I often marvel at the internet’s contribution to pornography with the likes of webcam sex sites like CAM4 and Xtube. Just because I’m a near-old-fart doesn’t mean I still can’t enjoy looking at the exhibitionists showing off their raging manhood. My only caveat would be: why are you hot-looking, healthy, horny twenty-something/thirty-something-year-olds on-line and not out in the real world having incredible safe sex? I’m not judging, just asking. Even I take the miracle of internet sex for granted at times, but then I think back to the not so good old days, remembering what little we had in the way of porno when I was an eager young thing.
As a kid, there were no malls. If you needed to shop you went downtown (at least in Cleveland we did). When we needed clothing, household items, gifts or anything you couldn’t buy at the local five and dime, we took a bus downtown. There were huge department stores and elegant small department stores, specialty clothing shops, bookstores, jewelry stores, candy shops, and everything-else-you-could-imagine stores. It was incredible, and only about 45 minutes away on a Cleveland Transit System bus that picked us up at the end of our street in West Buttfok, and dropped us off in front of The May Co. In summer my mom took me downtown once a week. We would spend the better part of the day. We’d get there around 10:00 am. and shop for a few hours, eat lunch at the counter of Kresge’s or Woolworth’s and shop some more. We’d get a snack and board the bus around 3:00 pm so that we could get home in time for my mother to start supper (which we ate promptly by 5:30 pm every weeknight).
A favorite stop of Mom’s was a large bookstore on Prospect Avenue, I believe, a few blocks east of May Co. It was in an old building and occupied several floors. The first floor held lots of current magazines and hobby publications. She would buy antique collecting periodicals. The store specialized in old periodicals and out-of-print books. I remember there was a second and even a third floor. That top floor had older art books and antiques journals and we would work our way up there. At this time I couldn’t have been much older than ten, which means my younger brother was three, so I would have to keep an eye on him so that he didn’t destroy anything or wander away. There was a not so nice lady who managed and perhaps even owned the store. She was always downstairs at the cash register, making sure no one made it out the door without paying. She didn’t like any kids, so there was always much eye rolling when my mother walked through the door with the two of us in tow and she would glare at me as if to say “watch out kid I got my eye on you”. By the time you got to the upper floors you were pretty much on your own. But there was an older guy who worked on the top floor. While my mother looked at the old antiques journals, she would make us stay right next to her. At the farthest end of the store there were always a few men, usually older, who would be going through some back-dated magazines, and the upstairs guy watched them like hawks. At first I imagined he must have thought they would try to steal some of them, but the more often we went up there, and the wiser I became, I realized there was something not very kosher about what they were looking at. I figured they must be magazines with naked ladies, I’d heard about those. What else could they be?
Once I became thirteen, I negotiated with my parents to let me go downtown on the bus by myself. At first I had to have a reason, like I needed a pair of pants, or underwear or socks. My mother had a charge account at Higbee’s, so clothing purchases for any of us were made there. For you young things born in the 1970s and after, there was no such thing as Visa/Mastercard/Discover/Amex in the 60s. Being a clever and creative adolescent, I would manage to find an excuse to make a trip once a month during the school year. I would window shop, people watch and just enjoy being in a place where human beings were out and about actually doing things. Our awful ‘burb was totally devoid of anything to do and the only place to go was a small shopping center with a grocery store, laundromat, bakery, barbershop, and drugstore, hardly worthy of a curious, worldly thirteen-year-old like myself.
When summer came, my trips were more regular and frequent. Mom still came downtown but usually only monthly. I managed to make a solo shopping trip at least once or twice a month myself. One particular time she couldn’t make the trip, so she asked me to stop at the book store and pick-up a copy of her antique collecting magazine, and I thought nothing of going into the shop alone. The lady at the cash register wasn’t any nicer to me sans little brother, but she didn’t scare me anymore either. I felt and acted very cool on my own. Since I had an excuse to be there, I casually strolled around, then worked my way up to the top floor to check out what the mysterious stuff was in the magazines those men were always looking at. I had no idea what they held in store for me.
