November, 1974

       Matty cringed, thinking about that Saturday, some  five years earlier. He took a deep breath.

       “Come on cadet! Spill it! The MOST embarrassing thing that ever happened…” Bobby pinched the tall boy’s right butt cheek, just for effect.

       “OK, OK… hold your freakin’ horses, already! It’s not like you haven’t heard this story yet! Geezz… Why do you insist on making me dredge up these stomach- churning memories?  You know all my secrets! I can’t just make stuff up to keep you entertained!  This constitutes cruel and unusual punishment! I demand…”

        Bobby was hearing none of it and emphasized that by applying one of  his favorite ‘warning’ tactics, a sudden tug on some short hairs located in a very delicate and sensitive area!

       “OWWW!!! Bastard! ” Matty declared laughing at the same time. “That freakin’ HURT!  I swear, you should have been born in freakin’ France, about two hundred years ago!”

        Bobby laughed evilly and then Matty felt him shrug as he sat atop the prone 21 year old’s legs. “Two hundred years? What’s that supposed to mean? You lost me again, Bubba! You and your history stuff… “

       “I can’t imagine why you don’t know what I’m talking about! I would think you’d really get into all of his techniques and torturous sex stuff…”

       “OOOO!! Sounds cool!  His? Who is ‘his’?”

       “Who is his? What kind of question….”

        Bobby interrupted him with another discreet tug.  “Don’t be disrespectful, young master! Tell me what you’re talking about, before I resort to more painful measures!”

        There was something about this particular persona that really cracked the tall boy up, and he started to laugh again but stopped short as he felt the warm hand brush against his upper thigh. “OK… OK. Master. Two hundred years ago lived a guy by the name of the Marquis de Sade. He was a frenchman, and he had really weird ideas about pain and sex and he wrote a lot of them down in his books. Uhhh , by the way, just for your information, he wrote most of his books in jail or when he was in an insane assylum, so… Before you get any ideas…”

        “Sounds like a cool dude! Did his books have pictures? You know, showing what he was doing?”

         Matty sighed. “Cripes!  How am I supposed to know! I was just trying to tell you that he would have appreciated your style. No doubt…

         “Oh, come on!  You must have read his books if you know so much about him… What kind of stuff did this … uh, Mark Sod do? Was it real kinky?”

          The 20 year old youth groaned. “Marquis… Oh, never mind. Yeah, well… I did see some illustrations. Don’t forget. That was 200 years ago! Before there were cameras and all that. And yeah. It was some pretty kinky stuff! It was written in French tho, so you would have to translate it to understand…”

          “What??? FORGET it! Like I don’t have enough problems! I took those two years of Spanish. I’m not going back to school to learn french, just to read about some pinhead who never learned English!”

          “Oh my God… He… Never mind. Never mind. You wanna hear my story again, or not? Honestly, I’d rather…”

          “Yup! Shoot, Bubba!!

          “OK… Well, it has to be that time in my sophomore year… You know, it was October, uh… maybe even September.”

           Matty could feel Bobby tense atop him. Bobby had always loved these stories. He never tired of them, even tho he had heard them so many times. He never lost that childish curiosity or sense of humor. I miss that so much…

September 1969

          It had been a strenuous first month in high school for the 15 year old sophomore. The old school where generations of townspeople had graduated was bursting at the seams, and in a desperate attempt to meet the needs of it’s students, the town was building a brand new, state of the art, high school on land bequeathed by the family of the farmer that employed Matty since he was seven years old. It was a large and contemporary looking structure from which the boy would eventually graduate, but at this point, it was still a year from completion, and the buildings of the old high school could no longer accommodate every eligible kid, so the town came up with a creative, if odd solution. They called it ‘split sessions’. The older students (juniors and seniors) attended classes in the mornings until noon, at which time the second session started and the younger students (freshman and sophomores) arrived en masse. It was controlled chaos, something that seemed almost normal to the tall teenager who had lived all of his life knowing little else.

           In this chaos, Matty had hit his stride, and sat atop his class of around 600, but there was one thing that still unnerved him, and altho it seemed trivial to some, he had not yet found the key to dealing with it. The ‘it’ was public speaking, and in his 10th year of school, he was enrolled in a class where the curriculum demanded that of him. Just thinking about it stirred the butterflies in his stomach and Mrs. Gorski wasn’t helping much! She was his sophomore English teacher, and it was her insistence that had everyone abuzz… In order to pass thru her class, this hurdle must be cleared and the time was fast approaching where the formal speeches were about to begin.

