Clubius Contained Part 23 – In the Lilac Bushes (June 1964)

It was the last day of school. I was finally done with fourth grade. The last day of school was my FAVORITE day of the whole year because I didn’t have to have grownups in charge of me anymore, or at least until fifth grade started in the fall. It was better than Christmas OR my birthday, which were my second and third favorite days of the year. And as you can probably figure out, the first day of school in the fall was my least favorite day of the year. That’s when grownups being in charge of me started again.

This year I even liked my teacher, Mrs Larkin. She let us do a lot of stuff we decided for ourselves, and really liked me and my friends because we were really good students. She was way better than Mrs Rodney last year, damn her to hell, even though she taught us how to sing together, which I really liked. My first grade teacher, Miss Zimmerman, was still my favorite, because she was more like an older kid or one of those college students than a grownup.

But even if my teachers were good, I didn’t like them being in charge of me all the time. Mrs Larkin would let us do what we wanted sometimes, but we still had to ask her, and work hard all the time to get all our answers right so she’d think we were smart and good and let us do it our way.

Most of my friends, except my newer friend Lenny, liked school more than I did. Amanda, Gabe and Jake thought if you didn’t go to school you’d be stupid. Herbie liked school because he didn’t like being at home because of his dad and his mom. Theo liked school because that was what a kid was supposed to do, so you might as well like it.

I was walking home from school up Fifth street to Allmendinger Park with Lenny. The sun was out and it was warm with a nice cool “breeze”, that’s what mom called the wind when it wasn’t blowing hard. Lenny and I were both talking about how glad we were that it was summer and that maybe our little league team, the Orioles, would be better this year, because our coach had us do more practices than last year, and because Lenny was on our team. Lenny was really good at baseball and he was our best pitcher, because he could throw the ball fast and “throw strikes” like our coach said. So our first game would be tomorrow at this school called “Dicken”.

“Coach wants me to pitch on Saturday”, he said, “I’m ready.” When he pitched to me at practice or in the park I had trouble hitting it because it was so fast it was scary. I couldn’t wait until guys on the other team tried to get hits when he was pitching. He was left-handed like me and like that Sandy Koufax guy on the Dodgers who most kids said was the best pitcher in regular baseball. Lenny liked to talk about everything he was thinking about, and I just walked next to him and nodded.

“I heard these two older kids talking in the park the other day”, he said, “They didn’t know I was listening, but they were talking about these other kids that get naked in the lilac bushes, like it’s some sort of secret club or something.”

“Really?” I asked, it didn’t seem possible. I’d been in the park for years and I had never heard about or saw anything like that. The kids I knew who knew the most about the park, Ricky, Marybeth and Paul had never said anything about anything like that.

It sounded interesting to me and even a little exciting, but I wasn’t going to tell Lenny that, after what happened when I told Joey that I’d “pull down my pants for Mary” last year and he told on me in class. I knew you weren’t supposed to do stuff like that, like when Molly and I got naked a long time ago up in her bedroom at her old house across the street. Even though THAT was supposed to be really bad, it was really exciting and fun.

“I don’t know”, said Lenny, “You wouldn’t do stuff like that, right?” If I shook my head no, that would be kind of lying, which I didn’t like to do with other kids. Grownups sure, but not other kids.

“You’re not supposed to”, I said instead.

“Right”, he said, “You can get in a lot of trouble.” I nodded, but now I was really wondering about it.

When we got to Allmendinger Park lots of kids were there, just back from the last day of school. They all seemed pretty happy about it, because they were talking louder and doing more laughing than they usually did.

There was a group of older girls on and around the swings who were talking about which one of the Beatles they liked the most. Marybeth was there, and her sister Hannah was close by climbing on the monkey bars with two other girls. Hannah saw me and waved. I waved back. Marybeth saw Hannah waving and looked to see who she was waving at, saw me and waved too.

“You know a lot of girls”, Lenny said. I got worried when he said that, wondering what he was thinking about me, maybe thinking I was some kind of sissy, though he’d never said anything about that stuff before. He had gone to my ninth birthday party and Molly had been there when Danny told him that Molly was my best friend.

“I know more boys than girls”, I said, thinking I better say something like that, so he didn’t keep thinking about me and girls.

“Yeah”, he said, “I know. I hardly know ANY girls. Diane is always saying bad things about me so Mary and all those other girls in class wouldn’t talk to me, and Amanda thought I was stupid.”

I laughed through my nose, I was now doing it too like grownups and older kids. “Amanda thinks most boys are stupid”, I said, thinking that would make him feel better.

“But you and Gabe and Jake were always talking to her at recess”, he said, “She didn’t think you guys were stupid.”

“Well”, I said, “We’ve been in class together since first grade, and she isn’t like a regular girl.”

“Is she a tomboy?” he asked. I shook my head.

“No, she’s just super smart”, I said, “And likes being a good student. And she thinks all the other girls are silly.”

“Well”, he said, “I think she’s right about that. So I guess she hangs out with you and Gabe and Jack because you’re the smartest boys.” I wasn’t sure whether to nod or say something about that. I know most kids didn’t like other kids who talked about how they were better. The older kids called it being “conceited” or a “show off”. Some kid would say…

You think you’re hot snot on a silver platter
But you’re really cold boogers on a paper plate

So I raised and lowered my shoulders like I didn’t know if that was true, hoping that would end it and we wouldn’t talk about it anymore.

