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An excerpt from The Petting Zoo by Jim Carroll, author of The Basketball Diaries.

As Denny and Billy sat listening to Marco’s sexual instruction and escapades, he made them feel that they were being initiated into a cult of supreme righteousness, marching off to do battle in the Holy Land. Billy was waiting for a sword to appear in Marco’s hand so he could drop to his knees and be knighted. Thinking about it, he realized it was a kind of ritual of knighthood for guys.

“The first thing you need is a porno rag to get your tiny imaginations going. Then, once it gets hard — and if it don’t get hard within due time, there is nothing I can do for you . . . just wait a year or so and try again — you’ve got to start pulling. Now, listen good, because the biggest mistake that most of you tykes make is assuming that it only takes ten tugs or so and you’re ready to spurt. That is bullshit. Masturbation takes a lot of work, especially the first time. Depending on the hotness of your porno material, you may have to yank your little chubbies for as long as half an hour, or more. If you’re not up to the task, please leave now. I promise that no one here will think the less of you. It’s hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you different. The treasures to be found when you reach the end, however, are priceless. So, let me get into the exotic specifics. Who can tell me the best way to fake the feeling of a woman’s vag while jerking off?” This was a snatch, so to speak, of a typical exegesis by Marco, delivered to a horny, attentive young audience. These secret seminars were usually held in the boiler room of the building where Marco’s father was superintendent. The heat was unbearable in that basement. One was literally taught by fire.

Masturbation takes a lot of work, especially the first time.

Billy and Denny decided to raid the tobacco and newspaper store on Broadway to get some decent erotic material for the endeavor. The two thieves had a pathetically inept plan, however. Stuffing their baggy pants beyond capacity with serious skin magazines, Billy and Denny tried to use the rush-hour commuters, buying their Times and Wall Street Journals, as interference, blending in behind them and calmly sliding out the door. Unfortunately, they walked more like pregnant teenage girls. And at the exit, the old Jew who owned the place was waiting to snag them, retrieving the bonanza of porno they’d overloaded down their pants.

The debacle was made even worse by the fact that Augie, the owner, with a half-finished cigar perpetually hanging from his mouth, had known Billy and his mother since Billy was about four years old. Mrs. Wolfram, with her youngest child clutching her hand, would enter the shop each afternoon to buy her pack of Pall Malls, the evening paper, and some licorice twisters for Billy and his brother, Brian. Surely, Billy thought, she would hear all about her son’s pornographic pilfering.

Embarrassed and without visual aid, Billy gave up on the idea of getting stirred up by pictures of naked women on glossy paper, but his determination had not completely waned. He hunted around his living room figuring there must be something — perhaps an old Sears catalogue with a section on the latest in bargain-priced underwear. That would do; they must have something in black. He reached over to the stack of magazines piled on the footstool and began flipping through issues. A recent one caught Billy’s eye: the cover story about the new luminary of Broadway theater, Barbra Streisand. He had seen her picture before: the counterpoint of conventional beauty with her pouty large lips, which lay desirous beneath that prominent nose. Large noses turned Billy on. There was something comforting about them, as well as a sense of defiance. Also, large noses, for some perverse reason he could neither explain nor understand, connoted outright sluttiness to him. It was his first youthful fetish. He liked the idea of having a fetish; it seemed a very adult thing. Also, he enjoyed the sound of the word fetish. It made him think of some exotic food… like hummus or knish.

He was hit by the youthful equivalent of irony in the fact that the best jerk-off material he could find was in a national news magazine.

As he thumbed through the magazine, he was hit by the youthful equivalent of irony in the fact that the best jerk-off material he could find was in a national newsmagazine. He couldn’t believe his fortune. Within the educative, glossy pages was a picture — a small insert, really — of Barbra in a terrifying bikini, her hair up in a regal bun, the eyes surrounded in black kohl, as thick as an Egyptian goddess’s.

She was emerging from the water, perched on the shoulders of her husband, Elliot Gould, her thighs wrapped with dripping wet security around his neck. Her breasts, also covered by droplets, were just mindnumbingly vast in the sparse beaded top. And the expression on those large lips . . . she seemed to be speaking the exact words that Billy wanted to hear. Yes, she was talking on and on and Billy was just lying there listening, shifting the angle of the picture. As far as Billy was concerned, Elliot Gould had disappeared. In painterly terms, he’d been relegated to negative space. Barbra’s legs could be wrapped around anyone’s shoulders now.

“A good porno snap is like a battery,” Marco had told him. “It gets the thing started, then keeps it up and running.” With this in mind, Billy took the magazine and went into the bathroom. It would be at least another two hours before his mom was supposed to be home, but there was no sense in taking any chances. He wanted to feel totally safe from intrusion.

Then, in a flash, came the finishing touch. In another of the sex ed lessons in his basement homeroom, Marco had theorized that the closest thing to the feeling of real pussy was a fillet of veal wrapped around the cock, preferably warmed, though room temperature was acceptable. Years later, Billy had learned that, concerning this pubescent ritual, there seemed to be variations along ethnic lines when it came to the choice of meat. Jews preferred liver, apparently, and it was proffered that many South American youths favored the ample fat of mutton. In the black community, very thinly sliced chicken most often facilitated the endeavor. There was but one common factor among all creeds, countries, and colors: no matter what the meat, the cut was always a thin, malleable fillet.

Billy tossed the magazine on the tile floor and roamed into the kitchen. The perfect picture, the perfect time. As Billy opened the refrigerator, he could only hope that his luck would hold.

It held, all right; he could barely believe his eyes. There in the meat bin was a pack of veal fillets from the A&P, tightly wrapped in white butcher paper and sealed with tape. It really wasn’t as much of a coincidence as it might have seemed. Billy knew that veal parmigiana was one of his mother’s favorite dishes to prepare, and it was usually on the menu about one night a week. There were four thin cutlets inside, and now the problem was removing one, performing the wraparound ceremony, and leaving it in decent enough shape so it could be replaced without arousing suspicion to the casual glance. The key was unwrapping the package deftly, sans any detectable rips or creases. He peeled the tape slowly and with patience.

The problem was his hands, which were shaking with the anticipation of the Streisand image. They were twitching without control, much like the wholesomely rigid organ in his pants, which had, for the first time, taken total command of his body. He took deep breaths to slow his nerves, hands, and motor functions.

In time, the package was unwrapped, satisfactorily undamaged, and he slipped out one of the slimy raw cutlets. He threw it on a plate, letting it settle to room temperature (following Marco’s advice to the letter, though heating it slightly in boiling water was simply out of the question). Less than a minute later, Billy decided the meat was as close to room temperature as his crotch was willing to wait. He picked up the plate and carried it into the bathroom with the care of a master chef personally delivering an elaborate entrée. He laid it on the floor of the bathtub and folded the magazine on the page with the bikini shot, his starter battery. God, the expression on her face: the plump lips, the please-give-me-all-of-it expression in the lash-laden eyes. Then there were those breasts, which he respected so fully that his inner voice could not debase them with cheap euphemisms like titties or knockers. What was the nature of his nose fetish? This was something Billy would have pondered if he were capable of it, but at the moment his brain was functioning only in conjunction with the dire dictates of his penis. He took a peek at it in his jockey shorts. It was an urgent shade of blue that he had never witnessed before. It gave him a bit of a fright. This fright and an innate pulse of necessity told him it was time to get down to business.

Then there were those breasts, which he respected so fully that his inner voice could not debase them with cheap euphemisms like titties or knockers.

Billy eased off his underwear. It did seem as if his penis was truly battery-enriched. Unleashed from the harnessing effect of the jockey shorts, it began to twitch randomly. He wrapped the veal around it and, for a moment, slowly slid it up and down. It felt wet… lubricant wet, and inhuman. Billy couldn’t imagine it possible, but the feel of the veal made his cock grow even longer. The head slid out of the meat wrap. The cutlet couldn’t contain it (and there was enough veal there to feed two people… if one factored in the cheese and breading).

He looked at the picture of Barbra, the magazine leaning now, precariously, on the porcelain edge of the bathtub beside the toilet seat.

