How An Oyster Makes His Shell, by RL Goldberg
When I asked how she got a splinter up there, she said she tripped on a tree stump while she was looking for a place to get stoned, but the truth was, it was a broomstick, and she didn’t trip. I just wanted to know how many times she had been doing it before she got caught, and if she wiped it down afterwards.
That same summer at sleep-away camp, our counselor, Michael, went for his night-off. He told us that whenever he left camp, he’d fuck his girlfriend Shira in the parking lot of Sonic. He said they couldn’t do it at Zaxby’s because the drive-thru was open late and Shira was a screamer. When they finished, he’d drive her to Wendy’s and buy her a chocolate Frosty. So it goes down easier, he told us. After he left, Eric Saul thought it would be a good idea if we had a circle-jerk. Cabin bonding. There were ten of us, but Davie Shapiro didn’t want to be part of it.
The April before, Davie Shapiro was lighting cans of bug spray on fire, and one can exploded and singed his dick. Apparently the belt of his pants caught fire, and he couldn’t get them off fast enough. Davie didn’t let anyone see it, especially not us. He knew we’d call him Cooked Cock. So the rest of us circled up and pulled down our pants. Ilan Glass pulled his pants off entirely, but he was still wearing socks, so it looked real weird. The rest of us just had our pants around our ankles. We all started going for it, then Jacob Russo grabbed my dick.
At first I was surprised, but he switched from the five-finger to the three-finger, then the backhand, and back to the five-finger, then the closed-fist, then the pool cue. I was really getting into it, too. Elliot Zimmerman laughed and called Jacob Russo a fucking faggot, but Jacob just heavy-breathed, “Shut up, it’s what boys do,” and nobody else gave him shit.
He leaned over to suck my nipples just as Michael opened the door.
Maybe Shira had a headache or maybe Michael came early. We looked stupid, the nine of us with our meat whistles, rubbing ourselves against the metal bed-frames—Jacob Russo with his hand around my cock.
Then Davie Shapiro told Michael that we were a bunch of faggots. He wrote his mom a letter about what happened and she called the camp director. Davie told his mom that the food sucked, even the pizza, that Michael never scheduled us for horseback, and that he lived with a bunch of gays who fucked each other. She drove up the next morning and glared at us the entire time she packed his sleeping bag, flashlight, and boxers into his blue duffel bags.
We all got talked to about good-touching and bad-touching, bathing-suit zones, and sexplorations, and how touching isn’t always okay, even if it feels good. Jacob Russo whispered that this is Jew camp, not Jesus camp, and if he wants to touch another dude’s balls, director Bill Frankel wasn’t going to stop him.
I heard from Martin Weiner, my sophomore year roommate, that Jacob is actually gay now. They had gone to high-school together in Atlanta. Jacob used to call his dick his love truncheon. I don’t mind that he touched my dick or anything. That doesn’t make me gay or a “New-Age Man.” It just means I got a hand-job from a guy at summer camp, once. But after that summer, we fell out of touch.
I hadn’t really touched myself a lot before that summer. But after camp, I got to wacking it every day—the back seat of the car because I didn’t think Dad could see me in the rear-view window. In Synagogue during the high-holidays as the cantor recited the Kol Nidre. In the Youth Corner at the public library, hiding my hand under Animal Farm or 1984. At the BSO concert with my grandmother.
My parents thought that I’d grow out of it by the time I started high-school, but I didn’t. Mostly, Mom was tired of washing my shorts twice to get the sticky out.
The year before I started high-school Eric Nelson moved in next door. I heard from the girl two houses down that he was a meth-head. She said that her older brother told her that but he didn’t know where he heard it. Dad told me to stay away from Eric because he looked like bad news, but Mom said as long as I made good decisions, I didn’t have to totally avoid him. We were neighbors of course.
I met him while I was getting the mail and he was having a cigarette. Eric was eighteen and worked part-time at a frame store, cutting wood and measuring wall-trims. He smelled like saw-dust.
Some days I look at Faces of Meth and wonder if Eric looks like that now. I’m always surprised by how sunken your cheeks can get as if your face gets permanently stuck to look like you’re perpetually fellating someone. Eric had the entire Sublime discography and a glass gravity bong that he called Nicolaus Copernicus
The first time I went over, he was sitting on his floor, rolling a joint. His room was messy—an inflatable moose-head, partially deflated, hanging from the wall; stacks of porno mags piled on his desk; dirty laundry on his bed, which was simply a mattress and a sheet. I looked around for a meth spoon or crack-pipe but only saw his big glass weed-bong. He had posters of Bob Marley, the NYC transit system, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. I pointed to it.
