Monthly Archives: May 2009

Sex Ed and the Actor: A Touching Story

A few of my posts about Andy’s nude scenes in his UCLA play as well as his “method acting” (anal probes) experience at UCLA’s medical center drew a large number of comments that appeared favorable including these three:

“Great Post, thanks!”

“Thanks! Very helpful post,”

“Excellent site. It was pleasant to me.”

I was curious why someone would find the post “helpful” or “pleasant to me.” My patient WordPress sponsors of this blog, who flagged these comments as spam, suggested the spammers were less interested in Andy’s acting than his anatomy.

Despite the spammers’ misplaced interest, I suppose I should be glad Andy’s acting, particularly his shadowed nude love scenes, were judged to be so authentic. To be sure, Andy had a particularly well-qualified award-winning director for The Devils: Patrick Kennelly, whose previous play at UCLA Theater School was Cleansed, a play that featured nude students and a penis transplant.

As a college junior Andy had decided against auditioning for that play because he was appalled by the limited amount of nudity. By contrast, one year and one girlfriend later, he auditioned for The Devils because he estimated his character would be nude for an estimated half of the play, a much better proportion than for Cleansed. Moreover, the character of the womanizing priest that Andy portrayed required dramatic skills he had acquired between junior and senior years—- namely growing a beard, shaving his head, and ripping off his clothes.

Andy’s skill in acting also stems from his knowledge of human biology that I had transmitted when he and Jordan were young and ready for enlightened sex education. I was determined that their biology lesson pre-empt any street version from their friends. I  also resolved not to repeat my mother’s eight minute explanation of sex that contained, in my ten-year-old’s view, a description so unbelievable and so revolting I responded, “No, really.”

As a former teacher skilled in research and lesson plans, I was well-prepared when Andy and Jordan showed up for our Talk. Alan and I had agreed I would make the major presentation, particularly since Alan’s proposed version included observations and advice drawn from Penthouse Letters.

Having narrowed the boys’ sex education to my own perspective, I proceeded to deliver a well-researched, carefully constructed and sensitive treatise of approximately two hours on  every facet of sex I considered appropriate for their eight and ten-year-old ages. My motivation was that they should consider sex normal, but so boring a topic that they’d never discuss it with friends.

I recall that after my mother outlined frankly what was in store for me, I never brought up the subject again. I knew my friends wouldn’t have believed me anyway.

All except one.

Kenny was a red-headed next-door neighbor, two years’ younger, and a playmate of mine. Not long after my mother’s startling revelations, I was playing croquet in his backyard that was bordered by a fence, shrubbery, and three neighbors’ homes. I don’t recall exactly how the subject came up of where babies came from. I’m sure I would’ve been extremely reluctant to talk about it. However, I’ve tried to reconstruct how our conversation gradually turned to the big disclosure:

Kenny:  Great shot. So when we got back from the lake, I was so brown. My dad got burned, and you should see my mom.

Me:  I know where babies come from.

Kenny:  (unintelligible)

Me:  Want me to tell you?

Kenny:  O.k.

Me:  (One minute abridged version of my mother’s talk.)

Kenny:  (face draining of color) No such thing!

Me:  It is, too. My mother told me.

Kenny:  (misses next five shots)

After I went home, I wondered if I should have told him, since he was younger, but I had to let somebody know what I knew.

Several days later, my mother called me into her and Dad’s bedroom, the room for serious discussions. The room where Dad thought he hid undiscoverable boxes of chocolate creams in his underwear drawer as well as magazines with photographs of half-naked women.

Mom:  Someone told me that you told Kenny where babies come from.


Mom:  This person said you were in the backyard at Kenny’s house when this happened.


Mom:  I told you never to talk about this with anyone.

Me: Mom, is that what f— means? (I’d heard that term used at summer camp.)

Mom:  (reddening) No, but it’s similar.

I knew which neighbor had ratted on me—the prim Mrs. Bitsko listening on the other side of the hedge—but how could I defend myself when Mom made me sound positively evil?

Fortunately, Kenny survived my revelations and even participated a year later in the scandalous neighborhood “playing doctor” activities. I was not asked to participate maybe because kids thought I was too young, or a possibly a tattletale, or they resented my recent quoting from the Kinsey Report.

