Playboys

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Six

Five of us were packed in the work truck listening to a wacky morning DJ tell a story about a man who dug a tunnel from his basement to the bar down the block.

His wife didn’t want him drinking. He used the tunnel in secret to get drunk while she slept. The DJ went har har har har har, and shook a noisemaker.

Pat said, “She was right to ban him from drinking, he had a problem if he had to dig a tunnel.”

“And she must have had a problem too if she didn’t even notice her husband was digging an escape tunnel.”

The story was a hoax. But so are most stories. Especially stories involving tunnels. I looked it up on my phone, but I didn’t say anything. It was better to just let them believe it. They were having fun, talking about their own tunnels they wanted to dig.

 

The guys my age are all the same. We spent much of our youths playing outside, searching for things. First it was buried treasure. Gold doubloons. And later, when we got older, it became porn. When we got a little older than that, it was drugs and alcohol, and porn. Once you reached a certain age, it went back to being buried treasure. Gold doubloons again.

 

Crystal Lake is a cranberry bog in front of the convalescent center in the town where I grew up down at the Jersey shore. My grandfather died in that convalescent center. In the 20s, during Prohibition, it was called the Grand Pines Hotel, and was considered Al Capone’s ‘second home.’ Legend has it, he had escape tunnels underneath Crystal Lake for when the G-Men came for him. I spent a lot of time with my friends trying to discover an entranceway into those tunnels. We never found them.

 

Steve Anwyll lives in Montreal. He’s from a small fishing village in Canada up near Lake Michigan. One day, sitting in my living room, he told me a story about what it was like growing up there. Steve surprised me when he said he’d spent a lot of time searching for Al Capone’s secret tunnels as a child.

“There’s a house with a tunnel leading out to the  lakeshore as an escape route/bootlegging launch point.”

I told him, “It’s like every town has Al Capone’s tunnels and all the kids in the world are looking for them.”

It was The Goonies that did this to us. A search for the cool shit, hidden from us, while we were all stuck in this boring ass town where nothing happened.

I wonder if The Shawshank Redemption would be a good movie without the escape tunnel. Let’s say Andy Dufresne dressed up like a guard and just walked out the front gate. Would it still be everyone’s favorite movie? I don’t think so.

When we weren’t looking for gold, we were looking for porno.

 

At lunch we’re talking about being twelve, thirteen, fourteen, searching the woods around our towns for porn. We’ve all talked about this before. Though we grew up in different places, we have that same story.

All the guys I work with right now are in their early to mid-thirties. They all grew up, like me, in the late eighties/early nineties.

Todd said, “Back behind my house there were all these woods that went on forever. Me and my brother used to walk back there and look for forts older kids had built because those forts were always full of porn.”

“Nice.”

“Or forts adults had ‘cause their wives didn’t want them looking…”

“Yeah, you just looked for a place where there was a break in the trees and sure enough you’d go back there and there they’d be, titties galore.”

Some of my friends are younger, grew up in the early aughts, some claim to have never even looked inside a porno magazine. And why would they have? By the time they were wondering what a naked human looked like, all they had to do was google image search what they wanted to see.

When I tell these younger friends about searching the woods for porno magazines they look at me like I’m from Mars. Let alone explaining what it was like to A) go to a video store to rent a regular movie (something they might recall doing with their family) or B) going through the corral doors at the back of the store and entering into the wonderland of the X-rated section.

 

My friend Brian (b. 1980) grew up in the middle of the country and didn’t have woods, so he found porn stashed in a cornfield.

 

Steve (b. 1979) found porn hidden discreetly on the Canadian tundra. He also found it hidden in lakeside fishing shacks, the same town where Al Capone had those escape tunnels. If we were to discover those tunnels we’d probably find Al Capone’s secret stash of erotic playing cards.

 

Devin (b. 1991) says he first found a pornographic magazine out on the street.

“Oh, like out at the curb?”