But it didn’t work. “Yeah”, he said, “I know you. You know you’re super smart. You just had your ninth birthday but you’re in fourth grade and all the rest of us are ten.” I wasn’t sure what to say and was worried about talking about it.

“Yeah”, I said, “I guess I’m good at school stuff.”

“You ARE!” he said, “Like I’m good at baseball pitching. It’s okay to say you’re good at something if you ARE.” I nodded, but wasn’t sure he was right about that, though he WAS a really good pitcher.

“So I got to go home and practice my pitching”, he said, “My dad set up this tire in the backyard that I try to throw baseballs through. He has a bunch of them that he keeps in a bucket. And when he gets home from work he’s going to practice with me, he said, so in tomorrow’s game, he and everybody else there will see how good a pitcher I am.”

Lenny headed off to walk home and I watched him while I was thinking. I wanted to be good at baseball too, but I was really glad that mom and dad didn’t do stuff like that with me and come to our games to see how good I was.

“Hey”, It was Paul’s voice, “That’s that Lenny kid, right?” I nodded.

“He won’t talk to me because I’m only in third grade”, he said, shaking his head slowly. He made a kind of whooshing noise through his teeth. “We all played together at your party, but when I said hi to him in the park after that, he asked me what grade I was in, and when I told him third, he just ran off.”

I nodded, but I was thinking about that other thing Lenny said about the boys in the lilac bushes. I knew Paul knew a lot about what was going on in the park and would always keep secrets and I could trust him not to tell on me.

“So Lenny was saying something about boys getting naked in the lilac bushes”, I said, “You heard anything about that?” Paul nodded.

“Yeah there’s that one older kid, Zeke”, he said, “I think he’s in sixth grade. I’ve heard him talking about it though he always says it’s disgusting and he’d never do it. But he just keeps talking about it, so I wonder. And he’s not very nice.”

Paul pointed to the bunch of lilac bushes across from Marybeth and Hannah’s house. “I figure that one’s probably the secret meeting place, it’s got the most room inside. That’s where the girls have most of their secret meetings.”

We walked back over to where all the girls were talking by the swings. Since Marybeth lived across the street from that bunch of lilac bushes, and her and Hannah’s bedroom window upstairs looked down on the bushes, I wondered if she might know something. I couldn’t ASK her about boys getting naked in the bushes, because then she or one of the other girls that heard might think that I wanted to do that. But maybe I could ask her something else about secret clubs.

When we got back over to where the girls were all around the swings, they were all singing a song together, it was that new Beatles one…

I’ll give you all I’ve got to give
If you say you love me too
I may not have a lot to give
But what I got, I’ll give to you
I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love

Can’t buy me love, everybody tells me so
Can’t buy me love, no-no-no, no!

I’d heard the song on the radio and a lot at Miller’s ice cream on the jukebox there, and I’d put in nickels to play it too because I liked it. I couldn’t quite explain WHY I liked it. The kids on American Bandstand on TV would say it had a “good beat”. I guess that was what I thought too.

Paul and I didn’t stand next to the girls all standing around the swingsets, because we weren’t other girls and there were no other boys there, so some of them might not like it. So Paul and I walked by them, and walked by the monkeybars where Hannah was and started to spin the merry-go-round around and jumped on it. The girls had stopped singing and were arguing whether John or Paul was the one singing that song.

“Must be John”, I said to Paul, trying to make a joke, “Because you didn’t sing it.” He nodded and we both laughed through our noses like older kids.

“Have you heard that new song by the Supremes?” he asked, kind of loud, as we spun around on the thing hanging on to the bars across from each other. I nodded.

“Where Did Our Love Go”, I said loud back across to him. I’d heard the song on the radio and at Miller’s too.

It seemed like most of the songs were about “love”, which I got meant really REALLY liking somebody a LOT, and so much that you wanted to do kissyface stuff with them.

Hannah was now by herself on the monkeybars and looked bored. She climbed down and ran over to the merry-go-round and jumped on, working her way between the bars to get close to where I was hanging off the edge.

“Where’s David?” she asked, “I went over to your house and he wasn’t there.”

“Did you ask my mom where he was?” I asked. She shook her head.

“No one was there”, she said.

“Maybe my dad took him out somewhere”, I said. She wrinkled her nose, like she didn’t like that. I wondered if she and Marybeth had a mom and dad at all. They said they did, but I had never seen them. Just their grandmother that they called “Bobchos”, all the grownups called “Mrs Bukowski”, and some of the older boys called “the crazy old lady”.

Paul asked Hannah, “Do you want to go fast?” He looked across the merry-go-round at me and I nodded like that was a good idea. We were both nine now so we could make it go REALLY fast.

“Hang on”, I said, as Paul and I both jumped off, held the bars and ran and made the thing spin fast. Hannah screamed, but I had seen little girls play enough in the park now that I knew it wasn’t because she was scared. It was just what some of them did when they were excited and having fun. Paul and I jumped on and hung off either side again across from each other, holding on to the bars.

