feeling of closeness with Kobuko was much the same as that which I'd felt before with the girls that I'd become infatuated with. We even invented special nicknames, used only when we were alone of course. Kobuko became 'Chip' since, to me he resembled one of my favorite creatures, the chipmunk. He had intense, piercing dark eyes which radiated intelligence, and a broad smile which allowed his brilliant teeth to shine. He claimed that my somewhat unruly hair resembled a squirrel's tail and I became 'Squirrley'.
I thought back to the day I'd found him crying. I could never forget that day since its impact had sealed our permanent bond. Kobuko's dad, Mr. Nakamura, always drove us to school in the morning, on his way to work, and then we walked home together. On that day I had to stay after class and talk to Mrs. Lindsey, 'the witch', because she had caught me passing notes during class. Not once, but twice in the same hour. When I finally escaped from the long winded reprimand by Mrs. Lindsey and rushed to the front of the school, Kobuko was nowhere to be found. I couldn't understand it since we always left and walked home together. As I walked home alone I felt dejected. It was the first seeming breach in our friendship. Then my despair changed to anger. I decided that I'd go by his house and let him know that his action was not consistent with the way friends treated each other.
When I got to his house and rang the doorbell no one answered. Still angry, I rang it again and again. Finally decided to go around to the backyard. I felt that Kobuko might playing back there, but he was nowhere in sight. Perplexed, I started to leave when I heard muffled sobs coming from behind the garage. There, under the bench that his father used for potting plants and working on his bonsai, was Kobuko with his head against his knees. He had obviously been crying for some time since I could see that the front of his shirt was wet from his copious tears. He hid his face and continued to sob, his whole body shaking. I knelt down, put my hand on his shoulder and asked him to tell me what was wrong. At first he refused to talk and then finally blurted out that Mike, the class bully, had come up to him after class and for no apparent reason had called him a ‘dirty Jap’ and told him to go back to Japan so he could be with the rest of the slant-eyed freaks. In muffled, sobbing words Kobuko reminded me that he was from Hawaii and had never even been to Japan.
I sat down next to him and put my arm around his shoulder, then attempted to explain that it didn't matter what Mike said, that I was his friend and always would be. I told him about how I had gone through a similar situation of senseless prejudice once in Kansas, so I knew and could feel his pain. That afternoon, sitting together under the bonsai bench, brought us as close together as two friends can ever be. I was there when he desperately needed someone, and he had provided a friendship that, in my adolescent mind, could never be equaled.
Then I began to outline a plan to get back at Mike. Though not a particularly outstanding student, Mike was pretty good at spelling. Well, we could study our butts off and become better than him. It would humiliate him completely if the two 'foreigners' were able to spell better than the 'All-American' stud. Kobuko finally raised his head and smiled. He felt that it was a great idea and insisted we start immediately.
Actually our plan became even more successful that we had anticipated. Before long we were studying every subject with equal enthusiasm. Of course we continued to play, but now even our explorations to the nearby river, and other playtime activities, were tinged with spelling lists and history facts, learning to deal with arithmetic and doing fractions in our heads instead of on paper. The 'Jap' and the 'Slovak' soon became two of the outstanding pupils in the class and were looked upon with respect by most of the other students. With the exception of Mike, who had become more alienated than ever. But at least he left both of us alone.
At the end of our second school year Kobuko announced that he and his family were moving to San Francisco. I felt that my world was going to collapse. My only true friend was going off to the other side of the universe. He was also dejected by this unexpected turn of events and we made plans to try and visit each other during our summer vacations. We promised to write and did sporadically for almost a year.
The bus suddenly slowed down. In the darkness I could see the many lights on the back of the large truck in front of us. The truck turned down a side road and the bus accelerated and resumed its normal hum. In the semidarkness I squinted at my watch, a brand new birthday gift from my mother, and realized that the bus still had several hours of travel before reaching Winslow. I closed my eyes again.
As a high school freshman in California I'd asked my very special friend Norma to go to a movie with me. I could still remember how my heart had fluttered when I'd asked her if she could go.. At the time I felt she was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen. Finally, during the second feature, I grabbed her hand and held it. I wanted to kiss her but didn't know how to initiate the process. I couldn't just say, 'okay, pucker up'. I thought about how to do it with such intensity and for so long that my concentration became an impediment to understanding what the movie was all about. And suddenly the movie was over and the only thing my amorous intentions has accomplished was two very sweaty hands. In class she became the object of my constant attention. During recess, much to the displeasure of her girl friends, I tried to spend all my time being near her. I knew without doubt that it was love. Like many adolescent attractions, my love seemed to wither of its own accord within a couple of weeks.
