Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kiddie Porn

Terry Johnson has been my best friend since junior high school. Like any good friend, he mailed me a VCR movie of his knee surgery.

Without introduction (which is to say, without warning), the movie opened with his raw kneecap surrounded by pulsing red and cream meat. A magnified pair of tweezers and two gleaming silver picks were rearranging this tendon and that, as one might pick through a plate of spaghetti.

It took me a moment to realize that what I was seeing was not the overhead shot of a cooking show. TJ is proud of his knee.

I share that to explain how I felt when, in the fifth grade, Greg Kreitzer pulled a folded photo out of his pocket and showed it to me. It had been pressed into a curve by his humid wallet. The magazine ink was beginning to smear from being sat on. He opened it delicately, its fold lines worn white.

Such a cherished document — a treasure map? It took me a few seconds to orient, to make sense of the bright spotlight glare on the greasy body hair and sweat.

Greg grinned, as if he carried the golden ticket to eternal friendship. Greg was creepy anyway, even creepier now.

I responded with an uncommittal "Dude…," before walking away. This was exactly the kind of thing I always got caught doing when it wasn't my fault.

Porn and I were not well introduced, but I got the hang of it, so to speak. I stumbled across images here and there, and I'd tear out the ones that intrigued me. Eventually, I had a little private collection of clippings. I shared a room with my brother but I could never admire my photos around him, because I knew he'd rat me out just for the fun of watching me run for my life. When I wanted to view my collection, I'd fold them up carefully and creep into the bathroom, the only room in our house with a lock. With two parents and six kids, visits to the single bathroom had to be judicious.

I've since wondered how the person reacted who walked into the bathroom the day I accidentally left my photo collage behind. I didn't realize it until the next day. The obvious choice for my parents would have been to beat my older brother, because they never accepted that I was old enough to do the things I did. I was eighteen before my dad realized I had a driver's license. But my brother showed no signs of punishment. Nor did he reveal any hint that he found the photos himself: no smirk, no long trips to the bathroom. If my sisters had discovered them, there would have been screams. Perhaps God intervened and whisked them away, to everyone's relief.

I got older. I collected whole magazines. There was an abandoned school stadium near my house where my friend Harold and I stashed our contraband. Old magazines acquire a unique smell when they are stored in dank places. To this day I think antique stores smell like porn.

I don't remember how I got the magazines, and I don't remember where they went. Probably they were discovered and stolen by younger boys, who like me acquired a very insufficient education.

Barbie and Ken were surprisingly plain under their disco duds, given their exaggerated proportions everywhere else. Smooth, featureless skin, and nothing to their nethers but the joint of their legs. I know that some families paraded around naked all the time, but my family was a buttoned-up bunch, so I had to learn anatomy the hard way.

My first hands-on experience provided little revelation. I was with a boxy Mexican girl I had just met, who wanted my class ring. Was my hand under her bra, or wasn't it? She felt like Barbie. Something wasn't right. It took me a while to realize she had Band-Aids over her nipples. A hundred reasons raced through my head before she explained that her mother made her do that, and it was another decade before I understood why.

Two years later, to everyone's surprise, the small town theater booked an X-rated film. A high-school buddy swore he could get us in with fake IDs. As we gathered up the suavity to saunter into the lobby like we were regulars, I noticed my ID was for a 45-year-old Hispanic man who was a foot shorter and forty pounds heavier than I.

I looked up from that painful ID to discover that the ticket-taker was my next door neighbor. He eyed me me, looked at my ID and said, "You gotta be kidding." I was dead. "Welcome, Mr. Rodriquez," he rasped, rolling his eyes and waving me in. I was reincarnated.

The movie was about as sexy as The Three Stooges, but not as funny. The more I saw, the less I wanted to learn.

The first drive-in movie of each season was usually a racy one, and I knew if I rode my bike down a certain street, I could watch over the fence. I surmised that the plot centered around an enormously endowed woman who suffocated her suitors. It was hard to tell without the metal car-window speaker.

I don't know what became of leering little Greg Kreitzer and his folded up photos. Maybe he became a pornographer. Or a knee surgeon.

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