There are a lot of things I assumed were true as a child that turned out to be completely false.
First of all, “runny bunnies” is not a commonly used euphemism for indigestion. It’s just something my mom used to say. That was uncomfortable to find out at the way-too-late age of 17. I also learned rather late in life that “rinktums” is not a game everybody plays. (When somebody sees you for the first time after you get a new haircut, they don’t get to give you a noogie just because they shouted “rinktums” before you said “no rinktums.” My grandfather and dad had led me to believe this was normal.)
But my most egregious childhood misunderstandings about the world, however, were not caused by my family.
They were the result of watching television.
I didn’t understand as a young boy that you have to pay for drinks. In show after show, characters would hang out in bars, and the only time someone would say “check please” was as a joke. I guess, on "Cheers," part of the joke was that nobody, specifically Norm, ever seemed to pay for anything, but I absolutely did not get that. Plenty of shows featured characters talking about how expensive a restaurant could be, but nobody ever seemed to mention that if you spend an entire night in a bar and also try to buy somebody else a couple of drunks, you could end up spending $60.
Also, I thought being drunk was way different. Ever drunk person on 80s and 90s TV was slurring and falling out of chairs. Surely, some people do that in real life, but TV never depicted the much more likely scenario that you would throw up and then stand outside of a closed burrito place for 30 minutes, arguing with your friends about what other burrito places might still be open.
Those are small things, though. I figured out how drinking worked in reality all on my own without any real shock. Learning about the reality of sex was what really blew my mind.
As an 11 to 12 year old, I knew what sex was on a technical level. You put your parts in the stuff, things mix with the junk, something about cell multiplication, and then a baby is born. But, I knew nothing about the actual act of sex except for what I had managed to cobble together from reruns of "Dream On" on Comedy Central.
"Dream On," if you are unfamiliar, was an early 90s HBO series staring Brian Benben as a book publisher named Martin Tupper. The show had gained popularity, in large part, for featuring uncensored nudity during sex scenes.
But, when it reran on basic cable, they couldn’t show nudity. So, on Comedy Central, the sex scenes almost uniformly went as follows: There would be a shot of a door from inside of an apartment. Suddenly, a man and woman would burst through the door, already making out. They would press each other up against walls in an entryway while beginning to remove clothing. As they continued on toward a bedroom, more clothing would be removed. Finally, they would fall together onto a bed just before there was an abrupt cut to a shirtless and out of breath Brian Benben rolling off a woman.
But, as a child, I didn’t recognize this as an abrupt cut. It was completely lost on me that things might have been edited or that time might have been condensed. I thought the entire act of sex was completed while falling onto a bed.
I thought sex was a thing that lasted exactly three seconds.
I don’t recall the exact moment that I learned sex was (supposed to be) a much longer process, but I do remember feeling betrayed by television. Much the way I feel betrayed whenever it comes time to run my credit card at the bar.
Screw you, TV. You lied to me.