The spring of 1972 was a doozy for my allergies. By the time I was nine years old, my allergies and I were becoming old friends. They’d come around a couple of times every year to reacquaint themselves with me and make my life a living hell. Mom and I would do our best to fight them off each time but it really was a losing battle. That spring I was in such a constant state of sneezing and blowing my nose that I quickly went through all of the clean handkerchiefs in my dresser drawer. I complained to Mom about this. She directed me to grab one from the top drawer of Dad’s dresser. The handkerchiefs were easy enough to locate but I was intrigued by what else was found in there.
The smell of tobacco wafted from the drawer. While I did enjoy the pleasant aroma of a pack of Marlboros, the thought of smoking was repugnant to me. Being asthmatic, there was no way I was going to compound my condition with cigarette smoke. Plus there was the memory of being forced to take a few puffs from a lit cigarette after being caught with a cigarette butt in my mouth at a much younger age. Death might have been a welcome relief at the time. Luckily for me that was during the 1960s when such things weren’t cause for Child Protective Services to swoop in and take the child away. It was simply a lesson learned.
There were also a bunch of keys from Dad’s job in the drawer along with some loose change and a few envelopes containing pay stubs. A splash of bright red caught my eye so I investigated further. It was a thick magazine with a large profile of a hot pink rabbit’s head. Dated December 1971 it was the “Gala Christmas Issue” of Playboy magazine. “Christmas issue?” I thought. “What the heck is this and why is Dad hiding it?” A few seconds later I learned why.
More importantly, my knowledge of the adult female anatomy was greatly expanded.
The first thing I saw when I opened the magazine was – oh, who am I kidding? The only thing I remember of the inside of that magazine of God’s gift-to-men was the vision of loveliness found at the center of the magazine, a blonde bombshell named Karen Christy. I was dumbstruck by what I saw on the page that folded out and quickly put the magazine back where I found it. I staggered out of my parents’ bedroom mindless of all else. Mom snapped me out of my haze when she asked me a question.
“Huh?” was all I could muster.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked, exasperated by what she thought was my constant lack of paying attention.
“Oh, uh… yeah… yeah, I did,” I stammered. Boy, did I find it I thought. And I didn’t even know I had been looking for it.
The memory of Karen Christy haunted me for days. The blonde beauty quickly replaced that pretty blonde hillbilly girl, whose name I now struggled to remember, as my ideal of womanly beauty. Even though it was such a quick glimpse it was still enough to sear her image into my memory. Karen, as I liked to call her, wearing only what God had most generously given her, was standing on a white shag rug in front of a dark red curtain in a pink room. A discarded robe was at her feet and a goldfish bowl was strategically placed to hide her nether regions. She had a hint of a smile on her beautiful face, lovely tan lines, and two fingers playfully dipped into the goldfish bowl. And her… her… oh, my God, they were perfection! And her eyes, oh, her eyes. Those beautiful eyes seemed to tell me “It’s okay to look. I don’t mind.” There was no one like her in any of the National Geographics over at my grandparents’ house. I was smitten.
Days and weeks went by with Karen almost constantly weighing on my mind. Several times I toyed with the idea of announcing that I was out of handkerchiefs and was going to grab one out of the treasure trove of a dresser drawer. I always chickened out. It seemed that I would never again see the object of my affection.
One day Mom told me she was going to run into Muncie to grab a few things at the Marsh supermarket and asked if I wanted to go or stay home. At first I started to leap at the chance to go. My grocery store ritual was to run to the comic book spinner rack in the magazine section and read up on Spider-Man while Mom shopped. Her last pass in the store always took her to the meat counter and then through the freezer section towards the magazine rack where I and two or three other boys would be reading comics. On this day, though, I saw an opportunity to get another look at my Karen. I coolly told Mom that I would just stay home and watch TV. Spider-Man was going to take a backseat on this day.
Mom told me she’d be home in just under an hour and that I should go next door to Betty Lou’s if anything came up. I told her “Okay” then went back to my TV show. After she and my sister walked out the front door, I waited a few seconds to make sure she wasn’t coming back inside for something she had forgotten. I jumped up to watch them pull out of the driveway and then make their way down to Nebo Road. I stepped outside and watched as they turned left onto Nebo and went on their merry way to Marsh. I made a beeline for Dad’s dresser.
Keeping one ear trained on the front door for any surprise entrances from Mom or Dad, I once more took in the beauty of Miss December 1971. The article about her gave very few details. She was 20 years old and a native of Texas. She had once studied commercial art but dropped out of school due to a lack of money. She took a job with Playboy as a Bunny and lived in Chicago in a Bunny Dormitory at something called The Playboy Mansion. My mind reeled at the possibility of a dorm full of other women like Karen! There were also some pictures that showed what that stupid goldfish bowl was hiding from view. Oh, and I learned that I owed all of this goodness to a great man named Hugh Hefner.
I flipped through the rest of the magazine to see what other delights might be found inside, but nothing held a candle to my Karen. I gave her another look before putting the magazine back in its place with several minutes to spare before Mom and my sister returned home from the store. The other pictures of Karen and the article about her painted a vivid picture of what she must have been like as a person. I was truly in love.
Along with the allergies, the spring season also brought with it nicer weather which meant more time outside for bike riding, baseball, and once again exploring the neighborhood with my friends. Inevitably the talk got back around to the nudists down the street. This time though I was armed with a more vivid imagination of what the nudists, or at least what the female nudist, might look like. My imagination led to greater curiosity which in turn led to greater desire to learn the truth. Somehow, some way, I was going to find out once and for all if the people in that house were nudists or not.