Later that same year I spent the night at the home of one of my high school freshman buddies, Stevie. Hum, now that was strange. Maybe it was only a dream but it seemed that Stevie had spent a great deal of time that night examining and touching my body. But did it really happen? In Saturday catechism Father Timothy once mentioned that it was sinful to touch each other. Obviously he didn't just mean touch since there was a definite emphasis on the word 'touch'. Well, sinful or not it was unmistakably exciting. I, as usual, had to go to confession on Saturday, but how could I explain that I enjoyed 'it' and would sort of like to feel that sensation again? Decided that omission would be the best policy. Conveniently forget the enjoyment part — maybe it would just be best to not mention the entire incident. God would probably overlook the fact that my memory had definite periods of forgetfulness.
Tenth grade. Girl friends and boy friends but certainly not much I had to omit from confession, well other than a few stray thoughts and the fact that I occasionally jerked off in the bathroom. That was an enjoyable little trick that Stevie had taught me the previous year during one of our occasional explorations in the night. Suddenly it was almost summer and my mother wanted to do something special for me and so had arranged for me to spend a few weeks visiting some distant relatives in Arizona. Certainly a part of the growing up process since I had never made a trip all by myself. I didn't know this part of the family, never having met them. Aunt Meta had been to our house the previous year and spent an evening visiting with my mother. I was out. Probably with one of my buddies from the Science Club, Norman or Bruce. My mother and her distant cousin Meta had planned the whole thing and even though I was sort of excited at the prospect, I was also a bit apprehensive about spending an entire month with unknown people.
With lots of anticipation and a bit of the fear of the unknown, I got on the Greyhound bus in Southern California and traveled all the way to the other side of the state of Arizona, to Winslow, a small town near the Painted Desert and close to the New Mexico border. It was well after midnight when the bus arrived in Winslow. Uncle Ivan had come to the bus station to meet me, alone. He explained that everyone else was at home in bed. That made me just a little agitated. Although I didn't express it I felt that they could have at least stayed up in order to say hello. Arriving at the house I discovered that Aunt Meta had left a large roast beef sandwich, glass of milk and a note which said, “WELCOME – PRIVITANIE” for me on the kitchen table. That made me felt a little better; not much, but a little. Uncle Ivan chatted while I ate and then showed me into his son's room where I would be sleeping. I thought to myself, 'Oh great! Eat and then go directly to bed. I'll probably burp or fart all night long. Maybe both. '
As he turned on the overhead light the lump on one of the twin beds made a soft grunting noise and pulled the sheet over its head. Uncle Ivan found a place for my suitcase, showed me the adjoining bathroom, turned on the bedside light and then explained that due to the constant warmth I probably wouldn't need anything other than the sheet on the bed. After saying 'dobrou notz' he turned off the overhead light and closed the door. After rummaging through my suitcase for my toothbrush and pajamas I brushed my teeth and headed for bed. Looking around the room I glanced at the hulk under the sheet on the nearby bed and then examined the surroundings. 'Well, cousin George is certainly neat. Nothing seems to be out of place, but of course it's probably his mother who keeps everything so neatly arranged.' As I turned out the light I was already indulging in another of my continuous, internal conversations, 'Well thanks a lot Mom, so far this vacation has all the earmarks of being a great big nothing. Less than nothing, since I will probably be completely and utterly bored for an entire month. And in a frigging desert of all places.' Frigging had become one of my favorite adjectives, very descriptive and since I wasn't actually using the word 'fuck', I didn't have to include it in my increasingly infrequent visits to the confessional. As I drifted off to sleep I couldn't help but think about how I had envisioned my reception here with the entire family gathered around a table, everyone talking at the same time and asking me all kinds of questions about my mom and sister, about life in Southern California, had we heard from Baba Maia or anyone else in Czechoslovakia, what do....
