Bennie and the Jets -- my favorite song! -- came on while I was playing Truth or Dare with the J twins, Brett and Brent Johansson. It was Saturday night, and I was sleeping over in the basement rec room at their house in North Salt Lake. When I turned up the volume Brett pinched out his T-shirt to make boobies. How can you rock, he sang in a weird, high voice, if you aint seen it yet?
Its Say, Candie and Ronnie, have you seen them yet? I explained (I know all the words), and thats not a girl singing. Thats Elton.
Well, said Brent, he has a girl voice.
No, he doesnt.
You have a girl voice, Brett told me.
I hear hes a pre-vert, said Brent. Like you, Todd. Then both twins snickered. I just ignored them. Theyre always saying dumb junk like that.
Eltons not a pervert. Hes from England. His real names Reginald Dwight and he lives in an all-white mansion. Ive read about him in magazines. His Greatest Hits albums propped up on my dresser like a painting on an easel. I can see it even when Im in bed. On the cover theres a picture of him sitting on his piano bench in a white suit, a white hat, pink sunglasses, and a bow tie. A figurine of a boy is pinned to his jacket. The boys looking down like hes shy, or sad. Eltons legs are apart, and right where his pants bunch up at his crotch theres a bulge. I can almost see his dink.
Hey, I said, Ill bet you each an Almond Joy that 'Bennie' will be number 1 tomorrow on American Top 40. Its the best. Just last week I tried three different times to play those huge chords Elton plays in it, but my hands are too small. Dad likes to hear me try, though. He likes to listen to me do Prelude in A by Chopin, too.
No way, said Brett. Band on the Run is gonna win.
Brent said Billy, Dont Be a Hero would.
Its a bet.
Your turn, Todd. Truth or Dare?
Ill take Truth, I said. On my first turn Id chosen Dare. They made me go upstairs and sing part of Bennie and the Jets for Bishop Johansson, their dad. He just looked up from the church book he was reading and said, Sounds like a lady! Then on my second turn I chose Truth, and they asked me what my favorite thing to do when Im home alone is. I told them I go into the bathroom I share with my big sisters, shut the door till it clicks (it doesnt lockDad says he doesnt believe in locks), and make a batch. Thats a cup of Tammis baby powder mixed with half a cup of Donnas rose-petal lotion. I dump the ingredients into the tub and stir them together with my fingers until they make a gooey dough. Then I break up the dough, pat the pieces into a dozen pink cookies, and frost them with lilac air freshener sprayed so close it foams. Its fun. I bet Elton does stuff like that when hes alone in his mansion.
OK, said Brett. Truth: Tell us a secret about yourself that nobody knows, not even your parents.
Something my parents dont know? I wondered. Now that the twins knew about my batches, I didnt have anything else to say. I sure couldnt tell them what Id tried to do to the Avon bottle. Mom buys this Avon bubble bath. It comes in a pink plastic bottle thats all ripply, like the model of the large intestine at my doctors office. I like playing with the suds when I bathe. I scoop up a handful and pretend its a hamster. (Dad wont let us have real animals in the house.) I pet it, then blow hard and watch it go splat against the wall. Last Sunday I tried to put my dink in that bottle, but the hole was too small and the edges scratched my skin.
Thats not fair! I pleaded. I tell my parents everything.
Yeah, Brent agreed, let him tell something his parents know, as long as no one else does.
Oh, alright, Brett said, but he didnt look too happy.
I could only think of one thing to say: Im not circumcised. Dad doesnt believe in that, either -- they dont circumcise boys on the ranch where he was born. He says I have to stretch the skin back every day or it might grow together and close off the tip. Then Id have to have an operation to go to the bathroom. Dad checks up on me sometimes when Im bathing. I tell him I skin it back every day, but I never do. The encyclopedia says boys dont get circumcised in places like England, and they dont have to have operations to go to the bathroom.
OK, you guys. Ill tell. But you have to swear on The Book of Mormon you wont spread it around.
What is it? they asked together.
Im not circumcised.
Huh? asked Brett. He looked angry.
Im not circumcised, I said again, slower.
Brett looked over at Brent. Whats that mean?
Oh, cmon, Brett. You know. He says his woody has a hoody.
His woody has a hoody -- ha! They both roared.
I dont have a woo- I started to say.
Brent pointed at the front of my pants. I dont believe you, he said. Prove it.
Yeah, said Brett. Whip it out.
No way, I said. You guys know thats against the Church.
OK, then, Brett said. Dont show us. Who cares, anyway?
He looked over at Brent like he had some big idea, then back at me. Hey, Todd, he said, wait here a minute while Brent and me get some ice cream. Then well come back down and make root beer floats. Brett grabbed his brother by the arm, and they ran upstairs.
In the middle of the room were three giant beanbag chairspolka-dotin red, yellow, and blue. I laid down on each one for a sec to see which one I liked best: yellow. It felt warm, like suns shining under me. I could see Bishop Js fishing trophies and elk heads mounted on one wall, and on another, a big wooden bar with pumps that served all the free A&W, Sprite, and Grape Crush a boy could ever want. I could hear the twins above me, chatting up a storm with their dad. Then all three of them stomped down the stairs, Bishop J right behind his sons, only none of them had any ice cream. I jumped to my feet. The twins giggled.
