J D Duff: Playing Poker with Jesus

I was in fifth grade when Vinny Vito turned me on to adult entertainment.  Our parents worked full-time, often leaving us unsupervised.  Nothing was off limits for Vinny and me.

One morning before our mile walk to Kingsly Elementary, Vinny pulled me inside his white Tudor home.  He grabbed the sleeve of my dress and dragged me into the oversized family room.  The Vitos were the first family I knew who owned a Betamax, father of the Video Cassette Recorder.  He inserted a tape in the machine, and Scott Baio appeared surrounded by topless girls.  I froze.

“It’s called Zapped,” he said.  He ran to the Betamax and paused the movie on a bare breasted woman.

What I saw next made my stomach hurl.  Vinny began licking the screen.  His tongue glided around the image of the girl’s nipple.

“You’re sick,” I said.  Tears marked his face from laughing.  I walked toward the door and stood in the tiled foyer, hoping to hurry away from the house.

“Wait,” he said.  “There’s another scene I want you to see.”

 

From that moment, our friendship consisted of discussions and activities ill suited for our young lives. While our peers played Atari, we listened to Doctor Ruth Westheimer, the sex guru.  We took notes during her radio program and tried to memorize her advice.

One day Vinny asked me a question that at the time had me convinced I would die a virgin.  Not far from the schoolyard, he began the conversation that made me believe sex was a dirty act practiced only by sinners.

“Did you know that the only way to do sex is if the girl first puts mayonnaise down there?”

I tried to process what he said. “You lie, Vinny Vito.  That’s not true.”  The reality, though, was that I wasn’t quite sure what to believe. There seemed to be so many rules involving sex, and it was all so new that I supposed it could be possible.

“It is true,” he confided.  “I talked to Doctor Ruth this morning.”  Vinny had tried calling Doctor Ruth’s radio show several times but always hung up after being left on hold.

“I thought you could never get through to her,” I said.

He pushed his hair from his face.  “I made my voice really deep, and they let me talk to her.”  He breathed on his fingernails and polished them on his leather jacket.

“Well!  What did you ask her?”  I waited for him to tell me he was joking.

“I heard my brother talking to one of his friends about how it’s too dry when he does it with Suzie from Holy Name.”  His oldest brother was sixteen, and Vinny often hid in his closet to eavesdrop.  He learned a lot about sex stuff in that closet.

“What’s too dry?” I asked.

“The girl.  Down there.”  He looked toward the zipper of my pants.

“Oh, yeah.”

“That’s why Doctor Ruth told me about the mayonnaise.  She said it makes it slippery and enjoyable.”

I hated mayonnaise.  I decided at that moment that sex was not for me.  It seemed too messy and smelly, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

My loss of innocence became clearer to me as time passed.  I listened to the other kids talking silly bathroom humor and wondered how they would have reacted if they knew that Vinny was starting a Doctor Ruth Fan Club.  I knew, though, that our friends would not understand.  We didn’t even understand on the level we thought we did.  Still, they lived with a purity that I sometimes hoped would return but never did.

 

I walked to Vinny’s house on Ash Wednesday after completing my homework.  He opened the door, his forehead bearing a cross of fresh ash.

Vinny served as an altar boy at Saint Mary’s Church.  We attended Religious Instruction there every Tuesday after school, which we both agreed was a complete waste of time.  Other than our weekly hour at religion, I didn’t make it to church often.  Vinny had one up on me; he served at least three masses a month.  Father John often yelled at him, though, for not attending mass outside of his altar duties.  It didn’t bother Vinny.  He said he would rather be punished than have to spend time at church.

“I didn’t know you served mass today,” I said.

He stood before me with traces of black dust staining his hands and shirt.  He led me to the brick fireplace in his living room.

“I didn’t have time to get to church today,” he said.  He leaned over and scooped a small cup of ash from the bottom.  Before I could say anything, he marked my head as well.  I was certain that we would be condemned to Hell.

Vinny told me that his friend Amy was in the backyard and that he would be there in a minute.  I walked out the sliding kitchen door onto the deck and found Amy on the porch step.  She was sobbing.  When I asked what was wrong, she shook her head back and fourth like a seesaw.  Her reddish brown hair mangled between her fingers, and she bore the same mark of soot on her forehead as Vinny.

“I’m pregnant,” she blurted out.  “And it’s all Vinny’s fault.”  She rubbed her belly and moaned.

