Nov 23, 2013

Fall 1976: Catching Cousin Joe in the Act

When I was in junior high, I caught my friend Brian trying to erase graffiti from the wall of Washington Junior High, "Brian gives free LBJs."  He wouldn't say what it meant, and I had no idea.  It endured season after season, year after year, ghostly pale but still legible, stubbornly resistant to the generations of custodians who attempted to erase it.  It was the biggest riddle of my childhood.

I learned that the term "BJ" referred to a sexual act, but I didn't make the connection, until a cold Friday at Christmastime in 1976, my junior year at Rocky High, shortly after I discovered what "gay" meant.

Aunt Nora was visiting for the holidays, with two whole carloads of relatives.  Cousin Joe, a 22-year old college senior, was staying in the attic room with Ken and me, and his girlfriend Sandy was staying downstairs with my sister.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, everyone was out shopping or ice skating, but I didn't feel well and stayed in to read.  Joe and Sandy came in, said hello, then vanished somewhere into the house -- I assumed they went down to the basement rec room to play pingpong.

They weren't playing pingpong.

Soon I got a throbbing headache, so I took an aspirin and decided to go upstairs to bed.

The door at the bottom of the attic stairs didn’t lock, but the clatter of shoes on the bare wood was usually an adequate early-warning signal, giving you plenty of time to stop watching late-night tv, reading comics, or whatever else you didn’t care to have witnessed -- but today I was wearing only socks, and the throb in my head made me go slowly, one step at a time. So they didn’t hear me.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I saw Joe lying on the floor on his side of the room, and Sandy kneeling over him.  My first thought was that he had fainted. Then I saw a thick, heavy shaft the color of putty.  Joe's penis!

I had seen it several times before -- while changing clothes to go swimming, once while skinny-dipping.  I walked in on him in the bathroom when I was five.  It was always breathtaking.

Suddenly Joe saw me, pushed Sandy away, and quickly zipped up. “Um...we were....we were just..."   He was blushing red.

"I don't care, I'm sick."  I walked the five steps to the bed I was sharing with Ken, fell down face-first, and covered my head with a pillow.  "It's no big deal. You’re not the first person in this room to give a bj.”

They were both silent. I peered out from under the pillow to see them staring open-mouthed.

“What’s your problem?”

“You. . .give bjs?” Sandy asked.

“Of course I  give them!” I said angrily. “You think I’m a virgin? I’ve given them lots of times.”

Joe laughed. “Gee, you're dumb! Boys don’t give bjs, they get them.”

“No, I give them. . .boys give them.” My head was still throbbing, making it hard to concentrate.   "Why do you think it's called giving a bj?  Because...."

"The girl gives it to the boy, Boomer."

“Well. . .to be fair, it doesn’t have to be a girl,” Sandy said. “Sometimes guys do give bjs.  At least they're sort of like guys."  She flashed a loose wrist.

My face burned as I realized what she was implying.


"Be nice!" Joe commanded.  He patting my shoulder.  "Boomer just got mixed up.  Don't tell Mom about seeing us...you know...ok?"

"Don't worry, your secret is safe with me."

"And your secret is safe with us!" Sandy managed to say before Joe grabbed her and dragged her down the stairs.

I lay in bed, mortified.  But now I understood -- LBJ, BJ with an "L" added.  Long ago some bullies had accused Brian of being gay. No wonder he worked so furiously to scrub the graffiti off!

It turns out that I was wrong.  Five years later, in the spring of 1981, I would discover that the phrase LBJ had nothing to do with sex.  But it did have quite a lot to do with being gay:  What the Graffiti Meant.

The headache was the precursor of a flu that would keep me incapacitated from the day after Christmas through New Year, and result in the discovery of a gay comic book.

I caught Cousin Joe in the act again a few years later, but this time he wasn't with a girl.