They weren’t naked ladies, they were naked MEN. The upstairs guy was at the opposite end of the floor, so I was pretty much alone and I thumbed through years of PHYSIQUE magazine. The men weren’t totally naked, of course. They wore “posing straps”, but their asses were totally bare. I couldn’t believe something like this even existed. PHYSIQUE was promoted as a sort of guide, displaying health conscious “trained athletes” who were displaying their well-sculpted bodies. They weren’t bulky body builders, they were good-looking men showing off their package in a neat little pouch for other guys to see. I couldn’t imagine any women buying or looking at these magazines. It was another one of those nasty, underground things for “those kind of men”. After several minutes of me studying many of the issues, the upstairs guy worked his way towards me, so cleverly I moved over to the next bin which held back issues of an oversized art journal magazine. He didn’t seem to notice me, but I didn’t want to take any chances, and left the store soon after. I’d be back, I knew in my gut. I liked what I saw, even though it gave me terrible guilt just thinking about those magazines. And I thought and thought about them, until my libido led me back to the store alone again.
On my next visit, I tried not to bee-line for the third floor treasures immediately, but it was all I could do to stay downstairs for more than five minutes. My heart had been racing the moment I stepped through the door. My barely adolescent boner was throbbing in my pocket in anticipation of what the pages of PHYSIQUE held in store for me. It nearly stabbed my thigh as I walked up the two tall staircases, I was so worked-up at the thought of those bare-assed big boys. When I got upstairs there were several men around the bins of my magazines. “Shit”, I whispered under my breath, now what do I do? Well, I wouldn’t be embarrassed, because for sure these guys were mesmerized as much if not more than I was, and they didn’t give a damn, so neither would I. There weren’t any signs that said adults only, but just to be on the safe side, I grabbed one of the large-scale art journals, and slipped the small PHYSIQUE mag inside. (Pretty crafty thinking on my part, huh?) It was heaven. I was relaxed as I pored over my copy, memorizing features, wishing I had X-ray vision to see exactly what was inside those pesky pouches held up by tiny strings. And the men perusing their copies paid little or no attention to me.
I was up there for what seemed like hours. I probably probed three magazines, digesting each picture on every single page. The upstairs guy called over to our general area, announcing something to the effect of “OK gentlemen, this isn’t a library. Take out your wallets, or put the magazines away”. It kind of frightened me. Suddenly I understood this guy knew exactly what we all were doing, and I certainly wasn’t fooling anyone using the art journal as my cover. A few of the men chose some to take downstairs to purchase, the others put theirs back and left. Dammit, I think they cost maybe a quarter each used, but A) what would I do with them when I got them home and B) would they even sell them to a snot-nosed sissy kid? I put mine back and left quickly. I returned several times that summer. It was always the same scenario as above. Once the man chased me away before I even got a peek. And another time I came into the store and he was at the cash register, so I raced upstairs, thinking it was smooth sailing ahead. WRONG. Obviously he had changed places with the not so nice lady who hovered around anyone who was upstairs like a Gestapo agent in a ghetto. I went over to get a copy of my art journal “beard” and she shouted “You get out of here. This floor is no place for a kid”. I nearly crapped my pants. I didn’t go back there for months, and feared she would tell my mother the next time we came in together. She never did.
I think I outgrew the bookstore by the time I turned fifteen. It made me horny, which I had sort of figured out the first time I saw that magic magazine cover. More than horny, it made me feel too guilty, knowing that the images of naked men made me hard, and I didn’t want to admit this mania to anyone, especially to myself. It wasn’t Catholic guilt. It was way beyond that. It was something I had to stifle in myself, because I didn’t want to be a queer. It was something I prayed for at night, as a little kid, long before I even knew there was a word for what it was. I prayed for two things each night, silently to God. The first was “that I will never have to fight in a war”. The second “that I won’t be that way when I grow up”. HE saved me from the first, and blessed me with the second. Thank God!