Porn and the Food Network

There are a few subjects that are difficult to write about, but impossible to ignore. Within mainstream America, we are blessed to be able to, at best, be oblivious to things that bother us, and at our worst, immerse ourselves in those things to the point of obsession. Genocide, war, rape, violence, racism, preventable disease, infant mortality, starvation, veganism – we can all choose to be oblivious to these problems with humanity (ok, the veganism thing was a joke, so calm down) or we can become so engrossed and ingrained with them that we see evil in the face of every stranger. I think that may be the greatest danger in organized religion is the tendency to group ourselves in the fear of the possibility of the perception of evil.

Today, this morning, I don’t want to write about any of that. What I do want to write about is porn. According to the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, teen pregnancy (at least among white people) is on a very steep decline, teen sexual activity is following the trend and the porn industry is suffering the worst financial straits in nearly a decade. The prediction that the internet would move pornography into mainstream America never materialized. In fact, the increase in pornography on the internet resulted in the unthinkable – sex has become gross.

When I was a kid, a naked picture of someone of the opposite sex was something very rare, and more often than not, very hard to come by. The swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated literally flew off the shelves, or didn’t, based on whether or not you were helping your Mom with grocery shopping. The fact that you were in the grocery store with your Mom in February was more than likely due to the existence of a seashell clad supermodel beside an issue of Redbook than it was out of a real desire to help Mom with groceries.

I became legend in 1987 within a very small circle of friends when I marched into a service station that sold Hustler magazines behind black pieces of plastic behind the counter and purchased said magazine. Much to my dismay, the clerk manning the station that day was also a Sunday School assistant at a church that my Dad occasionally volunteered “End of Times” talks to those that were interested in such things. Most likely due to derelict teenagers buying Hustler magazines, these sessions were very popular and I was very well versed in the prophesies that foretold blood running as high as the hair on a prostitute, or something like that.

All I was really interested in that day was the prostitute, and I was astonished to see that she did have hair, down there. Maybe the Bible was on to something. The poor Sunday School assistant was flaming red as she sold me the forbidden document, and my friends applauded as I left the store. Luckily for me, she was too embarrassed to say anything to anyone and resigned from her post soon after.

My victory soon became a dilemma, as I had no idea what to do with the magazine after I had bought it, after the obvious, of course. I tried to burn it, but as I was to learn many years later in Microscopic Crystal Mineralogy, the pages of such magazines are coated in Kaolinite, a relative of the mineral known as Muscovite, which gives them their glossy finish. It is also what the Romans used in their armor for fire prevention against the Scottish warriors, a small fact you’d think would be passed on within a family with a strong Scottish heritage.

After nearly blowing myself up and catching the kitchen on fire, I realized that I could sell, or flip, the magazines for nearly double what I actually paid for them. Other teenagers were not quite brave enough to risk being recognized by someone they went to church with to march into a convenience market and buy porn. How lucky for me. I found a ready outlet for illegally purchased magazines and learned a valuable lesson in defending myself from fire attack from the Romans.

Many years later, all this added to my ability to recognize two very well known porn actresses in their non-native element at a wine tasting in Los Angeles. I found them to be quite nice, very personable, and nothing like I imagined two people who had such intimate knowledge of one another to be like. They were very polite to me and very articulate, without the least sign of embarrassment over the fact that I had very likely seen them very naked. I, on the other hand, was very embarrassed and made quite the stammering fool of myself, as, really, what do you say in that situation? I think we talked about the tannins and how that 1987 was a very good year for grapes.

A situation, that, thanks to the internet, will likely never happen to my son. The very thing that we feared would cause sexual congress to become as prolific as breathing had the opposite effect. The net inundation of pornography in our society has demeaned the act to the point that it has actually become frightening once again. Guys think they are supposed to have a twelve-inch object of congress that behaves upon command and girls are afraid they will. Sexually transmitted diseases in most countries are on the decline and teenage pregnancies are plummeting in most states in the U.S.

