mary’zine random redux: #10 January 2001

With this issue, I boldly go where I never thought I could go before—into the XXX Zone. I have a hard time talking about sex. I have never used the word “masturbation” in 8 years of therapy. I’m no Betty Dodson or Suzie Bright. But this ‘zine is my place to explore, and you are the lucky recipients of my intrepid findings.

Those who do not wish to enter the XXX Zone may proceed directly to Story #2, which is considerably more decorous and in which the word “nipple” does not appear even once. Ha! I dare you to skip over it now.

mary’s first porno

As I sit here at the computer, wondering where to start, I ponder the title of this story for a while, and it occurs to me that I have unconsciously made an association between sexuality and childhood—Mary’s first steps, Mary’s first word, Mary’s first porno—and I suppose that is accurate after all. Before you get too scandalized, let me just state that I’m referring to watching a porno, not starring in one (…as if…).

I had my first sexual experiences at the age of 10, at the hands of my older cousin John. It’s hard to put myself back in that time and understand why I couldn’t refuse, why I couldn’t tell anyone. But like many other things that had happened to me, this unwanted attention was like a fact of life, like a death or an illness. It wasn’t something I chose, and therefore I had no choice.

Something was awakened in me by those encounters in the woods, the basement, and our “fort” on the sand hill, but not in the sense of the handsome prince awakening the beautiful princess with a kiss. It was an awakening of fear, guilt, shame, and pleasurable physical sensation in a mixture that was most confusing. The way I found to deal with the confusion was to try to separate the pleasure from the rest of it—or to own my own body, if you want to get feministic about it.

This new awareness of my lower body morphed into inspired masturbation under the very noses of my grade school classmates and teachers. The large institutional swing set at Grant School had fine, sturdy poles, up which I climbed like the boys—humping my way slowly and deliciously to the top, then sliding down after climax—instead of the dainty swinging back and forth on the underside of the pole that the girls were supposed to do, all work and no play whatsoever. The bell to end recess would ring, the other kids would go running, and Miss Magnuson, the second grade teacher, would call up to me from the ground, “Come now, Mary!” And so I did.

When the swing set was no longer a viable option—“When I was a child, I humped like a child, but when I became a woman, I put away childish things”—it took me years to realize that there were other means to accomplish the same end and even books to help you do it. When it comes to erotic materials, I have always been more a fan of the written word than the visual image. I have had little enough exposure even to the written word (I mean, those written words). My first awareness of pornography was finding my father’s hidden copy of Nudist Holiday when I was 10 or 11. I can’t imagine why my mother let him keep it—my father lost all property rights after he got sick with MS—unless—oh, horrors—it was hers. The book was pretty soft-core. I remember the bobbing breasts of the ubiquitous volleyball players—do real nudists love this sport above all others, or is that a smutty-book and movie cliché?—but I don’t remember any big swinging members or anything that truly shocked me.

Recently I had cause to contact a woman-friendly sex appliance store in San Francisco called Good Vibrations. I found it on the Web when I was forced to replace my Hitachi Magic Wand after the cord became frayed and started emitting little sparks. An ex-girlfriend had given it to me some 13 years before, so you know it was ready for the scrap heap. Whenever I succumbed to an onanistic session—staring death by electrocution in the face—I imagined the humiliation of being found dead in my bed days later with the foot-long accidental-suicide weapon in one hand and Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden in the other. I could only hope that my spirit would be long gone by then and wouldn’t still be hanging around the ceiling looking down on the body, watching its surprised friends and family get an eyeful. At least I don’t indulge in any really strange practices, like autoasphyxiation or dressing up in women’s clothes.

When the Wand arrived (I wonder if the Hitachi Corp. really thinks people are using this thing to massage their backs and shoulders?), I looked through the catalog that came with it and noticed that they also sell videos. I figured it was time to satisfy my curiosity about—oh, one thing and another—so I pored over the descriptions and finally settled on a bisexual video called “Curious?”:

Two attractive same-sex couples living under the same roof wonder what it would be like to succumb to their curiosity and swap partners. Enjoy steamy gay and lesbian sex, a woman learning blowjob techniques from a gay man, and a not-to-be-missed four-way in which one of the men becomes the center of everyone’s attention.

I thought, naively, that a video featuring gay men and lesbians would be kinder and gentler, more wholesome somehow, than your usual porno. Obviously, I didn’t think this through. For one thing, it doesn’t get more down-and-dirty than two guys getting it on (despite the fruity-fairy stereotypes), and I had forgotten that pornos showing women together are made to satisfy the fantasies of straight men, not your Birkenstock-wearin’ middle-aged wimmin-lovin’ wimmin. One of the women in this video was named Candy Apples, which should have been my first clue. For viewers with no imagination, the two parts of her name were tattooed on her chest, one above each… apple.

Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure who would want to watch this mishmash of gay, lesbian, and straight sex. Gay men and straight women wouldn’t be interested in the bulbously breasted women, and straight men and lesbians wouldn’t care to see the Long Dong Silvered men… leaving, I supposed, the true bisexuals and those, like me, who are indeed curious or just confused.

So why did I select the bisexual video? I am quite ambidextrous in my sexual response—it’s only emotionally that I walk the gay and narrow—so I admit I was interested in seeing some “towering columns of stiff male meat,” as the women in Nancy Friday’s books like to say. I mean, I’ve experienced my share of said columns, but it’s been awhile. Not everyone knows this, but I’ve been around the block with several penii. In the days before I knew that women were an option, I fooled around a fair bit with the boys but never found one who could begin to intrigue or attract me intellectually or emotionally the way legions, scores, and oodles of women have in my life. Talk about your Mars and Venus. I’m a same-planet girl.

[Hetero sidebar] In my 20s, I was naïve enough to believe in the so-called sexual revolution, so when I was first seeing P, I also got involved with two married male librarians. And an unmarried one, if you count my boss, the library director, who got me drunk one night and tried to seduce me, insisting that he knew “gay ways of making love.” He later fired me, but we didn’t know about sexual harassment back then. One of my fondest hetero memories (ah, I am a real woman, after all) was the night the two married men faced off like two stags in the log cabin I was living in. C drove me home after an after-hours rendezvous in the library, and J followed us from town and burst through the door in a jealous rage. I’m glad handguns weren’t readily available back then (at least to librarians). I just sat there, the helpless damsel, in my gay-liberation-button-festooned army shirt, flabbergasted and pleased at this rare display of machismo on my behalf. (No, I can’t explain why I was messing around with these guys. It was the “sixties”; we were insane.)

At the ripe old age of 40, I became temporarily enamored of an older man—a VIP in the Krishnamurti crowd in Ojai, Calif. My 12-year relationship with P had ended, and I guess I figured it was time to sow some wild oats. I didn’t realize right away that what I was enamored of was feeling “normal” out in the world. I loved being seen with a man, going to restaurants with him, walking down the street. It was like suddenly being admitted to an exclusive club. Was I imagining that I was treated entirely differently, that I was receiving the respect and nonchalant approval I had never felt as a dyke? It was a heady experience, to say the least. It almost seemed worth it to “switch,” even though this man turned out to be emotionally cruel and very conflicted about women. Also, he’d had a lifelong problem with impotence—I mean, not occasionally, but completely. I don’t think he had ever really “done it.” I figured this was fate’s way of confirming that I wasn’t meant to go down that path.

Back to the porno. As soon as the video arrived, I rushed to put it in the VCR. Frankly, I was stunned, right from the beginning. The video started out with several minutes of ads for male/male 900 numbers and lurid close-ups of men’s frontal and rearal anatomies. I still had hopes that the “story” would provide more titillation—was it too much to hope for a little subtlety, a little eroticism?—and less of an anatomy lesson.

I hadn’t really expected the acting to be any good, but I was frankly astounded to see how bad and insincere it was. They stumbled their way woodenly through the dialogue necessary to move the two guys from the top of the washing machine and the two girls from the bathtub into the joint living space where they could satisfy their “curiosity” about the mysteries of hetero love. But what shocked me was that they couldn’t even act the sex very well. They didn’t seem to be feeling anything. I’m not talking about emotionally, but sexually. The guys wore stoic (or bored) faces—presumably, they were thinking about dead puppies or stock quotes in order to keep going—and had very little dialogue, but “Yeah baby, get your lipstick all over that baby” was a mood killer for sure.

And the women were so obviously faking it, it wasn’t even funny. I mean, it was funny. It was as if they started with a crashing orgasm and then just kept it going and going—move over, Energizer bunny. But since their enthusiasm was not even slightly credible, there was nowhere for it to go. You had to wonder if they were feeling anything at all, or if they had become completely desensitized by the constant manipulation of their parts and their faked over-the-top reactions. There was absolutely nothing sexy about these women, who are supposedly the ultimate sex objects, the ones stamped and approved by scores of porno-loving men. I really had to wonder, What kind of lesbian am I? I love women’s bodies! I find them endlessly fascinating and smooth and curvy and juicy. But if the women in the video were giving and receiving any pleasure whatsoever, you could have fooled me. And it wasn’t just the “lesbian” scenes—the women in the hetero bits acted exactly the same—all over-the-top fakiness.

