In my early teens I became guardian of a large collection of pornography that the Wally brothers had found dumped in an alleyway. The Wallys were my best friends and the three of us fancied ourselves juvenile delinquents, although our reign of terror was negligible. As budding criminals, we faced a daunting number of challenges — we were cowards, a stiff breeze made my nose bleed, and the Wallys had bones so brittle that they would often break with little or no provocation. Each time my mother heard that one of them had sustained yet another fracture, she would shake her head and cluck, “They’re not getting enough milk.”
These were not the makings of a feared street gang.
Since their earliest days in school, the Wallys had been forced to take mandatory naps before coming out to play. If for some reason this cool-down period was missed, they would gradually grow somber, their moods darkening steadily, until at some pre-destined moment they would spontaneously erupt into violence and beat the living shit out of each other, pummeling away mercilessly until they both collapsed in exhaustion. Amazingly, neither one of them ever snapped a bone during these fraternal poundings, and they continued to be the closest of siblings when they weren’t trying to kill each other.
They’d stumbled across the porn back behind their house and were worried that it might be a trap.
Who in their right mind would willingly part with such a treasure? What if the police or the PTA had set up a sting operation to ferret out neighborhood perverts? What if a local news team leapt from the bushes, lights flashing and cameras running?
In subsequent years I’ve talked to people from all over the country and learned that finding a porn stash is actually quite common. There are a variety of names for it — dumpster porn, desert porn, orphan porn.
Boxes o’ plenty. Happy packages. Rather than bait in some law-enforcement snare, these scattered cast-offs are the work of modern day Johnny Appleseeds: guilt-wracked uncles, scout leaders or members of the clergy sowing the land with items they’re too embarrassed to keep.
As for our find, it was so huge that we couldn’t think of anything better to do than weigh it using a bathroom scale, after which we simply referred to it as “the thirty-two pounds of porn.”
Summer was new when this all started. It was hot but not yet crazy hot, and the whirring drone of cicadas was already filling the air when Wally Jr. called. He sounded different, tense. I had to come over right away — something big had happened, really big — but he couldn’t tell me about it over the phone. Since we usually spent our vacations hanging out at the public pool, drinking countless Slurpees and shoplifting stuff we didn’t need, his urgency made me nervous. Had Wally Jr. finally snapped his brother’s neck? Did he need help disposing of the body? Had Wally Sr. blown off a fingertip with the Polish cannon we’d made the week before?
I arrived to find both brothers alive and in one piece — in fact, it looked like nothing was going on at all — yet they were flushed, out of breath. They led me out to a densely overgrown space behind their house, then deep into the desert jungle, pushing back the creosote and navigating around the jumping cactus until we came to a small, sunlit clearing.
“There it is,” Wally Sr. said, pointing to a cardboard box sitting on the ground. He flipped the lid open with his foot and we were bathed in an orange glow cast by dozens of glossy magazine covers. The surface was a jumble of body parts, a chaotic explosion of breasts, lips, thighs and random, brightly printed words — SPREAD WIDE, STEAMING ACTION, DRIPPING FUN. We stood there, staring.
I cannot overemphasize the significance of this moment. At the time I was a bubbling cauldron of sexual impulse and confusion. I’d only recently discovered you didn’t need a partner to have sex, and had been exercising this option as frequently as possible. Although I possessed a vivid imagination, I relentlessly sought out any kind of visual stimulation to aid in my carnal fantasies. Sadly, printed material was scarce. Some kids were lucky enough to have a father with a Playboy collection or some stag pictures tucked away in a drawer, but my dad was gone, and if he ever did have any porn, he was really good at hiding it.
As for my mother, she never read the more tawdry women’s magazines like Cosmo, so I was reduced to a lone copy of Redbook featuring an ad with Tina Louise in a bikini. Time after time I’d lock myself in the bathroom and start wailing away at my nether regions, pants down around my ankles, only to have reruns of Gilligan’s Island pop into my head, jeopardizing everything. It was bad enough worrying about my mother knocking, but someone yelling “Skipper!” in my ear was almost too much to bear.
Far more plentiful were the pleasures offered up nightly on network television. It was the heyday of T&A programming, when executives took the label “vast wasteland” and ran with it, throwing originality and story out the window in favor of bouncing, scantily-clad women. Prime-time was obviously aimed at serial masturbators and complete morons. I watched it religiously.
My favorite series of all was Wonder Woman, which if memory serves was little more than fifty minutes of two huge tits fighting crime. But there were plenty of other shows to keep it company. Week after week I’d eagerly scan the latest TV Guide, noting the best-bets for shameless titillation — Adrienne Barbeau on The Love Boat, Barbi Benton on Fantasy Island, the Landers sisters on anything. Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company, Hee-Haw in a pinch. Temptation was everywhere.
On special occasions there was a treat known as the Battle of the Network Stars. Ostensibly an arena for macho actors like Robert Conrad to prove that they really were over-competitive assholes, the real meat and potatoes of the program was the celebrity dunk tank, where a host of nubile starlets were encouraged to showcase their talent for getting wet.
Still, you had to act fast, or risk the picture cutting from a hard-nippled Charlene Tilton pulling herself out of the drink, straight to a shot of Gabe Kaplan or Telly Savalas — the twin titans of boner-killing.
