Two things I love, together.
This is about something I love. Not as much as beer, perhaps, but more than a hell of a lot of other things.
Maybe 6 months ago I was trolling one of the private darknet sites where I get my bittorrents, looking for something new to download, watch, and delete, as usual. All that fat pipe Korean bandwidth going to waste is a crying shame, and I do my best to keep it humming, and make sure that the carbon doesn’t build up in the virtual valves. The Korean government gets a big wet kiss from me for their policy of relentlessly ramming bandwidth down the throats of their citizens (and the scruffy no-account foreigners who squeak in through the cracks), if not for many of the other decisions they stumble into.
So I was 4 or 5 pages deep in the movie forum, and there it was, with only a couple of peers on the torrent so far. I swear, my heart skipped a beat. I caught a whiff of those dusty sun-pummelled rocks of Southern California, and the rich stink of bubbling road-tar. A few notes of the theme song. An fleeting image of perfectly conical 1963-era brassiere-bound breasts. A shiver of the joyous goofiness of life’s meaningless serendipity. I hadn’t thought about the movie in decades, probably, media-starved and nomadic as I’d been during my wanderyears. It was, without exaggerating, one of the formative films of my young life. It helped make me the man I am today. I fired up the torrent and whispered a breathy ‘woo hoo’, so as not to wake up She Who Must Be Obeyed, and the downstream rate nudged its way up past 400KB/s.
The movie was “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World“.
Let me tell you about how this movie lodged itself so deeply in the crenellations of my brain. I warn you, there may be some adult concepts and situations involved, though. What else do you expect from the wonderchicken?
I started babysitting when I was maybe 10 years old, I guess. I didn’t do it much, and only for some friends of the family who had two kids about 7 or 8 years younger than me. I’ll call them the Potters. Mostly it was a New Years Eve thing, when my parents would go out with Mr and Mrs Potter and get smashed and celebratory at whatever parties were happening in our little town. At that point, they were almost ten years younger than I am now, which makes me feel a little wobbly when I think about it.
Anyway, it was the New Year’s Eves I remember the most. I probably had a good run of 5 years or so before I got old enough that I wanted to start going out myself and getting loose on illicitly-acquired booze on December 31st. But I didn’t mind doing the babysitting one bit during those years. Mr Potter, you see, had something that my father didn’t (or had hidden too damn well for me to find, much as I tried).
Out in plain site, tucked into the accordion sidepocket and jammed down alongside the seat cushion of his chestnut-brown naugahyde recliner. In a messy pile mixed in with the TV guides and local newspapers on the floor. The thing was, it was almost all textporn, and I discovered it by accident, out of boredom. I don’t even know if the genre even exists anymore — cowboy novels with long, long stretches of pure high-octane sex. I still remember the night when I first found it. I was sitting in the recliner with a bowl of salt and vinegar chips on the folding TV-dinner table beside me, and I pulled out one of the broken-backed paperbacks that was jammed between the cushion and the armrest. Like all of the others I read over the ensuing years in that house, the cover featured a long-haired, spectacularly-bosomed woman, mostly clothed but inevitably dishevelled in a long dress, with a gunslinger, whitehat or black, posed like an action figure, guns metaphorically out. This paperback was totally flat, open about midway through, and when I scanned a few paragraphs, something went ‘boing’ in my head, if not right away in my pants.
Keep in mind this was the mid1970’s, and I was only about 10 or 11. The only naked women I’d seen had been in the couple of low-rent skin mags that other boys had somehow purloined and brought into school, or that I’d literally stumbled upon in the woods. There wasn’t an internet, and we had no movie theatre, and only two channels on the TV, video rentals didn’t exist. Porn was an as-yet unexplored frontier. A different world than we live in today, where 9-year-olds are sending each other goatse links.
I wonder now if my eagerness around that time to go and babysit for the Potters seemed a little odd, somehow. I wonder too if my love for words grew at least in part out of these intense early textfests. I know where my love of the road came from.