“Kind of faggy, dude. What are you? Five?”
He shrugged. “My mom used to read it to me. And swans are aggressive. It’s sort of funny how they are a symbol of love. Like, I love you so much, I’m going to break your fucking arm.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“If they can break a baseball bat, they can definitely snap your neck.”
He asked if I wanted to smoke out and watch The Professional. I’d never heard of it and he said it was about an asexual hit-man and Natalie Portman, and even though she was only twelve when it was filmed, he didn’t feel bad jacking it to the idea of her. Because one day, dude, she’d be so fine. Like that scene in Black Swan where that other chick goes down on her. Hot.
We were propped against the foot of his bed, me biting my cuticles, Eric scratching at a bald patch on the left side of his head. When the Mathilde character sat on the stairwell and smoked a cigarette, Eric whipped out his cock. He held his balls in his hand, squeezing tighter and tighter. He started to make faces, like his veins were getting all twisted up inside of him. Then, he grabbed a yellow plastic fly-swatter from the windowsill, and began swatting his balls with it.
He said they’re so numb, he couldn’t feel anything, but he liked the sound of it, the tap tap of perforated plastic on skin. Then he finished on his rug and covered the mess up with a copy of Atlas Shrugged.
We watched the rest of the movie and his mom knocked on the door and asked him to come to dinner. She said I could stay over if I wanted—it’s sloppy joes and sweet potato fries. Eric didn’t even wash his hands before grabbing a sesame-seed bun. His sister took two handfuls of fries and he whispered, “Hey, bitch, this is why you’ve got that fupa.”
She called him a dick, and he shook his hips at her. He called her a cunt and we watched Jeopardy and ate dinner. I asked him what a fupa was. His sister shoved a handful of fries into her mouth and said, “A fat upper pussy area.”
He ate his sloppy joe, letting the meat-sauce smear his upper lip. He said, “Hey dude! Does it look like I have a Dirty Sanchéz?”
Then he nodded at mine. “Don’t just stare at it. Eat it!” Which made us both laugh because it’s a line from American Psycho, which we both love.
When I started going with Carrie Wiersum, I stopped masturbating as much, which was real weird, because we definitely weren’t having sex. She said that she wanted to save herself. She made it pretty clear that I wasn’t the right guy, and we definitely weren’t going to get married, but I was fun to hang out with, and she wasn’t dating anybody else anyhow. She said her parents would be pretty pissed if she married a Jew. Not that they were anti-Semitic, but the Jews did kill Christ. That, and she didn’t like how I have dark chest-hair. I told her I’d shave it, but she told me not to bother—it would just grow back.
A few weeks after we got together, she let me go to second, which was nice.
I just didn’t know what to do with boobs. I felt weird putting them in my mouth, even though she kept pulling my face towards them. She said, “Just pretend you are a baby.”
I did this weird half-suck, half-blowing thing that sounded like I was choking on them but she seemed to like it.
We were lying on my bed and she was touching my hair. She said, “Can I ask you a question?” and I was like “Yeah, what’s up?” and I hoped she was going to ask me if I wanted to bone her because I would have been like “Definitely,” but she was like, “Is it hard to walk with a penis? It just sort of seems in the way.”
I grabbed at my crotch and was like, “No way.” and she was like “Okay.” Then she asked if I’d put on music, so I put on The Rolling Stones, but she didn’t like it so I turned it off.
Eric once told me that sometimes he’d see her leaving my house and he was pretty sure she was a dyke. He said that she wore more flannel than Rosie O’Donnell and no straight girl he’d ever met wore Doc Martens. Also, she had that bumper-sticker on her guitar-case: My Other Ride is Your Daughter. I told him that the guitar was her older brother’s but Eric didn’t believe it. At least that’s what she told me
She came back to my house after a party once, and I was hoping she’d maybe finally blow me, but she said she wasn’t interested. I asked her if it was me, or just boys. She said both, she guessed.
I asked her if she ever touched herself.
She got really red and was like, “Yeah, sometimes, when my parents are at church, I tell them I have too much homework, and stay home and just…yeah.”
