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The Vast Difference

If you were reading this introduction in a literary journal, it might say something like Barry Gifford is a singular, prolific force in American letters
September 19, 2011, 11:55pm

Wild at Heart and coscreenwriter of David Lynch's Lost Highway, Barry Gifford is a singular, prolific force in American letters—one who is well known and widely read in Europe but criminally underappreciated in his homeland." But since we're reasonable folks who enjoy buffalo wings and would rather have a lifetime supply of aloe-infused toilet paper than a stack of MFAs, we'll just say that Barry is one of our favorites and you should buy all of his books. PS: Barry randomly sent us the drawings that accompany this story because he's good like that. My Uncle Laszlo told me sex controls a man," Harvey Orszag said, "a man can't control it." Roy was walking to school with Orszag and another kid, Demetrious Atlas, who had recently moved to Chicago from New York City. Atlas talked a lot and was not shy about expressing his opinions even though he was new in the neighborhood. Roy had heard that was how people behaved in New York, that they weren't afraid to chime in whenever they felt like it. Atlas was thirteen, a year older than Roy and Harvey; he was supposed to be in the eighth grade but was being made to repeat seventh grade because the Chicago school system was different from the one in New York. "Yeah," said Demetrious Atlas, "a man's sex comes from the vast difference. We learned about it in Personal Hygiene at Brother Ray, the junior high I went to in the Bronx. The school's name used to be Daniel Boone but because of civil rights or somethin' it got renamed after Ray Charles the year before I got there." Atlas was shorter than both Harvey and Roy but he was wider and heavier. He said his father had once been a professional wrestler who was called Tiny Atlas, the Little Man Who Can Lift the World. "What's the vast difference?" Roy asked. "Vast means big, don't it?" said Harvey. "It's the tube goes from a man's balls carries the juice. A guy gets a boner and shoots a girl the goods. Didn't you learn about it already?" "They don't teach Personal Hygiene in Chicago," said Orszag. "I get a boner every morning at ten o'clock," Atlas told them. "I can set my watch by it." It was the kind of day Roy almost did not mind going to school. The sky was dark gray so he figured there was rain in it but there were no drops falling yet. Sometimes he could see faces in the clouds but today, even though it was the beginning of May, there weren't even wrinkles in them. Roy and the other students took their seats in the classroom just as the bell rang but Mrs. Barbarossa was not there. Mrs. Barbarossa was a heavyset, middleaged woman who wore thick glasses with frames like television sets and an orange wig. The students knew it was a wig because often when Mrs. Barbarossa returned to the room after a bathroom break her hair was on crooked. Once, the wig was even on backwards. and Mrs. Barbarossa had to keep pushing the orange hair out of her eyes. Finally she excused herself and presumably went back to the teachers' bathroom and readjusted the wig because when she returned it was on straight. Mrs. Barbarossa claimed that her husband, Barney Barbarossa, the Kitchen King, who appeared in commercials for his kitchen appliance store during the Midnight Movie on local television, was a descendant of an Algerian pirate from the 15th or 16th century, only she didn't call him a pirate, she called him a corsair, which is how Roy learned that word. After a couple of minutes the door opened and a young woman walked in, closed the door behind her, and set down the books and papers she was carrying on Mrs. Barbarossa's desk. She stood still for a few moments, looking over the students before she spoke. Roy stared hard at her. She was probably the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, with wavy black hair that fell to her shoulders, unblemished tan skin, large brown eyes and full red lips with sparkling white teeth under them that gleamed like a beam from a ray gun when she opened her mouth. "Good morning, students," she said. "Or, as they say in my native country of Mexico, buenos dias. Mrs. Barbarossa is ill today so I will be substituting for her. My name is Señorita Rita Gomez, or Miss Gomez, if you prefer." She turned around and wrote the name Miss Gomez with chalk on the blackboard behind the desk. Miss Gomez was slim and not very tall but Roy thought she was perfect. When she turned back around and began to speak, Roy could not hear what she was saying, especially once he noticed that she was wearing a sleeveless white blouse that permitted tufts of puffy black hair to protrude from her armpits. Roy had never seen hair exploding from underneath a woman's arms like this before. He looked over at Demetrious Atlas, whose eyes were glued to the coffee-colored substitute teacher. It was not yet ten o'clock but Roy guessed that like himself and most of the other boys in the room Atlas had a boner already. By the time school ended that day, Roy was exhausted. He was tired even though he had done nothing other than study Miss Gomez. Her every movement mesmerized him and walking to his house he felt as if he were in a kind of trance. Even her voice captivated him; instead of speaking it sounded to Roy as if she were singing like Julie London only with a Spanish accent. When Roy got home his grandfather, whom he called Pops, was sitting in an armchair in the livingroom reading the afternoon newspaper. "Hello, boy," Pops said, "did you have a good day at school?" "Mrs. Barbarossa was out sick. We had a substitute so we didn't have to do much. Her name was Rita Gomez and she's from Mexico." Roy sat down on the sofa. He could see that Pops had the newspaper folded open to the sports section. "If you want something to eat, Roy, there's ham and Swiss in the refrigerator." "Pops, have you ever heard of the vast difference? A kid who moved here from New York says every guy's got one. It has something to do with sex." "He must mean the vas deferens. It's a duct that carries sperm from a man's testicles into his penis in order to impregnate a woman." "Can a man control it? Harvey Orszag's Uncle Laszlo says you can't." "Well, Roy, that's a good question. I don't know how much Harvey Orszag's Uncle Laszlo knows about biology but I suppose the answer is that some men are better at controlling it than others." "Señorita Gomez is from Mexico," Roy said. "She's very pretty and she doesn't shave the hair under her arms." "There are a lot of pretty girls in Mexico," said Pops. Roy imagined Rita Gomez standing in front of him in the livingroom. "I think I'd like to go there," he said.