So if the women were laughable with their feigned horniness, the men were a turnoff because of too much information—testicles hanging out of a guy’s pants like elephant ears; a beer-can-sized penis inserting itself quiveringly into a puckering a-hole. I suppose the organs erecti were impressive enough, but somehow the microscopic detail and the zealous slurping and handling—not to mention 5 solid minutes of the same camera angle—made the action seem about as sexy as bobbing for rubber wieners.

I’m not saying I want the soft romantic lighting, the thin white curtain stirring in the breeze, a bird flying high in the sky to represent the “culmination of the act.” I’m not a prude. But for me, the visuals are just not stimulating—whereas the words—the lick, the flick, the nipple and the clit—ahh. Give me something to dream on. Are you with me, dear reader?

Now that I’ve seen “Curious?,” I no longer am—curious, that is, And I’m more in the dark than ever about who would want to see extreme close-ups of men licking each other’s anuses and gigantic-fakily-breasted women moaning over each other’s shaved mounds—not to mention switcheroos in the middle of the action, so that the women are licking the… and the men are moaning over the….

And I can’t get those images out of my head. You know how they say that if you ever see how sausage is made, you’ll never eat it again? Well, that’s how I feel… not only about the sausage but about the biscuits, if you know what I mean. Oh, and the gravy—especially the gravy. It’s as if someone waved the Magic Wand and worked its magic in reverse. The fairy dust has disappeared, and my Hitachi is once more a mundane reliever of muscle tension, not a means of self-pleasure and delightful fantasy. I cry for my lost innocence.

And now, for something completely different…

just one

For some reason, I like to take myself out to lunch or dinner after a therapy or dreamwork session. (“Take myself out” is such a quaint, romantic concept—as if I’m also going to bring myself a corsage, come around to open my car door, and kiss myself sweetly at the end of the evening.) (Given what you have just read, this might not seem so far-fetched.) It’s as if the inner work and the relationship with J or J* make me want to open to the world, or as if I’m already open and there’s nothing for it but to go out among the human, letting myself seep into their consciousness and take them into mine.

On this particular day, I’ve had a wonderful time with J*, batting back and forth the dream images I’ve offered him out of the dozens I’ve written down since I saw him last. He does most of the batting, hitting multiple home runs. (Though if we’re “batting them back and forth,” I suppose a badminton metaphor would be more appropriate here…. Oh, never mind.) He modestly calls himself a “master of the obvious,” but if so, then it’s clear that pointing out the obvious to those who would otherwise never notice it is a particular form of genius.

Both J* and his wife have become avid readers of the ‘zine, so that adds another dimension to the relationship. They are so enthusiastic, in fact, that I feel myself turning red, wanting to disavow their praise like too-rich chocolate. I ache to hear it and yet it is a bit hard to swallow. I reflexively want to turn their words away at the door, like beautifully dressed partygoers who must have the wrong house. I imagine it’s like being praised for the sweetness of intelligence of your child—you blush to be receiving all this credit for something you’re not sure you’re responsible for, but you also marvel, “So—is that how my little one is received out in the world? Honey, I barely know ye!”

It’s 5:00 when I leave the house on Pleasant Lane—aptly named, because the street feels like a veritable boulevard of pleasantness as I walk to my car, full of feeling and torn between wanting to share it and keep it all to myself. This is where the bustling café comes in—a place where I can sit with a glass of wine and a small pizza or dish of pasta and dream over the insights of the past hour and a half—but at the same time feel the pulse of connection with the world.

I decide on Il Fornaio. It’s still early, so there should be plenty of room for my party of just-one, and it’s a relatively benign environment in which to experience that peculiar luxury-slash-torture which is dining out alone.

Despite my glow from the session, I feel as false and brittle as a mannequin walking down the row of tables behind the beautiful hostess, all the eyes of the other diners seemingly on me instead of on her deserving countenance. She first tries to seat me at the table right opposite the kitchen door, but I’ve been stuck there before. When you dine out alone, you learn to be suspicious of the host’s first choice of seating. I’m there to have a sensory experience in a refined atmosphere, and the comings and goings of the waiters in all their raucous camaraderie through a constantly swinging door are not part of my plan. Instead, I successfully negotiate for a table a little farther along, where I can keep my back to the help and pretend that I am far, far above the mechanics of dinner delivery.

