Johnny. They called me Johnny. Johnny. The J for Jacob Cohen, owner of a dry goods store in Ofallin, Illinois where my dad said they had curfews for blacks. Jacob was too Jewish for my Southern California transplant parents. They didn’t want me riddled with an old Jewish Man name. So it was John. Very Southern California. The ‘ny’ was a familiar addition, everyone called me Johnny. Like a nice Italian boy from the Bronx. Johnny, the cute, smiling kid with the hair Dippity Dooed to the side and that sharp part, diagonally grazing my scalp revealing the white road to nowhere. Johnny liked his jump suit, a cotton leiderhausen, navy blue with buttons. Worn with a simple white T and brown saddle shoes with white athletic socks. This was my uniform. And I wore it well past the age when it still fit. Little Johnny squeezed into his uniform, to do his job well.
We had a fort on Gayle Street. The sacred sanctuary of boys… and our street was a cul-de-sac of budding testosterone, almost all boys. The Ellis Boys, 2. Right across the street The Byars had 3. The Hydes had 3. All boys. The Miquelons had 2, and Cheryl, the one girl in the mix who I married in a performance, walking down our hallway, the proverbial aisle, as my brother serenaded ‘Here Comes the Bride” on our Acrosonic--Cheryl the first chap lipped girl I kissed at age 6, she was for Barbies. But the boys, we had our sports, our fights, our ping pong paddles, and our fort. Conrad Byars, the oldest and One Adam 12 handsome, a hairy 13, kept Playboys in the Fort. In a metal box that we kept under the floor in a hole we dug. Playboys. He’d lock himself in the fort, which sat in our sideyard, and flip through the pages. What was so interesting? ‘Was Conrad an avid reader?’ Johnny wondered.
The fort was our sanctuary, our special meeting place. We played Black Jack for money here. We lit incense and candles. We convened in the dark cool shack, made of boards we found at the Riverbed and dragged home. My parents, older and more relaxed, allowed our house to be the one with the ugly fort, our yard the football, baseball and Smear the Queer field. Dad proffered the used carpet samples, an array of shags and flokati and low piles patchworked into our wall-to-wall haven. Each time it rained, the must and wet ruined, and dad managed to save the day.
The fort was inclusive. The street – another story. This was the land of Baseball Coach dads who worked in Aerospace. Football Scholarship pops, who thanks to a knee injury, now sold mortgages. Jacob Cohen wouldn’t do well dovening on Gayle Street. You had to play sports. Well. Each season was a different sport, parallel to the professional sport seasons. We played baseball during baseball season. But we couldn’t play baseball when Mr. Scotteline’s shiny red Corvette was parked on the street. He scared us. The Byars' garage door would have to serve as backstop as we carefully woofle balled a pick up game.
Football season-Conrad Byars would throw a spiral as high as he could in the air… and if you could catch it, you could play.
Sports ruled the street. Jeff Byars' parents denied a Mentally Gifted Program so he could stay in the local elementary because they had better after school sports program.
Sports was in the blood stream. Parents bowled for money and trips to Vegas. Danced with each other at Baseball League fundraisers. The Gayle Street Gang as we families called ourselves, attended baseball games at the Big A, Anaheim Stadium, as a troop. and even had our name announced by the game’s announcer. But that’s not my defining moment. No.
It’s a hot Summer Day. We swam in the community pool about 100 yards from our Cherrywood Lane home with walls of geraniums in terra cotta pots on the wall outside the kitchen window. My dad was asleep. Or at work. My mom at work. Clark Reid and I went for a swim. We’d stand in the shallow end legs akimbo. Here we’d swim underneath each others legs, upside down and blow bubbles. It was our innocent choreography. Boy stuff. Like wrestling is a safe way for straight men to touch each other all over, over and over again.
We get home to my air conditioned country kitchen. Sitting on the plastic covered yellow and orange striped couch we’re cool and our wet bathing suits slip a little. Side by side, we sit and pull out our penises. I’m still a boy, like 11-12. Clark 14, has ‘changed’. Larger, hairier and hornier.