I found a condom in the vestibule of my apartment building.
Maybe I should rephrase that. I “discovered” a condom in the vestibule of my apartment building.
“Found” has an inherently positive connotation. “Found” suggests that the experience resulted in something positive.
For example, “I found my car keys under my girlfriend’s couch. Then I was able to get back home before my wife even noticed I was gone!”
Or, “I found my birth mother. Then I was able to answer questions that have been haunting me for my entire life!”
Or, “I found a condom in the vestibule of my apartment building. Then I was able to be orally gratified by one of the transsexual prostitutes that hang out in front of my building late at night!”
On the other hand, “discovered” is inherently neutral. It suggests that the occurrence may not have been desirable, freeing the speaker (or writer) from any implicitly positive spin.
For example, “I discovered an oddly shaped mole on my back. Then I called my doctor and the news is not good!”
Or, “I discovered my wife cheating on me. Then I called my cousin Johnny and he told me he would have the guy taken care of.”
Or, “I discovered a condom in the vestibule of my apartment building. Then I called the cops, and they busted the transsexual prostitutes that hang out in front of my building late at night.”
I was seven years old the first time I heard the word “condom.”
I was lying on my back in an inner tube in the middle of the lake at Jeffersonville, about two hours north of New York City. My grandmother had taken my cousins and I to Lake Jeff for one last gasp of summer before a new school year that hung over us like a swinging guillotine.
That day, in the clear, silvery water of the Catskills, school seemed light years away.
I’m not much of a singer. Never have been. But floating along in that inner tube, it occurred to me that I should make up rhymes and sing them at the top of my lungs. Seven-year old kids can do that, and people don’t look at them funny.
Soon after my performance had begun, my cousin Johnny swam over to me. Johnny was only four years older than me, but he talked about things that made him seem like an adult. A very short adult, with bad skin. But an adult, nonetheless.
“Here’s a rhyme for you,” Johnny said. “See a condom. Pick it up. All the day you’ll have good luck!”
Johnny repeated the rhyme over again. Each time he howled with a sort of knowing laughter that I did not understand, like he was the only one in on some kind of joke.
I had no idea what he was talking about. Until I repeated the rhyme to my Mom, later that night. She explained that it was not something that a nice little boy would say, and that I should forget all about it. Simple as that.
But I never forgot it.
Thirty years later, I found myself strolling through Washington DC with a woman I had been long-distance dating for a few weeks. As we walked through a park in Dupont Circle, my sort-of-girlfriend reached down to pick up something on the sidewalk.
“See a penny. Pick it up. All the day you’ll have good luck,” she said with a smile, depositing the coin in her pocket.
“Penny?” I asked. “Are you sure?”
“Am I sure of what?” Julie replied.
“Are you sure you’re supposed to pick up pennies for luck? And not something else?” I answered, placing a subtle emphasis on the word “else.”
“’Something else,’ like what?” She seemed confused.
“Forget it,” I said, changing the subject.
On our way back to Julie’s apartment we stopped at the local drug store and picked up some condoms.
The next day I called my cousin Johnny, who had recently celebrated his 40th birthday. He confirmed that it was in fact pennies that gave you luck, not condoms. Apparently he had misled me, for comedic effect.
Johnny howled with laughter, again. He seemed very pleased by his three-decade-long deception.
But I begged to differ.
“If you want to waste your time picking up pennies, be my guest. But every time I pick up a condom, I get lucky.”
Some people feel nervous, or awkward when buying condoms. Not me. I love buying contraception of all shapes and sizes. When I buy condoms I feel like a man. I communicate something, without speaking a word:
“Somebody is going to have sexual relations with me in the very near future. And I would like to share that fact with everybody on line here at Duane Reed.”
Because perception is reality.
Sexual intimacy is an experience that usually occurs in private (unless you have roommates, or enjoy visiting swing clubs). Most people make ‘the beast with two backs’ in a darkened room; often in a hazy, alcohol- or drug-induced altered state of reality. The experience is fleeting. There is no proof that the act ever occurred, except the shared memory and/or regret of those involved.
Unless you use a condom.
The spent, balloon-knotted condom serves as empirical evidence of the act; a squishy memorial to the temporal moment of passion, love or awkwardness that occurred the night before.
I was twenty-eight years old the first time I used a condom.
I had just entered the tumultuous “ninth year” of a relationship that would limp to its death just shy of the decade mark. While I may have lacked the variety of partners that many young men enjoy, I more than made up for it with consistency.
And, thanks to a pill called Ortho Tri Cyclen, all of it was wonderfully latex-free.
But after a nine-year courtship, there was talk of marriage, and children. None of the talk originated from me, and that was a big part of the problem.
As I contemplated marrying the only woman I had ever dated – the only woman I had ever had sex with – I discovered a condom on her bedside table.
“I stopped taking the Pill. I want to have a baby. If you don’t, here!” my girlfriend said, tossing the light blue Trojan in my general direction.
We made love that night, but it didn’t feel like love. It felt like sex. Something had come between us, and it wasn’t just a piece of latex.
Of course it was crazy for me to consider marrying the only woman I had ever dated. Of course the co-dependency that formed the basis for our relationship would have festered into anger, hostility and a deep-rooted sense of missed opportunity. To some extent it already had.
But I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was, I hated those condoms.
Sex had always made me feel complete, safe and loved. Now it made me feel alone. When I discovered that condom, I lost the truest sense of intimacy that I had ever felt.
And slowly, the ten-year fever began to break.
I haven’t seen Mary since the day we said our final goodbye. She’s married now. And I’m not. We’re both exactly where we wanted to be.
The tearful, sloppy, emotionally wrenching end of our relationship allowed “us” to die. In time, we both rose again, as individuals. And we were better and stronger because of what we endured.
Since then I’ve learned that true intimacy can withstand a little latex. And that, sometimes, true intimacy is not really what I’m looking for.
I discovered a condom that day, on my girlfriend's bedside table. Maybe I should rephrase that.
I found a condom that day.
And my luck has been better ever since.
All I have to do now is convince my cousin.