When I was 13 I was girl crazy but, like most 13-year-old boys, I had very little action. Maybe it was my curly hair during the era of the Beatles. I was not athletic enough to play on any of the junior high school teams. My grades sucked. Girls were foreign territory. They terrified me. They were something to steal glances at in math class: strange, wondrous, fragile objects. Approaching them was out of the question.
"Talk to him, Harold! Talk to him!" my mother used to nag my weary father, dog tired from yet another day at the shoe store cajoling Cobbie pumps onto fat ladies' triple-E corn-callused feet.
My first real encounter with girls was during the summer of '64, which my family spent in Miami Beach. We drove our beige 1959 Chevrolet station wagon with the fins past Pedro's South of the Border, past the "IMPEACH EARL WARREN" signs, past the Georgia fireworks stands and onto Miami Beach in all its orgasmic splendor.
We drove on the Arthur Godfrey Causeway, along neon Collins Avenue, our eyes bugging out as we passed palace after palace: the Sans Souci, the Versailles, the Fontainebleau, the Eden Roc, the Seville, the Deauville. We avoided the haute chateaux and opted for the Roney Plaza, a worn-out stucco place on the beach that used to be the grande dame in the 1930s. My father got a deal because the Roney was about to be torn down and turned into condominiums. Besides, who left the summer heat of Hartford, Conn., for the 100 percent humidity of Miami in August?
We drove up the Roney's half-circle driveway and under the breezeway, unloaded our unmatched luggage and walked into the lobby with white and gold provincial furniture everywhere -- gilded mirrors, puffed-cushioned sofas and sectionals, drop-leaf tea tables. The royal blue velvet appliqui wallpaper would have been too opulent for Marie Antoinette, but Miami Beach tourists loved it.
My mother stuck out her hand and introduced herself to the social director, Lillian Ross, a ditsy divorcie from Great Neck, N.Y., who looked like Carmen Miranda without the fruit. All Miami Beach hotels had social directors, syrupy matchmakers in Capri pants and see-through high heels whose job it was to ensure that the guests had a grand time. Lillian was the one who organized Mr. and Mrs. Biederman's slide show of their trip to Majorca, the Sunday afternoon volleyball games, the luaus (no pork), bingo, canasta and mahjong and the excursions to Hialeah.
"We have a lovely group of families this season," Lillian cooed as she poofed up her beehive and reached out to shake the old man's hand.
A little guy wearing khaki shorts and an orange T-shirt that read "I've been to Parrot Jungle!" suddenly materialized from nowhere.
"Arnie here is from White Plains," Lillian said proudly, pulling a runty kid toward her. "Arnie's parents are spending the whole summer with us at the Roney."
"Gimme five, pal!" Arnie said, sliding his right palm waist-high to me.
The two of us immediately went to the pool to survey the girl situation. Arnie pulled out a black comb and slipped it through his amber waves. Arnie could comb his hair, whereas mine was so curly I could barely get a steel-bristle brush through it.
What impressed me most about Arnie was what he told me within 15 minutes of meeting him.
He had touched a girl's breast! Actual skin to skin, not any through-the-sweater feel.
My only experience with sex had been at a hot and heavy spin-the-bottle session on a sultry June evening when six boys and girls gathered on Carol Klinghoffer's veranda. Carol pulled out a six-and-a-half-ounce Pepsi bottle, and when my turn came up, the bottle spun to Karen Resnick, a pretty girl with a mouth that to this day reminds me of Jean Seberg's. Puckering my lips, I leaned across the circle of wide-eyed kids, tenderly brushed aside strands of Karen's blond hair and planted my trembling lips on her rosy right cheek. It was wonderful.
At the Roney that summer, my sister, Penny, four years older than I, was already planning her own series of sexual exploits. Penny's plan was to pick up guys who drove Corvette Stingrays up and down Collins Avenue. She quickly teamed up with a girl named Bobbie from Brookline, Mass. The two would idly stroll up and down Collins and tell boys they were college students staying at the Fontainebleau, studying art history.
