My mom was the kind of mom other teenagers dreamed about. She wore loud pants suits, played poker and listened to the Ohio Players. She had gentlemen friends with foreign accents. She attended stock car races and demolition derbies with much enthusiasm. She fixed herself a Martini every day when she got home from work, and she'd watch "Hawaii 5-0" in high heels and an evening dress because she wanted to look good for Jack Lord.
Once on Christmas morning, she scared off a small group of evangelists by answering the doorbell in a chiffon nightie with a Bloody Mary in her spare hand.
All my friends said the same thing about my mom: "I feel like I can talk to her about anything."
And I'd think to myself, "You know something, I wish you wouldn't."
Because she was my mom, right? Maybe to you she's a hardboiled blonde smoking a Fantasia with her feet on the coffee table, but to me, she's my mom. Please observe all appropriate social boundaries. Thank you.
Well, that was a lost cause. Especially when it came to Buster. Buster loved my mom. She fascinated him. I think until he met my mom, he had no idea such moms existed.
And he would talk to her about anything. I mean anything. All sorts of topics that no teenager would broach with any adult, except maybe in the context of a late night radio call-in show, he would sit there in the living room talking about it with my mom.
"My cousin says if you get gonorrhea, it burns when you pee. Is that true?"
"Why do people use ribbed condoms?"
"How do lesbians have sex?"
"What is a multiple orgasm?"
"What would you do if Kurt was gay? What if he had a boyfriend? Would it make you uncomfortable? Would you picture them having sex?"
He talked to her too about all those socially marginal people in his extended family and his anxieties about facing a bleak, genetically predetermined future. One time he started telling the story I'd heard so many times before about the crazy uncle, the one who shot at male dogs' genitals.
"He's going to leave out the part about his uncle's foreskin," I thought to myself. "He's not going to talk to my mom about foreskin. Even Buster has his limits."
I was wrong.
"And you know what?" Buster said. "He was never circumcised."
My mom didn't even pause to take a breath or blink. She just said "No, but I bet you are, aren't you?" She said it in that reassuring tone that moms use, like Myrna Loy talking to a parakeet.
Then the unthinkable happened. Buster turned red and made a sound like a vacuum cleaner that you just sucked up a wet sponge into. That's what he used to when he was embarrassed. Apparently his own penis was something beyond the boundaries of what he felt comfortable discussing with my mom. As far as I know, it's the only thing that was.
I don't remember what happened after that. Probably Buster and I went to the Dairy Queen. We were always going to the Dairy Queen. There wasn't much else to do in our neighborhood, and we weren't old enough to drive yet. And I had to take him somewhere. I couldn't leave him there in my mother's living room sounding like a stopped up vacuum cleaner.
That was the first time either of my parents, or any adult for that matter, ever said a word to me about circumcision, and I guess it wasn't really to me, was it? It was to Buster. And what my mother said to Buster was the first hint I had that I lived in a culture that had built a belief system around circumcision. And part of that belief system, I discerned, was that only poor, uncouth bumpkins like Buster's uncle had foreskins. Enlightened, modern, educated men were circumcised. Circumcision was a mark of status and sophistication.
If I hadn't grown up around German immigrants, I suppose that belief system might have made sense to me. At least when I was a teenager. Or maybe until I met my first foreign exchange student. Or took a moment to think about how ludicrous it was to believe that losing part of my penis made me a classier person.
As things turned out, the belief system didn't make sense to me at all, not from the first moment I knew it existed. And the more I learned about it, the less sense it made. But I played along with it, the way young people do.
Did your family ever have a ludicrous belief system you played along with? I think most families do. It's easy to play along with it, isn't it? All you have to do is keep your mouth shut.