Throughout the perusing of the menu, the ordering of the wine and salad and pizza margherita—grateful to the Italian waiter for instantly seeing them I am a Madame and not a Sir—I feel like a new immigrant to these shores who has only learned to say one phrase, “Thank you.” The thank yous necessary when dining out alone add up to a veritable chorus of gratitude. And because you’re not conversing with another person in between, all you hear yourself say all night long is thank you, thank you, thank you—for the table, the menu, the placing of the order, the bringing of every little thing, the taking away, the bill—as if riches are being bestowed upon you in exchange for your gracious presence rather than $37.48.

When I’m alone in a restaurant, I take self-consciousness to dizzying heights. My self inflates to take up the entire, vaulted dining room—crouching at the high ceiling, pushing against the windows, seeping under the doors, seeming to need a larger venue, the Oakland Coliseum, perhaps, to contain it. It is impossible to believe—as I know must be true—that all eyes are not on me, that judgmental glances are not taking in the falsity of my nonchalance and the obvious pose of bringing along a book to populate the tabletop. It’s a good book, actually—Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life—but who can concentrate on written words when the outsized dimensions of the fearful ego are expanding to fill the vacuum that Nature and solitary diners abhor.

Thank God for the vino. I have nervously drunk almost the whole glass while waiting for my food, and the nice waiter asks if I want a second one with my meal—sparing me the humiliation of craning my neck in obvious alcoholic dependency as I wave down any passing busboy for more liquid courage.

The salad, when it comes, helps to focus my attention a bit, but then there’s the problem of how to hold the book in one hand and navigate the slippery pieces of lettuce and shaved parmesan with the other.

Slowly, slowly, I begin to deflate back to a manageable size. It’s probably the wine, but also, I’ve decided I want to write about this experience, this spiritual practice of sitting quietly in full public view, a “single,” a “just one?” among the paired and partying humans. The writer’s detachment comes in handy sometimes. No social experience is so awkward that it can’t be turned into a good story.

My neck and shoulders begin to loosen a bit, and I dare to take my eyes off my book and look around the room. I’m not interested in the couples or the parties of four (two couples—twice as uninteresting). Pairing is such good camouflage—allowing one to direct all the bonhomie and cheerful chatter at one’s disposal to a safe face sitting opposite, knowing that you have nothing to prove, you are accompanied by your own raison d’être. You each have an other, one who consented to be in your presence for the course of a meal. I’m not knocking it—I prefer eating with a friend, too, and basking in the companionship and the security of bringing along a flesh-and-blood person, nothing so obviously forced as a book.

My attention wanders farther and farther afield. I am really getting bold now. I look over to my right, and I see a young woman sitting alone at a table set for 10. Logically, she must feel 10 times as self-conscious as I do, because all sorts of questions are raised by her being there, surrounded by what seem like 20 wine glasses and a flurry of little plates. She must be waiting for the rest of her party, no? But it looks like some of the glasses have a little wine left in them, as if the party has long since disbanded and she’s frozen there in front of a half-drunk bottle of red, sipping from her glass and twisting a napkin in her lap.

At first I refuse to believe that she is anything but right in her element. She’s attractive, with shoulder-length dark hair, wearing a pretty dress; no one would ever mistake her for a Sir. She probably dines here every night—knows the owner—is married to the owner—is the owner.  But I’m intrigued by the ambiguity of the table settings. Is she coming or going? I’m sitting slightly behind and to her left, so I can gaze at her without being seen (thus confirming my own paranoia—who’s sitting just out of range watching me?).

After several minutes of idly pondering her situation, wondering if her inflated, insecure self is bobbing up at the ceiling along with mine, if she is silently praying for someone else to show up so she doesn’t have to sustain the curious looks from all the safely paired diners—or even those singles who were smart enough to bring a book—I realize that her hands that were twisting the napkin are now rubbing her thighs and making little gestures as if she’s talking to someone. Then I realize her lips are moving! Not animatedly, not like an out-and-out crazy person, but quietly. If I pretend that the rest of the table is populated with her nine companions, it looks like she’s having a conversation with someone across from her. Is she practicing a speech? Is she planning to break up with her boyfriend (under cover of a crowd) or confront a coworker? Or is she out-and-out crazy after all, having called in a reservation for 10 but with only her and nine imaginary friends to fill the chairs?