Then Marybeth came over with this other older girl who looked like she was maybe the same age. Marybeth had gotten a lot taller. She and her friend were both really tall.

“You guys want to go even faster?” she asked. Paul and I nodded, still hanging off the ends across from each other. Her friend ran across to the other side and then they both started to run and grabbed bars and we started spinning even faster. They were girls but they could run pretty fast. Finally they both jumped on.

Leaning towards the middle as we spun, Marybeth and her friend stepped slowly toward the middle where they sat just opposite each other. Hannah tried to do what they had done, but she had trouble and had to fall down on her hands and knees and crawl to the middle. I started to move towards the middle too, and Paul saw me and did the same. We didn’t sit next to the three girls but stood above them leaning in and holding onto bars. I was trying to think of something to ask Marybeth that might help me find out about that secret meeting where the boys got naked without really asking her about it.

“You can see the Lilac bushes from your bedroom window, right?” I asked her.

She looked at me like that was a weird question and then looked at her friend and made a funny face that made her friend laugh through her nose.

“Yeah”, Marybeth said, “So what?” She seemed way more like a really older kid now, one of those “teenagers”, rather than a regular kid like Paul or me.

“Don’t girls have all their secret meetings in those lilac bushes by your house?” I asked.

“I think so”, said Paul, figuring out my sneaky plan.

“Why do you care?” her friend asked, “You want to spy on them?” I shook my head really fast.

“No”, I said, “You shouldn’t spy on people, specially girls. We just want to have a meeting there too but we don’t want to steal their place.”

“What kind of meeting?” her friend asked. I wasn’t sure what to say and looked at Paul.

“We can’t tell you”, said Paul, “It’s secret.” Marybeth laughed through her nose, and then her friend laughed too.

“Okay”, her friend said, “Whatever”, like she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“I saw some boys have a meeting there last Sunday in the morning”, said Marybeth, “And maybe the Sunday before too. That wasn’t you guys?” We both shook our heads and looked at each other and Paul’s eyes flashed.

“I thought just girls had meeting’s there”, Paul said.

“No”, said Marybeth, shaking her head, “Girls and boys go in there all the time, to have meetings, to talk, to play. Sometimes an older girl and boy go in there to make out.”

“Like Sherry and Daniel?” asked her friend. They both laughed a regular laugh. I liked it when girls laughed when I was talking to them. It made me feel like they weren’t worried about talking to a boy, so I didn’t worry either.

“What’s ‘making out’?” asked Hannah. She had been sitting in the middle of the spinning merry-go-round watching all us older kids talk about all this stuff.

“It’s when a boy and girl want to kiss each other a lot and do other stuff too”, Marybeth said, looking down at Hannah. Her friend looked at her and wrinkled her nose.

“Isn’t she too young to know about this stuff?” her friend asked.

Marybeth moved her shoulders up and down and said, “Maybe… but she asked.”

“What other stuff?” asked Hannah.

“Okay you”, Marybeth said, shaking her head and looking up at the sky, “Enough. Hannah, ask me when we’re back home and maybe I’ll tell you.”

I nodded like that was a good plan, but I really didn’t know what that other stuff was, so I wish Marybeth had said.


The next day was Saturday and we had our first ten-year-old Little League game. It was at this place called “Dicken”, which I guess was a school, and only Gabe knew where it was. So Me, Lenny and Herbie all rode our bikes to Gabe and Theo’s houses, and then Gabe led us all on a long bike ride. We rode up Hutchins across Pauline past Allmendinger and then down Franklin by Paul’s house. Then when we got to Stadium, we rode along the sidewalk for a long way. We went across the big street and down a street called “Alhambra” and then around to another street called “Stephen Terrace”, which went around instead of straight and finally there was the school.

It was kind of an interesting place around the school. There were houses on one side of the school that all kind of looked the same. There were trees but they were all small, not like the big ones around where I lived and going down into the city part. The other side of the school there were no houses or buildings, just the baseball field.

The adventure getting there and the place were way more interesting than the game. We actually won, fifteen to twelve, but their pitcher kid just walked most of us when we went up to bat. Our coach said when we were batting we shouldn’t swing at a pitch until their pitcher threw a strike, and I got three walks. I could tell the kids on their team out in the field were getting bored or even mad while their pitcher walked guys, and felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed for the pitcher, and all the other kids on their team.

The next time I got up I just wanted to hit it, even if the pitch wasn’t a strike, because that’s what you did in pickup games, hitting and fielding was what made baseball fun, not getting walks all the time. I hit the ball pretty hard and it went right at the kid playing first base. He stuck up his glove but it bounced off and hit him in the chest. I was able to run to first, but when I came back to the base he was crying and his coach came out and was mad at him. Not because he didn’t catch the ball, but for crying. I didn’t like standing there on first base, doing nothing while this grownup told the kid stuff like “be a man” and “be tough”. As soon as the coach had gone away, I told the kid I was sorry. But he looked at me really mad like I was making fun of him.

That whole thing was bad, and it made the whole game feel bad too. When I finally got around the other bases and scored, our coach and the other kids on my team said that I got a great hit, but it didn’t feel great, or even good, because of what happened to that kid. It was like if bad stuff happened to someone on the other team that was good for your team you were supposed to like it. If it happened to kids you were playing a pickup game with in the park you wouldn’t like it. Not that some older kid might say the same kind of stuff that the coach did about not crying.