“Yup. I found it on a run with my high school cross country team.”

“Oh cool. Yeah, lots of people your age are telling me they first found it in the trash. Especially after 2000.”

“It wasn’t far from the White House.”

“By then the internet was going full bore.”

 

But Joey (b. 1993) has a story that mirrors the ones I’ve heard from people my age. He says, “I found stuff in the woods, too.”

“Oh yeah? What year?”

“Probably like 2005/2006. Maybe 2007/2008 at the latest.”

“Were the magazines, like, disintegrated?”

“Yeah, it was gross.”

“A relic from a forgotten age.”

 

Not to mention that every second rate stand-up comic my age has a bit about trying to masturbate to a scrambled cable TV signal, the Playboy channel or Real Sex on HBO, or something.

 

My coworker says, “Yeah you’d hear a rumor…Oh, this movie has a nipple in it. So you’d rent the movie from Blockbuster just to see the nipple. Didn’t matter what the story was. There was a nipple in it. Put that nipple in slow motion.”

 

Porn was out there, but as a kid you had to scavenge for it. Word spread through school where it could be found. Take the trail on the side of Food Town and when you get to the water tower, walk ninety paces west into the pines…

 

Growing up, I found my father’s porn collection without even really having to look. I was eight. The magazines didn’t mean anything to me then, they were just weird. But the location of the stash was forever noted, just as the location of each and every stash is always noted throughout history.

I found dad’s porn stash while trying to find my Christmas presents. My brother Will and I were big into finding our presents. I was eight and Will was seven and we found our presents hidden in Dad’s closet. They were unwrapped and when we weren’t surprised on Christmas morning, my parents put two and two together. The next year, the presents were still hidden in dad’s closet, but they were wrapped. We shook them. The following year, now ten and nine years old, we took a razor blade and cut open one end of the present, slicing delicately on the scotch tape. The next year, we were even bolder. We cut the tape, opened the presents themselves and played with them, weeks before Christmas, taped them back into the same wrapping paper, undetectably. It was easy to do things like that, my brother and I were alone in the house for two hours every day after school, we had been for years. Latch key kids.

My parents caught on that we’d opened some of our presents, so the hiding place was moved across town, to grandma’s or Aunt Elaine’s, I’m not sure. It didn’t matter. I was 12 and started borrowing magazines from my dad’s closet while he was gone, working.

But one day Dad came home from work and found a subscription card for Hustler magazine on the carpet of his room. Just sitting there. Pink shag rug carpet. He wasn’t stupid. He asked me about it in the car. We were alone. I said, “It was probably mom, snooping in your things.”

He had a flushed face. He said, “Maybe.”

A few days later, he knocked on my door. He said, “I’m missing some things from my room. It wasn’t mom.”

I said, “Oh, what kind of things?”

Playboys.”

I said, “What,” as if I’d never heard of a thing called Playboy.

He said, “Pamela Anderson.”

I shrugged like, Pamela Anderson? Sorry I don’t know who that is. I shut the TV off. I looked right at him, I said, “That sucks. It’s probably Will.”

He thanked me and left my room. As soon as he was gone, I jumped to the place I had put Pamela Anderson and moved her to a different spot. I heard him walk down the hallway and knock on Will’s door.

I heard them talking through the wall. I knew any minute I’d be in trouble. My brother would rat me out the way I’d ratted on him. Any minute now, I’d get my ass beat. But instead of that, I heard my brother confess everything to my dad. He was rattled and saying he did things he didn’t really do. An innocent boy! He hadn’t done anything. He probably would have admitted to starting the Great Chicago Fire, killing Abe Lincoln, being DB Cooper. My dad said, “Thank you for your honesty, I’m proud of you.”

He left my brother’s room and walked down the hallway, past my room, into his bedroom. I listened through the other wall. His closet door squeaked open on the rollers. Then there was a shuffling sound.

Dad walked back down the hallway, past my door, and into Will’s room again.

