Nine-Year-Olds Should NOT Be Pole Dancers, Dammit!

OK, the first thing you should know is that my co-worker has the cutest little girl ever invented.  Like scary cute.  The kind of cute that compels grown-ups for no good reason to write down their checking account numbers for her and to take out second mortgages on their homes to ensure that this kid has an adequate supply of barbie dolls and ice cream (not to mention the iPad 2 that her mother bought her for Christmas).  I tell you this not because I think that she is any more spoiled than your average nine-year-old or to illustrate my weakness for little people with big brown eyes and outrageous demands–I should be thankful that my fiance and I have not yet had children or we would probably be homeless and our kid would have a totally kickass home theatre system.  I tell you this because something happened a while back that made me realize that not only has this kid acknowledged that her cuteness has made the world her proverbial oyster, but that she is already plotting on how to take it to the next level.

Things had just slowed down at the restaurant that I manage and my co-worker’s daughter was sitting in a booth, supposedly working on her homework, but in reality she had just conned me into bringing her a free piece of chocolate cake.  My co-worker was sitting at the table with her daughter and, as I was turning to walk back into the kitchen, she happened to say to the girl, “Hey, tell Doug what you wanted me to buy you this weekend.”

The girl shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and I thought for a moment that she had perhaps made some ridiculously expensive request, you know, something extravagant like the Large Hadron Collider.  Or Lithuania.  The country, I mean.

The girl said nothing, so her mother, in the same voice that she might announce that her daughter wanted a new pair of flip-flops, said, “She wants me to buy her some thongs.”

At this point, I turned to walk outside, lest my blushing cause me to spontaneously combust and result in my restaurant burning to the ground.  It probably would’ve looked something like this:

What you have to understand is that I, along with virtually every other man on Earth, have a short, but highly specific list of topics of which we will never, even under threat of death, discuss with our girl children or with any girl of an age that they could be our children.  Should my fiance and I have a daughter of our own, I will gladly be there for the fevers and the vomiting and the skinned knees.  Every bedtime, I will check the closets and under the bed for monsters and I will be there in the middle of the night to chase away the lingering dread of nightmares.  I will be there for her basketball games and I will personally kill every little boy who ever breaks her heart.  But when it comes to certain topics–love and dating, her first training bra and her underwear, the wonders of puberty, of menarche and sex and masturbation–I believe that it is my right, God help me, to remain blissfully ignorant.  This is her mother’s domain.

Sadly, my co-worker was unaware of the no-touch topics of all men everywhere–either that, or she is truly a cruel and hateful woman.  As I walked away, she said, “She also wants to be a pole dancer when she grows up.”  I stopped.  What?  The little girl–the same girl who was embarrassed by her mother speaking publicly about her underwear–was smiling now.  “Yeah, I wanna be a pole dancer,” she confirmed.  “They make lots of money.”

If there is any topic that belongs on a man’s no-touch topics list, this surely had to be a big one.  Yet, I still had this godawful paternal need–from where I had no frigging idea–to explain to her that girls her age shouldn’t want to be pole dancers.  Girls her age should dream of being doctors and lawyers and the first female President of the United States of America.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with being a pole dancer.  It’s honest work, and I’m sure that some pole dancers love what they do.  But there was something intrinsically wrong here.  This girl was no longer satisfied with the status quo, no longer satisfied with adequate nutrition and a roof over her head and a virtually unlimited supply of Wii games.  At an age when she should still be sporting pig tails and reading her way through the Nancy Drew series, this girl had already been seduced by the prospect of easy money and fast living.  If I had a daughter, I’d always imagined that she’d be older–at least seventeen–before she considered morally compromising herself for money.  The kids are growing up too fast.  I can only hope that at home that night, my co-worker took her daughter aside, hugged her tight, and said, “Baby, you’re much too young to strip for money, and you’ll always be too young to strip for money.  When you’re my age and you have a daughter of your own and she’s driving you crazy and you love her more than anything in the world, you, I, all of us, we’ll all be too young…And yes, of course you can have a new iPhone.”

Turning the Other Cheek

When Wally turns seven, his grandmother gives him a Bible and tells him to learn his verses.  He studies dutifully for two weeks, and then never reads his Bible again.  One day, he goes to the convenience store with his grandmother.  Mr. Weiss at the store tries to sell his grandmother some brake fluid, though she doesn’t need it.  His grandmother lies.  She says no thanks.  She says that she is getting ready to put her car in the shop anyway.  Wally decides that this is what it means to turn the other cheek.

Wally is ten.  His teacher tells him to write a story about what he wants to be when he grows up.  She tells him that he can be anything he wants.  Wally wants to be a dump truck.  Not a driver.  A dump truck.  Wally writes the story.  His teacher tells him that this is impossible.  Wally doesn’t believe her.  Wally weeps.  His teacher draws a big “D” in red ink on Wally’s paper.  Nobody gets to be a dump truck.