As for me, I spent every day with Arnie, who took up residence poolside on a chaise lounge. The only things missing were a cigarette holder dangling from his mouth, a martini by his side and a racing form from Hialeah. In the afternoon, we bodysurfed in the Atlantic before baking on the sand listening to "Telstar" on my transistor radio, furiously strumming on imaginary electric guitars.
Midway through the summer, we were following our daily routine when two girls we had never seen before placed their Coppertone beach towels 15 feet away from us on the sand. Arnie poked me in the ribs.
"Ac-tion," he whispered, raising both eyebrows.
The girls pretended to ignore us, setting up for the day: transistor radio, Johnson's baby oil, cardboard metallic sun reflectors. Arnie swaggered over to the bustier of the two, the one with Jean Shrimpton legs. She had on an olive-green bikini bottom and avocado shapes to cover her melon-size breasts, which were spilling out all over the beach.
"Let me assist you," Arnie purred.
She handed him the baby oil and Arnie started rubbing this total stranger's back!
"You girls new on the beach?" Arnie asked, deftly slipping his hand under the bikini strap.
"We're at the hotel for two weeks," the chesty girl volunteered. "We just got here this morning from New Jersey."
They had a reputation for two things: complaining and giving it away. One Jersey girl every Connecticut boy knew about had taken on four boys at the same time. Another Garden State lass had entertained every player on a high school football team in the back seat of her father's Corvair. The players waited on line at the open car door.
And here before my eyes were two live saucy Jersey dishes in the flesh!
Arnie motioned me to join him. "This is my good friend, Steve. He's from Connecticut." Arnie could just as well have said I was from Outer Mongolia. The girls looked bored, but that meant everything was going fine.
"Hi," I said with a nod.
Meanwhile, Arnie had reached a critical juncture. He had finished slathering the built girl's back. Would he go for the other girl? No way.
"Fair maiden," he ventured where few had gone before. "May I assist the sun gods by applying some oil to your lovely back?"
The other Jersey girl said nothing. She shook her mane of tawny hair, turned over on her flat stomach and gave Arnie her lithe back. As he started rubbing the small of her back, I heard an almost imperceptible sigh ooze from her mouth. It seemed as though her body quivered as Arnie started massaging her Clorox skin, inches from the split orbs of her firm buns.
I flashed on the Trojan I had stolen from my father's dresser drawer, now stored in a secret recess of my wallet, patiently awaiting service.
Then it dawned on me. The wallet was back at the hotel! After carrying around that cockamamie thing for a whole year, I was caught unprepared. Jersey girls don't materialize every day. They can be loose as a goose one day and tight as a drum the next. You never know.
Arnie set down the bottle of baby oil. "Steve here is a wonderful swimmer, aren't you, pal?"
I had a rough time doing the dead man's float. I looked out at the blue expanse, and said stoically, "I do five miles a day when the surf's down. Sometimes 10. The lifeguards here depend on me."
"You don't have a swimmer's body," said the busty girl.
"Looks are deceiving," I replied, nodding my head, then winking.
And she bought it! The girl with the avocados looked at me with a wicked smile, exactly how Jersey girls were supposed to smile.
Thus began two remarkable weeks. Joan (the one with breasts) became Arnie's girl. Audrey (the one with the back) was mine.
After our waiter, Oscar, cleared away the dinner plates every night in the Roney's main dining room, the old man and my mother played bingo in the upstairs game room. Lillian Ross called out the numbers. Penny and Bobbie painted makeup on their faces and strutted Collins. Arnie and Joan hung out at the pool. Audrey and I walked the beach. My M.O. was to drape my right hand over Audrey's shoulder. This was serious business. Slowly and surely, like a crab moving in the night, my hand would creep down under her arm, through her sleeveless blouse, and touch the stiff fabric of her brassiere.