So after the game we all rode our bikes back to Allmendinger Park. Even though I didn’t like the game very much, we were all just happy that it was summertime and we were all together and could do whatever we wanted and didn’t have to go to school anymore, at least for a long time.

When we got back to the park there were older kids playing a Little League game, and my friends all wanted to sit in those metal bleacher things and watch it, us with OUR baseball t-shirts and caps on, though not as neat as the older kids’ Little League uniforms, which were caps, shirts and pants and those special striped socks. The back of their special baseball shirts had blue circles with “Washtenaw Dairy” in white cursive letters.

We all sat in the top row of the bleachers on the first base side. A lot of the kids playing saw us up there and nodded like it was neat that we came to their game. Some of them asked us if we won our game. We said we did and told them the score, but didn’t tell them how stupid the game was with all those walks or about that kid that got hit and cried. We were all just super happy it was summertime and we were out of school and doing stuff that we WANTED to do, like playing baseball.

So we watched the game and I saw that Zeke kid, the one that Paul had said was talking about boys getting naked in the lilac bushes. He was playing for the other team. I told my friends I needed to get a drink of water, and after I walked over to the water fountain at the lodge place, I walked over by the other bleachers on the third base side where Zeke’s team was. Zeke was standing and practicing swinging a bat. He saw me walking up to him.

“What’s up kid?” he asked, “You in tee ball?” I shook my head.

“No”, I said, “Ten-year-old league. We won our first game this morning over at Dicken, fifteen to twelve.”

“Ten-year-old league, eh”, he said, “All walks right?” I nodded and grinned, figuring I wanted him to like me.

“Yep”, I said, “All walks.”

“Don’t worry kid”, he said, “By next year it’ll seem more like real baseball.” I nodded again.

“You look familiar”, he said. I nodded another time.

“Yep”, I said, “I live right across the street from the park. You’re Zeke, right?”

“That’s my name”, he said, almost like he was singing a song, “What’s your game… kid?” I figured he was being silly, so I wasn’t sure how or whether to answer. So I decided just to ask my question and see what he said or didn’t say.

“So there’s that secret meeting in the Lilac bushes over there”, I said, pointing, “Some kids said you might know about that.” He looked worried.

“What kids?” he asked, looking at me more carefully now and not swinging his bat any more.

“Just some kids”, I said, “I don’t know their names.”

Still looking worried he said, “I don’t know anything about that. What kind of secret meeting?”

“I don’t know”, I said, “But they said they were doing super super secret stuff. Stuff they couldn’t tell ANYBODY because…” I couldn’t think what to say next.

“Because what?” he asked, now seeming even more worried.

“Because it’s super super secret”, I said, “And they said that the meetings were early Sunday morning.”

“Oh THOSE secret meetings”, he said, shaking his head, “I don’t think you’d be interested, kid.”

Then I heard a grownup’s kind of fierce voice say, “ZEKE, you’re up!” He went to the plate and I walked back behind the backstop fence back to the bleachers where my friends were and climbed through the people sitting on the lower steps back to sit with my friends.

“Do you know that kid?” Herbie asked. I shook my head.

“Nah”, I said, “He just saw my uniform and asked me how our game went.”


It was the next morning, Sunday morning, and I got out of bed as soon as I was awake. I could see through the one window in our room that dad was mowing the grass in the backyard and David was playing in the dirt pile under the maple tree. The door to mom and dad’s room was closed, so mom was probably sleeping in again.

I quickly got dressed and went into the kitchen and ate a bowl of Cheerios. I was excited. I was going to see if this “secret meeting” in the lilac bushes was really happening and what it was all about. I wondered if that Zeke kid would be there, and if he would be mad at me being there. I made sure to go out the front door so dad and David didn’t see me. The sun was out though there were puffy clouds in the sky. There was just a little wind, that “breeze” thing again. I didn’t walk down the sidewalk on our side of Potter street, because dad or David might see me from our backyard.

So I crossed Potter instead and walked over past the bunch of lilac bushes that were closest to our house. I could really smell their sweet smell, what mom called “fragrance”. I looked over to the bunch of bushes along Hutchins across from Marybeth and Hannah’s house. I saw a kid’s face peeking out looking around. It was that Zeke kid, and I could tell that he saw me, so I walked toward him. As I got close to the bushes he was shaking his head slowly.

“What are YOU doing here, kid?” he asked, his voice sounding fierce, “Didn’t I tell you you wouldn’t be interested in this secret meeting.” He looked at me for a minute thinking then said, “You wouldn’t try to spy on us would you?” he asked. I shook my head.

“I would never spy”, I said, shaking my head, “Spying is bad and I would never, ever do that. I know I’d rot in hell if I did.” I had heard some older kids using those words “rot in hell”, so I used them because it sounded good.

“Well”, he said, “Maybe you’re okay then, and we’ve got room for one more. You better come in before somebody sees you. He pulled on a big branch of one of the bushes so I could get between two of them and inside. There were four other boys in there with him. Inside the bushes the smell of the lilacs was REALLY strong, it made it hard to even think!

