My Sexual Miseducation by Malia Griggs

My parents are liberal in most respects, but we never really had the “sex talk.” Sure, I saw “Kinsey” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in theaters with them. But instead of sitting me down and dishing the deets, they gave me a large picture book from the 1970s which was supposed to explain the facts of life in a fun, non-threatening way.

The book was a cartoon of a family with one child and a “mommy and daddy” who “love each other very much.” Like any 1970s family, they wore bell bottoms, and the son looked like the kid from “The Shining.” Mommy and Daddy were drawn doing regular family activities — playing with their child in the park, getting ice cream, and because they were so in love, taking their clothes off, embracing naked and boning each other. As it was the ’70s, Daddy had a fro, and Mommy had a fro, too, of sorts. The comic made sex seem easy-peasy and always missionary. It only referred to sex as “making love,” and little cartoon hearts exploded around Mommy and Daddy’s converging forms. All of this intense naked hugging led to scientific drawings of a cute, ambitious sperm hopping into an egg, and voila, a baby! The drawings drove home the idea that sex is a natural, normal part of familial life but left out all of the other junk – virginity loss, how to put on a condom, STD paranoia, whip cream usage, how to get someone you want to have sex with to have sex with you, “50 Shades of Grey,” etc. etc.

Since my sexual education derived mostly from this children’s picture book and from the state of South Carolina, there were some gaping holes in what I knew about the birds and the bees. I had to learn the hard way, pun intended. Here are four sexual slip-ups I recall from childhood:

1. The summer before third grade, I went to Jewish Community Center musical theater camp. I’m not Jewish, but my parents briefly considered converting. We went to synagogue, to a stranger’s bat mitzvah, bought a menorah and almost burned down the house making latkes. This is all irrelevant. At camp, I befriended a girl named Mikayla. We were inseparable until we got into an argument over who could sing “Bye Bye Birdie” better. Mikayla was more advanced than me. She floated the idea of French kissing my way, which I interpreted as a sweeter, more meaningful version of regular kissing. One afternoon, I found my dad in his bedroom. I perched next to him on my parents’ bed.

“Daddy,” I said. “Would you French kiss me?”

My father’s eyes widened. “What did you say?” then “Do you know what that is?”

He gently explained the term, and I started crying out of embarrassment.

2. In sixth grade, my English class memorized stems, which are different parts of words and their meanings (“inter” means “between,” “intra” means “within,” “exo” means “outer,” etc.). We graded tests by trading papers with our peers. Once, I switched with Aaron, the class clown who I secretly had a crush on. Our teacher went through the test’s answers, and when she hit “hexa,” which means “six,” Aaron yelled out, “Ms. Wallace! Ms. Wallace! Malia wrote ‘SEX’!” I snatched my test back, certain he was just being a little douche rocket. But, no. I’d clearly written “sex” instead of “six.” Where was my mind? At that point, I thought sex was something you only did to fog up windows, a la “Titanic.”

3. In seventh grade, I went to a pep rally. You know – cheerleaders chanting, everyone screaming their middle-school brains out for a bunch of munchkins in football uniforms. In the midst of the ruckus, I turned to a friend and jokingly shouted, “Man, I’m gonna need VIAGRA!” She looked at me and said, “Did you mean Advil??” to which I said, “Aren’t they the same thing?”

4. And now we arrive at the crown jewel of my sex blunders. In my eighth grade English class, we began reading a “Sherlock Holmes” book out loud. At some point, Sherlock makes a remark, to which Watson (the narrator) responds, “My dear Holmes!” But in the text, the sentence reads:

“My dear Holmes!” I ejaculated.

Upon hearing this word, all the boys in my class snorted, and the girls smirked. My teacher told us to settle down, but she was smiling, and I thought everyone was amused at how random the word “ejaculated” was. Because wasn’t “ejaculated” just a much longer, ridiculously antiquated way of saying “said”? Oh, those Brits! Always one to seize the moment, I turned to my classmates and said loudly, “Yeah – like I’m going to go home and ejaculate tonight.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the class erupted (poor word choice). The boys were hysterical. My teacher gave up quieting them and said, “Well, it just got X-rated in here.” I was mystified and getting that French-kiss-failure feeling in my stomach again. My friend, Stu, paused laughing to say:

“Malia, don’t you know what that means?”

