The first time I ever saw a condom dispensing machine, I was eighteen years old. It was in the bathroom of the Villa, in Niceville, Florida, a now defunct bar. The drinking age in Florida in those days was eighteen.
It had never occurred to me in my life to buy a condom. At that age, I’d scarcely been a situation that called for them. Coming face to face with a condom dispenser, I considered doing so. Upon reflection, it seemed to me that buying condoms in the filthy men’s room of the town dive probably said something about the quality of the experience I would be likely to have using said condom.
But I bought one anyway. Rites of passage, you know.
I placed it in my wallet and returned to the group of friends I had come in there with. The condom didn’t get used that night, nor, so far as I can remember, did it ever. I wasn’t exactly unpopular with girls at that age, nor was I particularly popular. In the year or so that followed this, I probably dated something like twenty-five different young women. None of those relationships ever got to the condom using stage. They just — didn’t.
I made a group of seven male friends starting in 7th and 8th grade that have stayed my closest friends now for something like 40 years. Three of them were with me the night I bought my first condom, and the same three (plus one) were with me at the Villa four years later when I actually picked up someone up at that bar.
I had graduated and was working back in the old hometown; the rest were back visiting family during Christmas vacation. We decided one Friday night to meet out at the Villa; one of the friends had the (good) idea to call some women we had known from school to meet us out there.
One of those women was a very good friend of my old high school girlfriend. She was a very intelligent young woman, but not someone I had every known all that well. As we sat and drank, and talked, and laughed, I noticed how funny and likable she was; when we were dancing, it really struck me just how much fun she was to be with.
At some point, (we were there a long time, and I wasn’t wearing a watch) we were no longer talking to anyone but each other. We also both had quite a bit to drink. We went out to my car, and —
— well, I couldn’t have used the condom then, either, if I’d still had it. But other things happened, things that men rarely complain about when they happen.
Eventually, she decided she needed to get back home. The bar (which stayed open until very very late) was still going strong when she got into her car and pulled out, me right behind her. When she turned, she turned the opposite way from what I was expecting, because (it turned out) she was going the back way to her parents’ house, a way I wasn’t familiar with. But I was puzzled by it just long enough to pull out without looking.
I had pulled right out into a car as it drove by. It smashed into the side of my car, knocking it off the road and into a telephone pole.
I got out of the car (I was either okay or too drunk to notice I was hurt) and immediately started apologizing to the woman in the car. Neither she nor her vehicle seemed damaged in any way. Someone in the parking lot of the bar had headed back in and called the police. An officer showed up about three minutes later.
I admitted it was all my fault; the officer got her information, then mine, then she left, then he was about to administer a breathalyzer to me when five more police cars suddenly came zipping down the street, flashers flashing, pulling into the Villa. The officer who had been dealing with me said, “Wait here,” then dashed across the street.
I stood there for what seemed like hours next to my pitiful, smashed up car (which still ran, surprisingly) while the police attempted to break up a giant bar fight that had broken out. Ten people (by my count) got arrested and herded into cars. Then, after a long while, the original officer came back, and said, “I can’t believe you’re still here.”
“You told me to wait.”
“Well, it’s been too long for a breathalyzer.” He handed me a citation for pulling out into traffic, and left. I drove my beat-up car the four blocks home.
The next afternoon, my roommate (who had been one of the friends with me the night before, but who’d left early) asked how things had gone. I told him about my car wreck, and the riot that had broken out at the bar, but he seemed impatient and uninterested. “I mean with you and HER.”
“Oh, that. She is fun.”
“Are you going to see her again? Call her?”
I hadn’t even considered that. He continued on:
“Her friends were really excited you two seemed to be hitting it off. She’s never apparently had a boyfriend, or so much as a date.”
“That’s what they said. I told Sandra I’d let her know your side of the story. I just had lunch with her. She says she’s never seen Margaret so happy.”
Uh, oh. Um. Fuck.
I called her, telling her I needed to talk to her about something. I drove over to her parents’ house (using the only route I knew) and she met me at the door. We walked around back to a kind of covered garden area.
“You have a girlfriend, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Where was she last night?”
“She goes to school in Mobile.”
“So you just thought you’d have a little fun.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. Look, I wouldn’t even have come here, except I felt like I owed you…”
“Owed me what?”
“I don’t need your pity.”
“No, it’s just that I — I really like you.”
“Yeah, well. Fuck off.”
She wasn’t crying. She was angry. I got back in my smashed up car, pulled out, and drove home.
“So what happened?” my roommate asked as I walked back in.
“Nothing. I told her about Annette.”
“You just made a big mistake, boy. I’ve never seen you as happy with Annette as you were last night with Margaret.”
Mistakes: the true rites of passage.