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Tucson Weekly Condom Nation

Go ahead and give the kids some rubbers -- it doesn't mean they're gonna get laid.

By Jeff Smith

APRIL 27, 1998:  FROM THE LAND of the avocado and the kiwi fruit comes the stunning disclosure that condom giveaways in public high schools do not lead to higher incidence of teenage sex, but to the greater use of protection during those incidents which more or less inevitably do occur.

This conclusion was reached only after considerable expense in time, grant money, and the sort of metaphysical cerebration over matters that, while they might appear bonehead simple to the rest of us, Californians have made into their own special province. And of course it was not arrived at without controversy and contra-conclusion, some of which continues even as we speak. Remember: for every New Age left-wing fruit and nut in the Golden State, there's a Republican reactionary on a golf course in Orange County plotting to send Ronald Reagan to a taxidermist and then run him for president again.

It was the latter, of course, who argued that providing public school kids with rubbers would only encourage them to lock loins more frequently than they now are presumed to do. This actuarial rate is believed by these same socio-political troglodytes to be on the order of thrice weekly per-capita, and the cause of social ills ranging from liberalism to secular humanism to baby ranching for fun and profit by fourth-generation unwed welfare mothers. And in the other corner, in the beige trunks with the taupe stripes, your white, California liberal, whose answer to every question, asked or un, is let's appoint a committee to study the issue, then form a citizens advisory commission to see that all demographics, political sensitivities and spiritual doctrines are represented on the committee, and ultimately write a report documenting the findings of the committee's deliberations that offends no one. Oh, and don't neglect to alert the media.

As a member of these media, I would like to synthesize for my readers what took CNN 30 seconds of precious TV news time:

Having a rubber in your wallet--even a taxpayer-subsidized rubber--doesn't mean you're going to get laid.

I could have told you this 37 years ago, for 50 cents, in a New York minute.

Thirty-seven years ago I was 15, looking forward to being 15 and seven months so I could drive a car with my Mom or Dad along to shout warnings at me, so I could get my real license five months later and drive to Blakely's Service Station on Speedway, mosey inconspicuously into the men's room and buy a four-bit rubber from one of those padlocked vending machines, and try to use it on Donna Harris (not her real name).

Thirty-five years ago I took that two-year-old rubber out of my wallet, examined its cracked and dried-out foil wrapping, its mummified calimari condition, and realized I was never going to get to put it to its intended use--nor for that matter for prevention of disease only--and that I'd better get rid of it. I couldn't toss it into the waste basket in my bedroom because Mom would find it and I'd be grounded for life, so I stuck it in the back of my sock drawer until I could devise a safe scheme for disposal.

And forgot it, as whimsical Fate has arranged it, then, now and forever, so next Monday when the laundry came in off the line and Mom put my clean socks away, she found it and confronted me--with hurt in her eyes and sadness in her voice--that evening after supper.

"Jeff, I found a condom in your dresser drawer," she said. I did not panic. I did not do white to the heels. I did not get that loose-boweled, coppery-taste-in-the-mouth sick fear of a kid who knows he's been busted big-time.

I did not know what she was talking about.

Condom? My mind raced over an inventory of things that can be found in dresser drawers: Levi's, t-shirts, uns, socks.... Socks. Sock drawer. Oh shit. Now I remember: condom is what old people call rubbers. I'm dead.

I was humiliated, contrite, sick to my stomach, but I was not dead. Yet. Nor was I laid--with that condom or any other--until many years later, under circumstances I cannot accurately remember (and would never stoop to fabricating) except to report that I didn't care for the overall effect. Which could be equated to a local anesthetic.

I share my deeply personal experiences with you because that's my job, as writer and commentator, and because this was a Gail Sheehy sort of Passage of the genre that is universal and eternal. We old bastards are too often given to bitching that the world is changing too fast, has spun out of control, that today's youth have no respect or morals and are humping like hares in heat.

Friends, it just ain't so. The world pretty much stays the same--within a narrow range of yins and yangs--and obeys the immutable Law of Average. High-school boys down through the ages would hit on a snake, if only they could work up the nerve, and wind up with the blueballs, reading Playboy with their pants around their ankles. High-school girls down through the ages do their part to see that most boys are frustrated and unfruitful until they approach their peak earning years.

This is the way the world works. Even today. Most of the time. Despite everything you see on TV.

The notion that access to condoms, or raincoats, or rubbers, or whatever, improves a kid's chances of getting lucky is ludicrous. Every red-blooded American boy who ever drew breath only wishes it were that simple.

The truly miraculous thing is that among those teenagers who have occasion to need a condom, a statistically significant larger percentage actually is using them. Could this be the harbinger of a pendulum swing back from the hell-in-a-handcart apocalypse of modern life, to a renaissance of the safe, sensible good old days?

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