Monday, September 15, 2014

All sexed up and nowhere to go

Recently an article in my local daily newspaper posed the age-old question, “when is it time to tell kids the facts of life?”

There's always a debate — it flares up every couple of years or so — about how to teach kids about sex. Sometimes parents just turn it over to the schools to teach maturation classes. Adults have so many problems with the subject that the kids have to learn it on their own, gathering information as they can.

I say tell kids the truth from the git-go. Don't sugarcoat it, don't try to smooth it over. Tell them that sex will mess up their heads in ways they can’t imagine right now, and that they’d all be better off taking a vow of lifelong celibacy. Since they’re like I was and won’t listen to reason, take another tack. Tell them about the mechanical act of sex, then tell them they have to satisfy their sex partner.

I was a kid in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When it came to sex I was as dumb as a brick. My father’s and mother’s sex ed lectures to me I can remember verbatim. Dad’s was: “There is a difference in boys and girls. Other boys may make jokes about it, or make fun of it, but it's not really funny.” That told me a lot…about nothing. Mom’s advice was styled more like it was brought down the mountain by Moses. Thou-shalt-not: “Some things are for marriage only!” she said.

As it turned out Mom tried something else. One day when I was 12 or 13 I opened my underwear drawer to find a 1930's book called The Adequate Male. Wow, now there’s a title to inspire a guy! Mom had left it for me to find. The book was all about marital sex; no premarital sex for an adequate male. It gave advice for the wedding night by using negative examples like the man who ravaged his bride six or seven times, then when he couldn't get it up anymore in frustration beat his dong on the bedpost. It scared the poor girl to death. The other thing I remember was the advice about asking your wife for sex. You don't say, “Wanna have a party?” An adequate male wouldn’t do that. It’s a big turn-off for gals.*

The Adequate Male was the amazing disappearing and reappearing book. After a couple of months, Mom apparently reasoned that I’d read it. It disappeared, only to reappear three years later when my brother reached the age of 13. There’s no evidence he read the book, but after a couple of months it disappeared again. When Mom went into the nursing home I hoped maybe I’d find that copy of The Adequate Male amongst her effects, but it had made its final disappearance.

The satisfaction part I mentioned in the second paragraph came about because I read a porn book that had been passed around my junior high school. In that era those books were considered obscene, but just a few years later I read mainstream novels that had more sex, more graphically described, than anything in one of those hot books. What I recall about the book was the plot, such as it was. A young teen goes on a date with a loose girl from school. They’re in the back seat of the car. My hands were getting sweaty when I read about him pulling off her sweater, taking off her bra, pushing her skirt up, pulling down her panties. YES, OH YES! My screaming mind told me, TELL ME MORE! Then the crusher: He got on, he popped, he got off. She treated him with disdain because of his quick-like-a-bunny act: “You don't know how to satisfy a girl!” she said.

Say what? Satisfy? A girl? What? My mind spun. “What does that mean, ‘satisfy a girl?’” My mind was still vague enough about the process of sex that to me the whole thing centered on me getting it in, not on getting the girl off. What a comedown (pun intended) for me. I knew then, neither the teenager in the book, nor I, knew how to satisfy a girl.

Still, I trudged on with the book. It got better. With more practice the main character turned into a real stud. He learned how to satisfy a girl, oh yes. In the meantime his former disdainful girlfriend had become a call girl and boffed a lot. Naturally, they ended up together, and believe it or not, stranded on a tropical island, where all they had to do was hump all day. And of course, he brought her more than satisfaction.

I didn’t know any call girls — well, we found out the neighbor lady was one, but that’s a whole other story — nor did I know any girls who were willing to have sex, much less for me to try satisfying. So that’s the way my sex life stood for quite a while.

Kids today see sex acts on television and movies. They turn on the Internet and the porn spills out. Most kids today see more sex before they are 12 than I saw until I was decades past puberty. Playboy gave us a look at the anatomy, even if some of it was airbrushed away. The sleazy paperbacks, which came to us from guys stealing them out of dad’s sock drawer or in the bottom of a box in the closet, were part of the sex ed process.

With the exception of Sex Bait, the cover scans of these classic sleaze paperbacks were provided by my good friend, David Miller. Click on the pictures for full-size images.

*I told a former coworker this story and he said, “When I want sex I just tell my ol' lady, ‘Hey, I wanna fuck.’” A real smooth operator!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Invaders of the paranoid

One of the popular themes of science fiction movies is invasion from space. I have been revisiting a few of those movies that on a very basic level affected me.

