This post is either going to be really funny or just pointlessly gross and inappropriate–and therefore, funny. Let’s find out together!
When I was 16 I had my own car. A yellow-green 1976 Ford Maverick with manual steering and crank windows and one of those removable theft-prevention cassette decks. I called it the Hate Tank.
Gas was cheap. I drove the Hate Tank everywhere. I drove just to drive.
I drove past forest preserves on fine fall days without stopping.
I drove through cemeteries where no one I knew was buried.
I drove onto the 294 expressway one winter evening during a high speed chase that ended when I got to a tollbooth with no change and had to fill out a form. I never did mail in that $0.40.
And one time I drove to an adult bookstore because do I really need to explain the why?
I went with Brian. You remember Brian from our doughnut shenanigans? Yeah, I did all kinds of stupid shit with Brian.
Our plan that night was to go downtown. “Go downtown” was all the planning that went into that plan. At no point during our strategy session did either of us say “Let’s find an adult bookstore and scar ourselves.”
We picked up Dan, our usual accomplice, and proceeded to do the going portion of the plan. Which, again, was nearly the entirety of the plan.
It wasn’t our first trip downtown. I always liked going. The way time rolled a little faster. How the electricity seemed to flow from the lights and into the air and into the people. Everything buzzier.
But for three 16 year-olds who were still 2 years away from bullshitting their way into dive bars, there was almost nothing to do. Almost doesn’t include adult book stores.
I don’t remember the name of the bookstore. Just something in neon with a bunch of X’s. I figured if I was old enough to be trusted not to ram a car into the building, either accidentally or on purpose, then I was old enough to walk in through the front door like a human being. Irrefutable teen logic.
A white man greeted us at the counter. Such the white man.
The shelves were lined with rubber things.
Nipples were everywhere. Male and female nipples nippled from books, magazines, and VHS cases. Brown, pink, tiny, pinched, pierced. Nipples. The great equalizer. Almost everyone’s got two.
Blow up dolls still in their boxes, unblown.
Signs helped guide browsers toward the accelerant for whatever lust-fire burned within. CLASSIC. NEW RELEASES. INTERRACIAL. FEM-DOM. GAY. SPANKING. S&M. FOOT FETISH. WHATEVER THAT FUCKING WEIRD SHIT IS WITH DRESSING UP LIKE AN OVERGROWN BABY.
Everything for every itch. This was before the Internet came along to create entirely new communities of perverts with bizarrely specific fetishes like the furries. Or vore. Those shelves were as comprehensive as you could get at the time–1988’s version of porn search results.
Near the back of the room was another sign to the right of a doorway: VIDEO BOOTHS. Oh this was getting good.
We three walked on back through to the room of booths. It was so dark. Many people stood waiting in this dark. I went into a booth. It was even darker in there. It was like a bathroom stall, but with walls that went all the way to the floor. I could barely make out a TV screen. I felt around for a button or a switch. There was a coin slot, but I had no coins.
I left the booth and went to the white man for change. He said nothing. He gave me quarters for my dollar. He smirked at my mullet.
I went back to the booth. My eyes had to readjust to the near total darkness. I felt around again for the coin slot. I fed my coins. Blue light blazed.
The first thing I noticed was all the dried spunk on the walls. You’d think I would have noticed the porn. But no. Man-lava was everywhere. Looking at the TV monitor was like viewing a movie through a milky cataract. Pole milk was splattered all over the walls. Walls that I had just run my hands all over. Baby batter was even on the coin slot.
Even the coin slot.
The great thing about being 16, is that you can prioritize right away. Instead of heading immediately over to a free health clinic for my penicillin, I remembered that porn was the reason I was here, so I decided to stay and porn.
On the screen, two people were going at it doggy-style. I puzzled at the receiver of the action. She had the narrowest hips I’d ever seen on a woman. Not shapely at all. Instead of an hourglass, she was a straight-up V. But I didn’t want to body shame anybody, so I checked my male privilege and continued watching.
The scene changed. The humping couple was gone. Instead, a man was clearly servicing another man. I’m not going to describe how, but let’s just say that all of the parts in that next scene were obviously male.
My brain scrambled for some kind of response because this was all new information being dumped on it via my eyes. There was a refusal to accept what I was seeing. My brain assumed there was just some simple confusion with regards to the input–some poor translation of the source material. It was looking for any reference point to say See Jeff? One of them is a totally hot chick! See? BOOBS! As if to clarify, the video went back to the humping couple and the receiver looked back over his shoulder at the camera as if to say “Nope, Jeff, we’re both dudes.”
I left the booth and its genetic wallpaper. The door didn’t even close behind me and someone else had slipped in there to see what remained of the video I paid for.
On the way back into the well-lit world of porn, I noticed the white man smirking at me with the smirkiest smirk. I turned back to see if my friends made it out. That’s when I noticed the directory under the VIDEO BOOTHS sign. All the booths were listed with numbers and what was currently showing in each. They listed the title of the movie and the orientation of the porn: gay, straight, bi, trans.
I just read it 10 minutes too late.
I didn’t even want to browse the clearly labelled porn in the rest of the porn store.
Brian and Dan rolled out not long after and we quietly headed back to the Hate Tank for the drive back to the familiar boredom on the south side.
I was wondering what to say to these guys about what happened in there. I didn’t know if I should tell them or just move on. High school guys can be brutal. Turns out I didn’t have to say a word.
We were a good distance from the bookstore when Brian told us, “Some dude waved his dick at me.”
“What?” was shocked out of me.
Dan chuckled out his “What?”
“Yeah, there was this hole in the wall and a few minutes after the movie started some guy shoved his dick through the hole and said ‘Come here, boy!'”
“Shit, dude.” It was all I could think to say. “Shit.”
I expected more jokes or teasing or some adolescent way to work through what had just happened. But we were so quiet. I thought Oh shit, was this a trauma? Are we supposed to go to counseling now? It didn’t feel like a trauma. But that shit didn’t happen to me, it happened to Brian. He was a little quiet but he seemed fine. Dan was quiet too. But Dan was always quiet.
Then I realized that I was supposed to be doing the teasing. That job of ball-buster fell to me because as far as anyone knew, nothing weird had happened to me. And since Dan never said anything, I was charged with doling out the social-ranking adjustment. Finally! It was my turn to make fun of someone. I was almost never in this position. I was always on the receiving end of bad/weird/stupid shit. This was my moment to dish out some laughs at someone else’s expense for a change. Sweet revenge! Justice, even!
My friends had been with me through some of my most embarrassing moments. They had seen me fail more times than I could recall. I’m sure they could rattle of a dozen stories of my crippling awkwardness around girls or how I made an ass out of myself in front of a huge group of people or that time I fell on my face in a bike wreck of skin and spokes. They knew me better than just about anybody. They knew my worst best.
In a delicious twist of fate, the universe had handed me my moment to wrestle back a little cred. Etch out a little respect. A chance to raise my status up by knocking someone else down a rung.
And I passed.
And I decided that any time I was ever in that moment again, I would always take a pass.
That’s no way to win.
We drove home.