It was from this minefield that I found myself unexpectedly rescued by the box of smut.
Standing there in the middle of the cactus, weeds and dust, I looked down at a corrugated milestone in my sexual history. All that was missing was a heavenly choir.
Of course it still could’ve been a trap. It was illegal for us to have any of the stuff, and despite our tough-guy delusions we were basically good kids with a healthy fear of the law. We’d dutifully turned in the rusted handgun we found behind the 7-Eleven and immediately reported the hypodermic needles we’d seen on Hippie Hill. But parting with this mother lode was never a consideration.
We decided to take the porn over to my house. I had a small, neglected garage, the perfect hiding place to establish what we were already calling our “library.” Setting the box on the garage’s living-room floor, we closed the blinds and began exploring. Like three pubescent archaeologists, we dug through layer after layer, each level revealing some new delight.
The porn was all straight but it covered a broad range of appetites: from gauzy, soft-lit “erotica” to the medical textbook horror of fluorescent, Motel 6 fucking, where no pimple was too big and no ass too hairy. In some of the harder-core samples, a man’s presence wasn’t even necessary to complete the equation; a variety of curious objects (vegetables, athletic equipment, highway pylons) standing in for living, breathing erections. Then there were a couple of shoe-fetish catalogues and some S&M mags, adding a touch of kink to the proceedings. One layout featured a guy who looked just like my dentist getting hot wax dripped over his belly — about as erotic as Gabe Kaplan mounting Telly Savalas.
On we went. Dozens of magazine titles were represented; Playboy, Penthouse, Oui, Gallery, Gent, Juggs, Genesis, Swank, High Society, Celebrity Skin and, of course, Beaver.
As we plowed through the box we scattered the porn on the floor, creating a carpet of hot paper flesh. Naked women were everywhere. This was the real thing, or as close to it as I thought I’d ever get. Goodbye Redbook, hello Hustler.
After about twenty minutes the box was empty, the living room a mess. I fetched a scale from the bathroom and we began weighing the porn one small stack at a time until we came up with our less-than-scientific total. Once that was over we did what any normal kids would do: We started making rules. We weren’t stupid. We’d all read Lord of the Flies and knew that without imposing order we risked descending into primal, porn-fueled anarchy.
Our guidelines were simple — you could check out five magazines at a time for up to three weeks. (Five magazines was the maximum number you could smuggle down the front of your pants without drawing too much attention to yourself. As it was, it still must’ve looked pretty weird seeing a couple of kids stiffly goose-stepping through the neighborhood every few weeks.) There was to be no tearing out of pages or getting you-know-what on them, and most importantly, there was to be no talking about the library.
The rules settled on, we each chose our first five titles and went our separate ways, ushering in the long, hot summer of self-abuse.
I’d like to tell you that in the ensuing months I realized how pornography had little, if anything, to do with real women and that objectifying them wasn’t even sexy. I’d like to tell you that — but I can’t, because I was too busy beating-off like a little monkey. Those revelations wouldn’t come until later.
That’s not to say the box didn’t have educational value. Right off the bat I learned that a paper cut on the penis wasn’t fatal. Playboy Bunnies were turned off by rude people, but not James Caan’s hairy back. Pete Rose hated it when chicks licked his nipples, but not much more. If the Wallys were getting anything else out of it, they weren’t talking. I was left to probe the mysteries of womankind on my own. When I wasn’t launching another surprise attack on my beleaguered member, I was scanning articles, interviews and advertisements trying to glean any insight I could as to what made women tick.
Unfortunately the porn raised far more questions than it answered. Were women genuinely turned on by round beds and Burt Reynolds mustaches? Would a designer cologne or component stereo system really make them horny?
Was it essential for a man to have a huge penis, and if so, was there still time to grow one? None of these or countless other questions were ever answered to my satisfaction, and all things considered, it’s a small miracle that I didn’t return to school that fall as an eighth-grade Bob Guccione — zodiac pendant dangling from my neck, shirt open to the waist, crotch full of padding and reeking of High Karate.
For their part, the Wallys appeared unchanged as well, with the notable exception that they had all but abandoned their afternoon naps and the impromptu beatings had dramatically tapered-off. With their volcanic aggression now safely re-channeled, the brothers began the long, slow journey toward becoming productive, non-psychotic members of society — a living testament to the healing power of onanism.
Yet whether we knew it or not, we were changing. High school arrived and with it came a host of new problems. While my body continued developing in all the wrong ways, I watched, petrified, as the girls around me turned into young women, becoming even less approachable in the process.
When Wally Sr. became the first one of us to get a girlfriend (she said she liked his firm face, whatever that meant), the porn became nothing more than a liability — a constant, nagging reminder of my physical and emotional shortcomings. How could I expect the girl at the next desk to take me seriously when I’d been hunched over a copy of Dildo Debbies the night before?
The Wallys didn’t object when I suggested that we release the porn back into the wild. Their own trips to the library had become less frequent, and with Wally Sr. now attached, an awkward new dynamic had been introduced. Somehow having three members was okay, but two was kind of creepy.
We scouted locations and one day found ourselves in a densely overgrown space between two houses. There we left the porn. Tempted though we were to say a prayer, last words — something — we left in silence.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays.