Just down the main drag on Walnut underneath the dry bridge that spanned the railroad trunk line from the Marquette Cement Mill was where most of my elementary school friends and I came of age.
It was where we escaped after school or in the early evening after we had our supper. There, huddled together and out of sight of any grownups or railroad workers was where we had our first smokes, copped our first feels from Sandy Kowalski or Linda Porter and got our first real boners ogling Playboys and nudie cards Denny stole from his older brother who was just back from Nam.
Traffic droned and rumbled above us as we coughed and choked on our first Marlboros that Sammy Mertz stole from his older brother Vince. Sammy was also the kid who stole a pack of rubbers from his brother and passed them around for us to admire and revere.
"How do you get it inside?" Dave McFlintlock asked in all angelic earnest.
"Don't be such a dufus," Sammy retorted, fingering the condom inside the cellophane wrapper. "You have to blow it up first."
"Looks like a balloon," I giggled. "Can you imagine Sandy or Linda blowing one of these up?"
And then we all giggled before we coughed and choked on another cigarette.
The deck of playing cards with pictures of naked buxom blondes, brunettes, and redheads on the back was passed around hundreds of times until we knew these ladies by heart. Denny said his brother picked them up in San Francisco on his way home from Vietnam. That wasn't the only thing we envied Mike for: his brother had given him a spent fifty-caliber casing that he wore around his neck on a leather cord.
The copies of Playboy that Denny kept hidden under his bed were the pièce de résistance of our weekly trysts underneath the dry bridge. He was also the one who regaled us with stories how his brother did it with Susie Rogers in the basement.
"She touched it?" We chimed, our eyes widening with this revelation.
"That's not all she did," Denny continued with more juicy tidbits that included a lot of rubbing, kissing and slurping.
Things got interesting when Sandy or Linda tagged along for some of our smokes and fun. Between the nudie cards, Playboy centerfolds, stories from Denny and the occasional feel we copped from Sandy or Linda was how we learned about the birds and the bees--what the birds and the bees had to do with breasts and rubbers we were not too sure, but the incipient stirring in our loins told us that it must be something good.
For kicks, we'd put pennies, cans and other junk on the tracks waiting until the train rolled by to see how each one would flatten. One time, Sammy found an old baby carriage in the neighborhood and we threw that on the tracks to see what would happen. What happened was that it scared the Bejesus out of the engineers who quickly stopped the train engine and jumped out, swearing at us kids and threatening to call the cops.
The fun was over when the high school kids came with beer, pot, and older versions of Sandy and Linda who told us to scram or they'd beat us up.
BIO: Originally from LaSalle, Illinois, Jeffrey Miller has been living and teaching in Asia since 1989. His work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, inlcuding A-Minor Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine, Caper Literary Journal, Eunoia Review, Full of Crow, Grey Sparrow Journal, Orion headless, Short, Fast, and Deadly, Thunderclap and the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal. His first novel, War Remains, a novel about the Korean War is now available at Lulu and Amazon. He can be found online at www.jeffreymillerwrites.com and www.jeffreyalanmiller.wordpress.com as well as his blog for his novel www.warremains.blogspot.com.