My friend Kurt Schmucker had a wild streak that ran like a hairline fracture through his mother’s China, out into the neighborhood and through my childhood.
That fateful day, we opened the doors to one of our hiding spots, a basement bulkhead to an American Legion hall next door to my house. Upon closing the doors tight against the daylight, Kurt pulled out a penlight, clicked it on, and handed it to me. Then he pulled out the contraband from his jacket: one of his father’s Playboy magazines he cadged from the attic. Our 10-year-old hearts thumped as we flipped through it. “Wait, go back.” “Wait, hold on.” And there they were: naked females with their mysterious body parts, fearfully and wonderfully made.
Kurt and I were not newcomers to images of naked women. By the time we had pointed that penlight beam upon the pages of Playboy we had already logged many hours down in the perpetually chilly basement of our community library where we had chiseled our way like horny-toed archeologists along the yellow, sedimentary layers of aged National Geographic magazines unearthing photo features of bare-breasted aborigines.
When we came upon those photos, we’d point, gaze, and then memorize the month and year of the issue for future reference. In retrospect, while we certainly believed we were pressing into the forbidden zone, the matter-of-fact presentations of those bare boobs of the outback provided us with no way forward. They were devoid of the sensual, mere anatomical facts.
Still, we’d stare, we’d giggle, but ultimately the joke was on us. Those women stared right back as if to say, “What are you looking for?” From where they came from -- the red dirt of slow-tempered survival -- a bare-breasted woman hauling a basket of papayas bore only one genus of orb worth salivating over: the papayas not the boobs. None of this registered with us. We saw boobs. Hey, look, boobs!
And for us, National Geographic boobs naturally served as gateway boobs to Playboy magazine boobs, which had nothing to do with cold anatomy and everything to do with a better life ahead, an incentive for growing up and becoming men so that we may take up residence within the hemisphere of feminine beauty and its occupants.
Not that we could have verbalized that at the time. But I do remember, even then, staring at those photos in Playboy and wishing to crawl down deeper into the darkness of that bulkhead and to somehow emerge on the other side of that camera lens so as to talk with those women to try to sort things out.
As Kurt and I flipped through the pages, from come-hither look to come-hither look, it was as if an egg had cracked in our consciousnesses. Something was hatched. Maybe this is what it feels like to take that first addictive hit of crack cocaine. Or maybe this is what Dorothy felt when she awoke to that color-saturated world, confused, enticed, trusting and not trusting as she was led onto that yellow brick road that begins in a dizzying spiral.
We covered the magazine in leaves and exited our hideout. We went out to the front lawn of the American Legion, clambered onto the World War I cannon, took aim at Mr. Synnot’s house and commenced firing imaginary artillery until everything was left in imaginary ruins. Sigmund Freud would have laughed till he peed himself.
That evening, back home, I felt shame. Shame is that exclusively human sentiment that extends back to when Adam sunk his teeth into the forbidden fruit and suddenly felt the need to privatize his privates. As you may recall, God then handcuffed Adam and that woman, Miss Eve, and gave them a lift outside of town where their misshapen desires were commanded to conform to a T-square.
This, of course, is where I live still, outside of Eden, along with pretty much everyone else. But lately I’m feeling like I need to gather up my wife and boy and head back to that Garden and plow the fields of the Lord, if for no other reason but to shield my son from the ubiquitous emotionless, reckless, toxic pornography that can now be accessed in seconds through smart phones holstered to your child’s book bag. This stuff aint Playboy. If Caligula were around to see this, he’d turn from his hoofed counsel and adjust his eyes.
Will my boy eventually view this trash with his own Kurt Schmucker? Of course he will. Who can stop it? It’s all there on broadband. Everything is settled. All you sex-ex teachers can now put away that banana and condom and find new employment. All you apple knockers seeking the knowledge of good and evil can put away your cartography instruments because latitude is now off the charts.
Dear Lord, send us the fig leaves.
And not too skimpy.