I couldn’t set pins with my arm in a cast, and I was surprised by how much I missed it, at least for the teachers’ league. There was a kind of camaraderie among the teachers, in which no one made anything of the wide range in their bowling skills. And I felt as if I were on the outer parts of their circle, kind of a pet pinsetter. I was Ewart’s boy, of course, and this bowling business was not the only occasion on which I got to see the lives of the school teachers from inside. They helped build each other’s houses, for example, and when they were working on our place, I shovelled sand and gravel and cement into the cement mixer along with Bob Fleming, the ambidextrous mathematics teacher. We knew that he was ambidextrous, because he had a habit of spinning from the blackboard and firing pieces of chalk at noisemakers, and you never knew which way he was going to come round.
I didn’t miss my regular league pin setting so much. I definitely did not miss being within firing range of Ritchie Schneider’s cannon ball. But I even went down and watched the teachers bowling, though I was not going to go home with my dollar and a half. I had to watch the art teacher and Miss Verge from behind the seats, so there was no question of looking up skirts. I made sure not to make eye contact with Miss Verge, and paid closer attention to the art teacher. During every frame her shirt would come untucked at the waist, and I could see skin. Once or twice I saw the elastic of her underpants. But that was it—I had no fantasies about getting anywhere with the art teacher. But before coming to the bowling alley I had put some of my sister’s white cream stuff on my pimples.
I can’t really remember how well-focused my fantasies were. What I imagined doing is not clear. I would be sort of a virgin for another five years, so I had no help from memory. In those days there was no hardcore pornography, and you never saw a bare tit in a movie. It wasn’t till 1960 that you thought you might have got a half-second glimpse of Capucine’s nipple in North to Alaska. Till then you had to be satisfied with Jean Simmons in a bonnet and lace collar.
I did like certain items of clothing on the girls in my class. Maybe I wasn’t aware of them as fetish material. Maybe I just thought that they were, as we would say at the time, neat. White bobbie sox and saddle oxfords would come first. They were the neatest and cutest, if I might use a girl’s word, items of footwear in history, and footwear has a great history. I didn’t care what the color was that went with the white, but I suppose that if I had my choice, my druthers, as we said back then, I would go for the dark blue. The hot colour for shoes those few years was oxblood. Even I had a pair of oxblood shoes, with dorsal fins on the toes. But saddle oxfords are nothing without white bobbie sox. The sox should be folded down once, and they should be white as can be. Sometimes you would see pink ones, or lace trim or even a little cotton bauble, but these were distractions that showed a failure of imagination.
What did the girls wear with these fabulous shoes? I’ve told you about those long pencil skirts and that other one I favoured. It was wrapped around and pinned together with a huge safety pin, the bigger the better. I longed to open one of those safety pins but I never did. Wendy didn’t have one, for one thing, and for another, I never did get very far with Wendy below the waist. Those skirts I’m talking about were usually in some kind of dark green and blue or black plaid pattern. The part I liked was in the back, where blouse ended and skirt began, that slope. You know what I mean.
The girls’ clothes were not as sexy and provocative, as minimal as they are nowadays. Or maybe in those days we thought they were pretty sexy, and maybe nowadays the boys in school aren’t moved much by all the bare skin they get to see. Well, yes, and they are spoiled by being able to see people doing all manner of sexual things on their computers. And most movie stars nowadays are shown naked somewhere on the internet. I don’t think I even imagined Deborah Kerr with her clothes off—though I can do it right now. Things have changed—and maybe they have not. When I was fifteen I got a hard-on if I looked inside a short sleeve. Or if a girl turned around really fast in a poodle skirt.
A lot of the girls in my class at school made their own clothes, and the clothes they made were a combination of the clothes their mothers knew how to make and the clothes they imagined might make them look more like Marilyn Monroe. Meanwhile a lot of the guys wore shirts made by their mothers. I was lucky—my mother would make me a shirt out of any material I chose. I wore the wildest shirts in my class, and sometimes they were made of curtain material. But I was envious of the guys who had classier shoes and pants.
My best moment came when the fashion was blue draped pants with long maroon blazers. Len Lavik and I were the only two guys who had maroon draped pants with blue blazers. But Sylvia still didn’t swoon, and Dummy Rattery’s big sister did not push me into a dark closet.