           So, the tall schoolboy wrote his speech at home, sitting on the edge of his bed, in the upstairs room he shared with his younger brother Gerry. He used the light from the little, attached lamp on his low profile clock radio. The device that served a multitude of functions, including entertainment and jolting him from sleep at times when most of the town was hours away from the start of their day. It didn’t take him that long to complete the writing. He had a way with a pen, but immortalizing words to paper was only part of the task. Speaking the words to an audience of gawking strangers was quite another thing!

              But, he had no choice, and was determined to do his best to conquer the nerves associated with this school devised method of torture.

               But how?

               He took the paper in hand, and paced the empty room, glancing down only occasionally to verify his place on the page, and kicking himself mentally as he stumbled, occasionally forgetting key words, every time he pictured the horde of upraised faces in the auditorium, where the torture was scheduled to occur. It was unnerving to imagine, even tho he had managed admirably in prior attempts in junior high school. Once he read the first paragraph, he seemed to settle down, but something about this year had Matty feeling even more vulnerable.

               Maybe it was the subtle questioning at the family dinner table. “So Matty, any cute girls catch your eye today?”

              So asked Pop, winking at Mom, who rolled her eyes and glared at the grizzled carpenter, effectively hushing him, but in reality, just making things more difficult.  Unanswered questions. Furtive glances.

               Unspoken truths.

                Such was his life. It would never get easier, and the tall boy sensed it. He felt every look and reddened at the intrusive questions to which there were no good answers. Only lies.

                 So, pacing back and forth on the blue carpet in the shared bedroom, he read and remembered. He stumbled and he persisted. He stood tall and read the words until they were embedded in his brain. But he knew that he could not trust the words to hold the Others at bay.

                  He needed a plan. A surefire plan, to finally drive away the nervous twitching doubt that persisted despite his relentless practice. And then, he remembered. It was something he had read in a book only last year. It went something like this- “Inaction is not only the result, but the cause of fear…” It was from a book he had read and re- read– ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’, by Norman Vincent Peale. He found the book startling. It spoke to him in ways little else did. It almost seemed like the words leapt from the pages and seared themselves into his being. They rang of truth….

                     So he pondered that quote and came up with a plan. A unique plan that he was determined to implement, whether it was unheard of or not. He had decided on a practice run. In the torture chamber, so that it would be more real. So that when the day came to read aloud the words in front of the Others, it would be like second nature to him. Just a walk in the park! He felt a surge of adrenaline just thinking about it. It was brilliant!!


           And so it begin…

{Saturday morning, September 1969}

                   It was 6:30 A.M. as Matty jogged down the path towards the monstrous brick buildings in the distance. The morning chill raised goosebumps on his bare arms, and he was starting to regret his decision to leave his sweatshirt at home. But, he had reached the halfway point, and there was no turning back now! So, he slowed, and rubbed his arms briskly for a moment and then picked up the pace once again. His plan had been hashed and re- hashed in his mind the past few days. Indeed, he had slept very little that last night, anxious that everything would work out. It was now or never, as the ‘official’ day loomed in the middle of the coming week. If he wasn’t prepared by then… Well, he preferred not to dwell on that!

                    The blond 15 year old boy reached the nondescript door in the alley and he breathed a sigh of relief. It was unlocked. This he had realized in his freshman year. There was only one door in the entire complex that was kept unlocked on the weekends, and used as access for a lone janitor who, rumors had it, spent most of his overtime duty, nipping on a bottle of ‘Wild Turkey’ that he nursed at opportune times even during the school week. Earning double pay to mann the post on saturdays, and maintain the rickety boilers was enough incentive to bring him back to the dark building even on a weekend.

                    Matty knew the layout of the huge complex, and the wing where the janitor’s office and workshop was located, was far enough away from the auditorium to make the boy confident in the preservation of his anonymity. So, he crept through the creaky door and gently closed it, noticing the position of the latch at the end of the ‘panic bar’. It was definitely jammed open, so it would take a key to lock it again. He didn’t know much about locks, but the word amongst his peers was that a panic bar always worked from inside, whether the lock was engaged or not. That worried him a bit, but he didn’t plan on being here long, so it became a non- issue, as long as he exited by the same door.

                     Once inside, his eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom. The only light was coming from the northern- facing banks of windows that in this wing of the building were high off the floor. Too high to see out of, and in the early light, very ineffective to light the long hallway ahead of him. Strangely tho, it made the boy feel safer. More comfortable that he could vanish quickly if anyone approached. So, he grimaced, and crept down the linoleum tiled hallway, trying not to squeak his sneaker soles on the shiny surface. He was more or less successful, and within minutes found himself at the double doors leading to the auditorium.

