Everybody knows your game
Sweetgrass and I watched the fire department burn down the boy with the large cock’s house on a windy winter’s day. The blaze was both a training exercise and a way to dispose of an unsightly homestead in Eastport’s South End. The place had a dooryard full of garbage and debris, occupied by rodentia and other infestations, that long bothered the neighborhood. Until the old man died, however, no one could do anything about this eyesore.
The boy with the large cock and his mother moved to a nice apartment in the public housing on the other end of the island. Word was they loved the new digs. After a lifetime of filth, the wall-to-wall carpet and brand-clean appliances in a tiled kitchen must have seemed alien and fresh. And the boy with the large cock finally, after 18 years, had his own bedroom. No more sleeping on the fold-out couch in the parlor of squalor.
How did I know the boy had a large cock? Admittedly, I never saw the organ myself. I had to rely upon the testimony of his former schoolmates, who’d seen the much-chatted-about curiosity in the shower after gym class. As Vonnegut wrote, “You never know who’s gonna get a big one.” And apparently this kid’s pipe was gigantic.
The boy with the large cock was a tall goofball who weighed close to 250 pounds. He had an oblong, almost football-shaped head. We’d often bump into him on walks around the island. He was easy to spot, even at a great distance, because of his peculiar, lopsided gait, which had a touch of hunchback — his eyes were always cast downward. I wondered what soundtrack played through his huge headphones, enabling him to travel in his own world and pretend not to see my wave or hear my hello.
Then he got a car and I never saw him walking again. Turned out he landed a job 20 miles away, in Calais, at one of the groceries. Whenever we went shopping in the big city, I’d spy on him. Out of Eastport, he seemed to glow. Perhaps he was more comfortable away from home, where he was mocked by the cool kids, the ones with the small cocks. Teased because he was no good at sports and because he spoke in a slow and effeminate Down East drawl that gave him the reputation of possibly being queer.
At the supermarket, I’d watch and listen as he helped customers. He was polite, cheerful and attentive. I once asked him to point me in the direction of the dried black bean department. He was quick with the info and didn’t appear to recognize me. He seemed urbane, almost. Witty. Suave. So different than his Eastport version.
It was months until I saw him again, on a sunny day across the Canadian border in St. Stephen. Earbuds had replaced the headphones. He was smiling and gazing up into the sky, not staring down at the sidewalk. And he was wearing a cool vintage sports jacket that fit him quite nicely.
I followed him into the library and watched him closely. He seemed thinner. His slouch was gone. Looked like his ear was pierced. His hair was styled. Suddenly, a picture of his new life flashed in my brain. In Canada, where the people were so much nicer, he’d been embraced. Perhaps, hanging out in St. Steve’s, he found a group of Frenchmen, or at least French-Canadians, happy to please a strapping young American bear and lavish him with attention and grooming tips while adoring him and his large cock.
I’d finished the refinishing job and the clients were happy. Good thing, too, since I spent 10 days on my knees using a hand-sander to bring the ancient and worn dining room and living room floors back to beautiful. The customers had invited me to the house to pick up the final check and drink a beer. There was a chance for more work, which was great, because we were, per usual, broke.
“I was wondering …” the woman said. I saw her husband wince. Something was up. “How is your son doing?”
“My son?” I asked, confused. Not a chance I was any baby’s daddy. I’d had a vasectomy a decade before. “I don’t have a son.”
“Oh,” she said. “Really?”
Her husband shook his head. “Drop it, will you please,” he said to her, then looked at me, embarrassed. “Let me apologize for …”
“Whaddya mean? My son?” I interrupted, intrigued. “Who said I had a son?”
“Well,” the woman paused for a second, then turned to her husband. “He’s a nice guy. I should tell him.”
He sighed and didn’t answer.
“Well, according to my cousin,” she paused again, “who heard it from her friend, your son had been in trouble.” She frowned. “For raping a retarded girl.” She tried to smile, but it didn’t work. “Though since you don’t have a son, I’ll be sure to let her know.”
“Wow,” I said. These folks were nice. Over time, I’d get to know ’em better and grow to admire their dedication to their flock of special adoptees. No way of foreseeing, of course, that within three years of that night one of their teen-aged sons would get in trouble for allegedly coercing a fellow special-ed student to have sex in the girls’ bathroom at school. “I’d appreciate it,” I said, “if you could let her know we don’t have kids. Just a couple of dogs.”
My pal the artist walked into the diner with the crazy chick who spray-painted her blue house red. I wanted to eavesdrop but wasn’t about to follow them into that greasy (and disgusting) spoon. On several occasions, I’d had the unfortunate opportunity to visit the back kitchen, where cigarettes smoldered, mice wandered and none of the cooks washed their hands after sticking their fingers in their ears.
But I was wicked curious about their conversation because I knew they’d both had sex with rock ’n’ roll icons. She’d practically been married to one of the Ramones — I could never remember which (one of the many drummers, maybe). She was cute and, according to the Mad Scientist, loved to party and talk about the good old days of punk rock.
I wondered if the artist had told the woman the secret he shared with Sweetgrass and me the winter before. We’d just finished shoveling his driveway and stairs and were standing in his studio, surrounded by walls covered in colorful abstractia with occasional forays into warm, dreamy pseudo-realism. He was high off some weed I’d scored for him from one of my Passamaquoddy friends.
“It was late ’67 or early ’68, I can’t remember,” he said. “So long ago. I was working in a shitty Greenwich Village basement bar. She practically fell down the stairs and I could tell she was already buzzed. Messed up on something.” He lit a cigarette.
“She drank Southern Comfort like it was water. Said she was a painter. ‘Well,’ I told her, ‘I’m a painter.’ So we spent the rest of the night talking art. When I closed up, she insisted on coming back to my place.” He shook his head.
“Nothing like that ever happened to me before.” He puffed on the smoke. “So I grabbed a bottle of booze and brought her home and she started dancing around the apartment. Then singing. Real loud. Off key.” He shrugged. “At least to my ears. Anyways, I kissed her to just shut her up. The landlady lived downstairs. I didn’t want no trouble. One thing led to another.” He drew deep on his Camel filter.
“She practically tore my clothes off. We had sex. We didn’t make love. It was…” his voice trailed off. “It was fucking. Was great. Then she fell asleep in my arms.” He smiled with the memory. “Next morning, we drank coffee and she told me she was going home to California. I was so un-hep, I still didn’t get it.” He laughed. “Not until later. When she made it big. Real big.”
He grinned widely. “You’ll never guess who she was.”
“Janis Joplin,” I said. “You slept with Janis Joplin.”
His grin collapsed. Crestfallen.
“How did you know?” he asked. “You’re the first ones I’ve told around here.”
“A guess,” I said, instantly wishing I could kept my big mouth shut. “Lucky guess.”
Crash Barry will be delivering the Brown Bag Lecture at the Portland Public Library on January 25 at noon. More details at crashbarry.com.