The next morning I woke up late and in fact hadn't heard the others when they got up. After dressing I went into the kitchen and encountered Aunt Meta who gave me one of those smothering Slovakian hugs and launched into a million questions, never letting me finish answering one before a thousand more had been flung at me. And all the time she was busy fixing one of those gigantic breakfasts that no one in their right mind could possibly eat. As I was attempting to do justice to the vast quantity of food in front of me, cousin George wandered in. I got up and we shook hands. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I thought to myself, he's as big and tall as the Incredible Hulk, one of my favorite comic book heroes! Well, not quite that big, but very tall and with a really muscular, well-developed body. Perfect tan too, but of course with this frigging desert sun he's probably one step away from being fried. Nice friendly smile with the most perfect teeth I've ever seen. Are they false? I've never heard of anyone with false teeth when they’re only 17 years old, but I know that the world is filled with strange phenomena. His eyes are the softest brown I've ever seen and very large. Also sort of sad, much like the large, sad eyes that cows have. A cow-eyed cousin with shiny false choppers. Now I really have something to share with my friends when get back to Southern California. Who, among my friends, can boast of having a handsome young bull with false teeth as a cousin? Probably sound better if I left out the handsome part.
George sat down and Aunt Meta asked if he would like a cup of coffee. As he began to ask me a few questions, most of them sort of inane and hardly worth answering, I noticed that his voice was pleasantly soft and unlike other members of my family, whose speech was tinged with a slight middle European accent, his enunciation was perfect. I'd sort of expected him to sound like the Incredible Hulk. How in the frigging hell was I supposed to consume all that food and talk at the same time? Cousin Elizabeth made a brief appearance and excusing herself rushed off to visit some friends. She was 18 years old and absolutely beautiful. God, she's incredible. More nice choppers. Maybe there's a dentist in town who gives special rates if everyone in the family gets false teeth. At least she didn't stay long enough to ask any dumb questions.
As I finally finished eating breakfast cousin George asked if I would like to help him work on his car. Naturally I answered in the affirmative and attempted to sound enthusiastic, knowing all the while that it was absolutely impossible for me to become enraptured about traveling hundreds of miles so that I could work on a car. I hardly knew the difference between a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, nor was I really very interested. So the two of us then spent almost the entire day on our backs peering at the underside of his recently purchased car, enveloped in oil and grease; taking unknown parts off and then replacing some of them. Others evidently needed to be purchased. My prior mechanical knowledge had been limited to knowing how to put water in the radiator of my mom’s car, that was if I could get the frigging radiator cap off. And this first day seemed to go on forever. About the only pleasant part of the process was sneaking peeks at George's well-developed body since he was wearing only a pair of Levi cut-offs. I was now 16 years old, definitely interested in bodies and this one was certainly one to admire. I didn't see anything wrong with admiring; after all Michelangelo admired them and look at what he produced. In my humble opinion, there was undoubtedly nothing in the entire world to equal Michelangelo's statue of David. I had spent considerable time looking at it; and then usually wound up in the bathroom jerking off while examining it in minute detail.
The day got a little more exciting when, at one point George put his muscular leg right on top of my crotch while he maneuvered to remove a particularly stubborn bolt. I was a bit apprehensive since I seemed get erections at any time of the day or night and for no reason whatsoever. That thing between my legs, ‘Mr. You-Know-Who’, seemed to have a mind of his own, although this time he had behaved himself. But could he be trusted?
During the dismantling of various parts of the car, George had talked about his high school, mentioned a few of his friends and talked a lot about football. He was on the football team and this seemed to be one of his major interests. It would have been rude of me to tell him that I thought football was, for the most part, a pastime of morons, cretins and misguided jocks. I feigned interest. I also learned the names of a number of the car parts that we were dealing with and he enthusiastically and patiently explained the function of each. Before I knew what was happening I found myself actually becoming interested. It was incredibly complex with each part designed for a specific purpose and all working together with a precision that was difficult for me to imagine. Almost against my will I had become fascinated and was flooding poor George with a million questions. Occasionally he would have to explain a concept or process, or the function of a particular part, a couple of times before I understood it completely. But he seemed to enjoy being able to share this knowledge. With the passage of time he seemed less like a jerk than when we first began. George shifted position and brushed his short trimmed hair against my shoulder. Tickled, but really felt nice. Looks like this vacation might be a little more enjoyable than I had imagined.
I had expected boiling hot temperatures, however the day had been quite pleasant, a little warm but not uncomfortable. Aunt Meta was calling and said it was time to come in for dinner. First a quick shower. George's bedroom was at the back of the house and had its own bathroom. He suggested that I shower first and while I was drying off he entered the bathroom, began chatting and then unconsciously stripped and got in the shower. He didn't even bother to completely close the shower curtain and continued to jabber away. Obviously another jock trait was to not be aware of being nude. I was surprised and sort of shocked when George asked if I could soap down his back since he felt that there was probably still some grease on it. He handed me the soap and washcloth and as I was gently, and very self consciously, lathering his back, ‘Mr. You-Know-Who’ awakened from his slumber, suddenly came to life and a full upright position. God, my towel was sticking out like I had a flagpole between my legs. A quick, "I think that's got it George" and then an about face to hastily retreat and make a dash for my clothes which were lying on the bed, all the time hoping that George hadn't been witness to ‘Mr. You-Know-Who's’ recent performance.