The waiter comes by and refills the woman’s glass, which she sips at nervously. Or excitedly. How can I know? I don’t. Maybe she’s as self-conscious as I am, or maybe she’s caught up in her own world. Maybe this is the happiest night of her life, and the celebration is about to begin. Or maybe I’m way off, maybe I could never imagine what’s going on with her. It’s as if I’m seeing the mechanics of projection laid bare—as if I can only “put myself in her place” (see her as my twin) or imagine her as my glamorous opposite. In both cases, I am setting myself as the standard, the known, the norm. Maybe we can never see one another true but must always supply the tint, the blush, the coloring from our own bag of makeup. I can’t believe I’m using makeup as a metaphor.

So I can’t size her up, but something about this reassures me. Maybe I’m not so transparent after all. Perhaps, like her, I am obvious only to myself. Obvious because I’m posing as a person of ease—an ugly duckling yearning to be perceived as a cool, gliding swan—like her. Yet as mysterious, in my own way, as any attractive stranger in a pretty dress. I don’t know her story, but if she had been watching me, would she have known mine?

Posing, always posing. Pretending to be OK when we’re not. Even pretending to be OK when we are! Now there’s a pose for you. I was perfectly OK that night—better than OK—but I insisted on feeling like a sore thumb—the girl from the sticks all growed up and just barely learned how to use a fork—the dyke in the telltale haircut—instead of… well, whoever I really am. The simplest lesson—free to be, you and me—seems to be the hardest to learn.

Too much thinking on a full stomach.

When it’s time to leave, I bid a silent farewell to my mysterious counterpart, realizing that I am just one of the multitudes of mysterious, obvious humans—obvious in our pretense sometimes, but mysterious at our core. Saying my last round of thank yous to the tactful waiter and the beautiful hostess, I glide out the door, swanlike, into the dark solitary night, back to my private self.

pookie’s christmas

Pookie is almost impossible to buy for. He turns up his nose at all manufactured “cat toys,” with their trying-too-hard-to-be-fun jingly bells and stale catnip. What does he care if the thing is in the shape of a mouse? It’s not a mouse. A real live spider at least has authenticity.

Pookie can be happy with a piece of cardboard large enough to hold his enormous sprawling self or, better yet, a box, with sides to contain him. Nothing, apparently, makes him feel more secure than a cardboard floor and four little cardboard walls. He is a founding member of the Simple Living movement. Often, I’ll have boxes lying around my office that are way too small for him—like an 8-1/2 x 11 stationery box—but he snuggles in anyway, with his furry flab hanging over all the sides, forcing himself to fit like Cinderella’s stepsister jamming her foot into the glass slipper. But cardboard boxes tend to come serendipitously, you don’t just go out and buy one. Besides, they take up a lot of room. A cute little toy mouse with a jingly bell at least ends up behind the couch, out of sight, out of mind. But a box big enough to hold Pookie is a piece of furniture in itself.

He also used to like chasing wine corks. I would see him crouching behind a chair in the living room, signaling his readiness, and I would throw the cork halfway up the stairs. He would run for it, batting it all the way back down, or—nine times out of ten—knocking it under the stairs, where I would have to crouch down to retrieve it, giving him the perfect opportunity to take a swat at my head from above. I’ve always suspected that that was the real point of the game. But he mysteriously lost interest in cork chasing after his male-to-whatever operation last spring. Better for me and my back, though. And I no longer have to extract stray corks from the vacuum cleaner hose.

Pookie also likes to lick plastic ribbon and lie on tissue paper. After my birthday and Christmas, I used to leave the wrappings on the floor for a few days, for him to pounce on like piles of leaves. But I have banned tissue paper from the house since the time he puked on some orange paper, and the dye stained the light gray carpet right in the middle of the floor. I now have a small round rug covering the evidence, but it’s like Poe’s telltale heart beating under the floorboards, I know it’s there.

I discovered the perfect gift for Pookie when I had to take him to see Dr. Bill because he was drooling. (Pookie, not Dr. Bill.) We never found out why he was drooling, but I had to pay the $54 anyway. And then the drooling stopped. A ruse, apparently, to get inside the doctor’s office and score himself some… tuna-flavored hairball laxative. The stuff comes in a tube, oozing out all brown and shiny, and is licked off the human finger. My human finger. I have to wash and wash my hands afterward like Lady Macbeth. After he’d gotten his first taste, he was after me 24-7 to get more. He lops off a big glob and then has to keep licking and licking the inside of his mouth, trying to get it all down. I entertain myself with the cruel thought, “Got milk?”

When T was staying with me during the painting intensive in December, Pookie would go begging to her for the tuna laxative, too. One day, I heard her talking to him in the next room. “I can’t give you laxative,” she said sweetly, “but I can give you love.”

And that’s what Pookie got for Christmas. Love and laxative, and plenty of it.

[Mary McKenney]

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