I bought used VHS copies of a couple of science fiction classics, It Came From Outer Space and Invaders From Mars, both of which I saw originally in the 1950s. Paranoia is a strong theme of the titles I mention. I was too young to understand paranoia when I first saw these movies, but I understood the basic and raw feelings of the characters. They are trying to explain the unexplainable to others and are disbelieved. They watch as loved ones are replaced by alien creatures that look like them. For me this was the recipe for nightmares.

I may not have understood it, but I have plenty of experience with paranoia, in others and in myself. These movies said about my darkest fears what I couldn't have said when I was a child: I'd wake up one morning and no one would be the same; no one would feel love for me, and I would be cast adrift in an emotional, as well as physical, sense. Children have a root fear of being abandoned, and these movies reach into the primal, deep-down stuff we don't like to think about.

In Invaders From Mars the main character is a boy who sees a flying saucer land on a hill behind his house, then burrow into the ground, unseen. The adults who go to investigate return changed. They have been turned into zombies by the invaders. The boy can't make anyone believe him; his fears are from his imagination, from comic books, or television or science fiction movies, according to the very adults who are changing right before him into something alien. Brrrr. What a thing for a kid to have to go through. To a child who depends on adults for everything this is heady stuff. As an adult I can watch this movie and its point-of-view of the young boy, the staginess of the movie filmed on a backlot somewhere in Hollywood, and understand the craft of constructing a nightmare. The sets are fake-looking, crudely constructed, but that adds to the overall surrealistic atmosphere.

[SPOILER ALERT] Anyone who remembers the movie knows that the "invasion" is a dream. But as the boy awakens it has turned out to be a prophetic dream. The events begin to unfold again. His paranoid nightmare has turned real. [SPOILER END]

It Came From Outer Space is a movie I saw in the 1950s in its original 3-D presentation. The sets in many cases are just as phony as Invaders From Mars, showing its low budget origins. The dialogue is written not as people speak, but as actors reading lines which don't sound like human conversation. That also adds to the atmosphere of unreality that the whole theme speaks to.

In the story the aliens are making themselves look like humans, although the human beings they are replacing are still alive. The “real” humans are being used as slaves to rebuild the crashed alien vessel. Although the aliens are out to do no harm to humans--even trying to spare people the horrifying sight of them in their monstrous inhuman form--the idea of someone, a double, walking around imitating you is unnerving. Anyone who ever heard the phrase, “I found out I didn't really know this person,” will recognize that in the movie. Because of its 3-D presentation, It Came From Outer Space depends a lot on gimmicks while telling its story, but on its basic level it tells a paranoid story of being out of control of one’s own destiny, a slave laborer, while the rest of the world remains unaware. The movie was released just nine years after the end of World War II, where millions of people disappeared into slave labor camps. The movie also seems to be at least partially the basis for the very paranoid 1965 novel, Night Slaves by Jerry Sohl, made into a television movie in 1970.

The Arrival is a 1995 update of the theme. A NASA scientist, played by Charlie Sheen, aims radio-telescopes at the stars and receives a short burst of a signal. As he later finds out, alien invaders are already here.

[SPOILER ALERT] They are setting up underground headquarters in countries with no environmental laws. to speed up global warming (from 100 years, which in 1995 was the real-life timetable given for the inevitable, to 10 years for the movie alien purposes).[SPOILER END]

The movie has been underrated as a true paranoid thriller. Charlie Sheen, whose personal life has overshadowed his acting ability, is a driven man who looks and sounds like a paranoid crazy, which plays right into the alien hands. The aliens, who have apparently been here for some time — long enough to build the massive plants to speed up the planet’s heating — also realize something about human psychology. The nuttier a person sounds the less anyone will listen, even if he is telling the truth.

I’m not sure it means we should automatically believe anyone who screams at us that the world is ending, but it is an unsettling thought that maybe, in some instance, that person is correct.

The most paranoid movie of all is probably Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which is often cited as a reaction to the Cold War.

That could be read into it, but after seeing it a few times over the past 50 years I see it as more of that gut-level fear of not really knowing someone, the fear of being misunderstood, or even ignored. Although the psychiatrist in the movie describes the reaction of the townsfolk who claim a loved one is an imposter as mass hysteria, what the movie shows is a psychiatric disorder called Capgras syndrome. It is named after Dr. Joseph Capgras, who in 1923 described patients for whom a spouse, sibling or child has been replaced by a fake.