In what I think is the greatest of ironies, the Food Network has supplanted Vivid Entertainment as the most popular base for the male demographic that is most coveted by media, ages sixteen to thirty-five. Following the trend, one of the very actresses that I met in L.A., who used to have the stage name Taylor Rain, has started and hosts a very popular cooking show in the United Kingdom. Her favorite recipe? Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Go figure.

A Bit of Whimsy – on Teaching

I received the question the other day, a bit out of the blue, a question quite telling, demanding and true. What have you been doing, the question asked, since we kicked your ass out of class? You went to Italy, for two weeks you see, although most of us saw it going on three. But you grew, we assume, in travel and such, mentally while preparing to repay us in stories to munch. Italy was acceptable, to miss all those classes, as we understood you were paying your dues, in your travel across Europe, to make yourself better than you.
But what were you doing, when you got sick, and all those classes piled up and sticked? Into the realm of teachers who didn’t care, and into the craw of the administrative staff who bared – their teeth in anger that one might dare pass, into the valley of those that might not be better than you.
You are sick, you say, with your doctor in tow, needing treatment for wounds we can’t sew? You must be absent, for things not said, as we smell the ground for a lies early tread.
A lie we can’t find, so there must one be, as we continue to account for our life’s work, you see. We can barely believe we matter so little, so we must continue the matter so bitter. Legalities of confidentiality are damned in the foresight, as we search out someone to crucify in the limelight. Our glittering hair and teeth all so shiny, we only render what won’t take flight.
We are used to those spineless and weak, with lots of cash with which to sharpen our teeth. We laugh and make fun of those with an accent, as we spin our chairs and spill, our big gulp cherry sodas that we gulp to fill, the loneliness and irony that so bares our souls, as we bounce on our balls and answer our phones.
Our greatest fear is one who makes us weak; force us to be accountable for what we speak. We know not the rules, not how to help out; our only ability is to shout out. This is your school system, in its deep truth, grinding and hoping you won’t seek out the spooks – of humans, who no longer are, only now existing by the most base of gods.
The god of the understaffed, the perilous and weak, those who cannot find the teeth; to rid the system of those underfed, who feed off the bellies of those students underfed, ignored and without a regular bed.
Those are who we as teachers must fight, and against whom we must, we MUST unite. For they will kill a system just faltering, and for whom hope is just morphing – into something beautiful and bright, which will give EVERY student a chance to take flight. Out of the black and into the light, these students who deserve every such opportunity, to fight.

A Baby’s Take on Abby’s Bar and Grill, Blacksburg, VA

I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated today to do much of anything besides apply for teaching positions and work on essays. The rain and cold had me a bit down in the dumps and Laura was feeling much the same. She has somehow managed to catch up on her work and the desolate weather has her trapped in front of the T.V. So, today, I’ve turned my restaurant review over to my four month old son, Nolan. I must say he’s pretty good at it.

“My mom and dad apparently didn’t want to do anything today but sit in front of their computers, Dad surrounded by a mess of papers, old books and a toy helicopter. Mommy was bored since I slept most of the night and didn’t give her anything to do. I tried yelling for her around four a.m. since I knew she missed me but Dad came instead. Bother. I pretended to go back to sleep pretty quick just in case he nodded off in the rocking chair and dumped me out in the floor. He didn’t dump me out in the floor; instead he sang silly songs to me while I sucked my thumb and kept my eyes shut. My little ruse must have worked, because the next thing that I knew it was morning!

I love mornings, even when it’s raining. This morning I was asleep in all my stuffed animals when Mommy woke me up to ask what we should do. ‘Your Dad has been writing all morning and we need to take him out to eat,’ she said. I knew we were going to the Underground again, since we all love that place, but I wanted to try something different. So, to get her attention, I spit up. This worked and I got a bath, which I love and I got to whisper ‘Abby’s’ in Dad’s ear.

