Friday, January 30, 2015

Moonshine, Masturbation, and Eclipses By Peter Nolan Smith

Children are cruel by nature. Young boys and girls instinctively bully the weak and ridicule the infirm. There was nothing funnier than a cheap trick at the cost of a poor unfortunate in keeping with the ageless adage, "Comedy is when a beggar falls down the stairs. Tragedy is when a duchess does."

In the early 60s our teachers and parents offered the blind/deaf/mute idol Helen Keller as an icon of individual triumph. Anne Bancroft won the Academy Award for her portrayal of the teacher who brings light to a young Alabaman girl without the power to speak, hear, or see in THE MIRACLE WORKER .

It didn't take long for Helen Keller jokes to hit the grade school circuit.

How did Helen Keller's parents punish her?

They moved the furniture.

Her triple affliction gave healthy children comfort that they were normal, however our parents and teachers swiftly instilled a new fear in callous youth unafraid of the Devil.

At age ten my sins were small; mostly disobeying my parents and telling lies. The priest in the confessional announced my penance in a hushed voice, "Ten Hail Marys and two Our Fathers."

These prayers cleansed the black spots from my soul, however my innocence was soon challenged by a deadly scourge signaled by waking in the middle of the night with pajamas soaked by a sticky substance. This oddity was a terrible embarrassment for a 12 year-old.

Bed-wetting was for babies.

I hid my shameful affliction by washing my PJs the next morning.

My father was dumbfounded by my obsession with clean bedwear.

"You're pissing in his bed," my older brother kidded me about a regression to infantilism.

"No, I'm not." I threatened him with a beating. I was taller by two inches.

"I've seen the wet spot."

I didn't know how to handle my shame, until my best friend Chuckie Manzi solved the mystery by opening the Boy Scout Handbook to a small section entitled NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS.

"It's when your balls are too loaded with semen and you shot a load without even knowing it."

"That's not what they say in the Handbook." I showed him the text.

"At times the glands discharge part of their secretions through the sex organ during sleep. This process is called a nocturnal emission or a “wet dream”. It is perfectly natural and healthy and a sign that nature has taken care of the situation in its own manner.

"There you have it, even the Boy Scouts say it's normal."

Normal was important to us. No one wanted to be weird.

I read more from the Handbook, which stated that there are boys who do not let nature have its own way with them but cause emissions themselves. This may do no physical harm, but may cause them to worry.

Any real boy knows that anything that causes him to worry should be avoided or overcome. If anything like this worries you, this is not unusual – just about all boys have the same problem. Seek the correct answer to any question which bothers you about your development from boy to man. But be sure to get your information from reliable sources – your parents, your physician, your spiritual adviser.

"I'm not talking to the priest or my parents about this."

Chuckie shook his head.

"Keep your confession to the normal and never tell the priest about that."

"Why not?"

"Because some of them are not right."

By 'not right' Chuckie meant that they liked to touch boys. None of our parish priests were that way, but I limited my confession to swearing and disobeying my parents, even after I osmotically learned how to effect nocturnal emissions.

No boys told the priests about touching themselves after dark, for masturbation was a mortal sin threatening the immortal soul.

For the Church sex was strictly for procreation. Pleasure in the act disrupted the natural order of life and the priests warned their young male parishioners that wasting the holy seed of life endangered the sense of sight.

"You could go blind or suffer from effeminacy."

The man across the street from my parents' house was queer. Arthur flew jets for Eastern Airlines. His boyfriend, Joe, coached football. Chuckie and I suspected them of masturbating each other.

"It's what queers do, isn't it?"

"How should I know."

That spring the mystery of men with men was solved by the discovery of rotting stroke books in the woods of the Blue Hills. Queers did everything married couples did in bed and more according to the moldy paperbacks titled 'JOCKS ON FIRE' or 'COCK-MAD COACHES'. I whacked off to pages 75-78 of THE ITCH about seven hundred times without losing my eyesight, although my sight worsened throughout the end of grammar school.

My seat was moved to the front of the class. I got good grades. Bullies didn't like smart kids with glasses. The beatings were painful, but at least I hadn't had my eyes plucked from their sockets like Tyrone Power in PRINCE OF FOXES. Orson Welles played Cesare Borgia.

Blind teenagers were sent to a special school for the blind, deaf, and dumb. The nuns taught them how to live in the normal world. People said those school were more special for other reasons and none of them good.

In high school the brothers were hip to drugs. The vice-principal held an assembly to inform us of the danger of looking into the sun. The guest speaker was an acid head who had stared into the sun during a total eclipse.

"All I can see is the sun. Nothing but the sun."

I used my savings to buy prescribed sunglasses. Eclipses were rarely announced on teenage TV. Being an ex-Boy Scout I had been trained to 'be prepared', plus Ray-Bans were the height of style in the 1960s.

Girls thought that they were cool. The bullies stopped hurting me. They liked the girls who liked my glasses. The nuns tried to stop me from wearing them in classes. My optometrist said I had sensitive eyes.

Doctor Shaw wasn't scared of the nuns. He was Jewish.

The last threat to my eyes was moonshine.

Two year ago I bought a gallon from a Mississippian hanging around Frank's Lounge in Fort Greene. I tried a few sips of Homer's concoction and the corn mash burned a light in my stomach. A match to a spoon filled with the illegal alcohol ignited a blue blaze. This meant the 'shine was clean.

A yellow fire was cause for caution, for rotgut moonshine can blind or kill the unsuspecting, mostly if the manufacturer isn't too tidy with his contraptions such as a car radiator, which offers a deadly concoction of lead and anti-freeze.

A high-minded distiller will 86 the 'foreshot' of the batch i.e. the first offering from the still. After that it's white-line fever and I see the light.

And I still suffer from nocturnal emissions.

It's only natural.

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