Wally is sixteen.  He just got his driver’s license.  He is in the back seat of his father’s Buick with Leslie Connelly.  They are kissing, and Leslie lets Wally touch her breasts.  Wally has a hard on.  Wally tries to unbutton her pants.  Leslie says no.  Wally tries again.  Leslie slaps Wally in the face.  Her plastic fingernails cut his face, and he is bleeding on the leather seats of his father’s Buick.  Leslie cries and demands to know how Wally could do this to her.

When Wally turns eighteen, he enlists in the Marines.  His mother does not want him to go, but he does anyway.  He ships to Parris Island.  Basic is hard.  Wally has trouble sleeping.  Wally has dreams.  In his dream, he is standing in a field of yellow sunflowers.  Their petals look like teeth.  He awakes crying, but he doesn’t know why.  Wally tells Private Thayer, his bunkmate, about his dream.  Private Thayer looks at him, laughs, and says:  “Are you some kinda faggot or what?”

A week later, on the rifle range, Wally holds Private Thayer at rifle point for seven minutes.  He puts the rifle down.  He spends six weeks in Psych.  He is discharged.  Wally has a section eight.  The night after he is discharged, Wally smokes marijuana for the first time and ejaculates inside of a prostitute.  She has a prosthetic leg.  She fakes an orgasm.

Wally is twenty-six.  He lives with his mother.  His father is dead.  Wally works at a barbeque joint.  He doesn’t like barbeque.  After closing, Wally and his friends stand out behind the building, smoking marijuana.  One night, they are bored.  They kidnap a young, black boy.  In the kitchen of the restaurant, they tie him to a chair.  They call him nigger and ask if he wants to be white.  They boy, terrified, says yes.  Wally holds the boy’s head while they spray paint his face white.  Wally laughs.  Wally is disturbed.  Wally has nothing against black people.

When Wally is twenty-nine, he meets his wife.  He responds to a personal ad in the newspaper.  They both tell each other that they’ve never tried personal ads.  They laugh.  They are both lying.  On their third date, they have sex twice in the back seat of Wally’s Toyota.  Wally puts a sheet down to protect the leather seats.

Wally is forty-five.  He is married, and his son is sixteen.  It is late one night and Wally tries to make love to his wife.  He fails.  He is ashamed.  Naked, Wally goes downstairs for a drink.  His son is on the couch in the living room.  His son is kissing another boy.  His son’s hand moves vigorously across the other boy’s lap.  Wally goes blind and deaf.  When his senses return, his son’s arm is broken.  The ambulance takes his son to the hospital.  The police take him to jail.  No one seems to notice that Wally is still naked.

Wally is fifty-one.  He is divorced, and his son has not spoken to him in nearly seven years.  Wally sits on the front porch and listens to the crows taunting each other.  He puts the barrel of the pistol in his mouth.  It tastes like sucking on a penny.  The night is cold.  Wally turns the other cheek.


I was raised in a home with seven women, all of us living together in my grandmother’s house.  I’m talking about two sisters, a foster child, a cousin, an aunt, a mother, and a grandmother, all co-existing in a three-bedroom millhouse with only one bathroom.  Obviously, there was some bed-sharing going on and the concept of privacy was about as strange as a mosh-pit at a Kenny G concert.  On the boy’s team, there was my father and me, drowning in an ocean of estrogen.  The odds were against us from the start.

Now, every year, quite literally, dozens of women from my family gather together for Christmas and Thanksgiving and wonder why, at twenty-five years old, I’m not married, with a gaggle of children running around.  The answer is simple.  I’m terrified of women.  I’m not saying that these women treated me badly for being a boy; they treated me like a little prince.  But any guy who has ever wished that he had seven women that treat him like a god has never taken into consideration that God has never really had all that much say in how Man worships Him to begin with.

Unfortunately, I can still remember the first time that I realized that there was something unnatural about living with this many women.  I was potty training at the time, which I’m sure is traumatic enough for anyone.  My mother believed with all her heart that a child learning the proper way to take a dump was a family moment—not to mention a Kodak one.  In the evenings, when everyone had gotten home from work or school, she would place the potty in the center of the living room—where everyone was sure to have an unobstructed view of my little, naked baby ass—and she would demand that I sit on the godforsaken thing and go poo.  Child abuse laws in those days weren’t nearly as effective as they are now.