Just as his body’s biological functions were reaching uncharted territory, Billy heard the front door locks turning. It was his mother, returning home hours earlier than she usually did. He could tell by the dragging of her heavy footsteps across the carpet that she was loaded down with bags of groceries. The priests must have sent her out shopping for their food and allowed her to leave a couple of hours early. She always had the delivery boys drive the fathers’ huge amount of food directly to the rectory, and carried a couple of bags for Billy and herself while she was at it. He could hear oranges spilling out of their red net bag onto the kitchen floor and rolling across it. He knew the sound, oranges on linoleum. Every time she put away oranges, the pretty red net bag would break open and the dozen pieces of fruit would spill onto the floor in a series of thumps. Invariably, one or two would roll under a piece of furniture out of her reach and she would call Billy to come and crawl down to fetch them, wash them off, and put them in with the others. Rolling oranges were a part of Billy’s growing-up.

“Billy, dear, where are you? I got home early, dear, how are you?” his mother shouted, barely loud enough to break his trancelike state, but he heard her and had to reply.

“I’m in the bathroom, Mother,” he snapped back, almost too quickly, he realized the moment the words left his mouth. He purposely made his voice quaver weakly. “I’m feeling a little sick.”

“Do you want some Pepto?” she asked.

“No, nothing. Really. I’ll be great in awhile. Give me some time is all,” he continued. “Just relax and watch your shows. I’ll be fine.” All through the gibberish that he was spewing, his eyes remained locked on Barbra and his hand was sliding the veal. His mind was split in two directions. He was not going to be denied. He had crossed a line.

There was a tingling in his spine and a fluttering from inside his asshole — the anxiety of his prostate, an organ that Billy did not even know existed, but it felt like a moth with sticky wings. He had never reached this point before. Hearing the faint sounds of the TV swept away any fears that his mom would be pestering him with chitchat through the bathroom door. He knew she would be consumed by a soap opera or, more likely, a game show. She was much more partial to game shows than afternoon dramas, which she thought rather vulgar. She actually seemed to get a vicarious thrill for the winners on game shows. The Price Is Right was her favorite. She had even submitted an answer to a home viewers contest.

She would be cheering on some housewife spinning a wheel for a new dishwasher and, meanwhile, he could concentrate on his task at hand, so to speak, without care. The sheer concentration was bringing on a righteous sweat, and it was bearing fruit. He could feel the changes within him stirring from a previously untapped source. The knees in his brain were beginning to buckle, and there was a Frankenstein-movie-like arc of blue electricity running from his crotch, up his spine, and out the top of his head. The feeling was so intense that he didn’t know if it was something good or bad, if it was sexual or a prelude to death. It was a sensation that went beyond his brain and directly into his spine. This was it, he thought… this was what he felt: a snake, a small beautiful snake wrapped tightly around his spine and slowly ascending. He didn’t care whether the snake was poisonous or not. He was beyond that, beyond the meaning. A transition was taking place within his body and his being. The pleasure of one stroke to the next now multiplied in implausible increments. He couldn’t imagine that the actual climax could be better than this moment… wait… there’s Barbra, Arabia painted around her eyes. “Ten measures of lust were given unto the world, one went to the other nations, and nine went to Arabia.” Where had he read that? He didn’t care. It was true. Arabia, land of lust, mystery, the three magi, and heavy eye makeup.

The veal-encased hard-on in his hand was taking on its own analogies. It was like a rigid cornered reptile, baring its teeth and ready to strike. Every peek down at the Barbra photo as his hand quickened its pace brought a bluer shade to the head, which was reaching proportions hitherto unknown. The blood-blue head was taking on a scary darker shade, like the fingers of a guy that Billy once saw dead from a drug overdose. Oh, Barbra… oh, beautiful Barbra, drenched in tiny droplets… it was just a matter of time now. Just hold that pose. Please. Please. Please.

Billy’s head filled with an intractable desire to ravage anything female. Dark and violent sexual fantasies cascaded from his brain throughout his entire body. Weird things that he had never read of or seen in the most outrageous porno he had gotten his hands on. He kept one hand beating in the established, steady rhythm to his cock, but with his free hand he pinched onto his tiny pink nipple and squeezed it to a point of phenomenal pain. Then, guided by nothing but an instinct that seemed part of the smell’s intoxication, he wet his forefingers generously with his tongue and ran circles around it, now stiff, harsh red, and almost unbearable with pleasure. His eyes returned to Barbra, and she was returning the stare with an effectively contrived aloofness.