“Who’s this kid?” one of them asked, talking quietly, but like a loud hissing whisper. He seemed older than the other three, maybe Zeke’s age. The other kids were more like my age. I’d seen all of them in the park, but I didn’t know who they were.

“I see him in the park all the time”, said Zeke, also whispering the same way, “I think he’s okay.” The other older boy nodded, and then the three other boys nodded too.

“Does he know the rules?” the other older boy asked, still quiet but fierce.

“No”, said Zeke, “You tell him.” The other boy nodded.

“I’ll remind everyone”, the other boy said, and he turned his head to look at each one of us like this was really, really important.

“Gentlemen…” His voice was quiet but still fierce, like his eyes when he took his turn looking at me. Sometimes older boys used that “gentleman” word that grownup men used sometimes when talking to each other. I think they figured it made what they were about to say sound more important, though I would never say that, and didn’t like it when other kids said it, but I didn’t say anything.

“Rule one”, he said, “This is a secret meeting so you don’t tell ANYONE about it. Not your parents. Not even your best friends.” I nodded.

“Rule two”, he said, “Everybody here has to do whatever we tell you to do, and you can’t tell ANYONE about that either.” I nodded again.

“Cross your heart and hope to die?” he asked. I nodded. I figured that if they asked me to do something really bad I could just run out of the bushes back to my backyard where dad and David were and then what could Zeke and that other older kid do. But I felt that that wasn’t going to happen. They were just being extra careful.

“SAY IT!” he said, in that loud hissing whisper, looking at me fiercely.

“Cross my heart and hope to die”, I said, putting my right hand on my chest like we did for the pledge of allegiance.

“That’s better”, he said, “Now EVERYBODY has to say it!”

Everybody, including him and Zeke and the three others, and me again, said it, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Okay, good”, he said, now not so fierce, “Now gentlemen, please take off your shoes and socks.” The other boys started doing it, throwing their socks and shoes into a pile between us. So I did it too, really excited because it looked like the next thing would be to take off our clothes. The dirt felt cool and good under my feet, as I wiggled my toes on it.

I remembered that day almost four years ago when Molly and I got naked together up in her bedroom of her old house across the street from mine. This time it would be with other boys, so this was a little different, but also exciting.

“Okay”, said the other older kid, “VERY good!. Now gentlemen, we’re all going to take off our shirts and pants.” Me and the three other younger boys kind of waited for Zeke and the other older kid to start before we did. We didn’t want to look like we WANTED to get naked, but only did it because they were telling us. We all threw our shirts and pants into the pile on top of our shoes and socks. It felt good to see all our clothes there together, like we were all going to do this together. We all were wearing the same kind of white underwear, not that “boxer” kind that dad wore.

He looked at all of us and nodded with his lips pushed together like it was good.

“Now gentleman”, he said, talking slower, like this was the main part, “Each of you is going to pull down his underwear, one at a time.” He looked at the kid next to him. “You first.”

The kid nodded, said okay, looked at all of us, and pulled down his underwear to the ground, stepped out of them and tossed them on the pile. I had never seen another kid’s penis. It looked pretty much like mine, but still. He looked at all of us again and stood there naked and smiled, like he was glad he finally got to do it. That made sense to me, and I was excited waiting for my turn, but there were still two other kids before me.

Each of those two took off his underwear, and threw it on the pile of clothes. All of the rest of us watched each one as they did it, not saying anything. I could tell they were both excited like I was, and happy when they were naked in front of the rest of us.

So when they all first looked at me I got shy and scared, and my whole body shivered.

“First time, kid?” the other older kid asked, but his voice sounded friendly now. I was going to nod, but then I thought about getting naked with Molly, and I shook my head, and realized I didn’t want to be shy anymore.

So before he could say anything else to me, or maybe even tease me, I pulled down my underwear, and as soon as I could feel the air on my penis and knew they all could see it, I was so excited, and there were little “goose bumps” all up and down my arms. I saw their eyes all look down at it, that part of me that no one ever saw and I wasn’t supposed to show anybody. But here I was, showing it, and it felt really good.

I thought about last year, when I had told Joey, right here in these same bushes, that I’d “pull down my pants for Mary”. I think I said that because I had what the older kids called a “crush” on her, where you were thinking about her a lot and you wanted her to like you. I wanted her to know that I would even do something embarrassing for her, and that I wasn’t afraid to show her who I really was. Something like that I think.

When I actually did get naked with Molly, a long time ago when we were five, I don’t think it was a “crush” thing, even though I guess you could say that we really really liked each other. It was because we were best friends, and we both wanted to do it even though we weren’t supposed to because it would be fun, and we knew the other one wouldn’t tell anyone.

So now I was getting naked with these other boys, who I didn’t even know and didn’t know me, just because it would be fun and they wouldn’t tell. I didn’t have a crush on them or even really like them, but that didn’t matter.

Zeke looked at me standing there naked, goosebumps on my arms, my toes digging in the soft dirt I was standing on. He smiled and nodded his head just the littlest bit. I bent down and threw my underwear on the pile.