Actually, I was more like a barracuda on a feeding frenzy. I crooked my arm and twisted my hand into the hole of her blouse. Then I slipped my hand under her bra and tentatively touched with the tips of my fingers whatever was there. It was great while it lasted, which was never more than a second or two. Audrey was an expert at wiggling her right shoulder, which sent my hand scurrying back to her shoulder. The portions were small, but that hardly made a difference. Once landed, for however brief a moment, I had the same singular sensation Neil Armstrong experienced four years later when he walked on the moon. "Apollo to Earth! Apollo to Earth! We have made contact!"
Sometimes Audrey and I ambled down to Wolfies, where we scarfed egg creams and coconut-creme pies. In and out of the grungy grease pit, Audrey seemed unaware of my roving claw. Not once did she glance at my bathing suit, which looked like a tent from an erection so potent I could spin a set of chip-proof plates on it. We were raising our cholesterol and glucose levels, but doing nothing to lower our pants. Through it all, Audrey chattered away.
Forget about talking, I had trouble breathing. Audrey talked incessantly about everything under the Miami moon. Our nightly discussions involved philosophical tracts about how her sister had ruined at least six of Audrey's A-line skirts, why her sister's feet smelled like rotting cheese (she ran around in Keds all day) and when her sister was going to get her own bathroom (never). How could she possibly think that crap interested me? I didn't care about Audrey's sister. I didn't care about Audrey's clothes. I cared about what was under them. I wanted some deep love talk, about the waves, the silky sand, the moon dipping low, you and me forever baby. I think Audrey must have talked to me in the same way she talked to her girlfriends. Maybe the same way she would someday talk to her hairdresser, her shrink or her drippy husband.
A couple of days after my exploits with Audrey began, my mother started up. "Harold, talk to him! Talk to him! You better tell him about the facts of life before it's too late!"
The old man didn't want any part of it. He was a meat-and-potatoes guy. Discussing sex, discussing anything, was out of the question.
"Go on, Ruth, he's only 13!" the old man shouted, scrunching his nose and shooing off my mother with his hand as if clearing the air after a fart.
The old man buried his nose in the business pages of the Miami Herald, following his three stocks. Up one-eighth one day, down a quarter the next. It was fractions to me.
"Steve's a jerk, anyway," chimed in Penny. "Why does he have to know the facts of life? Who'd want to go out with him?"
My mother eventually bludgeoned the old man into telling me the facts of life. It was something he did not take to lightly. If he was uncomfortable talking about hygiene -- like shaking off a soft penis after taking a whiz -- he wasn't going to have an easy time explaining how to stick a hard one into a woman's jewel box. The reasons for my father's reticence eluded me. I couldn't figure out why. This was the same guy who stashed a jumbo box of unlubricated Trojans in his dresser drawer.
One afternoon near the end of my halcyon days in Miami Beach, the rain was coming down in sheets. Thunder ripped like a cattle whip. Lightning illuminated the beach as though an atomic bomb had exploded. The sudden inclement weather wiped out any possibility that Arnie and I had for bodysurfing or feeling up Audrey and Joan.
Arnie went to visit his aunt in North Miami Beach. She was knitting him a sweater and she needed to trace his shoulders. Penny and my mother went shopping along Lincoln Road. Audrey and Joan said they were spending the day with their grandmothers on Treasure Island.
After the old man finished his Spanish omelet, I knew I was in for it when he put his hand on my shoulder. The old man rarely touched me.
"Steve, whaddaya say we shoot the breeze?"
Where'd he pick that up?
The old man was silent in the elevator going up to the room, except for a couple of burps, the combustible byproducts of 17 straight days of Spanish omelets. He took out two Tums and shuffled uncomfortably from zori to zori.
In the room, the old man laid out the agenda. "Steve, your mother wants me to give you some pointers about girls."
