Playgirl magazine is conducting a nationwide search for the man of their dreams; and what they're looking for is not a prominently-developed thigh, or a prominently-developed anything else, as you might expect, but rather the quality of "vulnerability," which the world is rating mighty high these days. Now I don't know much about Playgirl magazine, but I know my share about vulnerability. And I have never known anyone with a choice of being vulnerable or invulnerable, who would choose the former.
The most invulnerable person I ever knew was a boy named Anthony, and though it turned out he was less invulnerable than he originally appeared, I still always think of him as Achilles before Paris. He was 12 at the time I was 12, though to compare us would have been laughable, with Anthony doing the laughing. I was an ordinary blank-faced 12-year-old. Anthony, on the other hand, looked like the gangster, Dutch Schultz -- not as Dutch might have looked as a 12-year-old, but rather as he looked before the grand jury.
Also, Anthony walked like a gangster, and he had two henchboys, like a gangster. And if you were a kid in my neighborhood, you would have taken him for a gangster, which was the wise way to take him. A psychologist might say Anthony sought the respect of his peers. This he achieved by beating up his peers, among whom my friends and I were warmly included, as often as possible, and then giggling like Richard Widmark.
I ought to explain thatI lived in a rich neighborhood called Gramercy Park, and Anthony did not. Nor did Anhony like my neighborhood, on the outskirts of which he and his friends waited eagerly for me and mine. Anthony lived on 18th and Third, where I used to play stickball in pre-Anthony days. Anthony was not interested in stickball, except insofar as the stick and ball might be shoved in your eye. So, eventually, my friends and I kept to our own neck of the woods, praying that Anthony might soon be drafted or crushed by a bus.
But Gramercy Park, while a nice niche for babies, was kind of a well-groomed Alcatraz for big kids; and we were often bored. So one day of boredom, we decided to leave our sanctuary, and pitch a tent in a vacant lot on 23rd Street. the lot was perfect -- packed with brick chips and coke bottles, and it promised paradise. Until, of course, Anthony sauntered by seeking to join the fun, and started throwing bricks at our tent, and at our heads which were inside it.
I remember that morning well, for on it I committed a treachery that haunts me yet. As soon as Anthony entered the scene, I knew we were in for devastation, but instead of fighting along side my comrades, I immediately volunteered to run and get one of our parents. I was running long before I'd thought of volunteering -- that's how vulnerable I was -- and while I did in fact fetch a terrifed Mrs. Morris to the holocaust,and was generally regarded as cool-headed, if not genuinely heroic, the plain and humiliating truth of my cowardice was emblazoned on my heart.
It was shortly afterwards I decided I must do something about Anthony, and about my vulnerability as well, since both were related. And so I sent away for a set of muscle-building springs to enlarge my arms and my courage. The springs worked, at least to the extent of giving me an excuse to stare at myself in the mirror. Then came the summer, with some substantial growth in height. And by the fall, when I returned to Gramercy Park from summer camp -- itself like Parris Island -- I felt I might be able to take on the world; and if I won, then Anthony.
When I announced this to my father, he said "I see," meaning that I was wrong again. My father was a calm and dignified doctor who had been on the boxing team at City College. While he said he was impressed by my new height and muscles, he nevertheless suggested politely that they would not help me lick Anthony. To lick Anthony, said my father, you must punch him straight in the nose, without stalling or thinking, and you must punch him first.
Now body-building was one thing, but real punching was quite another. and it had never occurred to me that I would actually have to hit Anthony. Hit Anthony? I don't think I had ever really hit anyone before, except my brother, which didn't count. And the idea of hitting Anthony was so paralyzing, I thought to change my plans on the spot, and revert to my vulnerability.
The nice thing about Anthony, however, is that he never changed. And no sooner had my father told me what to do, than out on the street I met Anthony, his delightful troupe, and his girl friend, Ruthie, who looked like Rita Hayworth after a mugging. "Hey Faggie," Anthony greeted me after our long separation. "I want you should fight my girl." At which all the henchboys giggled like Richard Widmark, and Ruthie -- now probably an editor at Playgirl -- put up her duchesses. I knew this was a crossroads. And not thinking, as my father had advised, and quivering wherever it is possible to quiver, I strode up to Anthony, and punched him in the nose.
Whereupon he yelped. Whereupon he never bothered me again. Whereupon I learned:
If you want to be a playmate, vulnerability is fine. But to live in the neighborhood, you have to face Anthony. you have to face Anthony. you have to face Anthony.