It was like a rigid cornered reptile, baring its teeth and ready to strike.

Billy realized that Marco was right about one thing: the first time was harder work than he’d ever expected. The veal was becoming frayed from the punishment. He thought a moment about whether his mother would notice the difference when he stuck it back into the pack with the other fillets. At this point, however, Billy didn’t care. Damn the veal. Let it be shredded for lust’s sake! He could always blame the butcher at the A&P for pawning off shoddy meat.

Billy was in a zone with the nasty angels. It was just a matter of time until the sticky globs of lust spurted out. Then he heard a strange glottal sound from the living room and the volume of the television suddenly shot up. Heavy footsteps and other unfathomable sounds. They appeared to be coming from his mother, but he’d never heard her produce anything close to these noises. They were like honking gasps. He wrote it off to some exciting game show and kept on sliding the veal. It was so close now. The snake he had felt before in his spine was now at his navel, nipping to get out.

He was too far along, too near the big first time to allow his mother’s unexpected presence to abort the mission. He could hear her footsteps retreat and the sound of the television return to normal, and that was a comfort. It meant she would be settling in and relaxing, watching the tube with her legs raised on the footstool, her support stockings pulled down to her ankles.

He had managed to split his consciousness: 10 percent on his mother’s movements and the other 90 on the virgin breakthrough soon to come. A bead of sweat fell on the magazine, landing on Elliott Gould’s swimsuit. He was so close. His wrist was cramping. He tried it with his other hand, but it was flailing, way off the beat. He had to switch back to his mojo hand.

He recalled Marco repeatedly advocating the importance of holding it in as long as possible before one let go. “The decisive squeeze,” he called it. “Suppress it… you got to suppress it.” No matter what the urges of the body dictated, the secret was to continue hanging on once that point of no return had passed. It was like holding back a tidal wave. Actually, holding it in was the better choice of prepositions.

He heard footsteps in the hallway, and they were heading toward him. The steps sounded very quick, like someone running.

There was a second snake now, curling into the lower back brain. He could feel the widened fangs release something forceful, milky, and tingling. That’s when he heard his mother’s sudden loud gasp from the living room, followed by her shouting to an otherwise empty room, “My Lord in heaven… no… no!”

He knew something was wrong. He had never heard his mother speak with anywhere near that volume and urgency. His brain and instincts, however, were currently overwhelmed by an inexorable sensation and expectation. In short, his cock, straining farther and farther out of the wrapper, had taken charge. Nothing short of gunshots would snap him out of it. Nothing would unlock his gaze from Barbra, nothing would undermine the timing of his stroke. More milk from the snake’s fangs blasting against his frontal lobe, and there was now a clear, sticky substance clinging to the opening of his cock. It was the precursor of the abundant load to follow. He had almost forgotten Marco mentioning it in his discourse. He had reached pre-cum. The time was near.

He heard footsteps in the hallway, and they were heading toward him. The steps sounded very quick, like someone running. His mother never ran. Never had Billy seen his mother run. Still, he could tell it was her… not only by the simple fact that there was no one else in the apartment, but by the clomping of her house-worn mukluks. In any other state of mind, Billy would have done something about his prescient feelings, but he just froze in place. A blue haze enveloped his mind, the violent maroon shade of blue like the sky before a typhoon.

The bathroom door flew open. The frail hook-and-eye lock offered no resistance whatsoever against her mounting acceleration. With wild eyes, Billy’s mother proclaimed in a breathless rasping voice, “The president was shot. John Kennedy is dead. He was riding in a car in —” She broke off the bulletin there, and finally focused down on her son, sitting illicitly on the toilet. All Billy could think at that moment was why he didn’t let the veal drop into the water below. Instead, the milk-fed meat remained where it was, as did everything else. Frozen, with parted lips, the veal around his tumescent adolescent cock, his hand still gripping both, and the magazine opened to the bikini shot of the new darling of the Broadway stage.

This story first appeared on NERVE in 2010.