In 1987, the summer after my last year of high school, I was faced with a choice. While all my friends were destined for university at party schools with real "grown-up" women like Queens, Western and Carlton, I had to decide whether to go back to high school to study King Lear and Chaucer in Mrs. Beacham's English class again or come up with an alternative, like, say, travelling. Hm. Live at home with my parents, work a shitty part-time job as a dish pig or go somewhere warm for the winter where an 18-year-old boy could get into some good clean trouble. Travelling it was, then, and I settled on Israel and, more specifically, a kibbutz.
I knew I was going to have a great time the moment I went for my interview at the organization that arranged my placement. At the time, I was working nights baking muffins at a Tim Hortons, and a steady diet of donuts and caffeine coupled with a nocturnal timetable made for a pretty good buzz. Add to that the fact the interview was in the middle of the day and it felt like I was encased in heroin-filled marshmallows.
Which is why I had to ask the very pleasant, short, hobbitish man conducting the interview to repeat the first question.
"I said, "Do you like to masturbate?'" he replied.
Remember, I was 18, so the question was moot. A more accurate query might have been whether I was planning to go pro or hold on to my amateur status to remain eligible for the Olympics.
"Well, we all have our bad days." I offered. "Well, on the kibbutz you will not have to worry about that, because there will be many Israeli and Swedish women who will want to fuck you."
I sat staring dumbly for a moment before saying the obvious. "Where do I sign?"
I left on a cold -22° November day and landed in paradise some 12 hours later. Fresh meat at the kibbutz always drew crowds, and by dinner I had been sized up by almost every volunteer and kibbutznik. Within a week, my next-door neighbour Judith, a ravishing 24-year-old Dutch woman, was having me over for afternoon tea, prancing around in white cotton panties and telling me about her boyfriend who was due to meet her in another month.
Now, remember, I was 18, which means I was pretty slow, so after four days squirming in my seat trying to conceal my hard-on, she laid it on me. She loved her beau but was horny as hell and wanted an audience.
Later that afternoon, as I lay on her bed, the sun and breeze pouring over me through the window, I watched as Judith stood above me, and I thought, "There's no way my buddies are doing this at university."
It was the greatest education a kid from a small town called nowhere could ever hope to receive. As I saw it, people here were spending more time actually enjoying their sexuality than reading books or talking about it.
Like Sonya from Yorkshire. Sonya was a friend and nothing more, a great gal to party with, and when she got the itch she'd come over to my place. Whoever happened to be there at the time, whether it was me or my roommate, Mark, would enjoy a tussle and tumble.
On more than one occasion, we both happened to be home. The wonderful thing was that there were never any icky feelings, none of the self-hate or avoiding that such encounters often lead to. We'd see each other at work or over dinner and nothing was different or awkward.
You can imagine the magnitude of my disappointment upon returning to Canada and discovering that this level of comfort was not universal, but culturally exclusive, a product of the luxury of anonymity that the kibbutz affords. I'm not sure what point I'm labouring to make, if any, but I can say that now, as a single 30-something in uptight Toronto, where speed dating and business cards, chat lines and onlines have rewritten the rules of romance to resemble shopping, I find myself longing for those simpler, lazier, naughtier times.