May 16th: Telling your kids about the birds and the bees
Why Benny Three Sticks Is Still a Virgin
, by Walter Giersbach

“My son’s become the hermit of Second Avenue,” my friend Benjamin said, picking at his beard as though it could reroute his concerns. “He hardly came out of his room this week, and he won’t tell us what’s bugging him.”

I was hanging with Benjamin in Tompkins Square Park wondering how to kill an afternoon on that Saturday in June. Benjamin had a worried look as he described the row his wife Meredith had in dragging Benny Three Sticks out to the park. I looked at their ten-year-old sitting disconsolately now on the bottom-most rung of the jungle gym. Meredith, on the bench with us, peeked at him over the top of her economics textbook. John Maynard Keynes was ready to sue Benny for alienation of affection.

“He doesn’t have a fever,” she said. “I’m assuming it’s an age thing, but I can’t find a clue in Dr. Spock. He should add a chapter on what to do when your son becomes an alien from Mars.”

Benny Three Sticks — or Benjamin III — was rarely a problem. With his hundred and fifty IQ he usually reached a conclusion before the rest of us began defining the situation. Benny Three Sticks was the most amazing prodigy I’ve known. He was the intellectual penthouse of kids in the neighborhood. It was sad to see him now, hunkered down with disinterest, inhabiting his baggy clothes like a customer in the fitting room at the Salvation Army.

“Take him to the Met to see the Rodin sculptures,” I suggested. “Give him some art to think about.”

“His class at the Montessori school did that last week. Afterwards, they rewrote the docent’s presentation,” Little Benjamin said.

“How about doing the Circle Line tour around Manhattan? Go to the Statue of Liberty? Hit the United Nations.”

“Done that. Done them all. No, there’s something on his mind, and he won’t discuss it.”

“Think maybe I should chat with him? See if I can sort out what’s happening?”

“Oh, would you?” Meredith cooed.

“You were hoping I’d ask, weren’t you?”

“Well,” Benjamin said, “sometimes he opens up to you because you’re not his parent.”

“Alright, I’ll take him over to see Klein. He has a new Harley, and I’m sure he’s got it all taken apart in the middle of Second Street. We’ll talk.”

“You won’t stop off at any bars.” Meredith had all the suspicions of a cop stumbling into a summit meeting of mobsters.

“Not unless the kid’s buying.” The look on her face was a double scoop of terror served up frozen. “Just kidding. I’ll get him a Doctor Brown soda at Gem’s Spa. C’mon, Benny,” I shouted. “We’re going to take a hike to see a bike.”

As he trotted alongside me, I chatted aimlessly about the Tao and a good motorcycle, Buddhism and the endless beaches of Long Island, and what the I Ching says about crossing the great water to New Jersey. “And, while we’re on the subject of magnificent passions, how’s your love life with Amy?” It had been about two months since he had formed a liaison with Amy, a twelve-year-old at his school.

“Did my mother put you up to analyzing me?” He stopped and dug his heels two inches into the pavement of Avenue A.

“Well, she’s a little concerned. But, I’m your friend — not your family — and my interest in what’s eating you is strictly academic.”

“I hope so, Jake. I’d be exceedingly irritated if you were a mole trying to get me to divulge information.” Benny Three Sticks had discovered John le Carré, and was developing a healthy skepticism about adult motives.

“How is Amy anyway?”

“She’s fine, I guess. But I’m watching to see if she’s absent next week. My friend Jason has been out ill. If Amy’s also out next week, I’m a goner.”

“There’s a Chinese place here. What say we have a bowl of wonton soup and let the cookies tell our fortunes? Never fails for me.” When we were seated in the China Bowl at a table by the window I said, “If you’re down at the mouth because of Amy, I can tell you that women are the greatest mystery in this world.”

“Well, Amy is how it started, and I always liked a mystery. Until now.” He diluted four ounces of green tea with three spoons of sugar, slurped once, and said, “A bunch of the older girls, the twelve-year-olds, have a new thing. They’ve been putting on lipstick and then kissing guys.”

“Guys like you? Amy’s been one of the kissers?” The sunlight glinted off his gold-rimmed glasses, and I couldn’t imagine a more memorable way to while away a noon in June.

He nodded. “The teachers didn’t say anything because it’s a learning thing. Role-playing, they called it. But that’s not all. After they smeared on their lipstick they’d press their lips to the mirror in the girl’s bathroom, leaving all these lip prints.”

“Girls will be girls, I guess.” I envisioned dozens of pink butterflies floating on the glass.

“I didn’t care, and Jason didn’t either, because the girls kept kissing us. But, the principal was complaining about the mess. Every night, Hector Ramirez, the custodian, had to clean the mirror. The next day, the girls would put their lip prints back all over the mirror. Finally, the principal put her foot down. She called the girls into the bathroom. She explained these lip prints were causing a headache for Mr. Ramirez, who had to stop what he was doing and clean the mirrors.”

“What happened? Did they listen?”

“It stopped alright. Mr. Ramirez told us what happened. See, to demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, Mr. Ramirez showed the girls his procedure. He took a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet bowl, and shmooshed the mirror with it. Now Jason’s out ill, and I’m next.”

Benny was reducing the bowl of snack noodles in front of him to a pyramid of crumbs. A giant tear in his eye threatened to create a California mudslide on the table.

“I bet there haven’t been any lip prints on the mirror since then.” I had to bury my face in my teacup to keep from laughing out loud.

No!” he shouted. “You don’t understand. I’m afraid Jason has mononucleosis — that kissing disease — or worse. Probably septic poisoning. And I’m next!”

“I think you’re safe on that count, Benny. Why don’t you have your mother ask Jason’s mother why he’s sick?”

His eyes widened. “Kissing is nice, but I don’t want to go to the hospital just for losing my virginity to Amy. Mom would kill me.”

“Come again?”

“I saw that Rodin statue at the Met, The Kiss. Jason told me that’s how you lose your virginity.”

“That is not how you lose your virginity. If you don’t mind, I’ll share this incident with your folks and have them talk to Jason’s folks.”

The crumb pyramid stopped growing. “You’re sure?” Behind the glasses, the brown eyes showed a flicker of hope in a firepit of misgiving.

“Look at what really happened. Your folks paid a lot to take you out of PS 110 and send you to a private school. The teachers and principal were faced with a small problem. Your custodian provided the solution. It’s safe to say, there are teachers and then there are educators. Now, all they need is to have Mr. Ramirez explain the facts of life to your class.”

*

Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance.  His work has appeared in print and online in over a score of publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.  He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.


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