From the time I met Bobby in seventh grade we were inseparable buddies.
However, we were never, as they say, "two peas in a pod;" rather, we were completely different.
Physically, Bobby, as far as most people were concerned, represented physical perfection. Taller than average, he was muscular without lifting weights, had perfect hair, a dark complexion (a permanent tan, he called it), and a handsome face.
Socially, he was confident and outgoing. Bobby, without saying so, generally believed he was they guy every other guy wanted for a friend and who every girl just wanted, period.
His girlfriends usually were a couple years older -- for maturity purposes, he always said -- and he had a level of "experience" that mostly involved kissing and sneaking feels. The latter condition, however, did not last for long. By the time he was in high school, he had advance far beyond that simple teen exploration.
I, meanwhile, was "the heavy guy" in our circle of friends. Average looking, at best, my hair was unruly, my nose a little too long and my legs too short for my torso. I always described myself as as 6-foot-6 from the waist up and 5-foot-6 from the waist down.
The whole waist down thing also posed a problem, at least in my mind. The day I turned 18, sitting alone in my dorm room at Gonzaga, I decided to pull out the measuring stick. It was about 5 1/2 inches, that's all; a little shorter than average and not particularly thick.
Socially, I was a mess.
At 18, I had never kissed a girl, never been on a date -- no proms and Christmas dances for me --and was a frequent masturbater. It was like a career, and I vowed that I would, by graduation, masturbate in every restroom at the school.
I could not imagine a girl wanting to be with me, and resisted attempts by friends -- including Bobby when we were in high school -- to fix me up.
I just did not want to be someone's blind date from hell, the subject of a story they would tell their friends for 50 years.
Still, as opposite as we were, Bobby and I just meshed. We did everything together, from ballgames to movies to countless hours of discussions involving everything from school to girls, mostly girls, and mostly his interaction with them.
He constantly tried to prop me up.
"I don't know why you are the way you are," he would preach. "You're a nice guy. Girls like nice guys. They go with guys like me, but they also know guys like me are full of shit, that we want more than friendship and less than relationships."
That never washed, though. I was so painfully shy that a chance greeting in the high school hallway left me breathless.
I had some female friends, but only those "going steady" with other people. It was safer that way.
Bobby and I were pretty much extensions of each other's families; as if each of us had two sets of parents and two sets of siblings.
During summer months and on weekends during school we always slept either at his house or mine, generally in the basements, which were not overly fancy in our 1960s residential development. All the houses were pretty much the same: three bedroom brick ranch homes with the master bedroom over a single garage.
Our respective basements were tiled and furnished with pieces that had been phased out of the living rooms upstairs. He had a fold-out sleeper couch in his. Mine had a couch and a love seat.
The basements provided privacy in general and cool temperatures in the hot Southern California summers; sorry for us, no air conditioning in either.
We would bullshit far into the night in those summers, sleep in and then spend the days swimming and playing ball. Life was sweet without responsibilities, and even after we took on part-time jobs in high school, we still had plenty of time for fun.
The situation changed though in the fall after graduation.
I headed to Gonzaga and he worked in his dad's business, plumbing supplies. He had no desire for college, just girls, money and the prospect of a used Corvair a guy was selling down the street. Maybe Ralph Nader had no use for the Corvair, but Bobby did. At a time when gas was 30 cents a gallon, it was his dream car.
In a day without cell phones and e-mail, we sort of lost touch when separated. Both of us were busy, I guess, especially me, finding my way at college.
When my dad drove up to the dorm, though, to take me home for Thanksgiving vacation, there in the front seat with him was Bobby.
Brother,was it nice to see him.
We loaded up the car and I introduced him to some new friends -- all guys, of course -- and off we went.
Once more, at least for a week, we were inseparable friends.
On the Friday night after Thanksgiving -- we both ate holiday meals at both houses -- we were hanging out at his house and around midnight, he said, "you staying?" and I quipped, "Sure, why waste energy walking 150 feet home."
That was a long-standing joke, discussing the energy it took to make it from one house to the other.
He unfolded the bed, turned on the portable black and white TV and we watched an old movie, as always, wearing night clothes that comprised white briefs and white T-shirts.
About an hour into the movie, he said, "Hey, you want to tickle?"
Wow, I had not heard that term since we were sophomores, when he found his first really serious girlfriend.
In those days, we spent many hours tickling each other's backs. There was nothing sexual about it and it was not designed to cause laughter. It was his description of brushing the skin very lightly with fingertips.
It always felt sooooo good.
At 18, though, the thought was sort of goofy, or maybe something else.
Remembering the sensation, though, I thought, "what the hell," and said, OK, you first.
He pulled off his T-shirt and tucked his arms beneath him.
I was out of practice, but remembered quickly how to apply just the slightest pressure. After about 15 minutes, Bobby's back was covered with goosebumps and the hair on the back of his neck was standing straight up. As always, he let out a number of soft sighs during the process.
I slapped him on the shoulder and said, "My turn."
I slipped off my shirt and he returned the favor, which I loved. I always savored that sensation. But then he added a little twists.
Bobby slid his fingertips beyond my back to my sides, over my ribcage.
The feeling was so strong I could not breathe.
"How's that feel?" he asked.
"Uh, OK," I wasn't expecting it," I said.
He just chuckled and continued on, eventually announcing it was time to switch.
Aware of how good it felt to me," I tried out the new idea and tickled his sides. At first touch, he shivered all over.
I don't know why, but that shiver had an effect on me. I don't know exactly what I felt, but it both excited me and freaked me out.
After a while, we changed again.
It was back to my sides and more breathlessness.
Matter-of-factly, he asked, "You ever tickle legs?"
"Legs," I responded, laughing. "Anything I didn't tickle with you I never tickled."
"That's right," he joked. "Mr. shy."
"Hey, I can't help it," I said, a little pissed.
without another word, he moved down to my ankles and tickled there.
Wow, sides were nothing compared to this. I was holding my breath at that point.
Slowly, deliberately, he moved up to my calves and then the outsides of my thighs. I was shaking all over.
"Geeze, settle down," he said. "It's just tickling."
Yeah, but somehow legs were sides and sides weren't backs.
I didn't stop him, though.