The neighborhood’s version of playing doctor featured a middle school sexpot (you know who you are) who occasionally gave a peep show that attracted kids under 11. When word got around about an upcoming show, a couple of concerned parents deputized several of us to go, secretly observe and then sternly reveal ourselves as the kids’ morals committee.

The afternoon of the event, I followed a large mob of kids downstairs to Sexpot’s basement.  Her parents weren’t home and the house was unlocked, which was the custom of the time, along with Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes, and other approved snacks.

We hid behind the furnace and waited, listening to the heavy breathing. When Sexpot showed up with her entourage of mostly boys, she sensed a trap, and the rest of us popped out accusingly. I spotted Kenny as one of her enthusiastic spectators, so apparently I hadn’t stunted his interest in sex. He was, in fact, the only kid who’d schlepped along his Dad’s 5 lb 16 mm Bolex motion picture camera.

Years later, I found out Kenny was a dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and that he was gay. For a long time, before it was o.k. to be gay, I blamed myself for his sexual preference. I wondered if he became gay because he was only eight when I’d disclosed what a man and woman do. Maybe, I reasoned, if I’d couched my explanation in terms of what two guys do, he would’ve turned out hetero.

I like to think my facts-of-life revelations to Kenny and Andy didn’t taint their outlook on relationships. I was cheered to learn Andy is currently rehearsing a scene from Eugene O’Neill’s biographical play, Long Day’s Journey into Night. Andy’s playing Jamie, described as a 33-year old, “attractive to women and popular with men.”  For companionship, Jamie (Andy) frequents brothels and in particular a prostitute named Fat Violet.

It’s comforting to know that everything Andy learned from his mother is still being put to good use.

Fish I Have Known (Part One)

            I have a half-baked relationship with fish. As a native Oregonian, I was expected to eat salmon and anything else with fins. My dad ate sardines and salmon every day and lived to 93. When he died, we considered donating his organs to Chicken of the Sea. My mother’s cardiologist demanded that she eat fish because of her hypertension and heart disease. She also lived to 93. She would’ve lived longer, but she choked on a fishbone.

            I do eat tuna— the mercury I’ve ingested over the years prevents me from remembering why it’s bad for me. But I recoil at the smell of seafood, shellfish, sushi and the like except when I’m at the Monterey Aquarium in Northern California, where fish are everywhere but on the menu. Recently Alan and I visited the Aquarium during our one night “weekend” away from home.

            It’s been years since I visited the Aquarium, and I first notice that the entrance now resembles an airport check-in counter. Visitors twist around colonic lines that eventually lead to the lengthy desk manned by staff who provide maps and information.

            The first exhibit I choose is the restroom.

            Next we race to the popular otter feedings. On cue the slithery otters gather in the water to await their trainers, except there’s a catch. Three designated otters don’t get dinner until they allow a trainer to perform an exercise designed to increase their comfort level with humans. The trainer carries a device resembling a foot and a half long white pole with a large blue or red tip, sort of a giant Q-tip, to be held in front of their noses or gently rolled across their upper backs. Two of the dinner-deprived otters mildly object to a large Q-tip being rubbed on their furry backs. They snarl, prompting their two trainers to jerk away and withdraw hastily until they’re safely out of danger from the otters, catching their breath in the Aquarium Gift Shop four tanks away. The otters’ humiliation and resentment are understandable: as a tool-handling species, they’d rather insert the training Q-tips into their ears and clean them—against all medical advice— like normal people.

            We move on to the Outer Bay exhibits, with its sharks, tunas, barracudas and other open-sea animals. I’m reminded of pupfish, prehistoric fish who wouldn’t be caught dead here because they’re mostly dead, except for those struggling to survive in Death Valley, California. There they live in water with more salinity than sea water. Despite that requirement, when Andy was six and Jordan eight, they went exploring the sloping oasis gardens of Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Inn, searching for pupfish who don’t live in the oasis ponds. We were on vacation, the temperature was close to 100 degrees, and instead of water on their desert journey a few feet from our hotel room, the boys were packing drippy chocolate covered ice cream bars.

