Back in the 1970’s, I was catching a ride home in the evening with a friend of mine. I asked him if he wanted to stop and get something to eat, but he told me that he had some plans. However, he did tell me he needed to stop at a pharmacy briefly before dropping me off. As he got out of his car to run into the pharmacy, I told him to lock the car, and I’d come in with him. He hesitated for a brief moment, as though he wanted to tell me not to follow him. But he realized there was no way he could ask me to wait in the car without arousing my suspicions.
So I wandered into the pharmacy behind him, chatting about something. He wandered up and down the aisles, making a show of looking at some shelves, hoping to shake me off, but I stuck with him. Eventually, he gave up and went up to the checkout desk, looked the 20-year old girl behind the register right in the eye and, blushing with embarrassment, asked for a box of condoms.
This was before AIDS. Genital Herpes and Chlamydia weren’t the problem they are today. Back in those days, condoms weren’t displayed openly, because children might see them. I’m serious. In the 1970’s, most people used condoms to prevent pregnancy, not disease. Since the Catholic Church forbade the use of any form of contraceptive, displaying them in pharmacies would, in the view of the Church, encourage their use. People who bought condoms bought them surreptitiously.
I’m afraid I reacted badly, bursting into a fit of laughter at his embarrassment. These days, nobody would raise an eyebrow. But back then, it was comically awkward. I’ve become something of a fan of awkward moments, since I witness so many of them.
Yesterday, I was following a knot of people down a hallway. Two men were standing on either side of the hallway, speaking in hushed tones, obviously having a private conversation. The group of people I was following passed between the two men, and then stopped suddenly for some reason.
As I approached the two men, I heard one of them say, “They were able to save the…” He broke off, hoping I would pass before he finished his sentence. But I was forced to stop directly between them until the group moved on. Unable to leave the sentence dangling, he said, “Rectum.”
To my credit, I maintained a rigid poker face. Obviously, they were talking about a serious subject, and my intrusion was accidental. But it was one of those priceless awkward moments that somehow brightens my day.