I looked at her, not sure what to say.  Vinny was capable of anything.  “Why do you think you’re pregnant?”

She stood up and looked at her stomach in the reflection of the glass door.  “Vinny told me to make an “O” like this.”  She put her thumb and her pointer finger together.  “Then he told me to stick a finger from my other hand through the hole.”

“And?”

“And I did it, and then Vinny told me that’s how you make babies, and now I’m pregnant.”

Vinny had actually made her believe she was pregnant, and I wanted nothing to do with fixing the mess.  I ran inside the kitchen and told him about Amy’s distress.  He practically fell on the floor, his pale skin pink with laughter.

 

The next day after school, we met at Vinny’s for our weekly poker game.  Vinny and I played every Thursday with Sean and Patrick O’Neal, who also attended Kingsly Elementary.  They were identical twins and bore an uncanny resemblance to Howdy Doody.

We set up a card table and a portable radio in Vinny’s unfinished basement.  We normally played with nickels and dimes, and occasionally when the stakes got low, we threw in a quarter to keep things exciting.

“I’m sick of playing for pennies,” Sean said as he shuffled the deck for a game of five-card stud.  “Let’s play strip poker”.

“There’s no way I’m playing strip poker,” I said.  “I’m the only girl.  It’s not fair.”

Patrick looked over at Vinny who’d left his chair to rummage through a closet at the far end of the room.

“Call Amy,” Patrick yelled over at Vinny.  Vinny walked back to the table with a maroon velvet bag in his hand.

“No”, Vinny said.  “Amy’s too busy trying to learn how to breast feed.”

We cracked up at our inside joke.  The O’Neal twins stared at us and shrugged their shoulders at the exact same time.

“The girls in our class aren’t gonna play strip poker,” Vinny said.  “I know some sixth grade girls who might go for it, but in the meantime, I have a way to keep things fun.”

He put the velvet sack on the table and carefully opened the drawstring.  He removed a large plastic Ziploc that contained the wafers used to represent the body of Christ at Catholic mass.  We had all once admitted that we loved the taste of the Host at Communion and wondered why we were limited to only one serving.  But to see hundreds of the round pieces of bread before us was crazy.

“I borrowed them from the rectory,” Vinny said.  “There’s tons of them there and believe me, they won’t be missed.”  Our eyes widened.  “Besides,” he continued, “they aren’t even blessed yet.  So it’s not really a sin.”

I said a Hail Mary before we started the game.  This was far worse than the Ash Wednesday fireplace incident.  I admitted that it felt exciting to play poker with stolen Host, although I knew that the four of us were now assured a spot in the hottest corners of hell.

“I’ll see your nickel,” Vinny said to Patrick during the third round.  “And I’ll raise you two bodies of Christ.”

I hit myself on the forehead and shook my head.  I waited in terror for Jesus to arrive and condemn us.

“Did you know that Tommy Marino, in the seventh grade, only has one testicle,” Patrick asked no one in particular.

I looked around at the three boys and wondered if I was the only one unfamiliar with the word testicle.  By Vinny and Sean’s reaction, it seemed so.

“How do you know that?” his brother asked.

Patrick explained that he overheard their father, a respectable doctor, having a phone conversation with Tommy’s mother.  “Apparently, it turned blue and they had to remove it.”  I looked at Vinny and Sean.  They seemed horrified.  I sat confused and curious.  “He won’t be able to have children,” he added.

I decided that a testicle definitely had something to do with the penis.  I’d learn all the details after the O’Neal twins left.  Still, I pinched my skin for not knowing.

“How do you think it happened?” Vinny asked.

“I don’t know,” Patrick said.  “All I know is that he rode his bike all the time, and that can be really rough on the jewels.”

“Yeah, that must be it,” Sean agreed.  Vinny kept biting his bottom lip.  I couldn’t figure out what riding a bike had to do with jewels and made a mental note to ask Vinny about that, too.

We made a pact not to share information regarding Tommy’s biking accident with anyone.  We all agreed it was too personal a matter to repeat.

 

On Tuesday, I rode to Vinny’s house after school.  We biked every week to Religious Instruction.

“I don’t want to ride my bike today,” Vinny said.  “Let’s walk.”  I looked at my plastic Swatch-watch and put my hands on my waist.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  Boys ride bikes every day.  Nothing’s going to happen to you.”

“I’d rather be safe about it.  The risks are too high.”  I knew I couldn’t change his mind.  I put my Mongoose in the garage, and we rushed to St. Mary’s before Bible lesson started.