            From the story I heard an hour later, they were licking their ice cream bars, bending over each grassy pond to find the elusive pupfish, when Jordan fell forward into a waist-deep, steep-sided pond, apparently slipping on the damp bordering grasses.

            As Andy related the story of heroism, “I leaned over and told Jordan to grab my arm, and” —-here Andy made a swinging right backhand gesture—“I pulled him out of the pond! I saved Jordan’s life!”

            Jordan stood by numbly, shorts dripping on the carpet. He turned around to use the bathroom.

            This famous family tale has been repeated for almost two decades. The only disturbing observation I could never explain was why there was a smeared white and chocolate brown handprint on Jordan’s upper back.

Fish I Have Known (Part Two)

              Instead of pupfish, the Monterey Aquarium features “The Secret Lives of Seahorses.” In tank after tank, we study the variety of colorful seahorses with their horse heads, kangaroo pouches, grasping monkey tails, and fascinating fins on their upper back resembling wings in motion or tiny translucent outboard motors. Baby seahorses—sea ponies?—resemble floating pieces of human fingernails, but when we look closer, they clearly have the facial and body features of their parents. To produce these stables of baby seahorses, adult male seahorses puff up their bellies as full as they can to attract a female, or as the Aquarium’s sign says coyly, “Size matters.”

            However, the best news was finding out that for reproduction, the gender roles are reversed: the female pursues the male for a hook-up and, leaving aside the reversed mechanics of mating, the male will be pregnant for ….two to three weeks. (You can’t have everything, ladies.) Eventually the male seahorse will release 100-200 babies, aided both by muscular contractions to expel them from his pouch, and his previous 200 Lamaze classes. Fewer than five infants of every 1000 survive to adulthood, possibly because seahorses don’t care for their young once born. The females want to go back to work and the males are already planning their next pregnancy.

            As I watch the seahorses, I flash back to my grade school days, and finding ads in comic books that shouted: LIVE PET SEAHORSES $1. The ad was usually above the DARLING PET MONKEY $18.95 ad, showing a squirrel monkey in the palm of a human’s hand. (“Simple to care for and train.” “Even likes lollipops.”) I never ordered the seahorses, much less the monkey, because the ad seemed too weird. Besides, how could a seahorse, assuming it survived the postal delivery process, compete with kids who owned dogs, cats, and parakeets? What could I say at “Show and Tell” to one-up my friends’ pets? “These are my pet seahorses. They’re going to die WAY before YOUR pets. I just got them and they have about a year or less to live!”?

            The advertised sea horses at least looked real. I also remember an ad for “The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys,” which showed cartoonish humanoids, apparently naked although private parts were concealed by odd-looking fins and extremities. Judging by their smiles, they enjoyed excellent dental health. The female sea monkey wore lipstick on cosmetically enhanced lips.

            Years later I read The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys were unappealing brine shrimp that hatched within minutes after contact with water. They were the promotion of an inventor and mail-order entrepreneur named Harold von Braunhut [“brown hat”]. He also invented X-Ray Spex (“See through skin! See through clothing!”), Invisible Goldfish (complete with glass bowl, invisible goldfish food and a guarantee their owners would never see them), and Crazy Crabs (pet hermit crabs).

             Billions of Sea Monkeys were sold, and apparently some of that fortune was distributed to Aryan Nation, the anti-Semitic, white supremacist group because Mr. Braunhut, possibly from exposure to too much sea brine, was a major supporter and speaker of Aryan Nation. (The “von” was added to make him sound more German.) The Amazing Sea-Monkeys are unfortunately still around today under new ownership, and despite some illustration tinkering, still look pretty Aryan.

            What is it about fish that brings out this baser part of man? Even in Florida, there is a popular fish called the Jewfish. Whose brilliant idea was this? It’s huge fish that can grow as long as seven feet and more than 800 pounds. There’s been some speculation the name was originally “Jewel Fish” because its scales glisten and glimmer in bright sunlight. Monterey Aquarium does not carry the Jewfish because of its size, the fact it’s an Atlantic fish, and because there’s no rabbi on staff.

            Fortunately or not, the American Fisheries Society, acting on a request from Florida State officials, changed the name to “Goliath groupers.” Monterey Aquarium was not fooled by this name change—they still won’t carry the fish.

