King of the Night Time World

“Come live your secret dream…” 

My eighth grade teacher explained to us, separated from our female peers, that it’s okay to masturbate. That we shouldn’t feel shame- that it’s normal human behavior. Later, on the playground, we collectively processed this information; we were uncomfortable. We accused one another of being masturbators. Each boy denied this accusation with vehemence; each boy except Teddy. Teddy stood with defiance; he refused to engage; he thought talking about it was “gay.” He would neither confirm nor deny his status as masturbator. Later that night- in a remote part of town, behind the neighborhood water tower, where a teenager could explore the night time world without invasive eyes- in the shadow of an older brother’s car headlights, a struggle session took place. Dave was never happy with the unresolved. Things got tense. Knowledge of truth’s existence will demand its reveal by way of invisible forces and self-perpetuating inertia. Even still, Teddy refused to budge. Later that night we listened to Metallica while looking at his collection of Playboy magazines.

I knew I needed to see Shannen Doherty naked. I knew I needed this desperately. Preciently, I knew this before she was announced to appear in an upcoming issue of Playboy. Before the turn of the millenium, before smartphones and selfies; before getting a freshly taken nude photograph of a woman minutes after first interacting with her became an expectation- before female nudity was stripped of its prestige; stripped of its premium pricing- back when you knew your friend’s dad made big money by the mere presence of a 52” rear-projection Zenith TV in the living room; more so if there were a monster-sized satellite dish in the backyard- and even if it was pragmatically meaningless; even if there wasn’t enough original programming in the entire world to justify its ostentatious presence, he was getting every single CBS affiliate in the entire country as a showing of suburban, middle class power.

Teddy didn’t have the Shannen Doherty issue. Pickings were slim. He only had what he was able to sneak away from his father. Teddy’s father bought the occasional issue of Playboy from the newsstand, where it would sit on a rack high atop the other, more pedestrian magazines- a height unreachable for any kid contemplating an impromptu grab & go- with only its logo and a few inches of the cover model peeking out; a masthead that would ignite the imagination; a bowtied bunny taunting the eternally horny adolescent boy. Teddy knew his father wouldn’t notice a few issues missing- his father had a subscription to Penthouse.

I didn’t like Penthouse. The glamor model aesthetic didn’t ignite my imagination- the women were thin and shapeless; flat chested, like my female classmates. I didn’t want what I was already familiar with, even if not yet formally acquainted; I wanted a glimpse into the unknown; into my future teenage years- where girls turn to women and women are fully developed: large breasts and full hips.

That was the Playboy aesthetic: the girl next door, the captain of the cheer squad, the prom queen. Long, thick hair; big, luscious breasts; full hips and a slender waist; a warm, inviting smile. Together we perused Teddy’s meager collection with a silent art gallery-like etiquette- overtones of suspicion still hung in the air. Teddy made it clear that all issues were for 

sale; he was willing to entertain offers. He would even part with his favorites for the right price.

Tiffany Sloan caught my attention: Miss October 1992. I was quickly learning that the real draw to Playboy magazine were the monthly, handpicked Playboy Playmates and not the celebrity cover models. This had been an interesting revelation, as these women were not celebrities. They were regular girls- girls you could possibly encounter on the street; girls you could have gone to school with; girls who, maybe the fantasy version of you; the hypothetical you; your theoretical best self could end up theoretically dating. This made the Playboy Playmate feel earthy and real in a way that a Hollywood starlet could not; Tiffany Sloan felt real in a way that Shannen Doherty did not. 

My initial bid was rejected. Even if it had only been a few years prior that Teddy and I spent the entire summer tearing through Contra (1987), plugging in the Konami code and shredding aliens between afternoon horror movies and setting fires in the woods at dusk- it felt like a lifetime ago, in that moment, in Teddy’s bedroom, with “Holier Than Thou” blaring on the cassette deck, nearing drowning out anything that dare compete. Teddy scoffed. I was embarrassed. I mentally scanned my bedroom. That same summer we had nearly worn out my VHS copy of Wrestlemania VI (1990) in anticipation of the year’s Summerslam– always held at the tail end of summer; as bittersweet and frustrating as anything a ten-year-old would have to deal with. Watching Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior collide carried the manic excitement of a big time fight met with the cosmic grandiose of Greek mythology; a spear impaling a lightning bolt and a thousand atomic bombs, unfolding in real time, again and again, right before our wide eyes. It felt heavy and historically significant, and yet I knew it couldn’t compete with Tiffany Sloan, staring back at me from the magazine’s static pages.  