We arrived in the classroom just as Sister Agatha finished taking roll.  We had one strike against us already; Sister Agatha did not tolerate tardiness.  She had a reputation as a bitter old Nun, with raisin wrinkles and a head slightly too large for her habit.  Vinny insisted that she acted crabby because she had never gotten any, and I agreed, although I had never gotten any either, and I wasn’t a crab.

She glared at us as we took our seats, and the class sat in silence while we waited for her holiness to label us sinners.  I sat in fear, but Vinny seemed amused.  He met her stare until she looked down at her book to begin the lesson.  I wished I had a quarter ounce of Vinny’s courage.

Sister Agatha’s lecture that day focused on the Immaculate Conception.  She spoke for what seemed like hours about Mary’s miracle condition.  Vinny glanced at me and rolled his eyes.  I hoped Sister Agatha missed Vinny’s expression, but when I looked up, she glared at him in a silent fury.

“Is this boring to you, Vincent?” she asked.

I said a quick prayer that Vinny would keep his ideas about Mother Mary to himself.  He mentioned to me more than once that he believed Mary had cheated on Joseph and made up the story of carrying God’s child to hide her sin.  Secretly I agreed that Vinny might be on to something.

Sister Agatha’s voice was stern.

“Answer my question, Vincent.  Is this boring to you?”

“No, Sister,” Vinny replied.  “It’s not boring to me at all.”

I made the sign of the cross in my mind and took a deep

breath.  Sister Agatha kept badgering him.

“Than why were you rolling your eyes?”

“It was an instant reflex.”

She slammed her fists on the steel desk in front of her.

“The truth!” she demanded.

“Fine,” Vinny confessed.  “I don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception.”

I began panting as he spilled his ideas about Mary’s big cover up.  Sister Agatha’s body quaked with such force, I was sure the earth had actually moved.  Her ears turned the color of cherry Lifesavers, and her mouth hung so low that she could have stuck her tongue into her own belly button.

She mumbled something about a disciple of Satan, but I couldn’t be sure of her exact words.  I looked up and saw Father John standing in the doorway.  I wondered how long he had been there, but his expression told me it was long enough.

Vinny was asked to leave class after Sister Agatha promised that his parents would be called.  He turned to me before leaving.

“Will you be okay walking home alone?”  I gave a quick nod.  Father John didn’t say a word.  He stared at Vinny until he disappeared.

 

I convinced my mother to let me stay home from school the

next day.  Nightmares haunted me about the Devil taking Vinny from his bed and roasting him on a rotisserie.  There would probably be an article in the paper about Vinny’s disappearance.  I would be forced to tell the police that Satan had abducted him and turned him into a five-course meal.  I knew Satan would come for me next.  I hid under my comforter all day.

“Where were you today?”  Startled, I jumped up from my bed.  Vinny walked in the room and threw my life-sized Holly Hobby Doll from the chair.  He sat beside me.  I was trying to decide if it was really Vinny or Satan in disguise.  I crept back under the covers.

“Megan Gallagher told me she isn’t allowed to talk to me anymore because of what happened last night.”  He took a deck of cards from his pocket and shuffled.  “I don’t really care, though.  I never really liked her anyway.”

“Are you punished?”

“Na. My Mom thinks I’m smart for coming up with all that stuff on my own.  I’m just not allowed to talk about it at St. Mary’s.”  I felt certain Vinny would never be allowed at St. Mary’s again.  I kept my comments to myself and turned on the television.

“Watch this,” Vinny said.  He jumped on top of Holly Hobby.  He pulled her knickers to her knees and began thrusting into her with quick jerks and exaggerated moans.

“What the hell are you doing?”  Poor Holly looked completely helpless.

“Humping.”

I jumped up and grabbed her away from him.  “Well don’t do it to my doll.”

“Oh come on.  You try it now.”  Vinny laughed.  I waited for the horns to pop up from his head.

“She’s my favorite doll, and you’re crazy.”

“You can practice on me if you want.”  Vinny flexed his eyebrow muscles.

“Vinny, I was up all night, and I’m really tired.”  He pulled the covers back and climbed into the bed beside me.  My Strawberry Shortcake nightgown crawled up my legs.

“Maybe we should go get the mayonnaise,” he said.  My heart stopped.  I took Vinny’s suggestion as a joke and laughed.

