Homo homini rodentius est

“Uh… Professor Evangelista?”

“Yes?”

Scene from a very short Italian movie

What the Average Looking Guy Taught Me

Often when I walk down the street I find myself falling into line behind another person heading in the same direction and letting them do the work of setting the pace and dividing a path through the on-coming crowd. It allows me to relax, look around at the scenery and let my mind wander. One day I noticed that the person I was using as a pace car was behaving a bit oddly: he was checking his appearance obsessively in every available reflective surface that he passed. It’s something we all do, of course, often without noticing or being noticed — so universal is the impulse to reassure ourselves of our comeliness. With this little fellow, though, I noticed something. I was struck by the fact that he was not particularly unattractive — which would have made his checking behavior make some sense (someone who grew up unconventional looking would probably be self-conscious of their appearance) — nor was he particularly attractive, so his behavior couldn’t be dismissed as run of the mill narcissism. He looked average. Passable. Attractive enough. And that is what got my attention and led to a rather interesting insight.

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My First Dirty Joke

Among the many firsts in life, the occasion of one’s first exposure to off-color humor is probably not accorded its reverential due. Furtively espied on the humor pages of a “men’s magazine” belonging to an older brother, or passed hand to hand at the back of the class in the form of a dirty joke book, it is a singular rite of passage into the labyrinthine complexity of adult life — especially adult sex life. Being able to appreciate a ribald reference to otherwise scary and, frankly, nasty grown-up stuff is like attaining a membership card for maturity. I was thinking today about the first dirty joke I ever learned and the weirdo who told it to me.

For me, the initiation happened around age 9 on the school playground (of course) and my mentor was a wiry kid named Chris W. (I don’t know why I’m protecting his identity — it’s almost certainly a matter of public record in the justice system, by now). Chris was not very bright but he was precocious in one particular way — by 3rd grade he was already a well-known perv, constantly getting into trouble for bothering girls and making lewd suggestive comments that sometimes were disturbing but often were just baffling. One day, after lunch, he cornered me by the see-saw and told me he had a joke. The interchange:

Chris: No matter what I say, answer “rubber balls and liquor”.

Me: Okay.

Chris: What did you have for breakfast yesterday?

Me: Rubber balls and liquor.

Chris: What did you have for lunch?

Me: Rubber balls and liquor.

Chris: What did you have for dinner?

Me: Rubber balls and liquor.

Chris: (his face now twisted into a rictus of perverted glee) What do you do to your girlfriend at night?!

Me: Rubber balls and liquor?

He exploded in laughter and I nodded knowingly and snickered but, of course, the joke makes no more sense now than it did then. I was feigning sly appreciation of naughtiness to cover my guileless confusion — I distinctly remember feeling a surge of anxiety at the possibility that girls possessed some version of “balls” and that this fact had somehow eluded me. Then I decided that it was just a stupid joke that didn’t make any sense and had probably been created by pervy Chris who knew no more about girlish anatomy than I did.

Occasionally his bawdy bon mots landed somewhat more successfully. Once he walked up to me and demanded to know what I would say if his balls were on my chin. “I don’t know, what?” I asked. “Nothing,” he said, “because my dick would be in your mouth!” Well, as I discovered many years later, he was right about that — it really is very difficult to talk with a dick in your mouth, but since there’s usually little to say at such a moment the comedic irony is nil.

One Minute Under the Manhattan Bridge

 

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