Then Zeke and the other older kid pulled down their underwear. Their penises were a little bit bigger than the rest of ours but looked about the same. We all stood there for what felt like a long time, the sweet smell of the lilac bushes making all of us just kind of not worry about anything and even a little bit silly, kind of like the grownups with that punch stuff they drank at parties.

“Okay gentleman”, said Zeke now, “Everybody turn around and show us your bottoms.” We all turned around, though we all had trouble seeing each other having to look behind us now, and as we tried to turn our heads each way to see, our bottoms moved back and forth in a silly way and it was pretty funny, some of us even laughing a little bit.

We were breaking the rule, the grownup’s rule, that showing these “private” parts of your body was really bad, even though we knew they did it with each other when they were in bed at night. And they did other stuff too, like in the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans joke. Most of us didn’t know what all that was yet, but we knew it was something, and it was special, and probably really fun. But here in our secret place we would do at least this much, and like it a lot.

Suddenly we heard the voices of two girls talking to each other as they walked down the sidewalk just across Hutchins from us. One asked the other, “Is that where the boys have their secret meeting on Sunday morning?”

“I don’t know, maybe”, said the other, “It would be fun to spy on them.”

“Somebody said they take off their clothes in there”, said the first.

“Ewww”, said the other, “Boys are so… ewww”.

We all got scared and rushed to find our underwear and other clothes in the pile and quickly get dressed again. Once we were dressed we laughed at being so scared. The two girls had kept walking up Hutchins and had disappeared across Pauline. It was actually kind of fun because at least we had all been scared together, Zeke and that other older kid had been just as scared as the rest of us.

“Welp”, said Zeke, “I’m outta here.”

“Yeah me too”, said the other older boy. Then he looked at the rest of us and said, “Remember, this never happened. We tell nobody!”


The next Saturday I was playing soldiers and Martians in the dirt pile in our backyard with David and Paul. Mom was hanging the clothes she just washed on that metal clothesline thing at the end of the driveway close to where we were playing.

She had the radio from the kitchen playing by where she was hanging clothes. It was plugged into this long thing called an “extension cord” that went into the house and was plugged into one or the “outlets” in the kitchen. It wasn’t that CKLW station that me and other kids liked to listen to, but that other one close to it on the dial with talking and more grownup music. Right now it was playing a Frank Sinatra song and mom was humming along because she REALLY LIKED him. I think she liked the last part of the song SO MUCH that she started singing, even though she couldn’t sing very well. I don’t think she even knew she was doing it…

Now I shout it from the highest hill
Even told the golden daffodils
At last my heart’s an open door
And my secret love’s no secret
My secret love’s no secret
My secret love’s no secret anymore

Then she stopped singing or even humming. “This is strange!” she said. Paul and I looked at her, though David was too busy getting Godzilla ready to attack the soldiers.

“Coolie”, she said, she used that nickname for me specially when she was feeling happy, “You have one pair of underwear that’s different than the other pairs. I could swear I haven’t seen them before.” She looked at me like she wondered if I knew why.

I lifted my shoulders up and down and said, “I don’t know.”

Paul looked at me like maybe I DID know but I wasn’t telling her.


It was the next morning, Sunday, and I woke up early again. We had won our baseball game yesterday at Buhr Park when Lenny pitched, ten to seven. We had lost our game Wednesday at Virginia Park, fifteen to eight, when Theo tried to pitch. He had walked just about everybody.

Dad and David were in the kitchen eating breakfast. Dad said he was going to take David over to play at his friend Jimmie’s house and then go out to run some errands before picking David up before lunchtime. He said mom was “sleeping in”, but after lunch he and mom had some errands to run together, so they wanted me to keep an eye on David until they got home. I was okay doing that “babysitting” stuff, because it made mom and dad think I was “growing up” and that I could do more stuff by myself.

But this morning I also wanted to go out to the park to see if Zeke and those other boys were going to have the secret meeting in the lilac bushes again. I knew most people thought it was bad to do that kind of stuff, but I had liked it and wanted to do it again and maybe do even more stuff, though I wasn’t sure what.

So when dad and David left in the car, I walked over to the park. I couldn’t really see many kids anywhere. There were two boys swinging on the swings. It looked like there were some grownups or those older student guys playing basketball way across the park in the other corner. So I walked over to the lilac bushes by Marybeth and Hannah’s house but there was no one else there when I went inside. As I smelled their super sweet smell, I remembered taking my clothes off in front of the other boys last Sunday, and how good it felt to be naked around other kids who weren’t worried about it like most kids seemed to be. I wondered if I should take off my clothes here by myself, but that wouldn’t be the same because no one else was watching.

I heard the voice of a kid saying something to another kid. It sounded like they were running towards me. “That’s that kid from last week”, he said.

I waited. Finally they got to the bushes and came inside and saw me. “You came back”, one of them said to me smiling. I nodded.

I didn’t even know their names and they didn’t know mine, but I figured that was probably good like that.

The other one looked at me and asked, “Do you think those two older kids will be here?” I raised and lowered my shoulders because I didn’t know.

“We should probably wait and see”, said the first one and then looked at me. I nodded. I had had fun and I think they had too, that’s why they came back, but none of us were going to talk about it because of that first rule, I guess, about not telling anybody.

