It did not take long for me to grow bored with the October 1988 issue of Playboy. Every curve of a breast, every thatch of pubic hair, every smooth, airbrushed buttock became as familiar to me as the location of the warp zones in Super Mario Bros. I began craving variety. I continued the methodical search of my parents’ bedroom whenever I could, and I discovered another half dozen or so issues of Playboy in my Dad’s closet; I committed each and every pictorial to memory. By the time I was finished I had become an expert on breasts. Previously, I had never imagined that they came in so many varieties. Nipples too. There were large round breasts, small droopy breasts, tennis ball breasts and banana shaped breasts. The nipples on these breasts had circumferences ranging from the size of a dime to that of a coke can; length wise they ran the gamut from a half-gnawed pencil eraser to a drinking straw. After a while though I began to develop breast-ennui and Playboy just didn’t titillate me the way that it once had.
It was about a year later that I made my next great discovery.
Like many of the greatest discoveries, this one was an accident. I was downstairs in the computer room, playing California Games on the Apple IIc, when, because I kept wiping out so quickly during the surfing challenges, I decided to try and find the instruction manual. I began looking through the cabinets above the computer desk; they were filled with instruction manuals and software packaging, along with many of my father’s business publications and Army magazines.
I was shuffling through the manuals when a magazine fell on the desk. “Penthouse” it said on the cover. Up to this point I had been under the impression that the hierarchy of adult reading material went as follows: Sears catalog, Victoria’s Secret catalog, Playboy. It had never crossed my mind that it got any better than that. Penthouse, I would soon learn, makes Playboy look like Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
I randomly opened the Penthouse to a page in the middle and was filled with profound confusion about what I was looking at. In front of me was a full-page image of some type of exotic blossom, or maybe it was the mouth of a starfish. It looked fleshy, frightening—perhaps alien. Half disgusted, I studied the photograph for quite some time, trying to understand why I also found it so enticing. I turned the page and saw a photo of a woman sitting on a beach with her legs spread wide apart, and suddenly everything made sense. The missing link in my anatomical knowledge had been uncovered.
In addition to inspiring young men everywhere to pursue degrees in gynecology, another way in which Penthouse differed from Playboy was its articles. Whereas Playboy publishes mostly pseudo-highbrow articles on cigars, muscle cars and home-brewing techniques, Penthouse magazine has a section called “Penthouse Forum.” This is comprised of letters allegedly written by readers of the magazine, though underneath every letter is written the message “name and address withheld by request.” These letters presented a world in which movie theater employees were having sex with patrons in the projector booths, college students were having sex with their professors after class, men and women would meet each other at the supermarket and duck into the public bathroom together, for sex, without even learning each other’s names, and women were constantly having sex with anyone who showed up at their door with any kind of a package. Each of these letters began roughly the same way, with some variation of the phrase, “you’ll never believe what happened to me, but…” Well, as a young man undergoing a sexual awakening, I chose to believe every word printed on those pages. I found them inspiring, and I looked forward to the day that I would be able to write my own letter to Penthouse, and I wouldn’t request that my name and address be withheld either.
As I progressed through middle school I learned that the hierarchy of pornographic magazines did not end with Penthouse. If Penthouse makes Playboy look like Dr. Seuss then Hustler magazine makes Penthouse look like Shel Silverstein. Hustler is among the most obscene mainstream adult publications available on the newsstand. It shows photos of men and women engaged in all types of sex acts, and regularly features a ‘human oddities’ section featuring photos of women with labias that hang down to their knees, and other women whose vaginas are stretched so wide that they can fit their entire forearm inside. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being courageous enough to purchase an issue of Hustler magazine from the gas station or pharmacy without fear of being judged as some sort of sexual deviant. None of my peers would have dared to keep a Hustler hidden in their houses. This is why there were several issues of Hustler buried at various locations in the woods, and on the old train tracks, throughout my town. Nobody knew who buried them, or why. Whether they were hidden outside out of fear over them being discovered, or it was some sort of a gift passed down from an older generation will never be known. There were a few of my friends who knew where one of them was buried, and passed the information on to me.
At this point in my life I was obsessed with sex, and hormonally driven to possess as much smut as I could get my hands on. I decided to do something that, to the best of my knowledge had never been done before: dig up one of the Hustler magazines and bring it home. The magazine was buried beneath two or three inches of dirt. It was half worm-eaten and there were maggots in it. At least three quarters of the pages were so filthy and weather worn that there was nothing recognizable on them. I brought the entire magazine home and spent the afternoon with a tub of water and a blow dryer, cleaning and drying every salvageable page. I stapled them together and hid them on the top shelf of my closet. At the time I considered this to be one of the great accomplishments of my life.