Just as in The Arrival, as the heroes rush around trying to warn the populace the general consensus is that those giving the alarm are crazy.

The movies are scary and fun but they are just movies. When the end credits roll we are assured that we have been involved in fantasy. There are no aliens, no sinister plots, no replacing of humans with non-humans to confuse us and terrify us. But that is you and me. We’re rational beings, aren’t we? I hope so. But there are a lot of people who truly believe that there is a mysterious and hidden world out there trying to take control. They might even feel the control over them has already been accomplished. They don't need Hollywood or some low-budget movie to tell them they are surrounded by people or a government manipulating them, their thoughts, their actions. They don't need aliens from outer space who are out to get them, because everyone around them, even their loved ones, are conspiring against them.

And maybe you are one of them who is being persecuted.

People disbelieving you or telling you it's your imagination? Forget it. They're all in on the plot against you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mountain Man

The Salt Lake Valley is ringed by mountains. If you want to know what direction east is you look at the “big mountains”  — the Wasatch — and if you want to find west you look for the “little mountains,” the Oquirrhs. Big, little…they're all mountains, and they are impressive. Millions of years ago there was a big cataclysm in our area. Big mountains erupted from the ground as the earth shook, rattled and rolled. Even so, our mountains, the Rocky Mountains, are younger than mountains in the Eastern U.S. Their mountains are kind of the middle-aged or geezerish, worn down mountains. We're the upstarts; our mountains are the craggy and pimply teenage mountains.

As a kid growing up in Salt Lake I had one particular mountain which fascinated me then as it does now. Mount Olympus stands higher than the other mountains. It overlooks the valley. I could see it from my back yard.

One day in 2007 I stopped to take a picture because I could see the moon in the daytime, visible over my mountain

I stopped in a school parking lot and took a picture across the school grounds of the mountain with clouds streaming in to obscure its top. From this vantage point, a few blocks south of the location of the top two pictures, the mountain takes on a configuration called the Twin Peaks.Click on pictures for full-size images.

Mount Olympus is more than just standing there looking down at me. When I was in school if I drew mountains I drew Mount Olympus. It is endlessly fascinating to me. It changes with every season, and it throws shadows in different directions during the day so its features are always changing. Mount Olympus is a moving tableau. When I get close and look up so that it is looming over me, the mountain's perspective changes, and it appears to flatten out. On days when the air is really cold after a storm and the sky is a blue like only an artist could create, it looks almost like a movie backdrop.

On one of those days where it looks like a movie backdrop and I was still working my school district job I was walking into a school down the hill from the mountain. I got there at the same time as the U.S. postal carrier. I noticed as we walked into the school both of us were looking backwards at the mountain. I gave her the short course of what I've just told you; I've spent over 50 years looking at that mountain. She said, succinctly, “It's why I moved back here from a life in the Midwest.” I haven’t seen her again, but that sounded about right. When I was in the Army in Germany at the time my father died, I came back for his funeral. From his gravesite where we gathered I had only to look over my right shoulder and there was Mount Olympus.

Until I sat down to write this I had never thought about the origin of the name Mount Olympus. Any of you classicists know that in Greek mythology Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. I wondered if the Mormon pioneers named the mountain, or if it had been named by fur trappers before the pioneers arrived. I'm sure the local native Americans who lived here at the time (specifically, the Utes), didn't call it Mount Olympus.

It would seem uncharacteristic for early Mormons to name a mountain after the home of mythological gods, but maybe not. Maybe when they looked at that mountain they saw something I see, something that transcends religion, but is in itself something monumentally spiritual. A mountain which, by looming over and watching us, seems as alive as any living thing I know.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A well respected man

Above is a family picture I never saw until the 1980s when a lady loaned it to me for re-photographing. It's a picture of my grandfather and his family, including my father as an infant.

My grandfather is the distinguished looking gent with the high collar in the middle of the picture standing between the two ladies in white. My grandmother is to his right. My dad is the little boy in a cap being dandled on his grandmother's knee.

Based on the clothes and my dad’s apparent age I’d date the picture about 1921.