Even more importantly, I would find out if the woman of the house looked anything like Karen.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
One of the first friends I had in the old neighborhood was a kid named Tommy. Tommy’s family moved into a house across the street a year or two after our family moved into our home. On the day they moved in he and his sister came over to introduce themselves to my sister and me and asked if we could come out to play. Shortly after we became friends, Tommy had me come over to his house to meet his parents and other siblings. We had been playing for about an hour when he asked if I wanted to go see his dog.
Now, my experience with dogs at that age was rather limited. My Grandma and Granddad McCord had an old golden retriever named Bob on their farm. Bob was a gentle and loving dog that allowed me to climb all over him like he was my personal playground. I loved him to death. The day that I learned that Bob had died was one of the saddest of my young life. At the other end of the spectrum was an ankle-biter named Tinker that my parents got for me at an early age. Tinker was a Toy Manchester, a breed of terrier that resembles a miniature Doberman. Tinker’s disposition was that of a full-grown Doberman. I couldn’t stand that damn dog. Mom and Dad gave her away when I was in the first grade. I never missed her. The only other dogs I remember from that age were Lassie, Jonny Quest’s Bandit, Astro from the Jetsons, Dino (technically speaking he was a dinosaur and not a dog), Huckleberry Hound, Underdog, Droopy Dog, Deputy Dawg, Mr. Peabody, Pluto, and Snoopy, who was my personal favorite. I wasn’t so naïve as to believe that Tommy’s dog was like any of those dogs, although Lassie was a possibility.
Tommy led me to his backyard which turned into a hill leading down to the woods running along the White River. At the bottom of the hill was a pet German Shepherd his family kept in a pen. Zeke was the biggest damn animal I had ever seen, three times as large as the average German Shepherd and five times as mean. This could have just been my imagination getting away from me, but based on the way he was barking and jumping around and trying his level best to get out of his pen, Zeke wanted nothing more than to rip out my throat, dine on my carcass, and use my ulna as a toothpick. Tommy motioned for me to come down to see the family pet. Not taking my eyes off of his ravenous and slavering dog, I gave Tommy the excuse that my mom still wouldn’t allow me to go into the woods, which was true at the time, so I really shouldn’t go down there. I told him this even though deep down there was little else that I wanted more than to be able to go see what wonders the woods held and would have gladly gone if not for the caged monstrosity snarling in my direction.
“But he’s not IN the woods. He’s just on the edge. C’mon,” pleaded Tommy.
“Yeah, but he’s close enough that I really shouldn’t go.”
“Awww, c’mon. Your mom won’t know. You don’t have to tell her.”
“No. I always do what my mom and dad tell me to do, so I can’t go down there.”
That last part was a total fabrication, of course. While I still tried to obey everything my parents told me at that age, my messy bedroom was proof enough that I was now at an age where disobeying them was becoming an acceptable risk to me. The times when I did obey, I often did so grudgingly and often times tried to talk my way out of doing what I was told. I was tired of being seen as a “good boy” and was curious to see what being a “bad boy” was all about. In this case, though, I was more than happy to obey the rules set forth by my wise parents.
Eventually, at a much later date, I worked up the nerve to venture down to the woods behind Tommy’s house. When I did I made sure to keep a healthy distance between me and Zeke. Tommy tried to reassure me that Zeke wasn’t really that mean. “As they say, his bark is worse than his bite,” he told me with a laugh. I didn’t know who “they” were, but I sure as heck didn’t trust “them” and Tommy’s laugh at the end did nothing to reassure me. While I never learned how bad Zeke’s bite really was, I learned there was definitely something worse than his bark. That was his stench.
I don’t know what Tommy’s family fed Zeke but whatever it was it didn’t agree with him one bit. When I got within twenty feet of Zeke’s cage the stench hit me like a croquet mallet upside my head. It literally turned my stomach enough that I turned around and walked home.
Tommy shouted, “Where you goin’?”
“Home. I forgot I have some homework to do,” I shot back.
“Homework? But it’s Saturday. You got all weekend to finish it.”
“Nah, not really. We’re going over to my friends Brad and Jane’s house tonight and up to my grandparents’ farm tomorrow. They have a lot to do up there and I’ll be too busy to do my homework.”
Yet another whopper. The part about going to Brad and Jane’s was true enough, but I had no homework to do and even if I did have some there was nothing going on at the farm that would keep me from doing it.
I was more than a bit amazed and dismayed at how easy it was becoming to lie to my new friend. I learned early on that lying was just about the worst thing that I could do. An experience I had with another neighbor kid while we lived in Eaton, and the lie that I told my parents to stay out of trouble, was fresh on my mind. I understood that it was wrong and that I shouldn’t be doing it, especially to my newest friend, but I was willing to do just about anything to get away from that damn dog. The smell of his aging excrement was like some unholy thing that came up from the infernal depths. It was matted in his fur, smudged on his doghouse, and just… just… blech!
“Seeya, Tommy!” I shouted as I ran home.
Zeke was gone a year or so later, finally clearing the way for me to make it down to the woods without the threat of becoming something’s dinner. Tommy and his older brother had been in the woods several times by then and found a path that ran along the river in both directions from their house. They had ventured as far as they could before the path had become overgrown and the brush was too thick to get through. The path running to the east, and towards the new four-lane bridge on Nebo Road, came to an end just a couple of lots down from Tommy’s house, keeping us from exploring all the way to the bridge.
Or even just as far as the nudists’ house.