Aunt Pauline

When I was discharged from active duty in the United States Army in 1966, I was 25 and weighed 140 lbs. This was all lean meat because the lunchtime habit of a number of us at my last duty station, the 102nd USASA Security Detachment at Autobahn Kaserne out from Heidelberg, Germany, was to play Field Volleyball for the lunch hour and eat a sandwich on the fly afterwards.

Field Volleyball was similar to traditional volleyball in that it used a classic volleyball and a net. It differed in that the net dangled from a steel cable stretched between two telephone poles so that players could hang on with one hand while bashing at the ball with the other.

This was volleyball as a contact sport, and I discovered the down side in the Spring when I went for a ball at the same time as my motor sergeant, whose arms were as big around as my legs.

But I was right back out on the court shortly after the cast was removed, so I had regained all the physical conditioning benefits by the time I rotated back to the states in August.

After my discharge at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, I drove my Volkswagen across the country to Texas, and when I stopped in Pittsburgh to visit my aunt and uncle, they took me out for steaks. During the meal, my aunt kept slipping morsels onto my plate from hers; and, being 25 and voracious, I certainly had no complaint about this unfamiliar behavior even though it was strange enough that it stuck in my memory.

Ten years later, I had given up trying to make myself straight, had come out, and had moved to San Francisco. By dint of a year’s work in the gym, I’d got my weight up to 150 and was in even better condition…and significantly better shape since that ten pounds was all upper body muscle.

Every Sunday I played volleyball with a bunch of gay men over in the Oakland hills, and after the game we went to the rather grand Piedmont home of the one older player for splashing and supper around his pool. Not exactly a dirty old man, since he wasn’t putting any moves on us as far as I could tell, but still, we were there because we were definitely decorative.

We were also hungry. Our host provided sodas, a big salad, and bread, while we guests stopped in at a Safeway on the way and picked up meat to grill. To quench our thirst, most of us chugged a beverage on the trip between Safeway and our host’s house. Mine was usually a quart of chocolate milk. Yes, a quart! Well, you know, gotta restore those fluids you sweated out on the court.

All this came rushing back to me last month, when Jeff and Steven next door had some house guests from Canada, a twenty-something gay couple, both serious athletes and, incidentally, cute as bugs. I found Glen and Phil as delightful as my neighbors, so I cooked supper for all four.


Steven and Jeff had seconds. Phil and Glen came back for thirds, and as I watched them eat I suddenly flashed on my aunt and finally understood the pleasure I had given her forty years ago…the joy of watching a lean, young man wolf huge quantities of food.

And yes, I recognize that the pleasure may not be totally unalloyed for those who are currently buying the groceries for an adolescent. But I promise you, when you’re old and gray and every extra bite you eat reappears around your waist, there is something wonderfully fascinating about watching heaping platefuls of food vanish into flat bellies.

Where the hell does it go? It’s as if all that food somehow metabolizes in their mouths!

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