            There’s still a problem, though. A bridge crossed by Florida marathon runners is called Jewfish Creek Bridge. Jewfish is also the name of an unincorporated community in Monroe County, Florida, located in the upper Florida Keys on Key Largo. By some accounts, the town now known as KEY LARGO was called Jewfish until 1921. As a serious movie-goer and fish-phobe, I have to ask myself: If the town’s name had not been changed, would admirers of Humphrey Bogart across the country really have watched him in a Florida Keys-filmed 1948 action-packed movie called “Jewfish”?

One Hot Priest (Part Two)

The third time I saw my UCLA Theater School son Andy without clothes is the erotic scene in the senior class play, The Devils, when Andy, as Grandier the priest, is up on stage entwined with his favorite congregant, Phillipe, a petite woman with blonde ringlets.

Grandier has pursued her, a chancy flirtation considering Phillipe is the Public Prosecutor’s daughter. Andy and Phillipe spend several minutes horizontal, graphically simulating that they’ve moved way beyond Disc One of Yoga for Couples. While they’re in motion, so to speak, the Bad Nun Jeanne stands on the lower stage and describes what she imagines they’re doing, in case anyone in the audience is clueless to the debauchery or prefers Books On Tape.

In the final act, containing Andy’s most powerful scenes, his character Grandier is sentenced to death for “commerce with the devil,” obscenity, blasphemy, sacrilege, and not washing his hands before meals. Stripped of his clerical garments, he strides proudly across the stage, and disappears into the wings where he awaits death by fire at the stake and leftover Round Table Pizza on a backstage chair.

This is one of Andy’s finest moments, with his majestic walk and blazing brown eyes that shine with hope and courage despite all-consuming fear.  I saw that same look of fear—which Andy may have been channeling for Grandier—- when Andy was a fourteen-year old prankster who accidentally locked us both into mini- handcuffs—-then couldn’t find the key. Andy’s expression of horror froze on his face when we presented ourselves and this kinky-looking dilemma to a smirking locksmith to be freed.

Fortunately Andy was wearing clothes at the time. 


One Hot Priest (Part One)

What’s a mother to do when she’s seeing her son perform, for the first time, as the lead in UCLA Theater School’s Spring play, The Devils, and for a substantial portion of the play, he’s to be….nude?

That was my challenge when we finally saw him:

Picture six beautiful, totally bare young women on stage before us——playing nuns—- who, for twenty minutes in frenetic motion, grind, gambol (look it up), thrash about, bark while on hands and knees, cavort, and make indecent, wanton gestures at each other and their  priests. It’s enough to make a lapsed Catholic man hurry back to church.

Except these young women are pretending to be possessed by the devil, part of a plot by Sister Jeanne, their superior, who seeks revenge on Vicar Grandier (Andy’s character) for spurning her. The audience gets the idea Sister Jeanne was one of the only females in town spurned by the roguish Grandier.

In Andy’s first scene, he’s dressed (!!) in regal purple robes and appears to be the tallest actor on stage. He talks softly, his dark eyes twinkle, and his wavy dark hairpiece capped by a priestly skullcap brings to mind actor Omar Shariff (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dr. Zhivago,” Las Vegas poker tables). As Grandier the priest, Andy recites Latin prayers fluently, in contrast to his Hebrew School days where, as a pre-teen, his delinquent study habits and memory failure gave his teacher quinsy [Latin: see angina].

The second time we see Andy, he’s climbing down from great heights, the local widow woman’s supine torso. She doesn’t have a stitch on. Neither does he. The play’s director has pre-arranged their legs to affect poses that provide some shade for important areas.  Like most post-coupling couples, they engage in a philosophical and theological discussion, prompting Andy to say softly to the widow: “Your soul is as tiny as your mind…” I’m betting that’s a 17th century compliment, but I haven’t studied the nuances of expression for that time.

As Andy bids goodbye to her, he remarks “You’ve been a good little animal today.” My rabbis have never talked this way. In religious school when I was in 6th grade, I remember a rabbi calling our class “animals,” but that was when a large group of boys were climbing columns in the sanctuary.

(to be continued)