During my junior year at Rocky High (1976-77), most guys were obsessed with demonstrating that they were not Swishes (our word for "gay"). The best way was to become a Rock (jock), or be seen in public with one -- they hated men with muscles.
I wasn't on a team -- being an athletic trainer didn't count -- so I had no choice but the only other option: date a Rock.
But most Rocks were very busy, having sex with eight or nine girls in various combinations every night, so they had little time or energy left for boys.
One day in November, a few weeks after my date with Todd's girlfriend, I was running around the indoor track, when I saw the preacher's son Verne (not his real name) playing one-on-one basketball in the gym be-low. Verne was a senior, so our paths rarely intersected. At school, I saw him only in the locker room after football practice, when he was anxious to get to the showers.
At church, he was always encased in a shell of fawning groupies. Practically our only contact came a couple of months ago, when I helped him Pray Through to Victory at an altar call.
As I ran, Verne finished his game. He guzzled Gatorade from a plastic bottle, then ripped off his t-shirt and collapsed, shimmering with sweat, onto the lap of a girl. He was hugely tall, with broad shoulders, hard thick biceps, short dark hair, and dark blue, almost purple eyes. And he was a Nazarene -- no sex allowed! He would be perfect.
It took a week for me to bolster my courage enough to call. Even then, I dialed and hung up three times. When Verne came on the line, I said, “There’s a gospel concert on Saturday. Um. . .if you’re not, like, busy or anything. . .would you like to go?”
Verne burst into raucous laughter.
“Sorry to bother you,” I said stiffly, my face burning with humiliation.
“No – it’s ok, sorry,” Verne said. “It was just funny the way you asked. I’m busy Saturday, but what about the basketball game Friday? You can do more touching at a game, anyway. I’ll get us a couple of girls.”
I spent the rest of the evening exuberantly calling all of my friends, and wondering why do we need girls?
We had a lot to talk about. Verne was taking AP Spanish and French; if it hadn't been God’s Will for him to become a preacher, he would have become a linguist.
When we dropped off Verne’s girl, he walked her to her doorstep “for safety,” but returned almost immediately, complaining that her father had left the porch light on.
My girl came next; her porch light was dark.
When I returned to the car, Verne asked “Did you get any?”'
I assumed that he meant kissing, so I said “Sure. Lots.” I had kissed her on the cheek.
During the winter and spring of eleventh grade, we went to a a jazz concert, the spring musical, an orchestra banquet, two basketball games, a baseball game, hiking, jogging, tennis, and swimming. That was more enough for us to be “going together,” though no one at Rocky High seemed to notice, referring to us only as buddies.
Dating Verne summarily ended any suspicion that I was That Way. Even at church, people spoke to me in a civil tone. It also ended pressure by my Crowd to date girls -- apparently Vikings were dreamy enough.
Maybe that's why he always insisted on girls for evening dates. He usually provided them, but twice I brought Becky, my Just Friend, and once I acquired my own, by casually saying: “Oh, and Verne will be there, too.”
At some point Verne always disappeared with his girl for ten or fifteen minutes, and on the way home he had the annoying habit of asking “Did you get any?” But these complaints were trivial; I was dating a Rock!
In May we spent a weekend camping with his friends at Starved Rock State Park at Starved Rock State Park, about 100 miles from Rock Island. Though we shared a tent, I avoided any repeat of the scapular incident. I didn't want to discover that Verne was one of these guys who drops you the moment things get physical. But I did see a few things.