My first orgasm and my first defining moment of self-awareness as a homosexual occurred at the age of 11 in the winter of 1960. The YMHA (Young Men's Hebrew Association) was the site of this momentous incident when I chose to become gay.
The result of this was the beginning of 30 years of repression, closet life horrors and a year of a mid-twentieth century version of reparative therapy--which cost my parents a small fortune. However, at the time my parents didn't mind because after nine month, the therapist declared me cured of homosexual tendencies. And unlike some other members of my generation I was spared drugs, electro-shock therapy, brain surgery and months of institutionalization in a 1950s nuthouse.
Thanks to growing up in world where I was born a criminal, I was condemned to a life of relentless pain and constant fear. I have no idea why I survived. I have no idea why I didn't kill myself. I guess some of us just have a powerful will and survival gene.
Not surprisingly, New York, my hometown, is one huge cluttered attic full of personal memories. I never know when I'll be ambushed by one.
One such memory past-blasted me on late summer's just a few years ago. Jewish boy soup.
I was on my way to meet friends at the Nowhere Bar. This little seemingly inconsequential excursion took me to a stretch of 14th Street that I hadn't visited in many years. At the northern most end of the East Village, the Nowhere Bar nestles in at no. 322 East 14th Street. I hadn't done the math so when I approached the bar I was startled to suddenly find myself standing in front of no. 344, very much somewhere and far from nowhere.
I stood there, trembling before no. 344, the formerly East Village branch of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, the Jewish version of the YMCA. Paralyzed, I just stared at the old building, caught in a wave of erotic nostalgia, memories of chlorine scented blue water with naked Jewish boys bobbing up and down. The clearly remembered scent of chlorine and boys tickled my nostrils. Instead of stars, little black tufts of public hair danced before my glazed eyes.
Male nudity was and remains more common than many of you may know. In fact, in April of 2005, The New York Times ran an article on "The Tao of Skinny-Dipping" that was more than homoerotic for yours truly, but not at all for the obvious reasons. The Times reported: "After long days spent defending their positions atop New York's most competitive fields, Manhattan's alpha males need to unwind. From mistresses to treadmills, these men have as many forms of relaxation as sources of stress. But some of the city's titans have a secret. They meet around private pools in private clubs and swim together, naked."
"Men swimming together in the nude dates back to before the fall of Rome and was commonplace just 50 years ago in New York City and its affluent suburbs. Yet today the practice survives at only a handful of exclusive clubs, where members hold onto it with a fierce devotion. It is for these men a peerless form of bonding, with nostalgic links to youthful activities like group showers at prep schools and skinny-dips at summer camp."
In 1960 I enjoyed my first encounter with this experience, thanks to swimming lessons at the YMHA--my first experience with group male nudity and other things.
"...nostalgic links to youthful activities..." I'll say! When I was 11 years old my parents decided that wading into the North Atlantic until I was frightened by the undertow did not constitute swimming. We used to summer on Cape Cod and I was, as a boy, quite content to dip my toe into the surf and then beat a hasty retreat to my sand castle. The ocean was a dark, dank mysterious place; the waves were towering and violent and the occasional fish that my father, who was an avid surf caster, would pull out of that salty soup was not the kind of creature I cared to have brushing against me, unseen. And the dunes were a perfectly fine place for urinary relief.
Visits to New York City beaches like Orchard, Jones and Long mainly focused on roaming vendors and their hot dogs, knishes and soft drinks. Coney Island was all about Nathan's huge frankfurters drowning in mustard and sauerkraut, butter drenched corn on the cob and colossal french fries. Swimming in the scary sea seemed silly compared to roller coasters, the house of horrors, bumper cars and collecting skee-ball coupons so that you could bring home some amazingly worthless and incomprehensible "treasure."
