We could use a little help from a few male elephants. 

Elephant Boys

On TV they were talking about transferring a group of young male elephants from one wild game preserve to another. The juvenile elephants went on a killing spree, teasing and crushing other animals. They didn't calm down until a group of adult male elephants was brought in, then all the violence ended.

While I was listening to this, I was also reading an editorial by Wade F. Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, and to my surprise, there was the same story about the elephants. The bull elephants brought the juveniles into line immediately through strict discipline. The conclusion drawn was even human boys need adult males to monitor their behavior and enforce the rules.

I went out on an errand a little later, making stops at half a dozen convenient marts, looking for an obscure brand of soda. Since it was a holiday weekend, the human elephant boys were out in force. Everywhere I went, the minimarts were packed with them, all buying beer and cigarettes, sitting in cars in the parking lots, shouting at each other, squealing their tires, driving in circles looking for trouble, buying more 12-packs. It was only noon on Sunday, and already they were bored, with nothing productive to do except get wasted and taunt each other.

At the 7-Eleven where I finally found the IBC Black Cherry soda I wanted, I stood in line behind an elephant boy who tossed a fistful of change on the counter for his cartoon of Camels and 12-pack of Ice House. It wasn't enough. The clerk told him to choose. He picked the Camels, and she rang them up, but then he took the Ice House, too, and darted out the door. The carload of boys squealed away, the clerks just shrugging. It happens too often for them to sweat it.

Back at the house was an elephant boy I had cut out of the herd about three years ago. He had spent the first day of the holiday weekend doing honey-do chores in the apartment, and now he was in a half-sleep on the sofa, watching a Star Trek marathon. Domesticity had drugged him. I commented that without me, he'd be out with the rest of the backward baseball hats that day, carousing aimlessly.

Oh no, he said. "I'm a bull elephant now."

Hardly. It's true half his friends are married and have jobs and mortgages. When he's with that half, nothing upsetting happens. They talk about how busy they are, responsibilities they have. They get together to do a group chore, exchange tools, stick their heads in each other's motors and solve mysteries. They talk about acquiring assets, furniture, more tools, cars, musical instruments, computers. Evenings end early. Everyone's always tired. If they were all the friends he had, he'd probably be a bull elephant.

But the other half of his social group is as combustible as the juvenile elephant herd. They're single, with rotating girlfriends. They keep one as long as she can tolerate them. When she demands better behavior, they rotate to the next one. They never compromise, they just move on. Sometimes it's the same four or five girls, in an endless cycle. When numbers four and five have made demands and been banished, numbers one and two, neglected for several months, are suddenly willing to tolerate again for awhile.

When these guys get together, there's usually a lot of drinking or pot smoking in someone's bachelor pad, or trips to bars. When my elephant boy was a younger Dumbo, traveling with the herd sometimes landed them in jail for suctioning gas out of school buses or breaking into a car stereo store, stupid things boys do when the group is beyond controlling any absurd impulse.

They brag about how drunk they got, the places they woke up, the longest they've been unconscious. The married, sedated ones tell their tales, too, but with a tinge of embarrassment. The secret life of boys is baffling, as if they all have an uncontrollable wish to die stupidly. I don't get it. Drinking until you're violently ill is a good time? And then it's an amusing anecdote?

Some of the girlfriends of our unattached friends are the type they may eventually marry. They have education, good families, good jobs, what is often calling "good breeding." They're also the least tolerant. Others are sluts, and are known as sluts even to the other guys.

The sluts tend to tolerate bad behavior longer. The "nice" girls just pick up and leave when they're offended.

When my boyfriend's male friends are in their slut cycles, the evening will end late, with the guys bragging and drinking, the girls abandoned, equally wasted, bitching and complaining about not being respected.

With the school shootings in the past couple of years, everyone's scratching their heads, trying to understand boys. What is it with boys? I don't understand them myself. But it's not like it's anything new. The boys left on the island in "Lord of the Flies" went wild and murderous quickly, only to turn into crying, scared little boys when the adults came to rescue them. It's the nature of the breed. What's changed is the adults aren't coming back much these days to rescue anyone. Maybe we're short on adults.

And although I think I've rescued and broken an elephant boy, I haven't at all. It's an illusion, because the herd is still out there, calling to him, and I'm just a girl. It will only take one outing with "the boys" that gets out of control to destroy us as a couple. He hasn't made the crossover yet to the "adult males," if that is the safe haven. There's so few of them around anymore to embrace and surround him or his friends and lead the way.

Mariane Matera is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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