Friday, November 14, 2008


I recently made two trips to Grangeville, Idaho, a small farming city about 65 miles SE of Lewiston, Idaho. My younger brother Tom has a place in Grangeville, 10 acres with barn, silo, granary, etc. He even leases some of his land to a real live cowboy named Jerry. Jerry keeps his moo cows there from time to time.

Grangeville is the boyhood home of Tom's father. His dad is one of 11 brothers that all served in the armed forces, 8 of them in WWII. There were 3 girls in the family, only one lived to be an adult. It all makes for a nice story and one day I'll tell it.

This is about something that happened on the ride to Grangeville.

In this day of mass transit, planes, fast cars and the freeway it's interesting to take an honest to goodness road trip. In this situation it means crossing over the Washington Cascades on Interstate 90, through Cle Elum to Ellensburg. At Vantage, that little place where the bridge takes you over the Columbia River you have to take a right instead of a left and hit Highway 26. It will take you to Othello, Royal City, Colfax, and Pullman, though not necessarily in that order.

I usually take the left, on to George, Moses Lake, Ritzville, and Spokane. Mostly towns that are on modernizing. Taking the right is like going back in time. Somewhere time stopped as the world passed by these small towns. It was going through one of these little towns and stopping for gas that I found a memory from my past.

The men's bathroom condom machine. And .75 cents each. Only .25 cents more than in 1975.

The names were the same, "Rough Rider", "Form Fitting", and "Lady 6". When I was an impressionable young man I remember looking at these names thinking that some girl was going to get real lucky. Just not with me.

I remember as a young man, somewhat interested in the opposite sex, seeing these dispensing machines in the local Exxon, Enco, and Union 76 station. This was in the days when a gas station was a service station. They could fix your tires, fix your car, they had those neat bells that alerted the attendant when you drove over them. They irritated the attendant when you went over them with your bikes. But we did it anyway.

The air was free for your tires, so was the water for your radiator. The guys who worked the station checked your oil, the air in your tires and washed your windows. Sometimes they checked the girls in the car. It was cool to be a motor head.

The condom dispensers were usually located above the urinal. That way they had a captive audience to advertise the merchandise to. Just .50 cents. And gas stations were open long hours. If the truth was to be told gas stations were the forerunner of the convenience store. Get a car, get a girl, get some gas, get a condom, get lucky.

And I never bought one. Ever. And it wasn't because I didn't have the car, it was partly because I never found the girl with the loose morals, gas ran about .60 cents a gallon and I could afford that, and I could afford the condom. I just had this moral commitment to saving sex for marriage. And I did so. But the condom machine was certainly tempting. As I grew older the concept of repentance became clearer and even though opportunities were there I'm proud to admit that I never gave in.

The reason that I never bought one is that I was always worried that some adult would walk in while I was buying one and give me that look. Worse, someone that I knew would walk in and give me a bad time, for the rest of my life. I'd be 50 years old and some person from my past would walk up to me and say in from of family, friends, church leaders; "remember that time you bought the condom when you were 16?" It would have happened. It's embarrassing to get change for a dollar from the attendant, "can I have 4 quarters please?". Yeah, he knows what you're going to do with those quarters. So I never did.

Some of the guys I knew that had one kept it in their wallet. It made a condom sized impression on their wallet. It never changed, I assumed that it never got used. Most of the guys that I hung around with couldn't get a girl to give them a second glance let alone talk to them. I knew they were not having sex, they couldn't, they were out with me and I wasn't.

When I graduated from High School I travelled around the United States on a Greyhound bus for 3 months visiting relatives. I could go anywhere in the US and Canada. I'd been cold before so I decided that I didn't need to go to Canada. I went to Idaho, Minnesota, Michigan, Upper Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi in addition to other states too numerous to mention. My Grandpa Bryant, my mom's father, had retired from the auto industry to Winona, Mississippi. I travelled from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by bus, through Chicago, to get to Winona. On the bus from Chicago to Winona, I got on the bus only to find that I was the only person on the bus that needed a tan. That included the driver. I was 17, I had ID, I was pretty sure they would never find the body. "Look everyone. We got us a nice skinny white boy to entertain us."

It turned out to be a great ride. My seatmate was a huge black guy going to play football at a university in Mississippi. We had a great conversation of which I remember no details. I do remember thinking that his first words were going to be, "Hi, my name is Albert and I'll be your killer today." I had to imagine that no one was going to miss one white boy in Mississippi.

When I got off the bus in Winona my Grandfather hadn't arrived yet so I went to the bathroom at the bus stop/gas station. There was a condom machine there. I was disenchanted with religion at the time. I was on my own. The moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars. Everything was perfect. I was finally going to buy a condom. I went outside to get change for a dollar.

Great timing, Grandpa was waiting. No condom.

We arrived at his house and he showed me my home for the next two weeks. It was a truck camper. His house was too small to accommodate me. Total privacy. Then he introduced me to the neighbors.

Or should I say the neighbor girls. Five dang cute blond southern girls ranging in age from 13 to 18. The oldest was named Diane. I'm seventeen. After introductions by Grandpa I was left alone with the girls. All five girls gazed at me like I was fresh meat and Diane looked at me and in a Mississippi drawl looked me over and said; "Your granddad said that you wuz a Christian boy so I guess that sex with all of us for the next two weeks is out of the question."

I really hated my grandfather right then.

God didn't want me to have that condom. And so the five girls of Mississippi tortured me for two weeks and didn't even know it.

And now, in this world of the Internet, cell phones, convenience stores and 24 hour Walgreen's you can get all of the condoms that you want when you want them. And we've gone further than that. You can get them for free from the local health departments, from the manufacturers, you can buy them in complete secrecy from the Internet.

Now we have to explain to our young kids what they are as the advertisements blast across the scene. Kids today know more about condoms that I know as an adult with years of education. Are these things in the boys restrooms in high schools, junior highs? What is in the girls bathroom that we should know about?

I miss the good old days. Gasoline for .60 cents, condoms for .50. Now that I'm having sex (with my wife) I don't need the condom. Moreover, one thing hasn't changed since the summer of 1976.

I'm still a little mad at Grandpa Bryant.

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