“Here you go.” He tossed a few of the tamer magazines onto my little brother’s bed.

I heard more footsteps. I heard the screen door slap shut. Dad left in his Mustang. I left my room and hustled down the slippery hall in my socks. Will was playing Mega Man. The porno magazines were on his bed. Penthouse. They showed more than Playboy but weren’t as dirty as High Society, or Hustler, or Club. I said, “I know you didn’t steal his Playboys. I did.”

“So?”

I said, “Remind me to never rob a bank with you.”

“Why?”

“You shouldn’t admit to something you didn’t do.”

He said, “Whatever.”

I left his room and I heard the music of the game go back on. When Dad came back in the house with a pizza, I admitted that I’d been the one who robbed him. He got so mad, but not just at me. He went in Will’s room and took the magazines back in his closet. “You lying little shits! Nobody gets nothing.” He even made me give back Pamela Anderson.

 

At lunch someone brought up the man who had dug the tunnel from his basement to the bar, and the other guys who weren’t there to hear that story on the radio laughed about it and dreamed about it out loud. One guy finally said that it sounded like a fake story. He looked it up on his phone and announced it was a hoax, and I thought of what a sad pathetic thing it was to announce. Let everyone have their fun.

It doesn’t really matter what is real and what isn’t real at work. It all just makes the day go by. You appreciate whatever makes the day go by.

I walked across the trailer, opened my locker. I had a duffel bag in there with protein bars, and cans of soup, books I wanted to read.

The locker wasn’t always mine. One of the bosses used to use it, but something happened to him. He came in to work one morning, swiped in. At 7:30 am, he found out he had business two towns over, so he left with the runner’s pass that got you through the security gate and kept you on the time clock. At eleven o’clock, he got randomly selected out of the payroll list for breathalyzer and drug testing. We tried to get him on the phone, but the bad news was that he was already drunk as a skunk in Bayonne. He wasn’t coming back. When he didn’t show up for the random, he was banned from the plant for life. We got a different boss who wasn’t as much fun.

The next day, it was my job to clean up all of his stuff out of his locker. Put it all in a big black Hefty sack. I opened the locker and started pulling his sweatshirts and spare workboots out, his welding hood, his personal layout tools he kept in there. The locker was just jam-packed with anything and everything. Halfway down though, I found treasure. A glossy, thick paged porno mag. Swedish Erotica. Early 80s. The cover said: DO NOT SELL TO MINORS. The price tag was $20.

Twenty dollars for a dirty magazine, holy shit.

I threw it on the table and cleaned out the rest of the locker. When the rest of the guys came in for break, someone said, “What the hell is this doing here?”

“I found it in his locker.”

“Little Oral Annie rides again…” The magazine was flipped open somewhere to the middle. “And…this girl is double teamed at a countryside picnic.”

“Nice.”

 

It’s strange to have porn at work. What? Were you going to jerk off at work? I mean, if you couldn’t wait to get home, you really had a problem, you might have to be locked up it was such a problem. But besides that it was funny to actually see a dirty magazine at work because of course, everybody had cell phones now. Maybe our boss had this for nostalgia purposes. I don’t know. The thing that we got the biggest kick out of was that price tag. Twenty bucks.

I took out my phone and googled the inflation rate.

“This magazine would have cost about sixty bucks in 1980 money.”

We finished lunch, went back out to work. The classic rock DJ was playing the same song he always played. I googled how much the magazine was worth in today’s dollars, thinking it would be worth hardly nothing. To my surprise, I saw that people collected them. Some of those magazines from Swedish Erotica were selling for over $60, in good condition. Others were selling for over $100. I found one issue selling for over $200. I turned the truck around to get the magazine off the table. By the time I got back, it was long gone.

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

One response to “Playboys”

  1. Lydia says:

    I like reading about porn even more than I like seeing it 😝. Maybe. Your brother is an interesting dude.

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