Occasionally my Grandma Lilly would shake me out of bed well before sunrise and we would take the subway from the East Village out to Rockaway so that we could roam the empty beach and collect the morning tide's bounty; especially sand dollars and conch shells. It was also spooky and fun to find a stick and poke at Horseshoe Crabs. But, again, other than rolling up our pants and letting the surf wash through our toes, we never went into that schmutzy water. My grandmother made it clear that people did nasty things in that water. Yuck. And I knew what she meant because whenever I had to do something nasty she would send me into the water to do it.
But when I turned 11 my parents joined a posh country club and it was embarrassing for my father to see his son refuse to venture beyond the shallow end of the pool. He frequently admonished my mother for turning her son into a sissy. The pool scene was further evidence of her inability to properly raise his son. He would frequently throw me into the deep end where I quickly learned the doggy paddle.
The doggy paddle is not a terribly manly stroke. In fact, for my father, little Ricky doing it doggy style was even more humiliating than watching me slug around in the shallow end. He would inevitably beat me at home "for being such a sissy." Obviously, the beatings failed.
So I was forcibly and unhappily sent to take swimming lessons at no. 344 East 14th Street, long before the Nowhere Bar, long before there were even legal gay bars. But my six week swimming course lasted merely a week, actually three days. The plan was to hit the Y three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday after school. On the first day, we were led into the locker room and told to strip. I had never before found myself completely naked in front of other boys. It was frightening, confusing and exciting. So there I was in the naked presence of about thirty other Jewish boys, ranging in age from 5 to 16, assorted and variously sized shvantzes in all their glory dangling off the side of the pool (the boys and the shvantzes.)
You know those movie scenes when everything around the protagonist goes into slow motion? That really happens. The combination of warm water, overheated air and dozens of naked boys conjured up yet unreleased hormonal surges, aka the onset of puberty.
I was swept away into this supernatural world by a tidal wave of suddenly released testosterone. What's this? Where is this coming from? Why am I feeling this way? Unfortunately I lost all sense of time and place and vulnerability. I remember clearly how unclearly I was thinking. The "how to swim" lecture off in the distance became a slushy blur of background sounds. My senses focused on the rich aroma of chlorine (which still arouses me), sweet and sour boy body odors, warm, moist air, assorted tufts of dark curly hair--A Whitman's Sampler of beckoning appendages. Curvy mounds. Napes of necks. Bending, stretching. Teasing. Laughing. Bullying. Domination. Submission. I found myself slipping into some kind of hormonal stupor. I felt as if I was more not there than there, as if I was observing all of this from some other dimension, some other world, looking in rather than participating.
The YMHA swimming instructors were babbling about butterflies, crawls, breast strokes, don't inhale, when to inhale; I was indifferent. We were instructed to drop into the pool and hang off the side, our bodies against the wall. I obeyed and made "contact" with the very smooth and slippery surface. It felt like I had just stuck my finger in a lamp socket, but good. Rubbing made it better. Oh, I was listening to the instructor. Breast this, crawl that. Yup. Got it. Other lesson stuff happened. I remember being held and kicking, learning to float. Other stuff. More lecturing and holding on to the side of the pool. More of that, please! And then it was over. I could think of nothing else for two days. I had to get that feeling back and the only way to do it was in the pool. All I could think of was the pool. Nothing else mattered. I suppose you could say that the pool wall was my first crush. The water vent would soon become my first true love.
Wednesday arrived, school ended and I hit the Y. This second experience brought further revelations. Little openings along the wall pumped rippling water into the pool that would enhance the sensation. In fact, if I positioned myself just right, the sensation would grow and grow. What was this? Was it wrong? Was it right?
Something told me to keep this experience to myself and I believed that I was doing so. At several points during the lessons I developed cramps in my legs and had to hold on to the side of pool until they abated. Seemed liked a plausible excuse at the time. Why wouldn't the instructors believe it? Anyhow, the pool was a boy soup and I was just one little insignificant carrot. And with moronic cat-like confidence, I believed that if I didn't look at them, they wouldn't look at me. So I would linger, the last boy out of the pool in fact.
