I KEEP RUNNING this scene through my head and trying to make sense of it. There we were in a locker room in an American high school. It must have been the last year or the second to last year, and we were changing our clothes when I noticed an older man in a black jumpsuit with a camera. He walked into the locker room, surveyed the scene, and began to take photos. The flash of the camera caught my eye, and then there was another flash. I decided to confront this strange individual, whose body language was stiff and clumsy, as if he too was baffled by his appearance and odd behavior.
“What are you doing here?” I asked the old man.
“I’m looking for the swimming pool,” he responded.
“The swimming pool?” I was too perplexed to even ask any other questions. “Well, it’s not in here. I’ll show you where it is.”
I walked the old man out the door of the locker room and pointed him in the right direction. Before he left, he thanked me for showing him the way. The man walked down the hall, turned a corner and vanished for all time.
Back in the locker room, Cariati,who was a week younger than me, and just as eccentric, as any sane person who spends most of their lives in a public institution will one way or another become, asked me what that was about.
“He said he was looking for a swimming pool,” I shrugged.
“Swimming pool?” Cariati recoiled. His dark hair was in his eyes and he had that typical rabid dog expression on his face. “That old man took photos of us in our boxer shorts! And he claimed he was looking for a swimming pool? Don’t you get it, Petrone?”
I shook my head. I still didn’t get it.
“Oh, you are so stupid Petrone,” Cariati made as if to smack me. “He’s probably a pervert who’s into young guys! We have to go tell Ms. Leuca.”
Ms. Leuca eyed us with some suspicion. Who was she to believe Mr. Petrone and Mr. Cariati, two young fools who spent most of their time pretending their tennis rackets were electric guitars and singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“But Ms. Leuca,” Cariati pleaded with her. “We’re not joking this time. Some pervert has pictures of me, Petrone, and Jimmy Grasso in our boxer shorts.”
Ms. Leuca sighed and pressed her fingers to her brow, as if she couldn’t wait until Mr. Cariati and Mr. Petrone would graduate and she would be done with their oddball stories and antics. “Okay, Cariati, I guess I could tell the athletic director about it,” she said. That was the final word on the matter. Neither of us heard anything about it ever again. As far as I know, there are blurry Polaroids out there circulating of me in the Nineties in my boxers.
I don’t recall much more about that story, other than running into Cariati a few months later in a convenience store and reflecting on the incident of the old man. “If we had been girls,” Cariati whispered to me, “this would have been in the local newspaper and the school would have been locked down!”
He took more umbrage at the idea that some man had photographed him without his permission and could be, in some basement somewhere, deriving pleasure from it. I on the other hand couldn’t even understand how someone would risk their livelihood to take some images of some out-of-shape, under-aged men in a sweaty high school gym locker room.
Never before had I felt sexualized in any way. The idea that I too could be subjected to the same kinds of bizarre behavior that women had to manage on a daily basis was beyond my comprehension. Since the idea of being victimized that way was foreign to me, I also could not think of myself as a victim. It was just an incident, as I saw it, a happenstance, a weird thing that happened to which I paid little if no attention. I’m only recalling it now because I am awash in news about the trials and transgressions of others. It occurs to me at these times how limited men’s discourse about themselves actually is. We simply do not talk about our experiences, the things that happened to us, or how we felt about it. Our common media landscape consists of fitness and lifestyle magazines informing us about how to get the perfect body or the perfect tie. Victimhood is not an acknowledged part of the male identity.
To this day, I do not feel victimized by that day. Instead I am still a teenager, scratching my head, wondering if that old man ever found the swimming pool, and if he did, why he needed so badly to take photos of us to get there.