There was a bed with an ugly flowered comforter, the kind sewn with fishing line instead of thread, facing a dresser with a huge mirror on it. We sat on the bed and I noticed that we were staring at ourselves, which led immediately to bouncing. We bounced for about ten minutes, making funny faces in the mirror all the while. What a cool idea to have a mirror in front of your bed! Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?
Panting, we collapsed onto the bed. Perfect time to smoke! Eve pulled a Kool out of what looked like a wallet made especially just for cigarettes with a special pocket just for the lighter and then handed it to me. I decided if I ever take up smoking full-time I was going to get me one of those. We lit up. She put a big gold ashtray with a heavily patterned beanbag on the bottom of it for stability between us. We smoked and panted for a bit.
Then, as if a treasure trove, Eve showed me an entire wall of VHS tapes.
“Do you want to pick or me?” She was grinning like a mysterious motherfucker.
“You pick,” I said, not realizing that it didn’t really matter which of these fine films we watched, because they were all ended exactly the same.
She slid the black tape into the black VCR, turned the TV to Channel three, and then bounced back on the bed, spraying ashes and butts everywhere. She was really excited to share.
The movie opened in a diner, where some truck drivers started telling the owner a mysterious story about a door. Uh, okay. Lame. How can a movie about a door be exciting? Then it flashed back to this pretty woman with brown hair being put on a stage and then being kissed and touched by a whole bunch of other women. Ummmm girls didn’t do that to each other on The Love Boat! I was intrigued and embarrassed, but Eve seemed like this was totally normal, so I pretended like it was something I watched all the time.
The girls had huge hair pies. Even far-too-young-to-be-watching-porn-me was fully aware that a razor or ten would be in order. Then the music got all crazy, kind of like the Schoolhouse Rock! music, only funkier, when this black guy came in. He took off his clothes and OH MY GOD! Conjunction junction, so that’s your function!
So there it was, in-and-out, upside down and all around – we were watching porn. And not just porn, the best porn ever made. Eve and I smoked Kools and watched Deep Throat, Debbie Does Dallas, and The Devil in Miss Jones, to name a few. They were fascinating. I loved the stories and the sex scenes. I was fully aware I was doing something wrong, which made me want to do it even more.
When Eve’s mom and mom’s boyfriend worked swing shift, I went home after school with her. On the non-Eve days, I went to Marie’s house with similar intention. I saw little difference between watching Duran Duran and porn, after all they made me feel the same downstairs.
The only difference was I didn’t get to smoke at Marie’s house.
. . .
I made a Spotify playlist for Schoolhouse Porn! I can’t stop listening to it! Come over and have a listen.
Moving to Sparks + no friends = TV.
TV + making friends in Sparks = porn.
My afterschool television addiction began in a Sonoma, California duplex with Super Grover and Mr. Rogers. I mentally escaped to my life on Sesame Street and in Mr. Rogers’s rad house every day after school. I defended Mr. Rogers when Mom and Bio Dad teased me that he was a pedophile because I believed in him. Unconditional love was emitted through a little box in the living room when Mr. Rogers talked just to me and no one else. It was like we were all alone in his awesome house just doing cool shit, such cool shit that it required both a shoe and sweater change to do.
I wasn’t into cartoons as much, but would watch them on Saturday mornings with the same intention I watch the Super Bowl game, for the commercials. Only these weren’t exactly commercials, they were Schoolhouse Rock! educational music-video-way-before-MTV cartoons. And I loved them. They taught me everything from the function of a conjunction to the process of a bill becoming a law, interspersed with groovy characters like Interplanet Janet singing to bass-heavy seventies tunes.
Lastly, my favorite and most anticipated show to mainline was The Muppet Show. It was only on once a week and every second from the critic’s initial insults to Zoot’s final saxophone toot was watched in silence and awe. I actually still love this show so much that I have to stop writing about it lest I totally freak the fuck out and lock myself in the house snorting VHS tapes for five days until the cops have to break the door down to pry me away from those damn furry Muppets. That, my friends, is true addiction.
Our next stints living in sleazy motels from Tucson to El Paso and other nefarious places in between brought on a craving for more mature content. Suddenly, I was interested in boys, or should I say, men. I became obsessed with The Love Boat, and my favorite parts were the kissing parts. I loved the way they made out by sucking on each other’s top and bottom lips, respectively. How I longed to have my lip sucked on the Lido Deck by some has-been actor hoping for a comeback. The other show that made me tingle was Three’s Company. And I never had common crushes. I didn’t fantasize about Jack Tripper or even Larry Dallas; no, my crush was on Mr. Furley. Yes, Don Knotts – all 93 pounds of him. I fantasized about that wrinkly old dude hitting on me at The Regal Beagle in a patchwork leisure suit.
My fake love affairs were abruptly and tragically ended when my parents moved us to the middle of Mexico. The nearest town was a tiny fishing village with cobblestone streets. Needless to say, TV was not an option. I quit cold turkey. That is, until we moved to Sparks.
