Raymond, among the many middle-class families in our extended neighborhood, was very poor indeed. One look at the disheveled exterior of his house, crying out for the touch of a paint brush and a weed whacker, and you could see that not only was there little cash flow but an assumed degree of neglect.
How would I know this? Did I ever go in his house? No. Did I ever meet his parents? No. Did I even know if he lived with his parents? No. But then I didn’t have to because Raymond carried the ‘air’ of neglect on his person each and every day he came to school.
I knew him from Kindergarten on and was alternatively repelled by the constant body odor and dental disaster and sorry that he had, apparently, no one to guide him in a better direction, making sure he had clean clothes to go to school in. To make matters even stranger, Raymond was like a 40 year old in a 12 year old body, having facial stubble that none of us were to have for many years to come. Combine that with greasy, unwashed hair and you could see why Raymond was socially marginalized.
Even so, I tried to see what was at the heart of every kid, not just their immediate grooming habits or lack of. So I tried to hang out with him a little bit, doing the nothing that we would often do. We had some whackadoodle idea that we could build a rocket out of these large cylinders we’d found but, of course, that was an immediate dead end when it became obvious there was no way to power the rocket and even if we could find an engine lying around we wouldn’t know what to do with it. So the cylinders stayed cylinders and, outside of a brief fist fight near our lilac bushes, Raymond and I didn’t spend too much more quality time together.
But for about a week in 1964, Raymond became the guy to know as we hit 8th grade and hormonal chaos. Getting a glimpse of the female anatomy was of interest to a lot of the guys and most of us still hadn’t seen the real deal so there was much false boasting and wild conjecture as to what was what and what went where, little of it probably accurate. Then Raymond came to school with clear documentation to put the rumors to rest and pretty much flaunted his prize possession.
Raymond had a Playboy Magazine centerfold carefully folded and stuffed in his jeans and at some point during social studies I caught wind of this revelation and immediately worked at getting on Raymond’s good side so I could have a look. This meant I was going to have to do a major ‘suck up’ since the last time we’d hung out I was punching him in the head in my backyard. Fortunately, I’ve never been one who loses sight of the greater cause and so, by the end of the school day, I ‘borrowed’ the centerfold.
At the time, to a 13 year old boy, this was like winning the lottery and I carried it with great reverence because this was the anatomical tutorial I’d waited for and my hormones were already having a hoedown in my pants at the prospects of checking this thing out. I’d had no real sex education, either in school or the lame attempt by my dad to explain the phenomena, so this was going to have to suffice and I’d fill in the blanks as I went along.
For some, mostly women, this will sound like a simple prurient interest but for those of my kind, it was a seminal moment that I shall remember in the same way as the Kennedy assassination or 9/11. I’ll always have the day, the centerfold, the excitement, carefully etched into my memory.
Too many years have passed and most of those newly-minted hormones have set sail for more youthful harbor, but on that day Raymond delivered the pictorial proof of all we’d imagined and the party was on…