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So, with the rain pouring down, we made the short drive to Abby’s Bar and Grill in Blacksburg. I was a bit cross as I couldn’t take a whole nap in the little time I had in my car seat. It’s tough getting your parents to do what you want, especially when you’re only four months old! It’s a good thing Mom was driving – in the rain and fog Dad drives too fast, in my opinion. I try to tell him so, but I can only yell so loud from the back of his old truck. Mom’s car is much more comfortable.

Abby’s proves to be what I like, a little dark, with lots of lights, license plates and stuff hanging around for me to look at. The waitress tells me I’m cute, which I also like, but then says I’m like being handed a million dollars, or a bomb. I don’t really understand.

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There are obvious regulars, who appreciate my attempts to get my entire hand in my mouth, a talent I am quite proud of and show off whenever I can. It’s a bit of a Dive Bar, so Dad orders a Cheeseburger. He always says the mark of a good bar is their burger and by the way he scarfs it down I’d say it’s pretty good. Mom loves steak sandwiches, and while she can’t finish all hers I can tell she likes it too. The regulars order the special, which is a big giant plate of turkey, potatoes, green beans and gravy with a roll. Man, that looks good. I can tell Dad wishes he had gotten that instead.

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The waitress is quick to hand me compliments and I try to show everyone how happy I am by spitting up all over myself. Mom is worried, but not me. I can tell by how much she ate I’ll have plenty to eat myself in an hour or so! All said and done, I’d say this place is pretty good and I can tell that on a good night, or a day when it isn’t pouring rain, it would be rocking out with customers. We’ll be back!”

The Best Canoe Ever

Once upon a time, back in the olden days when dinosaurs such as the AMC Gremlin, the Chevette, the LUV truck, the original Subaru Brat and other such worthless vehicles populated the earth for a short time, I was married. Shocker, I know. I have since been divorced and remarried, and that original marriage has faded into a distant memory that only once in a great while comes to bear on something that is happening in my life, which, is to say, not very often. My wife often says that it’s as if I was never married before her, as I obviously didn’t learn anything during that ill-fated short marriage, which may be why it was so short and so ill-fated. In actuality, there could not have been two people less suited for one another than she and I. As a matter of fact, I actually even liked her as a person, just not as my wife.

We were married in a land populated by coal mines, meth labs, moonshine stills, food stamps, mullets and Z-28 Camaros, if you could afford one. If you could, that was the epitome of cool, particularly if you had the Camaro and the mullet. Our problem? We married too early. I was a scant twenty years of age, with her just behind me on the calendar. Another problem? I have since learned in the many years since that failed attempt at a relationship that one can indeed be southern, and one can also be a redneck. They often coincide, but they do not necessarily coexist. This poor girl was redneck to the bone, but considered herself to be a gentle southerner. There is nothing scarier than a redneck girl who thinks she is a gentle southerner. There is also nothing more vindictive, punishing, unforgetting or just plain mean than a redneck girl with an agenda.

I’m reminded of all of this as I begrudgingly drag my canoe around the yard in a search for where to store the thing. I have an ancient, by canoe standards, Mad River Explorer that is roughly sixteen feet long. At least, that’s how long it originally was. It has since been folded around rocks, dropped off the roof of cars, chased down the New River during flood stage and suffers from sun fading and gunnel rot. It once proudly wore the Mad River flagship ash gunnels with pride – now it just kind of wears them. It’s a shame, I think, that a boat that I was once so proud of, through a sequence of nearly impossibly steep terrain and home remodeling has become such a nuisance. The problem was that every time I wanted to build a canoe rack a bit more permanent, it was either in the viewshed of Laura’s new office or where we were planning to build something more permanent, such as a sunroom, garage or garden. (So far, the only thing coming to fruition is the garden.)

