Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

'Sundry rubber goods'


February 20, 2019

I've always kept myself on the outer edges of society, preferring to observe its actions and ideas with a soft contempt, always keeping my "ironic distance" from the point of my own contrived superiority. I think this trait began in the spring of 1965, when I was a senior in high school.

In those days, Lawrence Welk and Art Linkletter ruled the TV world. The supposed moral decay of the later 1960's hadn't yet reached Montana. It was then that I saw through the arbitrary standards imposed on us by others.

As teen age boys, our priorities were beer, sex and cars, all tolerated somewhat by the adult world. Given the morality of the day, I think we could have purchased opium easier than we could buy a mere condom. That's what got me in trouble.

A friend once mustered the courage to walk into a drug store and ask for a couple condoms. The pharmacist merely walked into the back and called the boy's parents. That's what we faced.

But the summer of 1964, before school started, I was browsing an old OUTDOOR LIFE magazine, and noticed a tiny advertisement that read: "Sundry rubber goods. Write for brochure." So I did, and it answered my condom hopes.

When I got back to Deer Lodge for my senior year, I ordered a dozen of their best. The condoms came in small tubes that fit perfectly into the shell loops of my duck hunting coat. So I was off to school to get into the condom business.

The profit margin was 300 percent. I paid $6 per dozen and sold them in 15 minutes for $18. I was both rich and popular. Life was good.

For three months I had a monopoly on the business, but an acquaintance asked if he might get the brochure and start his own latex venture. There was room for both of us, so I agreed.

I was selling the top of the line, and only a dozen at a time. The other guy ordered by the gross, and in a matter of weeks there were cheap condoms hanging on classroom doors and rolling down the halls. It was anarchy, so I retired from the business out of fear I'd be exposed as the condom pusher I was.

On New Year's Eve a friend of ours got hauled to jail for alcohol possession. When they asked him for his wallet, he put it on the counter where it sprang open to expose a half-dozen cheap condoms. The kid had never had a date in his life, but he was ready.

So the investigation was on. They found the people who flooded the market with cheap condoms, but with only 400 students in the high school, and maybe 5,000 people in the entire town, it took them until April to run me down.

I was in Vocational Agriculture class when the cops walked in. They were in uniform, armed, and both weighed over 200 pounds. I weighed less than 90 pounds, and didn't have a weapon, so I knew escape was impossible.

They put me between them and we walked to the principal's office. We had to pass in front of the study hall, so my arrest was common knowledge in a matter of minutes.

The principal was a kind, very intelligent man, and he appeared to see my situation as a nuisance of no real importance. Even at my naive age, I thought the same.

But the cops had their jobs, so they questioned me as to how I got my start in such a nefarious business. I was comfortable as I told them how it happened.

Then we all sat in silence. They didn't know what to do with me. I had signed the order form I was going to use as being over 21 years old. The cops had it because the other cowards had given it to them.

Misrepresenting my age was illegal, but that was unimportant to the police. Their problem with me was a moral one, and they wanted to find the source of the evil that had dominated the high school for weeks.

So we sat. Finally, they said I could go back to class, and I was a free teenager again. But I was out of the condom business.

I think that's what planted the seed of disdain for societal standards in me. I entered a world of skepticism, and it set the tone for my life.

They told me the incident caused turmoil both in the school and in Deer Lodge. I'm sure they thought I was probably a Communist, bent on destroying America's precious morals from the inside.

I know I prevented any number of hurried and unwanted marriages, but that was forgotten in the midst of the uproar I caused. Self-assumed moral superiority allows people to feel better about themselves when they have nothing to offer the world, save judgments and opinions.


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