My father is an old man who seems to exist solely on a diet of refined sugar and protein. It’s difficult to keep an eye on his diet from so far away, but it seems to me that whenever I visit home, he’s got a refrigerator stocked full of big haunches of roasted meats he’s purchased at the local supermarket, from which he slices little pieces until over the course of way too long he finally consumes the whole thing.
I’ll pull open the door and there’ll be a huge old ham, a roast turkey roughly the size of the one that Mr. Scrooge fed to the Cratchits, and a hulking lump of beef, sawed away on one side. Then there’ll be the sugars. Twinkies. Ho-Hos. Little Debbies of every flavor. Archway cookies—the soft kind. Tubes of Pillsbury dough that can be sliced and baked at a moment’s notice. His entire home office is a candy store, basically. Half of the shelves are devoted to actually books, while the rest exist to hold the bags of candies that he munches on at whim. To be fair, the man is in great health for his age, and is much thinner than I. My teeth, on the other hand, are in better shape.
It was a few years back, when I was visiting my dad in Virginia and had a Tootsie Roll jones that I knew could be fixed with a quick scan of his office bookshelves, that I discovered his stash of porn. Most people to whom I tell this story recoil at this point. They simply can’t imagine confronting evidence of their parents’ sex life, whether it’s porn or condoms or a vibrator spied while snooping in a cupboard. I really don’t care, though. In fact, I thought to myself as I leafed through the material to see what he had, my reaction was more along the lines of wanting to high-five him and crow, Good on you, you seventy-something-year-old dawg! The only thing that could’ve made me happier for him was if I’d found some actual signs of involvement with someone other than Miss Rosie Palms, if you know what I mean. And I’m pretty sure you do.
Apparently my dad is now into women with enormous jugs. At least, that’s what I’m guessing from the abundance of magazines and calendars featuring porn babes with mammaries that weren’t merely ample, but that were so oversized that it made my back hurt just to look at them. I confess to a little surprise, since my mother’s figure was lithe and boyish—in other words, she was a beautiful Audrey Hepburn look-alike in her youth, but fairly flat-chested.
What surprised me most, though, was that my dad actually had porn. Hidden away, no less, though not very well. Because when I was growing up, that simply wasn’t the case. Oh, I would’ve known if he had. When I visited the houses of friends, starting in about fourth grade or so, I was a master of sniffing out their dads’ porn; I didn’t even need a dowsing rod. We’d wait until the coast was clear, and then I’d lead my innocent friend into his dad’s bedroom and produce magazines from under his bed, or at the back of his closet, in a small box tucked behind the shoes. Or maybe I’d lift up the mattress and pull out a handful of dirty photographs, carefully hidden away.
The magazines were usually nothing racier than a Hustler or a Penthouse, though in a couple of instances we discovered some harder-core materials and even once a photo magazine with a definite bisexual angle, which had to be an eye-opener for my friend. The two of us would look over his parent’s porn for a little bit, wide-eyed and silent, barely making any more movement than the rapid darting of our eyes and the occasional flick of a tongue over our lips. Then we’d stuff the magazines back into their hiding places and not speak of them until we looked for them again the next time. My friends were usually too timid to hunt for the stuff themselves. I offered myself up in the role of scapegoat, though I knew I was more of an instigator, a catalyst, whose role was to put the sexually-charged sessions into motion.
Some things never change, right?
My father, though, didn’t buy dirty magazines. My parents were open about sex, had a lot of it together, and found no need to hide it from me when I was growing up. They had sex manuals in abundance, but I didn’t have to hunt to find them. They started handing them over to me to read at the age of nine or ten or so, and would check in periodically to see if I had any questions. In that brief window of time in which art films and pornography mingled, they’d take a night out and head down to the little foreign film theater to see I Am Curious (Yellow) or Deep Throat. My parents did own two copies of Playboy, but they weren’t squirreled away in a secret hiding place. They were in the stack of magazines beneath the coffee table, mixed in with Time and Smithsonian and Southern Living. I’d been invited to look at them when they’d been added to the pile.
It was shit like this that made my parents seem like total hippies, to all my friends.
I knew the contents of those magazines intimately—both were from 1976. One featured the somewhat infamous interview with David Bowie in which he discussed his bisexuality. The other was the even more infamous issue with an interview with President Jimmy Carter, in which he confessed that he had lusted in his heart more than once.
I knew those magazines from cover to cover, at one point. One of the issues had a feature on sex in the movies, so I got to become familiar with a photo of Kris Kristofferson’s tiny nipples, and to become very acquainted with a glimpse of a tiny sliver of black dick in a shot from the film Mandingo. I read through all the crude cartoons, trying to decode from the slang what they might mean in the adult world of sex. I read through all the letters and articles, sucking them dry of any titillating sexual content they might have offered. About the only thing I didn’t become overly aroused by were the photos of the naked women, oddly enough. I didn’t begin to explore that side of my sexuality until my later teens.
But what I fixated upon most, in one of those two issues—I think it was the Jimmy Carter one—was a two-page spread from Jockey advertising its wide variety of underwear choices. The advertisement was simplicity itself. All it did was feature a grid of photographs of professional athletes modeling Jockey shorts. Some wore T-shirts or tank tops as well; others were shirtless. Try as I might, I cannot find the two-page ad anywhere on the net, though I have found a one-page version from the same campaign.
I cannot exaggerate how many times I masturbated over this Jockey shorts ad. It was the closest thing I had to gay porn for many, many years. I was sexually active by the time I first saw it, but the actual sex I was getting never stopped me from whacking off to it in the mornings before I left for school. Several times a week I’d wake up at six, shower and dress, grab something for breakfast and do the homework I’d neglected the night before over the cereal bowl. Then I’d have fifteen blissful minutes behind the coffee table, on the floor, with the magazine propped open to my two favorite pages. My little pants would have been unzipped and my shorts tugged down and around my nuts, my hand furiously working over my dick, while I gazed at those men in their Jockeys.
I loved their chests—muscular and bare, or covered with cotton that let tufts of hair peek out at the scooped neck. I loved their strong, thick legs, their nineteen-seventies ‘staches, the roundness of their shoulders and biceps. But most of all, I liked looking at the mounds inside those Jockeys and wondering that they’d be like, inside me. Soon enough I’d squirt, wipe it off, and run off to the bus still bearing that chlorine-like scent of my semen back then.
Fred Dryer looks pretty damned good, in the ad I found. But today I look at the ad and mostly cringe a little at the loud prints, the garish colors, the netted tank top, and especially the circus tent boxers poor Brad Park is forced to sport.
At the time, though, those men were pure masculinity to me. And I still grow nostalgic at the thought.