Teddy broke the silence. “That KISS tape… the one with ‘God of Thunder,’ how ‘bout that?” He wanted my copy of Destroyer (1976). I was surprised. KISS had been a subject of derision since I tried to introduce them to our heavy metal listening rotation earlier in the month. Teddy’s taste in music consisted of a combination of what was on MTV and the contents of his father’s aging vinyl collection. At the time, KISS was neither. While I was able to win his affection with GWAR- there was no eighth grade boy on the planet who wouldn’t have liked GWAR- once “Beth” hit the Casio, Teddy declared that KISS was gay and demanded Megadeth. Even if the violin-stringed sincerity of “Beth” provided the perfect counterpoint to the nauseating bravado of album closer, “Do You Love Me?” Teddy would not allow the album to take its natural course. It was gay; their make-up was gay; the album cover was gay. Case closed.

Sometime later, Teddy wanted to make a fool of me. He wanted to assert his dominance; that, in my making mere suggestions, I was out of my depth; that he was the true, Robert Christgau-like, dean of Eighth Grade Rock. He asked his father about KISS. His father confessed- he had been a fan when he was our age but ended up feeling a sense of betrayal- something about a disco song- and that we should check out “God of Thunder,” because “God of Thunder” rocked.

With a slow and ominous, Black Sabbath-like riff and throaty barking vocals, there was no eighth grade boy on the planet who wouldn’t have liked “God of Thunder.” With his father’s approval, Teddy was no exception. Within weeks he was pantomiming Gene Simmons’ brooding, monster persona, air guitar in hand, stomping around his bathroom in his mother’s mint julep face mask. KISS was made for day-dreaming and fantasy; KISS was made for imprinting yourself on the blank slate characters and feeling like a cross between a comic book superhero and an oversexed rock star- a modern, consumer-culture God. KISS was made for eighth grade boys and now Teddy wanted my Destroyer tape.    

***

A topic people are comfortable discussing doesn’t qualify as something intimate– even if it were a prior generation’s social taboo; even if those engaged in the conversation use both verbal and non-verbal performative markers of sensitivity and pseudo-shame. Under the right set of circumstances, people like talking about sex; with the right combination of playful cojoling and hard liquor, people like talking about their sexual fantasies. The world has become a safe space for this kind of talk. My eighth grade teacher was right: it’s okay to masturbate. 

What people won’t talk about are their non-sexual fantasies. This is what adults find intimate, even if the fantasies are mundane; a life similar to your own but functional; a life where you did the right things; a life where things worked out; where you were afforded the minor luxuries that other people take for granted. Growing up without an alcoholic father; without a controlling mother. A girlfriend who wants you; a wife who respects you; a family like the Griswolds. Where you haven’t lost your Chevy Chase-like idealism; where you feel comfortable in your role as patriarch; with the perfect career; the perfect suburban house; the perfect vacation; the perfect Christmas. These are the fantasies people won’t tell you.

Maybe these are the fantasies that Teddy has. I didn’t really keep track of Teddy- our lives went in different directions- but I know that he ended up in rehab as a teenager. That he was in a Special Education program in high school. That he knocked up his high school girlfriend- Jen’s cousin Vicki; a few years older than us with big, lucious Playmate-like breasts. That he became a plumber. That maybe he grew up too quickly; that maybe he would have liked more from his life. In eighth grade the future seems unwritten even if it were always predestined. I wonder if he has any regrets; if he lies in bed at night thinking about how things could have been different. 

I wonder if he wants what I have. I went to college; I have a respectable career. I never married; I don’t have children. I don’t have any unnecessary responsibility. I don’t have anything less than freedom.   

