In 1978 I was eleven, and just three types of contraband existed for me and my pal Andie Lerner: shoplifted Bonne Bell makeup, those curious magazines in our brothers’ rooms, and Judy Blume’s teen sex novel, Forever. I feared some sort of juvenile cosmetics prison, and thus declined the five-finger discount. And despite many examinations of our brothers’ covert reads, Andie and I weren’t quite clear on the attraction. Finally, though we’d heard the title whispered and wanted it desperately, we were not wise to the horizontal goods in Forever. We were not actually wise to anything.
What we were was clueless, but lucky – a copy of the book was circulating in our classroom by day, and pedaling home to bedrooms at night. The worn paperback moved desk to desk; when Mrs. Endicott turned to the board, one girl slid it to the palms of another, and by the time she turned back, the deal was done. Math would resume with two flushed faces, one triumphant and one hopeful – and then one day during fractions, the palms belonged to Andie. It was Friday afternoon, and our eyes locked in telegraphed plan: sleepover, toaster-oven snacks, and a cover-to-cover inspection – no falling asleep like last time, Andie – of Forever.
Andie lived two houses down from our split-level, in a rambling old Tudor. Her family snacked on flax bread, and ate lentil soup in hand-thrown pottery crocks. Their sunny, oak-floored living room was crammed with macrame plants and art books and an enormous black Steinway, on which Andie’s dad would balance a glass of red wine and frequently bang out jazz. My own dad liked to browse tax law, so I found it all thrilling, right up to the day Mr. Lerner met a young woman and left the grand piano – and Mrs. Lerner – behind. Andie’s mom started wearing bangles and scarves and higher heels, and also buying potato chips, and was never home. From our perspective, Mr. Lerner’s unfortunate weakness had created a premier sleepover spot.
So it was in an empty house, in the sitting room that held just a sofa bed and television, that we holed up with Forever. Our props meant business: sleeping bags, Twizzlers, root beer, at least a dozen pillows, and a few of their Persian cats. The fridge held one package of cocktail franks, and I’d brought a can of Wiener Wrap – a kind of processed dough you wrapped and baked around hot dogs. We could bake them in the toaster oven. I could sprinkle them with cheddar, and was excited about that, about sprinkling cheddar on Wiener Wraps.
But first, Forever. We tore through it – pulling back and forth – until we finally took turns munching licorice and reading aloud, all about Kath and Michael, and what they were doing. But…what were they doing? An hour later we’d read it all, laughing – ha ha, he called his member Ralph – and while we knew what Judy Blume was saying, sex on a multicolor rug, we didn’t quite know what sex on a multicolor rug, or any rug, was supposed to mean.
So we put the book aside, and chugged root beer and watched TV. “Planet of the Apes” was on, and we were mesmerized by the chimp makeup and funny lines. Charlton Heston was yelling about something. “I bet he never had sex on a multicolor rug!” Andie said. I pointed to Roddy McDowell’s ape. “Not him either!” We howled and turned out the lights, and everything on TV was hilarious, and Forever fell to the floor. Close to midnight we heard a key turn, and a clack-clack down the hallway. “My mom,” Andie shrieked, “get the book!” I reached under the bed for the paperback but couldn’t find it, scrabbling. Mrs. Lerner poked her head into the dark room, then swept in all the way.
“You girls are stillll up,” she said.
“We’re going to sleep, Mom,” said Andie. Mrs. Lerner smelled like sandalwood, and swayed on her heels. Instead of leaving, she plunked down on the bed. I breathed in, but inched away. She leaned over. “What’s this?” In one floral-sleeved movement, she pulled the book up from the carpet.
She took a flashlight from Andie. “What is it?” She shined one spot on the cover. “Oh ho,” she said, “oh yes I do see!” My lungs collapsed. I could run home, I thought, I could bang on the door and I could confess to having the book, but at least I’d be out of here.
Now Mrs. Lerner swung to face us. Andie and I huddled on the sofa bed. She turned the flashlight off for a moment, then on again. Then pointed it at us. “So you got this. Okay. Okay. Just tell me one thing, ONE THING.” We held our breaths. “Was it good?”
Was it good. I looked at Andie, who was looking at me. Good? Her mom was still lurching. “Was. It. Good. Was it good for her the first time?”
Andie looked stricken. Neither of us had a clue, but from her mother’s wild-eyed jangly look behind the light, we needed an answer. So I gave her one.
“Oh yeah, it was great!”
She looked suspicious, and pressed the book under her palm. “It was great. The first time.”
It seemed to be working, so I went on. “Yeah, fantastic! Everything was perfect!”
Mrs. Lerner clicked the flashlight off, and was silent for a long time. I thought she might be asleep.
“Then it’s a LIE!” she yelled. I touched Andie’s arm. “If it was good for her then it is BULL.” She jumped to her feet, and yanked her beaded shawl. “All men are assholes,” she said, “and don’t you forget it.” She reached down, grabbed the book, and left.
Andie and I sat frozen for five minutes. Not until we heard shoes on wood, then shoes hitting an wall upstairs, and finally the flump of a body in bed, did we finally start laughing, laughing so hard that root beer came out my nose. We did not discuss Kath and Michael, nor virgins or moms or multicolor rugs. At two a.m. we went to the kitchen, preheated the toaster oven, and carefully wrapped pink cocktail franks in canned yellow dough. We sat on the brick floor in pajamas and tore open a bag of Oreos, giggling and crumb-faced, waiting for Wiener Wraps.
Marilyn Pollack Naron is a writer, chef, and mom whose many roads have all lead to the kitchen. Her first foray into food media was in 1975, when she served as editor of the Bell School Third Grade Family Heritage Cookbook. http://simmertilldone.com