And then came Thursday. My, oh my, oh my. Some 40 plus years later, I still have an affection for Thursdays. On this third day, my third "lesson", thanks to a subtle and instinctive orchestration of wall rubbing and rippling water, I rose. And rose. And rose. Suddenly, the feeling completely overwhelmed me and there I was breathless and bleary eyed having just experienced my first orgasm. It was wonderful and then suddenly horrible. For the first time since Monday, I actually found myself listening to the instructor. The feeling and the distraction were gone. The feelings and the bliss had disappeared. Suddenly, after three days, I found myself in a pool full of scary boys learning how to swim--and I had no idea what to do. Instinctively, I knew that those funny white gobs that had shot out of my little penis and were now floating before me in the pool had to be destroyed before the were detected by anyone else. Thank God I had learned doggie style, one fast circle and the gobs were gone.
Over the weekend I hoped and prayed that I would rediscover that secret garden of earthly delights, but it was not to be--at least not in the Jewish boy soup. And it would be some days before I learned that I could make gobs come without a swimming pool.
But on Monday, my mother picked me up early from school and took me to see a doctor. But he was a strange doctor--not the kind with a white coat and a stethascope but rather surrounded by books and toys and games.
Also, I didn't need to get undressed which was a very good thing because since the last pool incident, little Ricky was acting up and the only way he would go down was if I encouraged the white gobs. We did not need the doctor to see this.
My mother explained that my swimming lessons were over and that I would, instead, be spending some time each week with Dr. Fine.
I was worried that I had failed swimming lessons. As a straight A student, failure was neither an acceptable nor familiar option. But my mother comforted me and told me that she and my father had decided that I was special and should have private swimming lessons. In fact Dad had hired the daughters of a neigbor, two German girls who had been Olympic swimmers, to provide private instruction at the country club. I was confused by this because my father hated these girls. They were Germans and all German were Nazis and had killed our people in the War. I asked him about this change of attitude and I remember him saying that this was the least they could do to help make it up to us. Dad figured if anyone could de-sissify me, it would be a couple of Aryan bitches.
Of course, I had no idea that "the least they could do" was turn me into a man. While my mother turned to a child psychologist to cleanse me of the gay, my father's plan was a bit more old-fashsioned. He had paid the girls to fuck me. The German girls would teach me how to swim and also how to rub up against something other than the side of a bowl of Jewish boy soup.
Of course, the girls did not succeed beyond the swimming--which I mastered quite well and became quite the fish. I also found myself warming up to their Germanic brand of discipline, even if they were girls.
The "lessons" with Dr. Fine were not as successful. After nine months of very entertaining games and conversation with this silly child psychologist, I was pronounced cured of my homosexual tendencies.
Oh, and my father screwed the German sisters. I guess he wanted to get his money's worth. I actually remember my parents fighting over this, after which the Valkyries were banished from our lives.
A little warning, by the way. Now that you know this story, unless you're feeling particularly randy and in the mood for some polar bear action, run, don't walk if you see me hanging off the edge of a heavily chlorinated swimming pool. You take Viagra, I sniff chlorine.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, a few days after I was banished from the YMHA I had a little argument with my penis. Surely, I thought, you can't be dependent on the slippery wall of a boy-filled swimming pool to produce that mother of all sensations? At first, my penis refused to respond but I've always been clever at debate. The rest is history.
My little foray down memory lane satisfied, I gave a little nod to no. 344 and entered no. 322 and proceeded to get drunk. It's also worth noting that I had long forgotten about my time with Dr. Fine until the day I came out to my parents, some 30 years after the pool incident. My mother's first reaction was to wonder if Dr. Fine was still alive so that she could demand a refund. My father insisted that if I'd fucked the German sisters, I would atleast have grown into a happy bisexual like him.