The Kids Are All Right
I’m walking Buster though my neighborhood when I spot a young boy sitting in the middle of the sidewalk staring at something very intently. Since his back is to me I can’t see what he’s looking at. My interest piqued, Buster and I creep up on him and look over his shoulder. Ah ha. Now I understand why the young boy’s attention is riveted. He’s looking at a nudie magazine.
“Hey there,” I say.
The boy looks up at me. He’s not afraid, but he’s doesn’t look comfortable either.
“I found it here,” the boy says. He looks about nine years old.
“No problem,” I say, believing the kid. The magazine is battered, torn, and looks like it’s been stepped on. Judging from the empty trash cans tossed carelessly against the curb, it must have fallen out of the trash when the garbageman made his rounds this morning. From the sidewalk the nude airbrushed picture of a blonde woman sporting a come-hither smile and large breasts stares up at me. Judging from the picture quality it looks like a Playboy. I groan inwardly. It’s to early in the morning for pictures of naked women. I haven’t had my morning coffee yet.
I think about taking the magazine away and redepositing into the trash can but hold off. In this litigious, hysterical and fearful age running into a child looking at softcore porn on a public street is an encounter fraught with peril. Secondly, it’s only Playboy. If it was a hardcore publication like Swank, Cheri, or Oui I’d yank it out of the kid’s hand immediately. Children shouldn’t see that kind of stuff. But Playboy? Hmmm. But the boy’s too young for that too. I am in a moral quandary.
“So whaddya think?” I ask.
The boy grins lopsidedly. I can tell he’s excited by the picture but doesn’t know why. Ah, the innocence of youth.
“It’s okay,” the boy says.
We both look at the picture for a moment. Buster shows his interest by sniffing the magazine. After a moment I clear my throat and say, “Why don’t you go home kid?”
“Okay,” the boy says, getting up. After he toddles out of sight I pick up the magazine. I was right. It’s a Playboy. I turn a trash can upright and toss the magazine inside. My good deed for the day.
After Buster does his business we walk back inside my house and I put a pot of coffee on. As I wait for it to brew I think about that small boy getting a glimpse of a grown-up world. When I was nine years I didn’t yet know pornography existed, much less seen any. I grew up in a sheltered Catholic household. My father never had girlie magazines lying around and being naked was something you did in the bathtub. My pre-pubescent life revolved around playing pickup baseball games and girls were gross creatures who demonstrated a fondness for teasing me and pulling my hair. One girl, a towering, skinny lass named Kimberly, took a special interest in me and loved to bop me on the top of my head with her lunch box. One time she drew blood. She probably had a crush on me.
Of course the kids a couple of grades ahead of me always talked about sex. One of the older boys had the misfortune to be named B.J. Wahlmann. I swear to God that was his name. As a result the kids in school called him “blow job.” And let me tell ya, it drove him crazy. Not knowing what the word meant I went to the library and looked it up. “Blow job,” the dictionary read. “Slang term for fellatio.” Being industrious I flipped over to the F’s and read the definition. “How gross,” I thought. “Why would anyone do such a thing?” Throughly appalled I returned to the children’s section.
When I was in the eight grade, however, my hormones started raging, girls stopped being gross creatures and that fellatio thing started sounding pretty good. I was getting hard-ons for no reason and found myself staring at the newly budding breasts of my female classmates. A nun caught me gawking once and slapped me upside my head. I was humiliated. Catholic guilt took hold.
By the time I was a freshman in high school I still hadn’t seen what a naked woman looked like. You couldn’t score a nudie magazine in my town because all the store clerks knew exactly how old we were. Up to that point I satisfied my carnal curiosity by gazing at the lingerie section of the Sears Catalog. But there was a guy in my algebra class named Robert who said he’d get me a girlie magazine if I gave him ten bucks. The markup was extreme but I was too chickenshit to buy one myself. So on a cool October day in 1982 I gave him ten bucks I earned from my paper route.
“Get me a Playboy,” I said, surreptitiously slipping him the cash like we were doing a drug deal.
“You’ll have it tomorrow,” my porn connection said.
The next afternoon, as promised, Robert produced a magazine sheathed in a paper wrapper. I stuck the contraband in my book bag and got on the bus to go home. That’s when the fun began.
Ten minutes into my journey the big football player who held court in the back seat came up front and sat next to me.
“So what did Robert give you back there?” he asked.
“None of your business,” I replied.
“You bought a dirty magazine from him didn’t you?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Lemme see it.”
The big junior grabbed my book bag out of my hands and rummaged inside. Finding the magazine he
tore off the wrapper and flipped it open. Robert didn’t get me a Playboy. He got me some hardcore magazine with glossy pictures of people doing all sorts of weird stuff in improbable positions. It was the first time I had ever seen sexual activity depicted. I was uneasy. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. Looking back on it that was probably a healthy response. But considering what came next I wasn’t thinking that at the time.
“Doobie’s got porn!” the football player yelled, using my unfortunate high school nickname. He threw my magazine back to his jock buddies and they descended on it like a school of sharks ripping apart a baby seal. Then the ribbing came.
“Doobie you pervert!”
“Hey, is this your sister? Can I have her number?”
Of course moral outrage didn’t stop the older boys from carefully examining the sexual antics displayed in the magazine’s pages. Humiliated, I rode out the storm of catcalls until the older boys’ short attention spans fixated on something else. By the time I got home my magazine was in tatters and all I was left with was a torn page depicting a woman’s ankle. What a waste of ten bucks. Later I would learn Robert set the whole thing up. I wasn’t surprised. I was a small kid back then and people teased me. But I got older, wiser and after a few fist fights behind the gym the older boys stopped hassling me. Eventually I manned up and bought my own Playboy – which my mother promptly found and tossed out.
My coffee maker stops brewing and I pour myself a cup. I’m a forty-one year old man, the same age my father was when I had my porn mishap. That incident on the bus was twenty-seven years ago. It wasn’t funny then, but it is now. As I sip my coffee I think about that small boy I met on the street. When I was a kid trying to find a picture of a naked woman it was an ordeal fraught with danger. You had to run a gauntlet. It was an adventure. Now it’s as simple as turning on a computer. Too easy. Too much. Too fast. Many people claim that all the graphic imagery and information floating around the internet will warp young minds and stunt the maturity of our children. Maybe. Maybe not.
Older generations always bemoan the morals of those who come after them. People thought my generation would turn out to be a cohort of criminals, deviants and slackers. That happened to some of us sure, but most people my age are well into careers, raising families and just as confused about life as their parents before them. And when it comes to sex no single generation can claim the moral high ground. Whether it was repressive Victorians who put saltpeter in schoolboys’ cornflakes to corral their lusty desires to the children of the Sixties who let it all hang out just a little too much, they all had their own set of quirks, deviancies, and problems. They all survived it. The kids of today will inherit their own particular set of problems, especially regarding sex. But they’ll develop their own coping skills and muddle though. They’ll discover what anyone with their head on straight discovers – that sex is about vulnerability and love.
As I sip my coffee I watch as a group of youngsters walk below my kitchen window. They’re excitedly whispering to one another. Probably about a video game, television show or the upcoming school year. Their faces are unlined by the problems and challenges that lay before them. The complexities of human sexuality are a long way off. That’s the way it should be. I smile to myself.
The kids are all right.