Sparks was the place I relapsed on television.
Now I raced home not only from bullies, but to turn on, tune in and drop out. That’s what Mr. Leary meant, wasn’t it? TV was an obvious escape from the brutality and confusion of my life. Now I saw the world through the eyes of Ricky Schroeder, Benson, Alex P. Keaton, and a talking car named KITT. I even relapsed on cartoons. I’d be frequently caught yelling “I have the power!” along with He-Man and I literally asked my mom to “smurf” me the butter one night at dinner.
My aim was to clock about five hours on school nights. That meant running home the second the school bell rang via my super awesome shortcut which required a lot of trespassing, probably my first illegal activity. The illicit route included an empty field behind a spooky stone house that some weird politician lived in, about four backyards (one of them had sheep), and hopping several fences. If I avoided all distraction (i.e. stopping to pet said sheep) I could plant myself in front of the TV, remote in hand, by three-twenty. Bedtime was at nine, snacks, refills and homework were handled during commercial breaks, and dinner took up no more than thirty minutes and usually fell at seven-thirty, which was totally cool because the only thing on was Jeopardy which was boooooooring.
That was my life. That is, until Marie and I became friends.
Stay tuned for Channel 2, out next Monday!
The only thing more stupid than living in Reno is living in Reno’s sister city, Sparks. This is the story of how I ended up in Sparks, which, as you might expect, led me straight to smoking.
I was always suspicious of parental surprises, especially when it involved getting in a car. With my biological father, who I’ll refer to as Bio Dad, a surprise car ride meant we were either going to the liquor store or moving to a third world country. So when my mother and stepfather, AKA New Dad, sardined me into the back of New Dad’s Datsun Z for a “surprise,” I had a feeling it was going to be a craptastic day.
Quicker than I could scrawl out a help-me-I’m-trapped-in-the-back-of-a-midlife-crisis-mobile sign, we whizzed past the WELCOME TO SPARKS landmark on the side of the freeway. Not bad enough we’re going on a surprise voyage, but a surprise voyage to Sparks. I dared not ask.
The tiny sports car pulled up in front of a very long house with a FOR SALE sign in the front yard. I unfolded myself from the back of the minuscule car and made my way toward the Astroturf covered porch. The sound of my plastic jelly shoes crushing plastic grass was disconcerting at best. I was only nine, but was definitely hip enough to know that plastic grass does not belong on a front porch. The entire house looked like a mobile home, only it didn’t move, so I guess that made it an immobile home.
The house was more like two houses glued together due to a completely forced and awkward add-on. My favorite part was the Western style barroom complete with wooden swinging doors and a vinyl covered bar with barstools. I bet more than doors swung in that room, if you get my drift. Especially since Joe Conforte, the infamous owner of The Mustang Ranch was a neighbor just up the hill. Brings a whole new meaning to “hey neighbor, can I borrow some sugar?”
Before I could even finish origami-ing myself back into the miniature car, Mom craned her neck around the back of the passenger seat to face me, her face reeking of agenda.
“Did you like the house?”
“It’s fine,” I answered. I mean, I was nine and it was a house. I had much more important things on my mind, like how much Fun Dip I had left in my backpack, if I finally would discover a geode in the backyard, and the punch list items for the completion of my new fort.
“Good, because we bought it!” she exclaimed.
There it was. Surprise. I knew this would be a shit day, but the black and red floor mat had just been completely pulled from underneath my jellies. I entered this excursion with hopes (denial) that we were simply taking a Sunday drive and walking around some other person’s weird porno house for shits and gigs.
Unfortunately denial can’t orchestrate a change of fate and contracts had been signed, hands had been shaken, not stirred. I was officially fucked. I’d finally rooted myself at Anderson Elementary, so much so that I actually had made friends. Which was a rarity since I typically didn’t even make it a full school year before the suitcases came out again. By the end of our tenure with Bio Dad, Mom and I stopped unpacking the boxes because why bother? They’d only get packed up again.
“Can I still go to Anderson?” I asked, hoping, praying for a miracle.
The car-big-enough-only-for-midgets reached the bottom of the hill and passed perhaps the ugliest two schools I’d ever seen in my life. Agnes Risley Elementary and Sparks Middle shared one large city block. They were kitty corner from each other, separated by a long stretch of brown splotchy grass and a baseball diamond. They looked like prisons. Probably because they were.
“This will be your new school,” Mom said as she pointed to the smaller of the two schools. On the side of one of the cracked white walls was a pathetic mural of what looked like a large rat next to the handwritten school slogan, “Home of the Risley Bears.” Got it, the rat was supposed to be a bear. A “Risley” bear. Shoot me.
I was immediately gripped with an intense craving for nicotine. This was odd, because I’d never smoked.
Not yet, that is.
I started to cry. And not just cry, wail, for what was to come and what had already transpired. Agnes Risley was to become the tenth elementary school I’d attend.