Bishop J was wearing the dark shiny suit he wears when he presides over our congregation at Sacrament Meeting. He was shaking his head like he was mad about something Id done. Whats the matter, boy? he asked me. Wasnt you born in America?
I stared at the floor. A daddy longlegs was crawling over something stickyI think it was a half-eaten all-day suckerin the thick orange carpet. I wanted to tell the Bishop what Id read in the encyclopedia, but I just said, Sure I was.
Something wrong with your pa, then?
No, sir. I promised myself I would never play Truth or Dare again, at least not with the J twins. Then I squashed that spider right under my left Ked.
American Top 40 blasted out of my sisters room across the hall. I was taking my bath like my parents make me do every Sunday morning before church. It was almost time for Casey Kasem to announce number 1, and I could hardly wait to see if Id won the bet with the J twins. Then Dad barged in to check on me. The door clicked shut behind him.
Jack, he said. He always calls me Jack instead of Todd. I dont know why.
Hows your bath?
And at the number 3 spot, up four from last week, Billy, Dont Be a Hero. One of my sisters must have turned up the volume.
Dad walked over to the tub. Listening to your radio show?
Hows your pee-pee part looking?
Still skinning it back every day?
Then lets see. I pushed my middle up so it was sticking out of the water an inch or two. It was still covered in suds. You know I cant see it like that. Get up and face me.
I stood up and turned to him. It was cold standing there all wet. I wiped the bubbles off me.
Now skin it back, Jack, so I can see it.
I said it was fine.
Are you taking a tone with me, little man?
Then do it.
Up ten spots this week to number 2, Band on the Run, by Paul McCartney and Wings. The music got louder.
I pulled the skin back. It felt weird. Stripped. I let go of it and the skin moved part-way over the tip.
All the way back.
I pulled it back again, and this time I held it there. Dad leaned in close, like my doctor at a checkup. He stared at it, like something was wrong with it. I twisted it around once in each direction until hed seen all of it. Then he took hold of it. His thumb and fingers felt rough on it. He pulled the skin back even more. It hurt like when I forget to put on Chapstick in the winter and my lips get cracked.
Thats not supposed to hurt. Are you taking care of it like I showed you?
Yes! Its justthat was too hard.
Dad sighed and rolled his eyes as he let go of it. Then he unbuckled his belt and unzipped his cords.
Look, he said.
The radio got louder. Ladies and gentlemen, Billboard Magazines Number 1 single
He pulled his out. This is how its supposed to look, son.
Bennie and the Jets, by Elton John. It was hanging out of his pants. The tip looked like a closed-up rose.
Here, Dad said. I heard those big piano chords start up, and then Elton singing. Hey kids, shake it loose together Here, Dad said again. He reached over, took my hand, and put it on it. The spotlights hitting something thats been known to change the weather It felt like a hot dog, the kind Mom puts on a bun with mustard and wraps in foil and heats in the oven so when it comes out its warm all the way through, not like when you get one at a ball game and even if the dogs warm the buns all cold and dry. Youre gonna hear electric music, solid walls of sound Skin it back, Jack. I did. The rose opened up like in one of those science shows with sped-up photography. Say, Candie and Ronnie have you seen them yet? The tip looked glisten-y, like a gum drop, the big kind of gum drop, the kind thats so huge its hard to get all of it in your mouth at once, Oh, but theyre so spaced out and if you do get it in your mouth it kind of gets stuck in there, you cant really chew, you just have to keep it in there while your mouth fills up with spit, B- B- B- Bennie and the Jetssssss and the sugar coating scratches your tongue, the kind of gum drop that if someone gave it to you for Halloween -- just dropped it right in your trick-or-treat bag -- thatd be gross and you wouldnt want to eat it, Oh, but theyre weird and theyre wonderful but if it came out of a plastic bag and, say, only your mom had touched it when she handed it to you, well, thatd probably be OK, Oh, Bennie shes really keen and while its in your mouth the only thing you know for sure, the one thing you keep thinking over and over is, This wont last forever, shes got electric boots, this cant last forever, a mohair suit, itll soften up and youll be able to chew it and your mouth will fill up with good flavors, you know, I read it in a magazine, like purple-y grape, oh-oooh! red berry, black licorice orange B- B- B- smaller B- B- B- softer until its B- B- B-
Dad had already zipped up and was buckling his belt. Remember, he said, skin it back every day. Now finish your bath, Jack.
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: Billboard Magazines Number 1 single, April 13, 1974. The bathroom door clicks when you shut it, even if you cant lock it. Im Casey Kasem, and this has been American Top 40.
I got back in the tub. The bubbles looked melty, scummy, on top of the cold water, and I was thinking, I won. I won the bet with Brett and Brent Johansson and now they owe me an Almond Joy, two Almond Joys, one from each, and some day soon, I was thinking, Ill trade those Almond Joys in for a ticket to England, and Ill go there and live in an all-white mansion with locks on every door, and I wont have to take baths and go to church on Sunday, and all day long Ill make batches and wear white suits and hats, and Ill sit down at a grand piano and sing out loud in a high weird voice for everyone to hear, Ill play those giant chords from Bennie and the Jets, just bang and bang and pound those chords out like Elton does, I was thinking, and Ill play even better than him.