I learned how to take a crap with an audience of females cooing and pointing and making comments like “Aww, look at his little thingie!”  This is the sort of thing that can cause lifetime problems with erectile dysfunction.  At the time, my father was sitting in the corner of the living room, in his favorite rocking chair, his head leaned back, staring up at the ceiling as though willing the sky to open up and swallow him whole.  Through the course of middle and high school, when showering after gym, I would be struck by the horrible mental image of someone thrusting a finger at me and proclaiming “Aww, look at his little thingie!”  And I’d think to myself, Is this what sex is going to be like? Years later, my father and I would sit on the front porch of his house, talking and enjoying a cold beer in the scorching summer sun, and I would remind him of the incident.  My father would set his beer on the ground, lean over and embrace me, and say “God help me, I’m sorry, son.”

Female number seven, my Aunt Lori, moved in when I was five years old.  She had just gone through a particularly nasty divorce and my grandmother was never one to turn away a family member in need.  After her failed marriage, Lori developed an obsession with children and, more than anything, she wanted a little girl.  You would think that, between my two younger sisters, she would have her choice of little girls to play with.  But, this wasn’t the case.  One night, when my father wasn’t around to stop her, she started out by painting my fingernails a deep purple color.  “Isn’t that so pretty?” she asked.  I don’t know about pretty, but I thought it was pretty cool.  It made me look like I had monster hands, just like on TV.  So, I went along with it.  Before long, she had me in full make-up and wearing the little, white flower-girl dress that my cousin had worn to her wedding.

“Oh my gawd!  You look like a little doll,” Lori shrieked as she admired her handiwork.  She had taken me into the bathroom to stand in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the door.  I was a little offended at that point.  After all, I was a boy, and boys don’t play with dolls.

“Well, what do think?” she asked.

My first reaction was to start crying, but I stood there for a moment, studying my appearance.  I thought I looked, well, sort of pretty.  My dad didn’t think so.  When he came in and caught a glimpse of me, he wore a pained expression as though he had just received a swift kick in the testicles.  That night, the two of us stood under the glare of the sixty watt light bulb in the bathroom while my father scrubbed my face with a rough cotton rag and a bottle of Dawn dish detergent.

“Damn women gonna try to take your balls of next,” he muttered.

“Daddy, are you mad at me,” I asked.

My father gave me a tired smile and wiped his own face with the rag, leaving a streak of make-up across his forehead.

“Naw…you’re still my little man.”

By the time I was six years old, my parents had divorced.  My father moved out of the house and I was left alone to the devices of a flock of women who seemed to be turning synchronized menstrual cycles into an Olympic sport.  This is not an exaggeration—there was a marked calendar on the bathroom wall over the toilet tank.  Just above the economy-sized box of tampons.

It’s a strange thing for a six-year-old boy to discover tampons.  Tampons were an unholy relic, mysterious in design, serving functions of which I knew not.  I just knew it was a lot of fun to jam the tampons into the water faucet of the bathroom sink and to see how long it took for the pressure to build up enough to shoot the thing out like an unlikely missile.  I would stand over the sink, feeling like the captain of a submarine, saying, “Ai-ight, gentlemen, you may fire at will.  One time, my cousin, Dana, walked in and saw this.  She started throwing tampons at me, chanting “Dougie’s gotta vagina!”

“I do not!” I shouted.  I didn’t know what that was, but damned if I had one.

Hearing the noise and figuring that Dana and I were fighting again, my grandmother came striding into the bathroom, brandishing her favorite weapon: the flyswatter.

“What in the world is going on in here,” she demanded.

“Doug’s playing with tampons,” Dana informed her gleefully.

My grandmother gave me a strange look.  Apparently, this is not what she had expected to hear.  I still had one of the sodden wads of cotton clenched in my fist.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I held the soaked sanitary product out to her.

“I’m sorry, mamaw.  I think it’s broken now.” I said.

Terrified, I braced myself for a butt-whipping that never came.  My grandmother grunted, then snickered, and finally broke out laughing until tears were poring down her face.

“Ah, Lord,” she said, wiping her face with the back of her hand.  “I love you, but you’re full of shit, sometimes,”

I swear I haven’t played with a tampon since.

It was around the time my mother remarried that people in our house started going their own separate ways, forming their own sub-families.  With my mother’s marriage came a stepfather and a stepbrother.  I like to think that our combined masculine powers repelled them like vampires shying away from a crucifix, but I’m probably deluding myself.  After we had parted ways, I started to miss the ladies.  Not the dresses, but the familiarity that comes with so many people living in close-quarters.  At Christmas and Thanksgiving, we reminisce and say, “Good times, good times” and, when they hound me about marriage and children, I tease them, telling them that living with so much estrogen had probably made me sterile.  But, sometimes, I do think about what it would be like to have a son of my own, to tell him to honor these women that love him so much.  I wonder what it would be like to hold him against my chest, to gaze into eyes that are a reflection of my own, and to say, “Aww, look at his little thingie!”