George came into the bedroom draped in his towel and then proceeded to take it off and dry his hair. What in the frigging hell was he trying to prove? That he had a good body? That was more than evident and even Michelangelo might have been interested in using him for a model. Well, if George had been alive a few hundred years ago that is. It was undoubtedly just another of those quirks that jocks indulge in — what was it called, exhibitionism?
He then noticed the copies of Galaxy and Astounding Science Fiction magazines that I was removing from my suitcase. He let out an enthusiastic yelp and while he was pulling on a pair of Bermudas he went over to a closet that he opened and proudly showed me stacks of science fiction magazines and a considerable collection of paperbacks. I had read about compulsively neat people, and it appeared that Cousin George was a compulsive jock. He probably had an entire drawer full of neatly folded and arranged jock straps with little name tags: one for Monday, one for Tuesday, one for Wednesday..... He rapidly explained that his passion in life was reading, but he especially loved science fiction. Needless to say I was nearly speechless at this little confession since it mirrored exactly the most important thing in my life, reading. I read as much as possible and for that matter just about anything available. I had even read so many cereal boxes that I knew the all manufacturers addresses by heart. But I especially enjoyed science fiction. No, I didn't just enjoy science fiction, it was a consuming passion. When I had first entered George's room last night I had immediately noticed an absence of any books or bookshelves. My God that entire closet was filled with books and magazines. It looked like a mini library. All neatly arranged. Too neat, which means that he probably doesn't read them, or at least not all of them. Is it possible that he might have read all of them? He seems to be pretty bright.
Dinner was delicious and the conversation centered around answering questions about me, my mother and sister. Uncle Ivan apologized for not being able to spend time with me during the day, but explained that his work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs kept him quite busy. I learned that he was the government supervisor for the nearby Hopi reservation and he promised to take me out to the Mishognavi mesas at the first opportunity. In two weeks the Mishongnavi Hopi would be presenting their annual rain dance and I had just received an invitation to attend.
George kept trying to intersperse questions about various science fiction stories or specific authors and eventually the two of us were deep into discussions about our favorite authors. After a magnificent apple pie, George asked his dad if he could borrow the car so he could show me a bit of the town. Big deal, he'll probably take me to visit the local Dairy Queen for some ice cream. Maybe there are even two of them in town and we could visit both! The rest of the family retired to the living room to spend some time watching TV. Wow, they even have TV out here in the frigging desert. I wondered how many channels they received; probably two with hourly repeats of old Howdy Doody or ancient Ed Sullivan shows. It came as somewhat a shock when I passed through the living room and discovered that they were watching an educational documentary about animal life of central Africa.
Driving around town in uncle Ivan's big Chrysler was enjoyable and George played tour guide by pointing out some of the notable features. A drive by the high school and then out beyond town. Soon we were far from town and out in the desert. George stopped and suggested we get out. There beyond the lights of civilization the stars were the brightest and closest that I had ever seen. It seemed possible to reach out and touch them, one by one. It was still very warm and we sat down on a large rock. This area was called Three Rock because of the large stone outcroppings that overlooked the valley below. George was trying to point out the Cassiopeia star cluster near the big dipper and in order to direct my vision to the proper point in the sky he put his right hand on my shoulder, placed his face next to mine and pointed with his other hand. Was he pulling me closer? It certainly seemed that way, but then I'd always had an overactive imagination. At that specific moment I got hold of myself and had another of my notable, and constant internal conversations. "Now look, he appears to be super friendly, but that's all there is to it. Don't get all excited and start planning any midnight hanky-panky like with Stevie. He's just a friendly jock and they're all that way. Remember the football players and other jocks at your own high school? True, in the gym or locker room they seem to enjoy swatting each other on the butt with a towel or even their hand, but the words they most often use for anyone they disapprove of someone is fag or fairy. 'Hey, Homo you want a little of this', as they grab at their crotch. It's the way they're made." He's your cousin and just trying to be friendly."
