Does it Have a Blowjob?

I bounded downstairs when the phone rang, excited that it might be Joni calling for me to come over and play. The last time we got together we played dead people, a game that involved getting dressed up in foofy party gowns my mom had bought at a yard sale and pretending we'd died and were lying in caskets while mourners paid their dues. We'd come up with the idea for the game by watching soap operas in which dead characters were resurrected. That, and from the few funerals I'd been to, funerals for my mother's great aunts and uncles and second cousins.

"Is that a herd of elephants?" my older brother cried from his den that he called a bedroom. Above Ed's bed hung a poster of Dolly Parton leaning against a hay stack. She wore cut off jean shorts and an emerald green top. Ed's adoration for Dolly was deep. In high school shop class he'd constructed— much to his teacher's distaste— a pair of breast-shaped wooden book ends. Ms. Parton's ample bosom secured hard cover editions of Ulysses, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn. My mother was a fan of Joyce, but her affection for Twain was so great that she'd named her first born Mark. Also nestled between Ms. Parton's wooden breasts were text books about American history and geometry and a book about the Atkins diet. Ed cried, "I'm trying to sleep here."

"Fat ass," I said and galloped across the dining room to the kitchen, almost tripping over the bump in the threshold where two rugs met.

"Hello," I grabbed the receiver.

"Do you give blowjobs?" the man on the other line asked.

Blowjobs. I'd heard the word before and I knew that my other, also older, brother Mark was trying to sell his Mazda RX-7 before he moved away to college. I logically assumed a blowjob was an automobile part.

"Hang on a sec," I told the caller. I held the receiver in my hand and called out to Ed who was trying to sleep, the only other person in the house, but clearly someone who would have more knowledge of blowjobs than me.

"Hey, Ed. Do we have any blowjobs?" I yelled.

"I'm trying to sleep," he shouted back.

I would not be ignored. "Do we have any blowjobs?"

"What's that?" he cried. I heard him stir. The real elephant of the family was Ed, who stood six-feet-two-inches tall and weighed about two-twenty.

"Is there someone on the phone?" Back then it wasn't unheard of for a family of seven to have only one phone. Ed rumbled down the stairs, making each one creek under the weight of his step.

I was getting impatient. What if Joni really was trying to call me? As clearly and as slowly as possible, I said: "Ed, Mark is selling his car. DOES IT HAVE A BLOWJOB?"

"Hang up the phone," Ed snapped as he plodded through the dining room. The antique furniture shook.

Ed just didn't understand. The last time someone had called about the Mazda, I'd forgotten to take a message and gotten yelled at by Mark. I needed to explain. "Ed," I said. "Mark said take messages for calls about the Mazda. He said he'd sell it for parts. Does the Mazda have a blowjob or not?" What didn't make sense about my concern?

Ed grabbed the phone from my hand. "Who's this?" he growled. "Fucker. I'll fucking kill you," he spit into the receiver and then hung up.

"Mark told me— " I started to whine.

"Hang up on people like that," Ed said. He was exhausted and crabby from a night of waiting tables and doing whatever it was waiters did after their shifts. Ed was also responsible for watching me, although, at seven years old, I didn't require much watching, just the presence of an adult in case. In case of what?

"People like what?" I asked.

"Don't answer the phone for a while."

"Joni's supposed to call."

"Joni Baloney."

"Joni," I corrected.

"So what?"

"Fucker," I said.

"Who taught you to talk like that?" I went down to the cellar and put on a foofy gown.

Nine years later on a cold autumn night I sat with my boyfriend Todd in his car near the football field. "I would never ask you to do that," he said as I stared at the erection in his lap. I was poised to suck it. "That's where my pee comes from," he said, like I didn't know. Todd was Lutheran, and honestly I was relieved with his lack of expectation. I took him in my hand.

As our courtship progressed, however, Todd began begging for it. Not a blow job, but the real deal. I just wasn't ready to give it up to someone who threw temper tantrums when I beat him at tennis, to the relatively handsome football player whose skin was prone to occassional flare-ups.

My brother Ed asked one day, "So, did you give Re-Todd the boot?" My brothers, with their witicisms, had changed Todd to Re-Todd, Kirt to Dirt, Tim to Dim. Walter became Waldo, Bob was The Slob and so on. They could think of no clever nickname for Keith so they just called him "that faggot boyfriend of yours."

In college there was a boy my brothers didn't know about. He liked to visit me at night, and if we were lucky my roommates would be gone. His hair was dark and shiny, and he had a face like no one in my family. He never asked for much, never pressured me for intercourse, complicated matters any more than they needed to be, like so many others (the Dirts, the Dims, the Slobs, the Waldos, and the Faggots) had. He wanted what I wanted. And there, two hundred miles away from home, on my dorm-sanctioned single, we did it— exchanged the simple pleasures of oral sex.