I was a big reader already at that age, but the rare sex scenes in my vast mom-sponsored collection of science fiction were like whale-oil candles to this nuclear blast of meat. It went on for page after page of sucking and nibbling and grunting and heaving and cowpokery. I was boggled.
How on earth does this tawdry little tale connect with “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”, you ask? Well, that was the movie that, for some reason, our nearest CTV affiliate station played in its long form as the late show every single New Year’s Eve in those days. Like begging my folks to let me stay up for the Sean Connery Bond movies, or the Sunday afternoon double-shot of Disney and Bugs Bunny, it had assumed a kind of ritualistic significance for me.
I loved the movie regardless — it was shown at other times during the year, and I’d seen it half a dozen times by that point anyway — but it played so regularly as the background soundtrack to the pure unalloyed joy of smacking my weiner around like a pinata at a fat kid’s birthday that they eventually merged into twin double-happiness somehow, back in the root of my pubescent lizard brain.
For the first couple of years I sat in the Potters’ living room, though, it was just about the unlimited cola and snacks. I had a quick scan of whatever cowboy porno was laying around the living room occasionally, and there had been some interesting stirrings in the groinal region, sure, but around the time I turned 12, it all started to change.
I recall the moment at which curiosity and a feeling of general naughtiness blossomed into a full-blown vocation. Long after the kids had been put to bed, of course, mind you. Most of the time they’d already been put to bed before I even showed up, and the house was mine from the get-go.
Over the previous year or so, things had been getting cramped in my jeans when I was doing my late-night study of Mr Potter’s novels, and I’d taken to letting myself out for some air, if you take my meaning. And, you know, I’d discovered in the fullness of time that giving myself a bit of an aimless rub once in a while was a pretty pleasant thing, too.
But one night, on New Year’s Eve, it was, the damn thing just went off. Like a geyser.
Nobody could have been more shocked and surprised than I was, once my eyes rolled back down out of my head. I guess I must have known this sort of thing happened — I’d been reading those damn cowboy books during my babysitting sessions for a year or two by that point — but that was different than having it actually happen to me. And of course, “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” was playing on the TV in the corner, beside the dried-out Christmas tree.
The rest of that night I’ll slide a diffusion lens of modesty over, but suffice it to say that I could barely walk on January 1st. I’d discovered something that would occupy a lot of my free time over the next few years.
Until I saw that torrent file for The Movie, I’d almost forgotten about the supporting role it played in my sexual awakening, not as fodder, but as refractory-time wallpaper.
I don’t think my slightly irrational love for the movie is entirely about the sexual imprinting, necessarily. The movie itself is not especially sexualized for me. And these days, I don’t much care for cowboy novels or brown vinyl recliners, nor do salt and vinegar potato chips give me spontaneous erections. There’s much to love about the movie, I think, and it’s become like an old friend long-lost and remade for me in the six months since I’ve downloaded it. Somehow it takes me back to a time when new worlds were opening wide, full of possibilities. Sex and the road, out there in front of me.
I remember how that seeing that arid Californian desert, so alien to me and so clean, how seeing those cars race through it set up resonances in my brain that I couldn’t explain. That I still can’t, for that matter. How the movie made me laugh. How it mixed with the heady fumes of newly-discovered sex, and filled me with an awareness that life was both utterly random and completely hilarious.
On some of those Friday nights at home since I’ve rediscovered the movie, when I’ve had my fill of beer and my reflexes have degraded too far to be much damn good in Rocket Arena 3, and I’ve sung along with a few Tom Waits songs, and am weary and hungry, I find myself firing up the movie and watching a few scenes. Imagining myself rakish and dissolute in a heavy steel-framed convertible with a woman in a satin gown, racing across the California desert towards the Big W. And I feel both rooted in a past that I frequently have difficulty remembering, and a little bit free.
But these days, at least, I keep my hands above the waistline.