I don’t have mundane fantasies. Maybe I’m too old, in the chronological sense, to put on cold cream and strike poses in my bathroom mirror; maybe this is too much effort; maybe I’d feel self-conscious- but I fall asleep most every night thinking about being in KISS. A ritual that began with practical origins: I suffer from insomnia. Getting to sleep is difficult. I need something light to think about. Sometimes I imagine myself in a cabin, deep in the woods; sometimes in a tiny rocketship floating gently through deep space- and sometimes as a member of the hottest band in the world

I imagine what KISS would have been like if it were my band; if I were in the role of the starry-eyed lover; if my high school friends were my bandmates. I never stray too far from the facts- the band’s actual story- but I put my own spin on it like I’m writing fan-fiction. I imagine myself in a better KISS– a KISS that better understands itself; a KISS where each member better understands the character they embody: where Paul is the only one singing about girls; where demon Gene only sings monster songs; space Ace singing sci-fi songs and catman Peter as the emotional center. I picture myself helming this more perfect juggernaut, with Britney Spears as my rockstar girlfriend- whom I’d have sing lead on “I Was Made For Loving You,” instead of me, something I think the band should have actually done in the late 70s with whomever the Britney Spears equivalent was at the time. I imagine the music video to the song with me and Britney wearing matching face-paint; I imagine a life better than my own.

I tell myself these stories at night to take my mind off the things that would keep me awake. I’m telling myself a story right now in order to mitigate my own shame- I like these stories more than I’m willing to admit. I tell myself these stories to escape my boring, normal life; I tell myself these stories because, in my heart, I think I was destined for more- that my boring, normal life is somehow beneath me. That it could have been me, up there, on the stage- that it should have been me. I tell myself these stories as a form of masturbation- and it’s okay to masturbate.

***

Teddy never made it past the first three songs on Destroyer– “Detroit Rock City” became the song of the summer. Had he gotten to “Great Expectations”- demon Gene’s gentle ballad; whose lyrical egomania provided the perfect counterpoint to Paul’s thinly veiled insecurities in album closer “Do You Love Me?”- Teddy may have considered KISS irredeemably gay, but he never allowed the album to take its natural course. Destroyer’s first three songs, in reverse order, defined the end of our eighth grade year- the final vestibule of childhood; the last time the future seems truly unwritten. It’s high school where things begin taking shape; where we begin learning who we are and also begin learning to hate that person in equal proportion. What you end up doing with that knowledge is what will ultimately define you.

Maybe it was the end of that summer where those seeds were planted, hanging out behind the neighborhood water tower- where a teenager could explore the night time world. It was there, one August night, that Dave and I sat silently on the curb. There are times in life where words get in the way; where what’s spoken can’t hope to capture the moment- that maybe words imprison these moments instead; these moments that are beyond words. Maybe Dave and I knew that. Maybe we knew that it was time to start growing up; maybe we knew that we were on the precipice of one thing ending and the beginning of what would become the rest of everything else. Maybe we were in shock, watching Teddy in the distance- in the shadow of a car’s headlights- having Jen’s older cousin Vicki give him a blow job.

Dave broke the silence, he was never happy with the unresolved, “so what do you think, man? You think he jerks off?”
“I don’t know, man,” I stammered, swallowing nervously, “but if he does, that’s totally gay.”  

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6 comments

  1. Jim · May 15

    DT has his thing- and it’s great, everybody loves DT- but this is better. Was it gay to say that? Yeah, it was really gay, but I said it.

  2. jomer.pajares · May 16

    Listening to I Was Made For Lovin’ You while reading this

  3. Thomas Franche · May 19

    It’s true. It was badly seen back then (masturbation). I remember the first time I saw someone my age who wasn’t ashamed was around 1997. These two guys I knew a little bit from the neighboring town shamelessly swapped porn VHS’s they kept in the trunks of their cars. Jacking off (we said jack and not jerk) or spanking the monkey was something most denied.

  4. Pingback: Sunday Morning Coffee 05/22/2022 – A Mari Usque Ad Mare
  5. I remember the first time a boy admitted to wanking, in about Year 10. In class, to everyone, and there was a minor uproar.
    A cool boy scoffed, wanking means you’re not getting any.
    He replied, yeah I’m not.
    I laughed with the others but secretly respected him. The poise, the composure. Wonder what he’s doing now.

  6. Bardelys the Magnificent · May 28

    Jerking off was like watching Saved By The Bell: everybody partook, nobody admitted it, and not another word was said about it.

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