"Stories bind us by reminding us that our lives all exhibit the same fragilities, and thus demand that we stay humane. But I didn't want to be humane; I wanted to be correct."
- William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky

[8th grade]
I was the skinny trumpet playing band guy who signed up for off-season weight-lifting. Most of my friends were not so skinny football or basketball players and I desired to be more like them. With the exception of some little league baseball, I had not participated in any organized sports.

On the first day of off-season, we were all handed cleats, shorts, t-shirt, socks, and a jock strap. We then passed into the dressing room to suit up. I knew of cleats and shorts and t-shirts and socks, but this jock piece stumped me. No one had prepared me for it. It looked like someone had gotten really creative with a pair of scissors and come up with a down-sized pair of underwear. It seemed, however, like no one else had a problem with this. Isolation in a junior high dressing room for boys.

I undressed and picked up this strange foundational piece. I would so like to tell you a different story here; this one is so fragile. But I must tell you the truth. I stuck my feet in the straps and started pulling the jock strap up backwards. I was soon to have all the support I could possibly bear in a region that needed no help. Meanwhile, my skinny eighth grade penis and balls were about to face the world of weights and coaches and wind sprints with no protection. Metaphor, anyone?

A large dark figure stepped in front of me as I pulled this elasticized potentiality of shame slowly up my legs. He was buck naked and hung like a draft horse. Our eyes met, he grinned and humanely said other way and then trotted away. I've never seen a picture of a black angel, but I know they exist. I sat down on the dressing bench and slowly untangled my feet from the straps. My movements were slow with the weight of shame and embarrassment. Was I just supposed to know this? My junior high boyish mind guessed so.

I made a vow that day to never be caught again not knowing the ways of men. I started reading Esquire magazine not long after that.


  1. I just peed myself.

  2. Boy, between you and Rich, I hardly know what to say.

    Except that i'm so grateful for this post. You mean boys go thru it too???? I'm convinced that jr high is a microcosm of the pits of hell. Just in case we need to recommit to Christ or something. ;)

    I have an 11.5 year old son. I'll be sure to have his dad have that talk with him, should he ever need a jock strap.