Penny was busy shopping for brassieres. Arnie was getting a cable-knit sweater sized for him. The girls were slurping chicken soup, maybe scouting plastic surgeons for designer nose jobs. I was learning about sex.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Dad. I got a pretty good idea about all that stuff. Guys I know talk about positions and French kissing all the time." About the only thing I really knew was Bruce Fishman's admonition: "You can't do anything with a girl until her nipples are as hard as bullets."
But the old man was not to be sidetracked even by a recitation of the Kama Sutra. He had a job to do. He droned on and on about the penis and the vagina, about prophylactics (so that was what Trojans were called), about unwanted babies coming into the world.
"Yeah, yeah, Dad. I know all this stuff."
No matter. Before my eyes, the old man had transformed himself into Alfred C. Kinsey.
"You need a prophylactic, Steve? You need protection? You come to me."
Imagine, the old man, the grumpy guy who lived for his three crummy stocks and hawked rubber-soled bluchers to cops and Miss America pumps to schoolteachers, offering me rubbers!
Once he started he couldn't be stopped.
"I've seen a lot of guys like you who get a girl in trouble, and then they have to marry her," the old man said, hanging his head like a long-eared, sad-eyed hush puppy. "All cudda been avoided. I dunno why they don't use protection, a prophylactic. They're too cheap, too afraid to go to the druggist, caught up in the moment? Beats me."
I was numb. The old man could have dragged me over hot coals and I wouldn't have felt a thing. Using a multisyllabic word like prophylactic was completely weird and uncharacteristic. It was like LBJ talking in Boston lockjaw. This was a historic occasion, the closest I was ever going to get to Yalta or Potsdam. The old man and I talking about cocks, cunts, babes and babies.
What I couldn't get through my mind was sex and my parents. Did they actually do it?
"And one last thing, Steve," he said, pointing a gnarled finger at my nose. "There's nothing wrong with sex-u-al intercourse. If you love the girl. It can be a beau-ti-ful thing between a man and a woman -- when it's the right thing to do. At the right time and at the right place, when you're older."
When the old man had finished, we descended in the elevator silent, each of us ragged and spent. We both could have used a cigarette.
For better or worse, probably better, Audrey left four days later, before I could try out any of my father's advice.
But the night before she and her family flew back to Jersey, Audrey for the first time allowed me to cup in my right hand her tiny breast. For as long as I wanted. Hours, it seemed. She didn't talk about her sister, clothes, the classes she was planning on taking next year. We necked for two hours on the Roney veranda. Lillian Ross walked by and smiled, content in knowing that another summer had come and gone, and boys like me were still crazy about girls like Audrey.
Heated by my father's sex talk, I tried to slip my fingers into the nether regions under her shift with spaghetti straps, but that was off limits. In her mind, I think Audrey felt she had already gone all the way. From an encounter on the beach to a prolonged sweaty clench, it was heady enough stuff for Audrey, even though she was from Jersey.
The farthest south I got that night was to brush my hand against Audrey's pint-size derrière. And you know what? There were no soft, subtle furrows of flesh as I had dreamed. Instead I got something that felt like a ham wrapped in plastic. Alas, little Audrey was wearing a girdle!
Hell, I wasn't angry. I was ecstatic. Arnie had promised me the moon, my father had suggested stars. In two weeks, my complexion had turned peaches and cream.
As for Arnie, he left the Roney a day after Joan and Audrey. In the lobby, Arnie's father was hunched over the counter at the checkout window, sweating the bill. Arnie glided an Ace comb through his hair as he took one last glance at the glittering ocean.
Then Arnie took out his index finger from the pocket of his khaki shorts, ran it under his nose and inhaled deeply. He smiled like a demon.
"Joan, what a sweet maiden," Arnie said in a soft voice.
It may or may not have been true. It didn't make any difference. Arnie could blow smoke rings and order double martinis neat. He was God.
Arnie's father was tying suitcases onto the roof rack of their two-tone Fairlane coupe.
"Chop, chop!" Arnie's father shouted as he revved up the Ford. "We gotta make Jacksonville by dark."