Dick Cavett on his career in show business, and more.
You made me laugh. You, the reader who wrote that, on the subject of sex before marriage, your mother asked your father the farthest he had gone with his before-marriage girlfriend. “Poughkeepsie,” he replied.
My last column inspired a remarkable number of thoughtful replies. I wish I had space and time to deal with all of them.
The college I wrote about that posted information and advice on sex at school is, I learn, hardly unique. And many readers wonder what took so long. If only we had had that as a theme.
Only a handful could be considered shocked or disapproving of the practice. Many worried about the possibly lost distinction between sex and true affection.
I am always shocked that there are still a handful of defenders of the dubious practice of abstinence, surely the worst idea since chocolate-covered ants.
Undoubtedly this practice urged on the young combined with forbidding them contraception has accounted for a hefty portion of the income of the baby-shower industry.
Abstinence. What sex-drive-free human specimens dreamed this one up? Were, or are, they utter strangers to the turmoil of the storming erotic drives of the young? And, as several fortunate readers attest, some lucky members of the old?
If there is an Abstinence League, my image of its leader comes from William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”: “Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.”
Remember when the “one true church” was heavily promoting the “rhythm method” of pseudo-contraception? Of course the jokes came thick and fast about inability to keep a beat, etc. I wonder what wit first labeled the fiasco “Vatican roulette.” A daredevil version, it proved to be, of roulette with about four chambers loaded.
I liked the reader who admitted quite frankly that, yes, she did think additional sex experience would have been a good thing in her case, probably producing a more successful marriage.
Several people referred, or at least alluded, to the danger of a wrecked school life and education from an unwanted pregnancy.
No small concern. More so in my day, when detailed knowledge of the traps and pitfalls of the loins was often sparse.
I received zero sex knowledge at home. Had my mother lived, I might well have, but my dad merely worried that I was going to impregnate someone in high school. But no advice.
Considering the thinness of my sexual activity at the time, the odds against the calamity that haunted A. B. Cavett were somewhere below zero. I wouldn’t be surprised, such was the extent of my dad’s concern, to learn that he might have had some such related experience himself.
In college, where the odds favoring inadvertent calamity at least climbed to just above the freezing point, I can still recall a stabbing and chilling moment of angst, fear and trembling.
The previous night had included a rare episode of pneumatic bliss, properly conducted, safety-factor-wise.
The next day, as chance would have it, Fate, or one of my roommates, placed in my hands one of those pamphlets for boys. It at least felt as if my hair stood up at reading the icy words: “Be careful not to touch the end of your penis to the wrong side of the condom, then turn it over and…”
It went on to make it clear that the not inconsiderable frequency of this inadvertent “transfer” mishap could account, accidentally, for an addition to the population.
At that, the black and white tile floor of the dorm bathroom where I was standing seemed to zoom up at me as in an early film-noir special effect.
Had I done that? Had I wrecked my life? Cold sweat.
Was there a preacher in my immediate future? Would I be on a train back to Nebraska? Would I be home, saying, “Hi, folks. Meet Janie”?
For a good time thereafter, sleep was fitful and sometimes impossible without a mild sleeping potion and a page-or-two dose of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene.”
Why tell this? As an argument for sex education? Surely no one with a measurable I.Q. is still against that, although, in fact, you can still hear folks with but 10 watts upstairs say, “Why put ideas in kids’ heads?”
My wondering about whether more sex in school, in my part of The Old Days, would have made me a better person seemed to divide the audience.
I was assured it would have and that it emphatically would not. I suppose all we can say here is, how will we ever know?
Some readers made the distinction of how different things always are for boys and girls. A female reader, disputing assumptions about the time, wrote of the incredible pressure “in the 60s even” for girls to “keep your knickers on” or be looked down on by female classmates. But that now, she says, the pressure is to “lighten up, get with it.” To shuck ’em down.
She feels the school’s enlightened document I quoted is spot on.
Some urged that doleful term “waiting,” maintaining that “character” is built by biting the bullet and waiting.
The great Marlene Dietrich told me that in her German childhood upbringing, she was commanded to go without a drink of water when thirsty “to build character.” Did it? I asked. “Not one brick’s worth of character was built. It probably injured my kidneys.”
One reader, Joe of Brooklyn, touchingly wonders if, as a schoolkid, that certain gorgeous dream of a teacher ever fancied him, envying those 15-year-old students these days taken “twixt the sheets by a comely and passionate high school teacher.” (Who subsequently does time.)
Poor Joe has never gotten over it. He thinks in today’s atmosphere, the “it” he longed for just might have happened. She was 33 then — she would be 92 now — and “she is still more enticing than any woman I have ever encountered.”
Joe says every man he tells this to has a similar school days story and longing. I know I do. Would we have been better off? Anyway, Joe, you have at least a sitcom episode here, if not the core of a feature.
Glad that so many writers liked the column and applauded the school’s efforts, warnings and advice about that old devil, sex. Many wish they’d had it. Such a document I mean, of course.
(A few practical souls pointed out that it is also greatly in the school’s legal interests to able to say to thundering parents, “We told them.”)
Predictably, I guess, I was taken to task (what in hell does that really mean?) by some readers for committing humor within such a topic. This always puzzles. The old, “There is no place for humor here.”
You have it almost right. There is no place for no humor. At what boundary must humor halt? I commend you to my friend, Mark Twain on the power of humor: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
As further assertion of the place of humor being everywhere, let us close with the wise, wise advice about life given by the great George S. Kaufman to his young daughter Ann.
“Sample everything in life. Except incest and folk-dancing.”