                   He held his breath, glanced up and down the hall, and hearing nothing, carefully opened one of the doors and stepped inside the cavernous room. It was like a movie theater. The seats were tiered in sections that sloped down towards the stage, across which a massive curtain had been pulled. Matty groaned to see that. Where was the lectern? He needed all of the props if this was going to be realistic!  So, he walked tentatively down the carpeted runway to the stage, gaining confidence with every step, but keeping an ear out for any distant noise. He knew one thing- He was NOT supposed to be in the building after hours, but in his mind, the risk was worth the punishment! If he got caught, at least it was for a good cause…

                    The curtain turned out to be less of a problem than he initially thought. He found the controls on the inside of the stage after a brief search. It was an electrical box with red and green buttons. He pushed the green button and the curtains magically opened, albeit a little noisily for the dead quiet of the auditorium. He was a bit startled at that, and stood paralysed in his tracks, listening for approaching footsteps for a full minute, but there were none, so he felt safe once again…

                   The lectern had been pushed  back, behind the curtains, so Matty hefted it foward about five feet and pulled the paper from his back pocket. He could hardly believe it was going so smoothly!  It seemed like it was meant to be. Everything was working out exactly as planned!

                    So, the tall boy cleared his throat and looked out into the shadowy seats. All empty, with narrow beams of sunlight now streaming through a few of the eastern glass block windows which were glowing in the early dawn light. It did little to illuminate the large room, but at least Matty could see most of the seats and imagine the faces now. He felt a brief chill run down his spine but vanish just as quickly as he started to speak, quietly at first, and then with more vigor, until his voice echoed in the empty room as he finished with a  dramatic flourish. He looked around and smiled, like he had practiced.

                       It had all been so easy! The words had flowed forth like he was a born orator. He looked around and shrugged. What had there been to fear? He grinned and shrugged again and picked up the paper off the podium, and started to leave… It was then that the nagging thought overtook his good feelings.

                        It had been TOO easy! Naturally! There was noone in the room, after all! Why would ANYONE be nervous?

                        The 15 year old student stopped in his tracks and sighed. This had NOT been a useful test run after all! If it was to be stressful like the real deal, there would have to be some kind of artificial pressure applied. But what? He could hardly drag Bobby down here to listen to his rantings! That would just end in a disaster with both of them rolling on the floor! No, that was worse than useless… What then? Maybe if he pocketed the speech… NAW!! He knew it by heart anyways…

                           And then, it hit him!  He had been told that a good technique to relieve the anxiety of public speaking, was to picture the audience members in their underclothes, or better yet, naked! Just thinking about that, made Matty grin! Of course, with no audience present, the only way to use the technique might be to reverse the strategy and make his speech while completely nude!

                           The tall boy giggled at the thought and started to dismiss it, but then thought about it more… He was not terribly shy about his body around his male friends, but had experienced nightmares that centered on public nudity. The toilet in the middle of the gymnasium for one!  He shuddered to think about that dream! He felt the goosebumps on his arms at the thought, so he knew that it would work. If he could still make his speech while standing in front of the imaginary audience without a stitch of clothing on, he felt certain that when the time came to make the real speech, it would all be downhill!

                          And so he placed the paper on the podium and removed his t-shirt as he stepped out of his sneakers and then he listened carefully. There was no sound to be heard, so he unfastened his wide leather belt that had double holes all around, and unzipped his jeans and pulled them off each leg, hopping around for balance. The white BVD’s were last, and they joined the heap of clothes at his feet.

                        He was completely naked in the coolness of the auditorium. A beam of golden light now caressed the front edge of the stage, so he gathered up his clothes and walked to the front, feeling the maple floor beneath his bare feet for the first time. The teenager dropped his clothes and sneakers to the side, and stood in the warmth of that ray of light. He felt his hands trembling. It was unnerving, but liberating at the same time!

                         So, he took a deep breath and began to speak. At first, the words were strained and forced, so he started all over again, and soon he was fully in charge and belting out the words so that they could be heard at the back of the expansive hall. He felt the blood surge through his body as he finished and bowed dramatically towards the imaginary crowd.

                        In his focused state of mind, he had not heard the door at the back of the stage open.

                        The first and only sound that he heard, was the loud clapping of the heavy hands of the only other person in that torture chamber that day, as he applauded the determined efforts of the shy and very naked  15 year old who never ran so fast in his entire life! Out the emergency exit, and into the september chill, desperately clutching the ball of clothes in front of him. Thank God it was too early for people to be about in that sleepy town!

                        For months after that fateful day, Matty could not look a janitor in the eyes and when he finally gathered the courage, it seemed like they were always smiling. Furtively.

                        There was even one present on the day of his graduation, some 30 months later. Mr. Skerritt clapped so loudly, even Bobby noticed, as the man grinned broadly by the steps to the stage and winked at the red-faced boy in the flowing gown as he clutched his diploma and left high school behind him. Never to return…

Continued in part 16…