I am looking at a picture of me, grade ten or eleven, on the wall in front of me at this minute. I’m leaning against the white outside wall of Fred Van Hoorn’s house. His baby brother André is looking out the window above my head, the same André Miller who is now a bigwig in the Oliver town government. Beside me is my little brother Roger, about four or five years old, frowning in the sunlight, wearing what looks as if it is probably a brown fuzzy plaid jacket, though the photo is black and white. I am holding and reading a copy of Pogo comics. My hair is growing out of a boogie cut—remember those? Long and greasy and combed straight back at the sides to a ducktail in the back, brush cut on top. I seem to have my dad’s old brown leather jacket, under which I am wearing a white shirt with the collar turned up. The pants look like my old green corduroy drapes, and the cheapo belt is done up clumsily, leaving the waist of the pants hanging over. It has to be a pose, signifying candid.
My buddy Will’s pants always looked like that. He always looked as if he were wearing a couple of leg bags tied at the top by a rope. He never did get into the scene with drapes and pocket chains and boogie cuts. My friendship with him was always something apart from my being in the rest of the kid world.
Long before developing any highly narrative and pictorial sex fantasies, Will and I had performed a fanciful life. We had been neighbourhood cowboy heroes, dark alley crime busters, interstellar space explorers, language inventors, sword duellists, roamers of clue-infested mystery hills, and inventors. We had been building an airplane for years, writing a movie, and burying treasures in mountain earth on both sides of the valley.
We used our spare time to hone our skill in conversation.
“My aunt Lorna is worried about the thinness of her hair,” I would say. “She’s looking into buying a perruque.”
“No, no, that’s a kind of dugout canoe.”
“You mean a pirogue.”
“Uh uh, that’s a Ukrainian dumpling.”
“You mean a pyrogy.”
“Not at all. That’s the mountains between Spain and France.
“I resemble that!”
“Now you’re talking about Bedelia Glotenschnaubel. She’s got a terrific pair of knees.”
And in this way, the conversation would more and more often be turned in such a way that we were describing and picturing the bodies of some women and girls that we were acquainted with. Or if not entire bodies, then at least parts of bodies. Teenaged boys, in those days, were devotees of girls’ and women’s body parts.
It should be pointed out that girls’ and women’s body parts were not restricted or confined, let us say, to girls and women. I’ve mentioned looking out the window of our family car as my father drove the Oliver Bowerings up the valley to visit the Naramata Bowerings, I would be looking forward to a certain little mountain range near Okanagan Falls, because from a certain stretch of Highway 97 this little arête looked like the profile of the firm and sumptuous breasts of two young women lying on their backs. In fact the more I looked, the more I humanized, or maybe I should say eroticized, the landscape.
Similar magic was to be worked on illustrations found on food packaging, the secret tits complete with nipples on the orchard scene of the apple box label, for example. Certain trees that I had known since grade three were now voluptuous. Clouds no longer looked like lambs or Africa. Headless mannequins in the window of Henderson’s Clothing were targets of my developing lust, and I cursed my bad luck in never being there when they were being undressed.
All this adolescent creativeness was supposed by us to be a sign that we were leaving childhood aside. In fact, this was when one started referring to himself as a “man.”
“I am not much interested in Bedelia Glotenschnaubel’s knees,” I said, while we patrolled the hill back of Manuel Louie’s barn. “I’m a tit man.”
Will was watching the ground for rattlesnakes. I had been trying all spring and summer to imitate the sound of a rattlesnake, just so I could make him jump, maybe into a mess of cactuses.
“I don’t see it,” he said. “I could never be a tit man, though I do understand that at least half the guys I know are.”
“Well, I am not completely a tit man,” I said. “I could also be described as an ass man. Especially, for example, when it comes to Katie Eisenhut.”
“Still don’t get it,” said Will.
“I’ll bet you don’t,” I said, trying to make him think that I did, I mean in the other sense, but doubting that he would.
I really like putting down all this dialog, because for some reason I can remember it more exactly than I can the stuff that requires description—people’s clothes, the weather, and so on. I don’t remember everything that Will was wearing during this conversation, so I might lean toward supplying the kind of pants he was wearing, or just not mention them at all. There are some writers, such as James Lee Burke, who can’t get into a scene without telling you what the sky looked like or what the characters were wearing. He is very big on colours, especially. But if someone mentions the woman in the green dress at the party I attended last week, I haven’t got a clue.
“I am not an ass man,” said Will, “nor am I a tit man, a chin man, a shoulder man, a nose man—I am none of those men.”
“You gotta be a something man,” I said. “I hope you are not going to give me that guff about liking them for their personality or their overall soul, or something. Don’t disappoint me, Trump.”
He was using his thumbnail to try to get a little dab of dried food off his light brown corduroys. Above us the sky was Mediterranean blue, with one little stretched cloud over Mount Baldy.
“I favour kachunga legs,” he said at last.
“You’re a leg man, then,” I said with relief in my voice.
“Not just any legs. You take Verna Fleming’s legs. They are nice and slim, and there are a lot of leg men that would approve of them. But they are not for me. I need kachunga legs to get me going.”
