The Dative Case
Tucson, Arizona, 1961. Dr. Blanford Murlin Nester administers injections of testosterone enanthate to his 13-year-old son, Michael. The reason for prescribing this treatment, developed by chemists in post-war Germany who combined steroids with hog bile and other agents, is to “speed things up.” The diagnosis in today’s medical literature would be “delayed puberty.” Dr. Nester’s regimen lasts more than a year, and, judging by family photos, whatever is delayed occurs all at once, spontaneously, and at a relatively late date. In one picture dated 1962, Michael is a chubby-cheeked cherub with a slicked-down side part; in another dated 1964, he is six inches taller, a greaser with side-burns, about to enlist.
Any possible side effects from “Herr Doktor” Nester’s hormone shots given to Dad – excessive sexual drive, violent tendencies – are mentioned by my family in jest. Maybe, my mother jokes, an illegitimate son from her husband’s erotic sojourns to Nogales, my long-lost half-brother Humberto Nester, will show up at our doorstep. Maybe Dad and I will make a pipe bomb so he and I can take out someone from his Shit List. Maybe we’ll kill more birds in the backyard with a BB gun. All of this is seen in light of dad’s Year of Hormone Shots. The most obvious effect to us is my father’s body hair, which rivals any Greek diner owner’s. His all-over fur spans his lower back, upper arms, shoulders. Girls down the shore spot him bodysurfing, seaweed clung to his wet back hair, and scream “Sea monster, Sea monster!” Lippy, dad’s black coworker at the Boss Linco Trucking Company, put it best. “That crazy motherfucker Nester, he look like an ape,” he said. “He got hair on the back of his hands.”
Maple Shade, New Jersey, 1982. I’ve been asked to Camden Catholic High School’s freshman dance by Marissa Donatucci, a five-foot-two, extremely busty girl from my honors classes. With money from my car wash job, I buy an irregular suit from Marshall’s and Ambervision sunglasses.
Before dad leaves for the night shift, he walks into the living room and hovers his right hand over our heads; we stand eye-to-eye.
“Tie knot, check. Shoe shine, check.”
He places his briefcase on the coffee table (I have yet to meet another Teamster who sports an attaché), clicks it open, and produces three white capsules.
“These are zinc supplements,” he says, and hands them to me. “They increase your virility.”
Dad has put me on intermittent vitamin regimens before – bee pollen, kelp, shark marrow, flavanoids, coenzymes – ordered from the back pages of Mother Earth News. It’s all part of his quest to transform me into a Nietzschean Uberman who will vanquish the self-perpetuating clique of leaders he reads about, Masonic-Jewish welders of Hegelian dialectics with Feuerbachian materialism. Doesn’t every son want to please his father?
He then places three Trojan Naturalamb condoms in my jacket pocket.
“And these are for protection,” he says. “Remember, son,” he says, pointing, “Italian girls are not for marriage. They are for recreational purposes only.”
It is not lost on me, even at 14, that I have been given a vitamin supplement to increase the volume of my ejaculate and the means to contain said ejaculate, all in one kit for my evening. The part about Italian girls I’d heard before.
My Uncle Tom idles his white Cadillac Fleetwood in the driveway. Tonight he debuts as my chauffeur for high school formals. He completes the look with a tuxedo t-shirt from Spencer’s. Tom brought his high school buddy, Timmy Waters. They pass a flask around as we drive to Marissa’s house.
“So I hear your date has big bazongas,” Timmy tells me. “How big do you think they are?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t know girls’ bra sizes or anything like that.”
“You don’t need to.” Timmy takes a swig. “Just show us with your hands.”
I approximate two cups over my chest.
“Holy shit,” Tom says from the rear-view mirror. “That’s at least a 36D. You’re in business!”
My Uncle Tom is the type of guy who can guess women’s bra sizes. He can pick the class whore out of any high school yearbook. He has a perm and a mustache. He brings mirrored shades and binoculars to the beach. He bequeathed to me his library of Cheri magazines and Seka videocassettes. Tom sells meat for his dayjob. He goes to the Philly waterfront, picks up steaks and lobsters, puts them in white boxes, writes things like “Surf and Turf: Le Bec-Fin” on them, puts the boxes in his Toyota truck bed chest filled with dry ice, and sells them door-to-door to Bryn Mawr housewives.
