The Birds and the Bees

Ron Karpinski 1998

 

By late 1961, Bob and I thought we had sailed clear through puberty and stood at the threshold of manhood.  Fourteen, going on twenty, we had long since solved that age-old riddle: how to tell a real blonde from a fake one.  The time for father-son talks had passed, or so it seemed.

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Bob, born Robert Harold Clarke, also answered to "Baby Moose," in homage to his father, Robert Harley "Moose" Clarke.  One could hardly confuse the two.  Moose stood six-feet-four and weighed well over two hundred pounds while Bob strained to reach five-foot-ten and one sixty.

He may have been only a chip off the old block, but Bob still outweighed me by a good twenty pounds.  That made those one-on-one football games out on the front lawn a little one-sided.  Bob and I were best friends.

The Clarkes lived in an old white clapboard house on the corner of Ninth and Los Robles in Hacienda Heights, California.  City street maps referred to that spot as the "Moose Lodge."  One of Moose's pals on the fire department had arranged it as a joke.

I learned early in life not to call Moose a fireman.  "A fireman," he told us, "shovels coal on a locomotive.  Men who risk their lives putting out wild blazes are called professional fire fighters."

Fire fighters lived at the station house, on-call, for three days or more at a stretch.  Then they had two or three days off at home to rest up.  That allowed Moose to spend a great deal of time with his son at a critical stage in a young man's life.  As Bob's best friend in the whole world, I got to share in this.

We won't go into how much of the Clarke's food I ate over the years.  Suffice it to say, outside of school, I spent most of my waking hours down at the Moose Lodge.  They could have claimed me as a tax deduction.

When not asleep in his favorite lounge chair,  Moose might join me and Bob out on the front lawn for a friendly game of football.  Let us make one thing perfectly clear.  There is nothing friendly about two fourteen-year-old boys trying to tackle a thirty-eight-year old man the size of a Buick.  Forget the fact that we wore no padding.

After the opposing team ran two quick plays up the middle - and scored two touchdowns - Bob and I tired of football.  We asked Moose if he might like to drive down to the store for some bread and milk.  Heading down to the store for bread and milk served as an excuse to go for a ride in Moose's pickup truck.

Moose owned the classic of all pickup trucks, a 1951 Chevrolet, painted chocolate brown.  Hopping aboard, the three of us squeezed into the cab, side-by-side on the lone bench seat.  Odd man out had to sit in the middle, with the gear shift knob poking up between his knees.

Odd man out was another way of saying "skinniest."  As the skinniest boy in our high school class, I always sat in the middle.  There, in the cab of that old truck, Moose tutored Bob and me on the finer points of that most sacred of games among men called "grab ass."

On the short jaunt down to Hillgrove Market, Moose slipped his hand off the gear shift knob and onto my knee.  Forming a small circle with his thumb and forefinger, he gave me an inviting smile.  A real man could stick his finger in the hole and snatch it back out again without getting caught.  Get your finger stuck in there, and you were a wimp. Bob and I were wimps.

One day, as we parked in front of the store, a pert little brunette with swivel hips and roving eyes sashayed by, on the sidewalk right in front of us.  She appeared about our age, so Bob and I gave her a long look.  I didn't even notice when Moose put his hand on my knee.

After she had passed, Bob and I let out a collective sigh, "Mm hmm, mighty fine."  Moose crooked one eyebrow and slowly shook his head.  "Boys," he said, "I think it is time we all have a man-to-man talk."

Bob and I looked at each other, each thinking the same thing.  "Ah, he wants to talk to us about the birds and the bees.  Doesn't he know we learned all that stuff from our friends years ago?  Oh, well, let's humor the old guy."

Moose drew a long breath, and then he spoke.  "Boys," he began, "there is something I've been wanting to tell you both for a long time.  This is a fact of life that you need to know."

"Yes, what is it?" we asked.  Hmm, maybe there's more to this romance thing than we thought.  Wonder what it is that he wants to tell us?

Exhaling deeply, Moose continued.  "Boys," he said, "there is no Santa Claus."

 

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