Another boy pulled out a dictionary (yes, a real dictionary, because no one had smart phones yet, or Snapchat for that matter, because if we’d had Snapchat in my middle school years, it’s far more likely I would’ve understood the concept of ejaculation, but I digress), opened it to “ejaculate,” and shoved it my way.

I think you know the definition.

“Oh my God,” I shrieked, covering my face. After class, as I walked down the halls, I could hear my classmates whispering at their lockers as I passed. My friend’s mother picked us up from the car line, and as soon as we got in the van, my friend said, “Mom, GUESS what Malia said in class.” (I don’t remember how she described my slip-up to her conservative Southern mother, but they both laughed, so that’s good?)

The story faded eventually, but every once in a while, it cropped up in someone’s memory. “Dude, remember the time Malia didn’t know about ‘ejaculating’?” Hardy har har. Story’s yours now, world.

Fortune Nookie by Malia Griggs

I went to an arts boarding school for my junior and senior year of high school, and the cafeteria was a common meeting point for the students. It was run by a towering, red-headed woman whom the student body referred to as “Barbara Manhands” not too lovingly. It was by all accounts a beautiful cafeteria, with a full salad bar and freshly baked cookies every day. Barbara would organize themed nights like “Winter Carnival” and “Asia Night.” Asia Night meant there were chopsticks and a giant ice sculpture in the middle of the room (of a penguin, if my memory serves me correctly, although maybe that was for Winter Carnival) and bowls of noodles laid out buffet-style. On Asia Night my junior year, I ended up near the ice sculpture in a conversation with Barbara Manhands about her work.

“Ah, yes, Asia,” she said, nodding. “You know, my sister was made in Taiwan.”

“I–what?” I said, unsure if I’d just heard Barbara refer to her sister the way she’d talk about a cheap sweater.

“Yes, made in Taiwan, born in the States,” Barbara said.

I turned away and picked up a fortune cookie from a large punch bowl. Cracking it open revealed this statement:

“Go ahead and be as sexy as you can.”

Well, first off, a high school cafeteria’s Asia Night is the weirdest place to open a cookie like this. Was this actually a fortune? What was it predicting?And what tone was I meant to read that in? Oh, go ahead, TRY and be as sexy as you can. Or, cheerleader-like, go ahead! Be as sexy as you can! You can do it! This fortune has haunted me emotionally for years…

Very bizarre. But, the cafeteria was a bizarre place. The kitchen was staffed with an assortment of people, some of whom had been released from jail and (I’m assuming) were placed in the kitchen as part of a work-release program. Which makes sense. Jail…children…right, I see it. One morning, my classmates were abuzz because on the news, one of our kitchen employees was killed in our parking lot. He’d gotten in an altercation with his girlfriend in his car, and she’d stabbed him in the neck with a hair pick.

One of the more colorful characters in the cafeteria was a middle-aged, whiskery fellow we referred to as “Roger the Pirate” because of the bandana he wore tied around his head. He’d been in jail (or so the rumors said), but seemed harmless enough. He ran the wrap station.

One day, I ordered a chicken caesar wrap (this was a popular wrap day in the cafeteria, and lines were usually long). Roger the Pirate whipped the ingredients together, then asked if I wanted anything else.

“I don’t know,” I said, running through vegetables in my mind. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Roger raised one bushy eyebrow, smiling slightly. “You don’t know?” he said. I could’ve sworn I saw the glint of one gold, pirate-y tooth. “Is that what you’re gonna say on your wedding night?”

I stared at him. In retrospect, that was a completely weird and inappropriate thing for Roger the Pirate to say. But in the moment, I wasn’t sure he’d said it, so I just repeated, “Uhh, I don’t know?”

The next year, Roger the Pirate was let go by the school, or at least, he stopped showing up.

I don’t know what happened to him. I really don’t know.