Kirby: It all comes down to a case of the cooties

This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Robert Kirby had the day off. This is a reprint of an earlier column.

I can't remember when sex first entered my head. It may have started when I learned about cooties at Garfield Elementary School.

Cooties were the earliest form of a sexually transmitted disease. You didn't have to actually touch a member of the opposite sex to get them. Sometimes it took nothing more than using the same drinking fountain, sharing a pencil or even exchanging seats.

You could even get cooties by proxy. Someone would slap you across the back and shout, "Bobby has Ramona's cooties."

As social embarrassments went, life was over. Bystanders stared aghast. Friends fled your approach. The only recourse was to run down someone slower and unload the awful burden onto them.

I still have no idea what happened. One day I saw Cynthia in the gym and couldn't get cooties out of my head. I had to have them, reputation be damned.

Church was an obstacle. Sunday school taught that contracting cooties was a perfectly natural function of life provided, of course, that it was undertaken only with the required permits, cash bond, ecclesiastical blessing and the lights out.

Anyone violating this process risked being ostracized by the community and, in many anecdotal cases, cursed by God.

Procreation — as ultimate cooties were referred to in ecclesiastical terms — was so sacrosanct that the exact mechanics were never discussed except in the vaguest terms.

Not the penalty phase, though. Church was clear on that. A case of unapproved cooties was almost as bad as murder. Anyone in danger of contracting them — even against their will — was better off dead. Those who did spent the rest of their lives trying to get back in God's graces.

Biology is the devil's trump card when it comes to cooties. It's hard to think straight when hormones have trussed your brain and stuffed it into a trunk. Case in point: Scout camp.

One night, the Leavitt brothers brought out a magazine. It was NOT The Children's Friend. Cooties took on a whole new meaning.

The future possibility of "getting some" generated animated debate.

The Scout master was standing right outside the tent. The sky unzipped like the apocalypse and Ray hauled us out by our hair.

The magazine went into the fire and we were whacked into a hostage audience. As Miss August went up in smoke, Ray gave us the facts on getting some. There was more to it than slack-faced drooling.

"Do you morons even know why you shouldn't be messing around yet?"

Chastened opinion ranged from "It's against the law" to "Heavenly Father will kill us." Duncan was more afraid of his mom finding out.

"It's because you're too stupid to be fathers," Ray said. "You'll get some girl pregnant."

Cooties gone wrong led to all sorts of problems, including arranged marriages, jobs, taxes, in-laws, emotional problems and personal regrets that even some grown men had a hard time handling.

In the end, Ray gave us hope. He told us to be patient. Cooties were probably inevitable even for guys like us.

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