IN SAN FRANCISCO Dede and John Traina lived in Pacific Heights, a neighborhood of mansions not far from Russian Hill but stodgy by comparison. During the week she came over to our house by herself. Dede became a member of the family, part my big sister, part Mom's little sister, part something else. Dede was kooky, like family, too.
One day, after lunch, she told Mom and Dad and me how full she was, and asked, "Do you want to see how I get into my really tight jeans? I have to lie down, like this." She lay down, unzippedpink underwear stood out against the kelly green of her jeans"and then wriggle in." She pulled the waist down to demonstrate, and then started yanking it back up as she swiveled her hips side to side on the carpet.
Very difficult, I thought.
WHEN I WAS nine I asked Dad about sex. He drove me to the Fairmont Hotel, on nearby Nob Hill, parked across the street in a loading zone, and told me to wait in the car.
Then he crossed the semicircular drive of the hotel, held the door for a woman, exchanged a pleasant word, smiled (lips closed to hide his stained teeth), and disappeared into the building. I looked around Nob Hill: gray Grace Cathedral (where I'd be going to school soon); red-brick Pacific Union Club (an institution Dad reviledthough later joinedbecause "somebody blackballed me for being married to a Jewish woman," which required a complicated explanation of blackballing and Judaism, forever twinning the two in my mind); shreds of blue bay between old brownstone skyscrapers; green geometric Huntington Park where Thuy, a Vietnamese "governess" (to use Mom's word) whom I'd asked to marry me the year before, stealing a ring from her so I could give it back as a wedding present, once snatched up a pigeon and held it to her breast while she told me her brother had been killed by the Viet Cong.
Dad came out of the Fairmont holding a Playboy. He carried it in plain sight. I could make it out from across the street. I watched in awea small, beautiful, inadequately clothed woman, arriving with Dad. He got in and handed it to me. "Here," he said. "We 'll look at some women's bodies."
The cover woman looked at me like she loved me. I loved her!
Dad opened the magazine to the table of contents.
"What should we look at first?" he asked.
"The lady on the cover," I said in a very quiet voice. It seemed faithless to look at anybody else.
Dad laughed, not unkindly, and said, "Well, there 's a lot more in here. Let's look at the centerfold."
My vocabulary was getting ever larger.
He unfolded and I stared. The centerfold was the most beautiful picture of the most beautiful woman in the world that month. After a couple of minutes he said, "The centerfold doesn't have to be your favorite. It could be anyone." He handed me the magazine. I leafed through. Breasts. Lace. A completely naked woman in a body stockinga totally confusing garment. I stopped at a halfpage picture of a woman with straight dark hair reclining on a rubber-latticed pool chaise, a gold unicorn pendant on a thin gold chain around her neck, and dangling down between her breasts, which were tanned, dewy, and a bit smallermore modest, I thoughtthan the other breasts in the magazine. The unicorn stopped me. It was an amulet of power. Like the magic ring in my favorite book, The Hobbit. She was beautiful and mysterious and wise and possibly part elvish.
Dad turned back to the centerfold. I had a confusing erection. The centerfold was beautiful. She was tall and blonde and proud, standing completely straight, completely naked, and facing the camera. I had only ever desired toys, and now I desired her. She was motivating me. I felt like doing her bidding. I wasn't sure what she was bidding me to do. Grab the magazine to my chest? Crinkle the pages as hard as I could. Eat them? Roll around in the backseat with them? Beat someone in wrestling? (I was one of the better wrestlers in my Catholic grade school.) Everything hurt. I had hot magma flowing through my head and arms. Dad started the car and we drove home, me holding the Playboy. In the building's garage he took it back and said, "I'll keep this, but whenever you need it come ask me. We can look at it some more, together. But you can't keep it."
From Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey. Copyright 2005 Sean Wilsey. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Penguin Press.
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No Man's Land
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