My longing to go to 7-Eleven had nothing to do with Slurpees. Most of the time, they just gave me a brain ache and a short lived sugar buzz that I really didn’t need in life. From an early age, my quest to conquer the bike-to-7-Eleven barrier ranked right up there with seeing a naked woman. And, as fate would have it 7-Eleven accomplished both feats at once.
In school, I excelled in memorizing pointless crap. We’d learn Bible verses for an hour each day in our class where other kids might be doing art or some other elective. But I did something else during Bible. Sure, I memorized all the verses and chapters, recited them dutifully beside the teacher’s desk each Friday, and then proceeded to forget them within moments. But I did something more sinister. I’d read the other verses. I’d skip to the chapters that we weren’t reading. By the time I was ten, I could tell you where every naughty part of the Bible was. Genesis 19: 30-38 was one that stuck with me for quite some time. Nothing like Lot and his two daughters sleeping in a cave where the girls get their dad drunk and sleep with him. Of course, in school, we never read past the tenth chapter of Genesis; this information was only something that I could learn for myself. And we always got the Disney version of Samson, but I made sure to read the juicy details.
The idea of sex, or the notion of it, kept a separate space in my mind and I visited it often. I had no idea how it worked, and if the Bible was to be believed, it happened by “pleasing” each other. Whatever that meant. No. Sex was naked. Nudity was the sex that occupied my life. Breasts. Coy smiles. Flirtatious eyes. And 7-Eleven provided it.
All I wanted to be was like all the other boys on my street. I wanted to swear. I wanted to wear an AC/DC button on my shirt–even though I had no idea what they sounded like; all I knew was that my parents called them evil and that was good enough. And I wanted to ride my bike with all the other boys to 7-Eleven. My parents had promised that this summer I could join the other neighborhood kids and ride my bike to 7-Eleven. To buy Slurpees, of course! What every pubescent kid knew was that the magazine rack right beside the Slurpee machine had all the “dirty” magazines on them. We’d linger, pouring our sugary ice concoction out of the machine as slowly as we could. It was an art: Crank the handle just enough to get the machine pouring, but not enough that you’d have to watch the cup fill; stare at the covers of the sex magazines and let the Slurpee fill our cup while the come-hither stares of the cover models teased our tortured brains. I still remember the covers of Playboy and Penthouse that warm June. Playboy announced it’s Playmate for that year and she was dressed in while lacy panties and bra while waving a sheer frill over shoulders and behind her, her head tilted in the traditional Hey-I-Know-You’re-Looking-At-Me pose. But for all my puerile desires, I couldn’t see anything more on the cover than I could during a soap commercial on TV. Even Penthouse‘s cover model hid her breast behind a rose. Still, it was worth the trip.
It was a Saturday morning. The clouds lingered in the July sky painting the street outside my bedroom window in black and light silhouettes. The traffic on the 210 was picking up, trucks downshifting and engine breaks had been a part of my mornings and nights for the last three years. I’d been to the 7-Eleven three weekends now. It was ironic that the first Penthouse cover had a blue rose on it since it seemed like everything was coming up roses for me. I knew it was hard for my parents to relent and let me ride my bike the half-mile down Glendora Ave and across Arrow Highway. Just two years earlier, a neighbor kid had been hit by a car crossing Arrow on his way to pay an RV storage bill for his parents. I had begged my parents to let me go with him–we lived on Banna Ave. just five houses south of Arrow. My parents forced me to baseball practice instead. I lived to see his funeral.
“Be careful,” my mother would say as I shuffled my blue Webco BMX out the garage door and onto the driveway. Behind her words, I could see that boy’s funeral in her eyes.
“But, we cross at an intersection,” I pleaded. “He crossed where there were no lights.” It was a desperate plea that had fallen on deaf ears until this summer. The first ride down, I almost thought that I had seen my mother following us in her yellow–banana yellow–station wagon.
I dressed quietly while I watched the clouds drift lazily over the sky. It was going to be a warm day; you could feel the heat creeping along the ground, skulking like a serpent coiling to surprise. I wanted to slip out of the house without my parents knowing. Though I was able to ride with the kids, I knew that all it took was one fleeting whim of my father and I would be back to watching the boys ride past my bedroom window. Loathing my solitude and hoping their brains froze.