I was really impressed by George's knowledge of astronomy and he mentioned stars and galaxies that I'd never even heard of. Where'd he get all that information? Maybe he was just making it up. Sort of on-the-spot invention. No, it was obvious that he knew what he was talking about, and I was just momentarily jealous that I hadn't devoted as much time to studying the astronomy as he had. But of course I did have a good excuse since the Southern California sky was so smoggy that most of the time people didn't even know if the stars still existed. I had recently read that the big telescope on Mt. Wilson, overlooking the L.A. basin, was now often useless because of the smoggy, overcast sky. The more I looked at the crystalline Arizona nighttime sky the more I realized that this was a very special area and the people here were very fortunate. Later, as we got up to go back to the car, I thanked George for this very special experience. I even complimented him and added that I'd like to know as much about astronomy as he did. He mentioned that sometime in the next few days he'd like to take me out to a meteor crater, explaining that hundreds of thousands of years ago a meteor had impacted and left an enormous crater and it was only about 10 miles from town. As a matter of fact he had some meteor fragments at the house that I could have if I wanted. And then there was also the nearby Petrified Forest and Painted Desert that he wanted to show me. I realized then that maybe this vacation was going to be enjoyable after all; well, as long as I didn't have to spend the entire time looking at the underside of his car.
When we got back to the house the family was still watching TV and I excused myself, explaining that I was tired and was going to go to bed. I also mentioned that I might do a little reading before going to sleep. George said goodnight to his family and said that he was going to take advantage of this time to do a little reading as well, especially since I had arrived with the most recent issues of two of his favorite science fiction magazines.
George turned on the lamp between the twin beds, turned off the overhead light and asked to borrow the Galaxy magazine. By this time he had already removed his clothes and neatly hung them up in the closet. Yes, obviously a compulsive neatnik. Clad only in his shorts he lay down on his bed and began leafing through the magazine. I was still dressed and debated about whether or not to put on my PJ's, but opted to sleep in just my shorts like George, since it was still quite warm. But how was I going to go about getting my clothes off? Perhaps deepen my voice a bit and in imitation of 'jock-talk' sort of casually say, "Well guess it's time to strip down". Instead I just silently got up and took off my clothes, carefully folding them and hanging them over the back of the chair so that George wouldn't think that I was a complete slob. Ho, ho, ho. I knew I was a slob and my mother regularly confirmed it. In fact she had commented that my room looked like a tornado dropped down regularly once a week to rearrange the contents. Well, that wasn't exactly true since I vacillated between being very neat and incredibly sloppy, though a bit more of the latter. George suddenly let out another of his now familiar yelps of pleasure. He exclaimed that this issue had some pictures by his favorite illustrator, Brad Williams. Yes, I knew the artist well since his futuristic drawings featured handsome, muscular men clad in tight fitting clothes and most of them had a sizable crotch to go with their sizable muscles. More jerk-off material. I'd done enough reading to know it wasn't true, but some of the guys in high school contended that 'choking the chicken' too frequently would cause you to go blind. Well, if that were the case I should have been saving up to get a seeing-eye dog.
George asked if I had read that issue's continuation of the story by Isaac Asimov. I hesitated and almost told him that I had, but for some reason decided to pretend that I hadn't. It had already been established that we had both read the preceding part and I didn't want to appear to be a complete smart ass. I often felt like one, but there was no reason to broadcast it. He got up, came over to my bed and sat down on the edge and began to read out loud. I had been lying on my back and then shifted to my side so that he would have a little more room. He continued to read in a firm yet soft, melodious voice. He obviously was pleased to have someone that he could share this special pleasure with, since he had mentioned earlier that none of his friends were at all interested in science fiction. He then laid down, asked to share my pillow and continued to read.
I was sort of listening to the story and his pleasant voice, but at the same time I was aware of the fact that his leg was gently pressing up against mine. I was also aware of the fact that ‘Mr. You-Know-Who’ was up to one of his usual tricks. I raised my other leg up slightly so that hopefully it wouldn't be obvious that I had a gigantic hard on. George stopped reading and began talking about an event that happened in the previous part of the story in the preceding issue of the magazine. He then asked if I would mind if he turned off the light. He raised up to turn off the light and when he laid back down he ever so gently put his leg on top of my shorts. He whispered, "Do you mind?”, and began to explore my body. Then after a few minutes he reached down, found my hand and gently laid it on top of his hard, firm stomach with my fingers touching the upper edge of his shorts. At this point conversation became unnecessary as our two young bodies found each other and responded to the moment.