Hot Air: Naked City

I lived in abject terror for four years while attending Fenwick High School just outside Chicago. A Catholic boys’ college prep school, our teachers and disciplinarians were about a 50/50 mix of Dominican priests and brothers and lay teachers. Our swimming coach was Mr. Grothe.

For four years, he watched me march into the pool area, naked. No, he was not naked. I was. I and however many other guys would be in that semester’s gym class. Say 50 or 60 of us.

Click for the WBEZ report.

All nude. Bare. Unclad. Forced to strip.

It was horror.

I was 14 years old in September 1970, my freshman year in high school. Eighteen when I left. Arguably the four most insecure years of a human being’s life. And, in the case of a male human being, the four years during which his genitalia are as alive and reactive as, oh, uranium 235. Riding a bus, sitting in religion class, walking home from school, listening to Sugarloaf’s “Green-eyed Lady,” wiping the dishes, watching a Friday night appearance of Raquel Welch on the Tonight Show — all of them, and more, were triggers enough for me to experience tumescence.

Much more. Lenny Bruce once did a bit about how guys will “hit on a chick” (his words, so don’t get all huffy) anywhere, any time, under any circumstances. A guy could have his foot cut off and, being sped to the hospital in an ambulance with a pretty nurse attending to him, he’d find it impossible not to say, “So, whattya doin’ Friday night?”

And she’d say, “Are you nuts? Your foot’s cut off!”

Didn’t matter, Bruce’d quip.

Now that’s hyperbole. But hyperbole only works if it contains a grain of truth. Guys will “hit on a chick” even under the most trying circumstances.

And 14-year-old boys will get wood at the drop of a hat. Or even if the hat remains firmly in the holder’s grip. Doesn’t matter.

I recall once having to stay on the Oak Park Ave. bus — and consequently being late for school — for an extra mile and half one morning because, you guessed it, a certain part of me was engorged. I had no real reason to be aroused that particular morning. Perhaps I’d glanced at a picture of Grace Slick, fully clothed, in the Sun-Times while eating breakfast. Or I’d happened to have thought back to that final week of eighth grade just a few months before when Angela Zaharias was wearing those little white shorts that contrasted so nicely with her tanned thighs. Or, more likely, just because I was 14 years old.

Acc’d’g to Wikipedia, “Penile erection is the result of a complex interaction of psychological, neural, vascular and endocrine factors, and is often associated with sexual arousal or sexual attraction, although erections can also be spontaneous.”


So, for four years I fretted and sweated, hell, I chewed my fingernails to the quick at the prospect of coming undone in school — or on the way to and from it, or in the store, or at a wake. Sometimes I tossed and turned the Sunday night before our one-week pool rotation commenced, all due to the highly likely possibility that my junk might decide of its own accord and without consulting me or anyone else to reach for the sky.

The guys passed this story around: A few years before (always a few years before, no matter when the story’d be retold) an old-school, tough guy gym teacher named Mr. Lawless spied one of the guys sporting a boner in the pool. “Hey you with the flagpole,” Mr Lawless shouted. “Get over here!”

The poor kid shuffled over toward him and, even in his moment of supreme humiliation, still retained his flagpole. Mr. Lawless instructed him to grab a towel, drape it over his equipment, and go stand on the end of the diving board until the towel fell into the water. It’s not known how long it took for gravity to work its magic but it must be assumed that, to the poor kid, several eons had passed.

Scene Of The Crimes

And if the fear of an unwanted erections weren’t enough, there was also the terror of being laughed at, roared at, pointed at — take your pick of method of mortification — because my pride and joy might be deemed…, well, wee.

More than a few of my classmates were endowed with one or another variety of colossal Italian salsiccia.


I mean, how was I to hope to compete, athletically or academically, with Joey Scolari, who packed a veritable capicola?

An aside: Given all this, perhaps the bravest human I’ve ever encountered was an unfortunate lad named Peter K. No reason to give his last name. Nature had bestowed upon him a tool the size of an unshelled peanut. As I think back, I recall him being unusually hairless and round in places the rest of us boys weren’t. It could be he was gender-fluid, although society hadn’t coined that term at the time.

He was so unlike the rest of us that we couldn’t even move ourselves to terrorize him for his oddness. Hell, we might have been afraid of him or thankful it was him and not us or even (I doubt it) filled with compassion for him. In any case, if I (who understand now I was an average bear) was petrified at the prospect of comparing myself to others, how must Peter K. with his unshelled peanut have felt every Sunday night before the start of his pool rotation? No matter; he stripped with the rest of us.

The teen years are frightful enough. Why in god’s holy name gym teachers and principals made the males among us parade around in the nude is a question only the world’s most astute psychoanalysts can hope to answer.

Or Words To That Effect

3 thoughts on “Hot Air: Naked City

  1. Yael says:

    Glab! you’ve done the heretofore unimaginable feat of actually managing to create sympathy for the fourteen-year-old-boy! poor maligned mistreated fellers! thoroughly enjoyed the references to italian charcuterie and unshelled peanuts in this edition of the Erectron Pencil (sometimes a pencil is not just a pencil!)

  2. Don Moore says:

    Your best work ever, Mike. It shows the importance of writing about what you know best–in your case, boners. I would say “keep it up,” but …

  3. janis starcs says:

    I can relate to today’s article: I had an excruciating adolescence in some of the ways you describe, and I rarely see this discussed frankly.

    PS.: The September 11 issue of The New Yorker has an inspired caricature on the Trump White House by Edward Sorel. (pp. 56-57)


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