Before I got the picture I wasn't aware it existed. While on my route I used to visit a small market once a week for a cup of coffee. An old woman was usually standing behind the cash register, smoking a cigarette, glaring at everyone. The indoor clean air act was in effect by that time but she had always smoked behind that cash register and no law was going to stop her from continuing to smoke! Even the cops who stopped in for a doughnut wouldn't have dared tell her to put out her cigarette.

One day I picked up a few odds and ends and rather than pay cash I wrote out a check. She looked at it and said, “That's my uncle's name.” She was looking at my name. I'm named after my paternal grandfather and have the exact same name. As she explained it, she was my late father's first cousin, Lorna.

Lorna told me she had family pictures and for me to stop back the next day to pick them up so I could have copies made. I did. At that time she told me of the family secret: She said my grandfather had been the hidden family scandal. She claimed he had killed himself and it had been covered up.

To back up, my grandfather was a well respected man. In 1918 he quit a job teaching school and went to George Washington University in St. Louis where in 1920 he got his M.D. He came back to his small hometown in Utah to his wife, two daughters, and they soon had a son, who became my father. Grandpa practiced medicine for several years. Dad told me stories of him riding around with his father in his big sedan, making house calls on patients. (Ah, those were the days!)

Dad had told me the story of his father’s death in 1932. He said, “Dad went to a party. He felt sick. His way of dealing with stomach trouble was to drink a lot of water and vomit. He went home to do that and when my mother got home she found him in his chair, dead of a heart attack.”

Lorna’s revisionist version was that my grandfather was quite a ladies’ man, and had women all over the county. It put him in trouble with some of the local men. To avoid scandal he took some pills and killed himself. His friend, Doc Madsen, signed the death certificate. I was stunned, as was my brother when I told him the story. He sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics for our grandfather's death certificate. It reads almost word for word what my father had told us…“came home from a party, drank water, vomited, died in his chair from apparent heart attack.” It was signed by Dr. Madsen.

There's a mystery there we’ve never solved. Which story is true? We don’t know. The year my grandfather died was 1932, the height of the Great Depression. Apparently he left my grandmother and his family pretty well off, because my grandmother never worked a day in her life and lived to be 93. My father went to a fancy prep school and then a private college where he graduated just as World War II broke out.

Over 80 years since Grandpa died is a long time, and all of the people who would know the truth are dead. I don't think my dad would have known his father was a suicide if it were true. His mother would have kept it from him, and taught him to say what he told us.

There’s just a bit more to the story, so hang on. When I was going to college I had an English teacher named Nell Madsen, who was pretty old. In those days she would have been called a spinster, never married. She saw my name on the first day of class and said, “I knew your grandfather.” She called me over after class. She said, “My brother was a doctor who worked with your grandfather. He had left his practice and was driving to Las Vegas to work in a hospital. He got to Southern Utah and felt something very strong, like he had to turn around and go home. He did, and that was the night your grandfather died. My brother took over his practice and lived many years afterward.”

I heard that story in 1965, and I heard the story about the suicide from Lorna in 1988 or thereabouts. I have a way of putting things together in my mind and when I thought of what Lorna had told me I remembered Nell Madsen’s story about her brother. If my grandfather had committed suicide then his friend could have easily suppressed the fact for the sake of my grandmother and her children. Suicides didn’t get insurance payouts. It would have been easy to do; in those days I’m sure that laws on autopsies weren't routinely enforced, if they even existed. We are talking about a rural Utah community in the depths of the Depression.

The story of my grandfather’s death has always been like a jigsaw puzzle to me. Many pieces have been put in place over the years, but the biggest pieces, the ones that complete the picture, are missing and may never be found.


This is a yearbook picture of my dad, Leon, taken when he was in prep school, circa 1936. He was about 15 or 16. He looks very mature for his age, but some of that is because in those days teenagers weren't a separate breed of human like they are today. The clothes they wore were cut down adult wear, not a completely different wardrobe with matching hairstyles, piercings and accoutrements.

My dad’s cousin, Lorna, gave me a print of this picture which I re-photographed. The details are a little murky but you can see right off that dad was a handsome guy.

When I first joined the school district where I worked for 32 years I met a lady named Enid. She said she was from my dad’s home town. She told me, “Your dad's family was well off compared to the rest of us. We barely made it through the Depression but your dad and his sisters seemed to have everything they wanted. Your dad even went to a private school.”

She added, “That Leon, he was the most handsome guy. I used to think he was the handsomest guy in town.”

I waited for her to say, “…and you take after your dad.” But she didn't. And I don't.