I crept across the oak floor that my father laid in a meticulous herringbone pattern, careful to avoid the loose strips that creaked beneath a misplaced footstep. I was so busy watching my feet that I nearly stumbled into my mother. She was dressed in a pair of blue jeans with a white blouse tucked into them. Her hair was already curled. A feat that required a blowdryer, curling iron, and a pint of hairspray. She had her blue knit jacket slung over her shoulder; she was always cold, even in the hottest days of August. Her black leather purse was sitting on the counter beside an empty plate. It wasn’t like her. I looked at her with a bit of surprise and she saw it.
“I’m going out this morning,” she said indifferently.
“Oh.” It was all I could muster. Saturday’s were her only day of rest. Monday through Friday she was shuttling me to and from school. Sunday she was rousing me from bed to go to church. It wasn’t unusual to see my dad out early. “Me, too.”
“Don’t forget breakfast,” she said as she picked up her purse.
“I won’t.” I watched my mother walk into the garage, the morning sun creeping across the garage floor, and into her banana yellow station wagon. My dad walked in from the den. He wore his usual summer morning fair: Torn, blue boxer shorts and a threadbare, white t-shirt.
“She’s got something at the church.” He said it as though I needed to know, as if it would offer some sort of conclusion to this morning’s randomness.
As I ate breakfast I tried to put everything this morning out of my mind. In hindsight, I should have realized that something was stirring. After putting my empty bowl into the dishwasher I shouted out to dad that I was going up the street. What that meant was that I was going out looking for anyone who was home and could play.
Most of the kids on the street were older than me, and none went to my school. They were all in public school. That word was spoken in our house as though it had some sinister connotation; public school where they churned out the ungrateful heathens en masse. I went into the garage and pulled out my blue framed Webco bike with yellow pads across the neck, top frame, and handle bars. I was the only kid with pads on their bike, and I hated it. Despised it. A loathing festered each time I looked down at them. I had tempted fate once and taken them off and stashed the three violators of coolness in the bushes in our yard. Of course, I forgot to put them back on and when dad came home his laser keen awareness of all things amiss had spotted the violation before he’d closed his car door. I was grounded from my bike for a week. The pads became a condition to going to 7-Eleven. So, outwardly, I lived with the mockery from the older boys, but silently I stewed. It was just another resentment that I could file away into my psyche.
I spent the better part of an hour riding by myself. Eventually garage doors opened and kids wandered out. Shortly before noon, we were riding as a small group down Glendora Ave., past the enormous Baptist church, past old Lady Dowdy’s house, over the wash–really just a large concrete basin for rain runoff–and then we stopped cold in our tracks at the gas station across Arrow from the 7-Eleven.
I’m not really certain when my parents came to find religion, but like Americans, religion found them in the early eighties. My parents lapped at the fundamentalism that had put men like Falwell, Bakker and Swaggart on television and Reagan in the White House. Mom going to church on a warm July Saturday morning wasn’t really unusual. What was stood, no, marched, in front of my eyes along Arrow Highway.
“Is that your mom?”
I stood over my bike too dumbfounded to speak. My hands tensed and gripped the handlebars tightly.
“I think it is his mom,” another boy said derisively.
“What the fuck is she doing?”
Their signs read: END PORNOGRAPHY; SLURPEES AND SEX DON’T MIX; OH THANK HEAVEN/7-11/STOPS SELLING PORN
There were five of them. A small little army for God. My face burned with embarrassment. The light turned green and I watched the neighbor kids ride their bikes past my mother and her church friends. I stood, almost hovering, over my bike across the street. I just couldn’t go with them. Not past my mother in her buttoned up blouse holding a sign chastising porn. And just like that, my trips to 7-Eleven ended. I turned around and rode my bike home, alone. Before I got there, I stopped at a trashcan left out from garbage pick-up the day earlier, ripped off the three humiliating safety pads, and tossed them into the trash. If I’d get grounded from my bike, that was fine since there was no place to ride it anymore. At least I’d have the face of Ms. Playboy 1983 in my mind for a while.