“To get you going?” I lifted an eyebrow at him.
He had the decency to blush. I use that term because just about this time I was reading a book by L. Sprague de Camp, I think it was, and the narrator in it said something very much like that.
I’ll never forget one line from one of his novels, in which an ant-like humanoid is crawling out a prison window from which the bars have been half broken. He says something like, “These fertilizing bars have disembowelled me.” I don’t think I liked humour much in my science fiction then, but I do now. That’s why I read Spider Robinson. And I can’t forget that bit of ant-man monologue, though I can’t remember whether he was wearing anything.
“I mean,” said Will, “kachunga legs arouse my interest as no other legs can hope to do.”
“How is that pronounced, again?”
“From the force behind your syllables, I would guess that these chuglunka legs are powerful, perhaps even superhumanly so?”
“These legs are, what, muscular?”
“Muscular and a little frightening,” he said, his eyes opened wide.
“Could you describe them? Give me a couple of examples?”
“Well, it’s not that the ankles are bigger than usual compared with the rest of the legs. I know that’s what you like, Cap’n.”
“One of the variations I like. There’s also slightly too muscular calves.”
“Yes, well, that’s not the way kachunga legs work. Let me try to put it this way—”
“I don’t want to see you put it any way,” I couldn’t help saying.
“You misunderstand me, Sir. Probably intentionally.”
“Objection noted. Please proceed. Give me the specs for a pair of grabuncha legs.” I closed my copy of Donovan’s Brain, with a dandelion stem bookmark, signifying that Will would now get even more of my attention.
“Kachunga legs,” he said, patiently and almost studiously, “are such that every part is to every other part in the proportions that you will find in the legs approved by critics as perfectly comely. That is to say, and never mind any stupid puns about my observations, if the perfect thigh has, say, 2.55 times the diameter of the perfect ankle, and I am just supposing these numbers, that arithmetic will also apply to the kachunga leg.”
“Is that all you want to apply to the unpronounceable leg?”
“I will come, never mind, to that later. The kachunga leg, in a nutshell, oh well, is firm, strong, muscular, slightly frightful, and irresistible when flexed between a white bobby sock and a somehow lifted Stuart plaid skirt.”
“And what does one imagine, because I have an intuition that that is your main activity here, doing with a kachunga leg?”
Will’s face, which over the course of the years I had seen go from childish to adolescent, was as innocent as that of a Holstein calf. He took a deep breath, and sighed as he released it.
“Don’t laugh. I imagine pressing every part of it, to my cheeks.”
“You’ll shave first?”
Unlike me with my baby-bum cheeks, Will had been shaving since he turned fourteen. Now he blushed a little, and I surprised myself by flinching a bit.
“That would depend. Would she rather have a smooth cheek, or a bit of razor burn?”
“Whoever the lucky woman was who had these kachunga legs.”
“Not piano legs.”
“No, definitely no. Kachunga legs are curvaceous and just like regularly beautiful legs, only more commodious.”
“I am not interested in toilet fantasies, Trump.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t say anything about a commode. We are perhaps in her bedroom, the window open to the verandah, breeze coming through the peach trees. I have my cheek against one kachunga leg, and then I turn my head and kiss it. Pretty soon I am licking this wonderful leg.”
His eyes were closed. He was blushing right down to his shirt collar.
“Go on,” I said, interested despite myself.
“I want these wonderful and powerful legs around my waist, around my shoulders, around my neck. I will go to heaven wrapped in these kachunga legs.”
“You could be a demented genius, young man. Much more of this and I will find myself getting hot about, say, kachunga arms.”
“There’s no such thing,” said Will Trump.
I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out my Professor Dandelion spectacles, round frames with no glass, and put them on, adopting a look of aged wisdom. I had on one occasion been thrown out of the classroom for tomfoolery with these specs. Now the teachers just ignored them.
“I admit to a low grade of curiosity about these storied legs,” I said, my chin in the fingers of my right hand. “Can you provide some examples?”
“No girl in my class really owns a pair. No one in yours does, either, though Pauline Knippleberg might be said to be on the way there.”
“So where do you see them? I don’t imagine that there is a magazine devoted to photographs and stories about the gathunker leg.”
“I know that by now you are doing that on purpose, and if I did not have faith in the never-ending running joke I would tell you off.”
“And I can tell you one example that will illustrate my quest.”
“You can’t illustrate a quest.”
Now I felt myself blushing to my shirt collar.
“Those are the legs you’ve been slobbering about?”
“Oh, Merciful Minerva, yes! I have spent hours of my teen years thinking about those legs of Miss Verge’s.”
“And while you were thinking about them, were you also—”