I can’t remember the first paragraph of the filthy paperback I found under my mother’s bed. I was helping her clean house. But – my bad – I ignored her admonition to stay out of her room.
It was 1964. I was a junior in Catholic high school and still an altar boy. It was going to be tough to tell Mom that she had to stop reading porn or risk going to hell. My dad had died the year before. Shortly after that, my godmother passed, which led to speculation about whether her husband, my godfather, would propose to Mom. Mom crushed that idea before anyone could conceive of the funeral meats serving as a wedding banquet. She had spent the last dozen years caring for one disabled coal miner. She wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life taking care of another. She would work her day job, keep the house clean, watch a little television and curl up with a good book. Better that than a grouchy old asthmatic.
In those days, porn was mostly magazines with photos of naked or near-naked women. Pretty expensive magazines. Mom didn’t care for that static stuff. She was into narrative. But it was still a sin – especially if accompanied with line drawings.
The narrative in Mom’s book had a certain momentum. The first paragraph engulfed me in a wave of desire, like hot transmission fluid. As best I could, I resisted the urge to continue reading. The book was clearly an occasion of sin. I could tell by the way my eyes lingered on the illustrated cover: Garage Guys.
Tossing the book into our coal furnace was harder than I thought it would be. As was resisting the urge to pull it out of the flames. It would be even harder to ask Mom to give up porn. I wanted to approach the subject carefully. I certainly didn’t want to embarrass her by telling my brothers and sisters. I apprehended a messy family intervention directed at Mom or, worse, at me. But her immortal soul and maybe mine were at stake. I decided on a generic remonstration.
We were at the kitchen table, on a Saturday morning, having coffee and frosted pound cake. Her gray hair was tucked into the net she wore at her job in the hospital cafeteria. She had separated the frosting from the cake and had eaten the cake. Now she put a morsel of white frosting in her mouth and was letting it dissolve like the Eucharist.
“Mom,” I said, “Have you ever heard of the sixth commandment?”
“Is that what gave women the right to vote? It’s a waste of time.”
“Mom, I mean commandment not amendment. Amendments deal with law. Commandments deal with sin.” I couldn’t resist parading my advanced placement classes. Parading was the flip side of missionary zeal.
“Sin?” Mom said. “That’s another waste of time.” Broad statements like that meant her soul was expanding – often a sign that she was ready to take on a challenge. Like swearing off porn. She pulled a cigarette from the pack on the table, lit it and put the match in the plate that had cradled cake and frosting only moments earlier.
“Right, Mom,” I said, “Sin is a waste of time. It also destroys our chances of dying and going to heaven.”
“Who told you that?” she said blowing a confident billow of smoke. “We all have chances to die. Your father seized one last April. Remember?”
“Of course, I remember,” I said. “It was exactly six months before the assassination of President Kennedy.”
Mom looked at me and said. “That’s how you remember your own father’s death? In relation to some Irish big shot?”
“Mom,” I said, trying to steer our talk back in the direction of salvation, “the sixth commandment prohibits adultery and other forms of impurity.”
“I never cheated on your father. Certainly not with your godfather. He was not that nice to your godmother. And you kids were hoping I’d hook up with him to tie some loose ends into a noose around my neck?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know he wasn’t nice.”
“You didn’t know he wasn’t nice? He taught you how to drive a car. You would come home pale and whimpering after every lesson. You didn’t know he wasn’t nice!” She rolled her eyes in exasperated incredulity then slapped her hand on the table, “Jesus, can’t you kids connect any dots? What was the point of stealing those Highlight activity books from the pediatrician’s office?”
I realized I could be distracted by tangential sins – stealing and abusing the Holy Name. Or I could continue to focus on freeing her from pornography.
“If he wasn’t so nice,” I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “why did you choose them for my godparents.”
“They were the best available at the time. Anyway, I lived long enough to protect you from having to move in with them.”
“Thank you,” I said and, my expression of gratitude having restored a positive tone, I confidently launched my harpoon into the heart of the beast trying to destroy her. “I really need to talk about the dirty books you’ve been reading.”
“You know where I can buy more at a discount? I like the ones with all guys. There are so few other sources of testosterone around here.”
“Mom, you have to stop reading those books. They’re sinful.”
She was ready to end the conversation. The lit cigarette hanging from her lip, she used her hands to gather the crumbs to her edge of the table and then brush them into her ash-covered plate. She was so annoyed she couldn’t contain herself. Her face red, the cigarette bouncing as she talked out of the free side of her mouth, “They’re not sinful!” she said. “But they’re close enough for an old widow.”
In retrospect, I realize how skillfully Mom managed the situation. She could have said something coarse like, “What I do to masturbate is none of your prissy business.” That would have been a mortar into my brain – my Mom fingering her way into orgasm. Though she handled the subject with grace, I don’t think she forgave my condemning her private pleasures.
Porn has changed a lot since that conversation with Mom. Or at least I’ve learned more about it. Back then, in small-town Pennsylvania, there weren’t theaters with blue movies. I wasn’t aware of any. Traveling carnivals sometimes had men and women dancing in skimpy clothes – I thought then – to survive the heat of the hostile Sahara.
I’m older now – about the same age as Mom was back in 1964. I have a small collection of porn on DVD. I can’t afford a big collection or any HD or Blu-ray, so I shop carefully. Not all of my porn is fetish, but those are the ones I relish. And those are the ones Mom comes back from the dead to keep me from enjoying. For example, I have a crush on Hussein, a hairy ethnic model who used to appear on videos from Raging Stallion Studios. In the opening scene of the final disk in his Arabian series, Hussein is with some skinny, inked white guy. As the scene progresses, Hussein bends over a stack of decorative carpets. The white guy is on the verge of showing us the entrance to Hussein’s oasis. And just then, my machine always skips. I know it’s Mom getting even. And I’m glad I remember why – especially in sight of some big-ass Turk I’d sell my soul to rim.
© 2014 C. Teixeira. All rights reserved.