This is a sad thing to happen to what is essentially a great friend of mine. It was a tandem purchase, bought in the spring of 1995, I think, just when my first marriage was truly falling apart. We felt, like the couple who thinks a child can save their relationship, that a canoe was just the thing. Something we could do together, a hobby we could both enjoy. I envisioned running rapids as I did in the metal atrocity that we called a canoe when I was a kid, she, picnics by the lake. I outfitted it with whitewater gear and relentlessly studied maps of the Gauley River, the Lower New and watched video on running big rapids in South America. She imagined children frolicking between the gunnels with a dog while she sat backwards in the front and I paddled them heroically across a calm lake to a lake to a campsite prepared by others.

Needless to say, I did go on to have my adventures. The canoe followed me to the Everglades, where I slept on raised wooden platforms and shoved cottonmouths back into the water. It channeled me back and forth across to a campsite on St. George’s Island, made the trip to Coya Cosa, helped me buy a Cheeseburger in Paradise (not the original) on a dank Georgia night. I lost her one night on the New and raced madly to intercept her at the Pearisburg Bridge. We paddled on Lake Tahoe, made multiple trips cross country and very carefully ran “Pure Screaming Hell” on the Gauley, still one of my life’s crowning achievements. She took me camping, helped me meet someone new and that, my friends, ultimately led to my divorce.

I didn’t get the order of new girlfriend/ex-wife right. I separated from my wife, but we hadn’t divorced when I met someone who turned out (funny isn’t it) to be a heinous bitch on wheels who very nearly ruined my life. I barely escaped the new someone years later, much wiser, thinner and much more miserable than I had ever been. The canoe followed me – stored in breezeways, in parking garages, under pine trees and on top of my ever-present old Suburban truck as they both painfully rotted in Northern Virginia.

My wife did find out about my new, thinner, younger more glamorous version of her. Although we were indeed separated, at least in spirit, the state of Virginia does not feel kindly about cheating men. Especially when there are pictures and the judge is a blood relative of the wife. Under the advice of a truly worthless lawyer and a truly savvy friend, I abandoned all our bank accounts, pocketed what cash I had, quit my job, concentrated on graduate school and moved into a camping trailer in a summer camp. It was not summer.

So that is how, after a few months of phone tag, I ended up being served my hearing papers by a nice young man pretending to deliver supplies to the camp. I arrived at the courtroom to realize that we were proceeding with the divorce (FINALLY) and dividing our assets (HYSTERICAL). I had no assets. The judge droned on and on, making sure she got every broken down couch, dishwasher, single-wide house trailer and hand knitted quilt that we had ever owned or seen. I couldn’t have cared less. I had a tent, climbing gear, an old truck that nobody else could start and my canoe. At that point, I didn’t want anything else.

Until the matter of an $80,000 student loan came to light. You see, due to a guilty conscious and full knowledge that I would indeed leave her (“her” being my soon to be ex-wife) someday soon, I had insisted that she attend Virginia Tech while I was in graduate school and get her degree. She didn’t want to, that interfered with having babies. I begged, cajoled and pleaded until she finally applied and was accepted to the land of the Hokies. Where she discovered that if you filled out a form, checked the “married” box, you would get a check for all the funds available for you to go to college after your tuition was covered. Only a fool wouldn’t realize that you had to pay that back, with interest. Only a bigger fool wouldn’t have checked into how his soon to be ex-wife was paying her tuition bills.

So the judge, out of the goodness of his heart and after listening to a pretty blond relative explain that she didn’t realize you had to give the money back, saddled me with the bill. I nearly fainted that day, there in the courtroom, over the realization that there was no escape from that bill, no getting away from the reminder that I once made a terrible mistake and married the wrong person. With tear soaked; glaring eyes, she pronounced that she also wanted the canoe.

At this point her dad, who had remained silent, leapt to his feet, slapped his hand on the table and said, “For God’s sake – let him have the canoe!”

As I drag the canoe around searching for a place to get it out of the weather, batting gnats out of my eyes, I recall why I still have this unwieldy, sadly unused piece of plastic and wood. My wonderful wife waves at me from the porch and my little boy gurgles and kicks happily in her arms. This is the best $80,000 canoe ever built.