What I am trying to say is: Tom is my idol.
Tom and Timmy giggle and peek in the rear-view at Marissa, who wears a white dress that’s like a thick corset or something. The dance progresses in its usual way—group air guitar to “Beat It,” clear the floor for the black people for “Planet Rock,” run back for “Rock Lobster,” worm-dance to “Shout.” For the finale, “Always and Forever” plays under a disco light, and Marissa and I slowdance like Weeble-Wobbles.
She breaks the silence. “Did you do your Latin homework?” We became friends navigating Mr. Azores’ Filipino accent through Latin declensions. Her parents are teachers. She tutored me once on how the dative case works.
“I am going to give you my pencil,” she said. “’You’ is the direct object, ‘pencil’ is the dative noun.”
I tell her no, I did not do my Latin homework, and she frowns and smiles. And then, just then, just as Heatwave breaks it down falsetto, just as everyone else starts to make out, my gaze moves from Marissa’s eyes and down to those big, 36D bazongas pressed up against my stomach.
Maybe it was the irregular cut of my Marshall’s pants. Maybe it was the goldenrood Ambervision hue through which I was looking at Marissa in a different light. Whichever the case, I’d avoided looking at her boobs the whole dance and now Marissa’s Mediterranean cans were giving me a raging, dative-cased, zinc supplement pan-handle boner. I didn’t know one thing about being with another body yet, but I knew what was going on with mine.
Before we get back to the car, I slip down the hallway into the school chapel – really a classroom with candles and benches – and enter the confession booth. I never went to confession at my high school, preferring my local parish, except for the one time, the last occasion I took the sacrament, when I had a Vatican II-style, face-to-face contrition senior year with Vice Principal Father Pete Osinski, at which time I catalogued, among other sins, what I am about to confess to you now. I go into that confession booth, sit on the short bench, stare at the screen, unzip my pants and, as the muffled strains of Benny Goodman’s “In the Mood” clear out the cafeteria, fire one off.
It took all of 30 seconds. I knew this was the only way mine would make it through the evening. As I cleaned myself up with a hymnal page, an unlit Jesus-on-a-crucifix looked on. I would remain chaste.
Tom and Timmy drive Marissa and me to Ponzio’s Diner to get ice cream. They head out by the bar and drink beers. From their stool, Tom and Timmy make brumski-motorboat motions with their hands.
I do not brumski Marissa’s bazongas. We kiss at her front door, I return to the backseat.
“What kind of a pussy doesn’t grab those hooters?” Tom asks.
In ten years, Tom will regard the Philly waterfront runs as too much of a schlep, and will start going to BJs and ripping meat out of their foam trays. He will duck out of aisles to avoid being spotted by regular customers. Timmy will be discovered by a talent agent and will switch careers from selling real estate in Florida to becoming a world-famous Bill Clinton impersonator who racks up two hundred and fifty appearances on The Tonight Show, corporate gigs, and a Naked Gun movie.
But tonight, Tom and Timmy drive the white Cadillac past my rancher, around the corner, and onto the baseball fields in the park behind my house.
They drive into center field of the pee-wee diamond and unlock the doors.
“Get out. You can walk home from here.”
I stand there while they lay wheels and spray my suit with orange infield mud. And as I hop over the left field fence, my vitals unstick themselves from my right pantleg, and I go back to my room to listen to Foreigner albums and say an “Our Father.”
DANIEL NESTER is the author of How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of mostly humorous nonfiction. His first two books, God Save My Queen and God Save My Queen II, are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His first book of poems is The History of My World Tonight (BlazeVox). Nester’s work has appeared in a variety of places, such as Salon.com, The Morning News, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Open City, The Daily Beast, Time Out New York, and Bookslut, and has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2003, Third Rail: The Poetry of Rock and Roll, Best Creative Nonfiction, and Now Write! Nonfiction. He is an associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. He is managing editor of the group culture-slash-literature blog We Who Are About To Die. Find him online at danielnester.com and on Twitter.