The Three C’s – Part 2
“Hey there, swingin’ bachelors. Tired of the steady drip, drip, drip of gonorrhea? Well, then Peter Rooter could be just what you’ve been looking for. Peter Rooter, that’s the name. You just flush your troubles down the drain. Rotten peter, rotten peter, rotten peter.”- “Peter Rooter” by Cheech and Chong.
As with most things when done to excess, the day had finally come when listening to “Class Clown” became stale for us in Mrs. Trempala’s classroom and we were back to listening to our drab 45s. Dave cured us of our latest case of the blahs on the day he brought in two more of his brother’s comedy albums to get us past the doldrums.
Enter: Cheech and Chong.
A friend outside of school introduced me to the comedy duo during our Christmas break earlier in the school year. The first skit of theirs that I heard was on their first single, “Santa Claus and His Old Lady”. In it, Cheech shares a slightly skewed story of St. Nick and his wife to Chong, who mistakes Santa for a musician he once played with. The bit, which became a Christmas classic, was full of references to the Chicano culture of East Los Angeles that 10- or 11-year old boys in East-central Indiana had no hope of understanding. There were references to “the projects” and “border crossings” and strange references to Mrs. Claus’ brownies and Santa using magic dust.
The fun continued with the single’s B-Side, “Dave”, a bit about a frantic guy named Dave pleading with his roommate to unlock the door to let him in their apartment. For some reason his roomie didn’t understand that Dave was at the door and kept repeating “Dave ain’t here, man.”
A second 45 had Cheech and Chong’s skit “Sister Mary Elephant”, a skit about a hapless nun trying to teach a classroom full of unruly boys. The poor sister is constantly ignored until she, after speaking louder and louder, yells “SHUDDUP!” followed by a prim “Thank you.” The process starts over and over again with the sister yelling at the boys several times over.
“Sister Mary Elephant” was our favorite bit on the two singles thanks in no small part to the boys’ consistent burping and farting, and one boy’s several requests to go “use the can.” This was perfect comedic material for pre-adolescent boys such as us.
The two albums Dave brought in for recess were the comedy team’s self-titled debut album and their third LP, Los Cochinos, the latter of which we listened to first.
The first track on Los Cochinos was called “Sergeant Stadanko”, a six-minute bit that took us back to Sister Mary Elephant’s classroom at Our Lady of 115th Street. The skit had a narcotics officer giving a talk to the unruly boys about drug use. Most of us had heard of marijuana by now, but very few of us, if any, knew what Mr. Stadanko and the boys were talking about when they mentioned “Acapulco Gold”, “Michoacán”, “reefer”, and “caca”. We still laughed at it to look like we were cool and hip.
The second track was “Peter Rooter”, a take off on the Roto-Rooter plumbing commercials often heard on both radio and TV. We were all juvenile enough to laugh at just the word “peter” alone, but too juvenile to fully understand the full depth of the skit. The word “gonorrhea” was the stickler for us.
We all cautiously looked at each other for any sign that one of us knew what gonorrhea was. None of us did. One of the boys finally broke the tension. “What the hell’s gonorrhea?” The question was met with a few “I dunno”s and a few shrugged shoulders. What we did know was we couldn’t dare ask Mrs. Trempala. That afternoon after school, a few of us agreed to casually ask our parents what exactly this gonorrhea stuff was.
To me, the word “gonorrhea” sounded like it might be some form of “diarrhea”, especially when paired with the “drip, drip, drip” part of the routine. Why the drip, drip, drip of some kind of diarrhea was coming from the peter confused me like crazy. I was hoping that Mom could explain it for me.
I was playing basketball next door at Betty Lou and Al’s when Mom came home from running errands after her classes at Ball State. I ran back to get the front door for her as she was carrying a couple bags from Marsh Supermarket and herding my younger brother up the sidewalk.
“Thank you, honey,” Mom said as she walked in the house. “How was school today?”
“Aaahhh, it was okay,” I told her while following her into the kitchen.
“Just okay, huh,” she remarked with a grin. She put the two bags on the kitchen table then asked, “Did you learn anything new?”
“Welllll,” I answered in a drawn out manner. This figured to be my best chance to get the question out there rather than drop the bomb during dinner. I sat down on the bench at the table and took on as innocent a look as I could muster. “I learned a new word today.”
“You did?” Mom reacted, almost excitedly. “And what word was that?” she asked while unloading the bags and restocking the cabinets and refrigerator.
She had her back to me as I closed my eyes with a wince. “Gonorrhea.” I slowly opened first one eye and then the other. She had come to a complete stop as she was kind of leaning into the fridge.
“I heard you,” she answered with her back still to me. She paused a moment longer then turned back to the task at hand.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Did your teacher teach you this word?” Mom asked. She appeared to be a wee bit tense at the moment.
“No,” I replied.
Mom’s shoulders relaxed at my response. “Where did you hear it, then?”
I was prepared for this. No sense in endangering Dave and the rest of us, I figured.
“One of the guys at school told us he heard it on his bus yesterday and wanted to know if any of us knew what it meant.”
“Oh. Okay,” Mom said. “It’s, uhhhh, it’s hard to describe.” She was obviously stalling to find a way to explain it to me.
“It sounds kinda like diarrhea to me,” I told her.
Mom’s eyes widened as if with horror. “It’s not diarrhea.”
“Oh,” I said disappointedly.
“Anything else happen today?” I knew enough to know this was a less direct way of her saying “Can we change the subject now?” I knew then that I wasn’t going to get my answer from Mom.
Later that evening during dinner, as Dad was cutting off a section of his steak to put on my dinner plate he asked my sister and me what we learned at school that day.
“Wellll,” I started to answer.
“Nothing!” Mom interrupted. I looked quizzically past my sister at Mom. Her eyes were wide open as she stared at me. She collected herself then said, “We already talked about this earlier today. He learned nothing today.” She gave me another look that spoke volumes.
I looked back at Dad as he shrugged “OK” while cutting open his baked potato. “What about you, sis?” he asked my sister. “What did you learn today?”
The mystery of what that stupid word meant would have to continue another day.