So we all waited for the older kids to come, but they didn’t. We kept on peeking out between the branches looking for them. But then we saw four girls walking quietly up Hutchins from the corner by Paul’s house pointing at the lilac bushes we were in and putting one finger over their mouth to tell the other girls to be quiet. They walked by us on the sidewalk on the other side of the street but then crossed a little farther up and went into the bunch of lilac bushes between our bunch and the play area in the trees.

“Oh no”, said the one boy, whispering now, “It’s those girls who were going to spy on us. What do we do?” We still had our clothes on so I figured we were okay, but then I had an idea.

“Let’s sneak out the other side of these bushes”, I whispered, “Where the girls can’t see us. They both whispered “okay”.

It was like when we played pretend war. We crawled out of the bunch of bushes on the opposite side of the bushes the girls were in. We crawled through the grass and down the little slope to Potter street and then crawled along the grass right by the curb over to where that third bunch of lilac bushes just across from my house was, and then we crawled inside of those. There wasn’t as much room inside as the bushes we had been in, but just enough for us to hide and see out. And we waited.

Nothing happened for a while but then two of the girls kind of sneaked out of their bushes towards the ones we had been in before. I saw one of the girls look at the other and shake her head. They slowly got closer until they were right next to the bushes we had been in.

“There’s nobody in there”, the one said to the other.

“There’s nobody in there”, the other yelled to the two other girls who were still in their bunch of lilac bushes. Those two girls came out, looking mad.

“I saw them in there”, one of them said, “Where’d they go?” They walked over and stood next to the first two and looked around.

“They’re probably going to search and find us”, whispered the boy lying next to me in the bushes, “What do we do now?” he asked, looking at me like I was in charge now. I liked that he thought I was in charge.

“Follow me”, I whispered, “They’ll never find us.”

There were no cars coming so I ran across Potter street across the little backyard of the people that lived next to us on the corner and into our backyard. The other two boys followed me laughing quietly like we had tricked the girls.

When I got to our side door I looked at them behind me, put my finger over my mouth and said, “Shhh! Wait here.” I opened the screen and regular side door quietly and snuck into the kitchen. When I got to the door to the living room I saw that the door to the bathroom was closed and I could hear the noise of sloshing water, and I knew mom was taking a bath, something she liked to do these days on Sunday mornings, specially when no one else was around.

I went back to the side door and opened the screen carefully and whispered for the other two boys to come in quietly and go down the stairs into the basement. Then I quietly closed the screen door and walked slowly down the stairs too, so I didn’t make much noise.

“We’re safe from the girls here”, I said, still whispering, because I knew mom was right above us in the bathtub, and it also felt more like a secret meeting if we whispered.

“Is this your house?” one asked. I nodded, and I thought it was funny that he might have thought I just went into somebody else’s house.

“Where’s your mom and dad?” he asked.

“My dad and my brother are out for the morning and my mom’s”, I whispered, pointing up above me at the ceiling, “Up in the bathroom taking a bath, so we need to be extra quiet.” They both nodded, I could see they both thought it was neat that we had to be quiet too.

I figured the MOST secret place in the basement was the walk-in closet that dad had made. None of the basement windows were in the closet, so if those girls HAD followed us to the house, and they looked in the basement windows, they still couldn’t see us. So I did that thing you do with your finger when you want people to follow you and I went over to the door to the closet and opened the door.

The closet had big shelves on either side piled up with folded towels, sheets and blankets. The floor was just the gray concrete, like the rest of the basement. There were also big cardboard boxes with words written on them, like “Bathroom”, “Kitchen” and “Gardening”. Both mom and dad loved to “organize” stuff. When we went inside and I closed the door the light came through the top part of the door, which had these really neat things that mom and dad called “slats”, which made these lines of light across the little room, mostly on the floor. There was a lightbulb you could turn on by pulling a chain, but I decided not to turn it on, because how it was now, with just the light coming through the door slats made it feel way more secret.

“So what are we going to do?” the one kid asked me. I suddenly got real excited that they were looking to me to be in charge and decide what we should do.

“We should take our clothes off”, I said, “Right?” They both nodded, but I could tell they weren’t sure who should go first. Then I thought that I should go first, and that made me REALLY excited, getting naked in front of them while they still had ALL their clothes on.

So I stood where the light from the slats went across my body and I took off my shoes and socks and everything else while they watched. I got that extra rush of energy and tingling on my arms again when I pulled down my underwear. They both looked at me for a minute, which felt really good. I remembered mom saying we were animals. But no other animals wore clothes. So now I was being an animal.

“I’ll go next”, said the one kid, and he took everything off too and pulled down his underwear. Then the other kid did it too, and we were all naked, standing in the bars of light coming through the slats.

“Now what do we do?” asked the one kid, which got me more excited that he wanted us to do something more, do whatever I said.

I had thought about what Molly and other kids had said about grownups lying on top of each other when they were in bed together. I figured mom and dad had done that too, but I’d never seen them, like Molly had seen her mom and dad that one time, and other kids too. Some kids said that was how babies were made.

I wondered what it felt like to lie on top of someone else, specially when you didn’t have your clothes on. Maybe this was when I could find out.