I asked how girls do it. I wondered if they used their fingers or a pillow, or what. Then she got really shy and said she didn’t want to talk about it. I told her that sometimes I did it in the shower but I was worried about clogging up the drain. Then mom would have to call a plumber, and he’d snake out the drain and tell her that jizz fucked up the pipes. And they’d know it was me.
I told her I was afraid to do it in the back-yard pool because I heard that some people drown when the suction pulls them under, and tears their whole colon out of their asshole. I told her I was afraid to use rope because a bunch of kids in the ‘90s were found strangled, masturbating with nooses, because they just couldn’t finish fast enough.
She traced letters into the skin of my back. “What’d you write?”
She burrowed her face in my shoulder and muffled, “Pencil.”
My eyes got real big. “You do it with a pencil?”
Then she got real self-conscious and started putting on her shirt. “What, is that weird?”
I was like, “Aren’t you worried about lead poisoning?”
And she left.
We saw each other at school after that, but we didn’t really talk. Each time I saw her take notes, I wondered if it was that pencil. When she did it, did she use a sharpened one? A mechanical one? One with a soft-grip? It was too much to think about.
Later that semester she was working at the media center, tutoring in calculus and chemistry for National Honor Society service points. I needed help, but I couldn’t sit near her because all I could focus on was her pencil. Her pencil was writing quadratics and isotopes on my paper. Her pencil was sitting in the cradle of her hands. Her pencil was resting on her lap. So I left and tried to work at home, but ended up watching girl on girl on girl porn on my computer until my mom asked me to take out the trash and I wiped my hands on my pants and went downstairs.
I told Eric about Carrie and the pencil and he laughed. “I think my sister just does it with her hands. She used to play piano. Debussy and Rachmaninoff and shit.”
His sister was sort of hot. He said, “If you even think about fucking my sister, I’ll fuck you so hard you’ll need a wheel-chair. Sometimes I think you’re a load your mom should have swallowed.” He slapped me on the knee and dug in the pockets of his jeans for a lighter.
It was a Saturday and he wanted to do something. He said we could go to the Public Gardens, get high, and ride the Swan Boats. That sounded fun.
We rode the T to Park Street and bought a plate of fried dough and caramel sauce from a vendor. We sat by the bronze sculpture Young Love—it looks like two boys butt-fucking—and split a joint.
We walked around the park and saw the swans Juliet and Juliet. They are the two swans in the Garden, been there for years. The city had them genetically tested and the results showed that they are two ladies, so they changed one’s name from Romeo to Juliet, also. Eric wanted to touch them, to rub his hand up one’s neck.
We sat under a weeping willow and he pretended to shove me in the water. “Quit it, dick.” We sat down near the pond and I started to spit into the water. He stood up and got close to one of the Juliets. He said they looked like the illustrated poster on his wall.
“Hey, dude, check out the dyke swans. Let’s fuck ‘em.”
“Eric you’re a fucking pig.” He got real close to the bird. He was hunched over, deliberately stepping so he didn’t frighten it away.
“Here birdie. Here birdie birdie.” He reached out and touched its wing. It cocked its head, its neck tensing. Eric’s back was turned when the other Juliet came up behind him and struck her head against his lower thigh. She started biting at him, and he began to run, the one Juliet chasing him, running Eric to the steps of the suspension bridge and then, wings out, skulked back into the water, the other Juliet trailing behind. In the water, the Juliets nuzzled each other while gliding towards an algae pocket, safe.
Catching his breath, he jumped up the top steps of the bridge. He broke his arm so the bone came through like a shard of glass. We got on the T to go to Mass General, and the entire time he complained that jacking-off with a cast would really cramp his style.
While we were in the hospital waiting room, the nurse told us this story about the woman that was brought in the night before. She was a paranoid schizophrenic. There was a thunderstorm and she had moved everything out of her house—books, family photo albums, shakers, the stereo—and stood in the drive-way naked, touching herself, screaming that Saint Sebastian hadn’t suffered enough for our sins. When her neighbors called the police, they drove her to the psych ward. Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, she moaned in the back of the car. The nurse said her skin felt clammy, like leather. That she had been off her meds and had picked holes through her cheeks and you could see her gums through the holes in her skin.
Eric asked how big the holes were. The nurse said, nickel size, maybe. Eric shrugged and said, “So they aren’t like, glory-hole size?” and the nurse shook her head and started back on her charts.
rl goldberg has become very good at waiting