“Have you ever seen a boy naked,” he asked.   The only penis I had ever seen was the one in the book, Where Did I Come From?  Vinny looked seriousI changed the subject by asking for the homework, but Vinny kept at it.  “Let’s sneak peak,” he said.  “You can look at me naked, and then I can look at you.”

I agreed but insisted that Vinny go first.  He shrugged his shoulders and unbuttoned his faded Levis.  He removed his pants, and I stared in terror as he lifted the covers so I could get a good look.  It was much smaller then I imagined, and uglier too.  I could have sworn I saw a hair sprouting to the surface.

“Go ahead.  Touch it.”

I reached down and tapped it so quickly, you would have thought a porcupine had pricked me.

“You don’t have to be afraid of it,” Vinny said.  I looked at the Rosary’s crucifix on the nightstand beside my bed.  Jesus stared with haunting disapproval.

“Your turn,” Vinny said.

“No.  I can’t do it.”

“Come on.  A deal’s a deal.”

I sighed.  Jesus wouldn’t want me to go back on my word.  I closed my eyes and pulled my panties to my knees.  I lifted my nightgown just long enough for Vinny to think he might have seen something.

“Wait a minute.  That’s not fair.  I need to touch it, like you touched mine.”

“No way, Vinny Vito.  That was not part of the deal.”

“Of course it was.  You touched mine, so it’s only fair that I touch yours.”  I made the Sign of the Cross.

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You.”

“Stop with the prayers.  It’s your turn.”

“This isn’t a card game, Vinny.”

“Fine.  Whatever.”  He rose from the bed.  I grabbed his arm.

“Okay, but only for a second.” I closed my eyes again.  I liked the way his hand felt searching my leg.  It tickled.   As his fingers fumbled toward me, I looked up at the television.  Mr. Rogers was taking off his sweater, inviting us to be his neighbor.

I jumped up and landed at the foot of the bed. “That’s it,” I said.  “I can’t do this with Mr. Rogers AND Jesus watching.”  Vinny rolled his eyes.

“Mr. Rogers can’t see you.” He pointed toward the screen.

“Mr. Rogers is practically a saint. He knows what’s going on.”

“If you’re too chicken, then say it.”

“I’m not chicken.  I just don’t want to do it.”

The door to my room opened.  My older brother stood in the archway.  Vinny stayed under the covers, his Levis on the rug beside the bed.  I threw an extra blanket over the jeans and looked at the television.

“What the hell are you two doing in here?”  Holly Hobby laid face down on the floor with no pants and her dress hiked to her waist.  Vinny grabbed the Rosary from the nightstand.

“We’re reciting our prayers for next week’s Religion class,” Vinny said.

“Well there might not be Religion next week because Father John had a heart attack last night.  He’s in the hospital on a respirator.” He shook his head.  “You better clean this dump up before Mom gets home.” He looked at Holly Hobby and left the room.  My heart rose so fast, I thought it would burst out of my mouth.

“Oh my God.  You gave Father John a heart attack last night,” I said.  Vinny kept biting his lip.  His shoulders rose and fell with one deep sigh.

“You’re crazy,” he said.  “He had a heart attack because he’s 150 years old and 400 pounds.”

“No, Vinny.  It’s your fault.  The devil’s really going to get you now.”

“Than he’s going to get you too because I know you agreed with me.”  I grabbed the crucifix from his hands and clutched it tight to my chest.  I kneeled at the side of the bed.

 

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. And I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin”.

 

Vinny laughed at me.

“Go ahead, laugh.  If he dies, everyone will call you a murderer.”

Vinny picked the battered doll off the floor and dressed her the way she looked before he had his way with her. “Whatever.  I have to get home now.  I told Sean and Patrick I would watch Zap  ped with them before my parents get home.”  Vinny threw Holly Hobby at me and walked out of the room.

I put my sneakers on and ran to the Confessional.  I couldn’t save Vinny, but I could do everything in my power to save myself.  I said the Act of Contrition twenty-two times on my way to the church.  I promised myself I would become a Nun if He let me slide this one time.

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JD Duff grew up in the suburbs of New York City. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and a Master of Arts in Teaching English Education from Manhattanville College in New York. Her undergraduate degree is in Africana Studies from Binghamton University. JD taught college level writing for over seven years; helping students reach their writing goals is one of her passions. She is currently in the process of launching a writing company, Uptown Writing Workshop, which will offer both academic and creative seminars. Her poems, “The Deconstruction of Aunt Jemima” and “Alien Life” were recently published in Melancholy Hyperbole.

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