“We could lie on top of each other”, I said, “That’s what other kids say grownups do.” Neither of them said anything, and I wondered if I had said something REALLY bad, even bad for the three of us kids who had decided to get naked together, which most other people thought was already bad.

“Hmm”, the one boy said, “We never did that before”, and I got worried that I had gone too far.

But then the other boy said, “Okay, that sounds fun, should I go first?” I was surprised that he said that, but I nodded.

He laid down on the floor on his stomach, but had his arms under his chest so he could hold his head up, but didn’t turn it to look up at me. The floor felt kind of cold on my bare feet, but he didn’t say anything about it being cold, or anything else. I had expected him to lie on his back, but I guess that would make lying on top of him weirder, because our penises would touch.

I got down on my hands and knees over him. “Are you ready?” I asked. He nodded.

I lowered myself down until the parts of my body started touching his, my chest against his back, my penis touching his bottom, and my legs touching his. I used my elbows to hold my head above his as I looked at and could smell his hair. His body felt warm and it was really exciting, my whole body shivered and I got goosebumps on my arms. I was afraid to say anything because we were doing something so strange that everyone else would think is really bad. But it didn’t FEEL bad, and I wondered why this was supposed to be bad.

I turned my head and looked up at the other boy, standing above us. I could tell he didn’t know what to say either, and just nodded. He got down on his hands and knees over me, and I could already feel the tip of his penis touching my bottom. Then I felt HIS warm body press against mine and my body shivered again, making more goosebumps on my arms. I was squeezed between them, all of us naked, all feeling each other. We lay there for a long time, not saying anything.

I had never felt anything quite like it. It was very strange, but not BAD strange. EXCITING strange, and I got why grownups and older kids might want to lay on top of each other when they were super kissyface. I figured they did other stuff when they were doing this, that was even more fun, but this was plenty for me.

We lay there on top of each other for what seemed like a long time. I think all three of us liked it but were also afraid to say anything, because we knew we weren’t supposed to be doing it.

Finally the kid I was laying on squirmed and said, “Sorry, I have to go to the bathroom.” The kid above me quickly got back on his hands and knees and then stood up. I did the same. Then the boy below me also. We all grabbed at our clothes and put them on. The kid who had to go was bouncing his legs up and down.

“Where’s your bathroom?” he asked.

“Sorry, you can’t use it”, I said, “Remember? My mom’s in the bathtub.”

“Shoot”, he said, kind of wiggling his legs.

“Run outside”, the other boy said, “And pee in the lilac bushes across the street.” The first boy nodded and ran up the stairs and out the side door.

“I better go to”, said the other boy, and he ran up the stairs and out the side door too.

I walked up the stairs and heard mom yelling from inside the bathroom with the door still closed. “Coop? Are you there?”

I ran to the closed bathroom door and said, “Yeah mom, it’s me!”

“What the hell’s going on?” she asked, sounding mad, “What was all that running up the stairs?”

“A couple of kids from the park were playing with me in the basement”, I said, “But they had to go.”

“Oh my god, Coop”, she said, “I couldn’t figure out who the hell that was, and I don’t have any clothes in here, just these two towels.”

“Sorry mom”, I said. Seemed like I was saying that to her a lot these days.

“Listen Coop”, she said, “You need to be more considerate when you know I’m in the tub to at least let me know that you and your friends are coming in the house.”

“Sorry mom!” I said it again.

“Is anyone else here? Is your dad still out with David?” she asked.

“Just me”, I said.

“Okay, good”, she said, “Are you planning to play in the basement or outside?”

“In the basement”, I said, figuring I didn’t want to go back in the backyard or over in the park in case those girls were still looking for us.

“Okay, fine”, she said, “Just next time…”

“I KNOW”, I said, sounding kind of mad, not letting her finish what she was going to say.

“It’s fine”, she said, “I’m sorry I got so mad. You and your friends scared the crap out of me. I didn’t think anyone was home, and then suddenly I hear all these feet on the basement stairs and the side door opening and closing.”

I didn’t want to keep talking to her about it, so I said, “I’m going back down in the basement.”

“Good”, she said, “I’m going to finish my bath. PLEASE make sure all the doors are closed, not just the screen doors, and PLEASE close the door behind you if you go back out.”

“Okay”, I said, “I’m going downstairs”, and I ran back down into the basement.

I sat in dad’s office chair and thought about all the stuff that had just happened. There were still goosebumps on my arms. I wondered if those two boys would want to do something like that again. I remembered again when Molly had told me about peeking into her mom and dad’s bedroom when he was lying on top of her in the bed and they were doing kissyface stuff and moving around. If you lay on top of a girl to do kissyface stuff, she would have to be on her back, not her stomach, so you could kiss each other on the mouth. And if you were naked, then your penis would be touching her thing down there between her legs.

Some of the older kids in the park said that was how women had babies, but I had never heard all the different stuff that you had to do when you were on top of her naked to do that. I think they called that “sleeping with” someone or having “sex”, but I wasn’t sure yet, and there was no way I was going to ask mom, dad, or anybody else, kid or grownup. I would just have to keep sneaking around and listening to the older kids in the park when they were talking about that kind of stuff.

I spun myself around in the chair. All this stuff was pretty complicated and hard to figure out.

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