Sunday, December 26, 2010

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Jim (Revisited part 2)

The issue was five years old, dated February 1990. The basement window reflected on the pages. I was shaking while flipping through “The Women of Russia.” Hands steady, eyes dry, Jim casually flipped the pages of another Playboy as if naked women were as ubiquitous to him as the smell of coffee. While admiring a woman’s contours, he didn’t ponder eternal salvation. He didn’t understand the full and everlasting gospel, and as I felt the weight of sin, I envied his moral ignorance and doubted that he was envious of my Mormonism.

Jim told me his grandpa kept a collection in a cardboard box, on a shelf, near the small electronics equipment. While getting some preserved peaches for his grandmother, Jim stumbled across the box. The details were too casual, for something so sinful, and I wondered if everyone from Nebraska kept Playboys in their basement.

The box sat feet from the water heater. Why hadn’t we noticed it before? I thought. It seemed like something that could have called out. Here I am…a box full of naked women. Jim nodded towards the box, his curly mullet bouncing. “Go ahead,” he said. “Open it.”

The box contained over one hundred Playboys—decades of naked women. We pulled them out like Halloween candy. Some of the Playboys were 30-years-old, yet it felt like I’d discovered something new and modern. The images were the answer to an inappropriate question I’d always wanted to ask. Jim and I sat, Playboys scattered around us. Arousal pulled at our attention and we forgot about the world’s movement; time vanished, and so did morality. Lust overshadowed all, it was liberating, and I wondered if this was how Jim felt most of the day.

After sitting for what I can only assume were hours, we placed the Playboys back in the box. I asked Jim if looking at naked girls was a sin? He asked me why?

I told him that porno leads to dirty thoughts, and dirty thoughts lead to masturbation, and masturbation leads to sex, and sex outside of marriage is against the law of chastity… I rambled for a while as Jim’s eyes drifted up and down like they were reading a distant street sign. The more I spoke, the more I realized that all of the reasons naked girls were immoral didn’t apply to Jim, and appeared hazy to myself. Eventually I said, “Never mind.”

Jim let me borrow four Playboys. After a few weeks, the girls in those Playboys became less exciting, and I went back and exchanged them for new magazines. Every few weeks I went to Jim’s house, we chatted, and exchanged, and slowly our relationship became as regimented as one between a video store clerk and a customer. We had exhausted the topic of complaining about our grandmothers, and we stopped discussing our longing to know what a naked woman looked like. Sometimes we discussed how amazing it would be to have real sex. But those conversations dwindled quickly because of Jim’s pragmatic understanding that having sex with a girl would require speaking with one. Our cordial relationship went on for nearly a year.

My grandmother was seventy-eight. She stood five two with straight brown hair and a short round nose, traits she passed down to my father, and then to me. Raised in Charleston, a small farming community in central Utah, Grandma often spoke of the Great Depression, saying that she survived on SPAM, water, and the will of the Lord. In the evenings, she sat in the living room with Cheetos, and a Sprite, and listened to the Book of Mormon on audio. After my parents’ divorce, I moved in under two conditions: I would attend church, and I would keep my hair short.

One afternoon, while I lounged on my bed gazing at a Playboy, my grandma walked in.

“I gots to run down to the Wal-mart,” she said opening the door. She was wearing the birthday present I gave her, a sweater reading “I put the Grand in Grandma.”

My pants were open. I attempted to hide my shame, and the magazine, beneath a large, blue, decorative pillow. Grandma looked at me for a while, and then her eyes drifted down so she could see me through her bifocals. Glistening with moisturizer, her hand reached up to her wrinkled and leathery forehead. She spotted the open duffle bag full of Playboys. Casually, I waved, trying to play it off, but she knew.

Later that day, we talked about sin and sexual morality, the Celestial Kingdom and eternal marriage. The experience was embarrassing, but the conversation was not shocking; it was expected. We spoke of things I already knew. Then Grandma threw the Playboys in the large black dumpster next to our garage door. “Let the devil stay where he belongs,” she said.
That night, I dug the Playboys from the dumpster, wrapped them in a grocery sack, and hid them in the shed.

The next day, I went to Jim’s to tell him what happened, but before I could, he told me the box of Playboys had been taped shut. In the basement, he showed me the layers of duct tape that now sealed the box like iron belts on a treasure chest.

Across from Jim, on the cement floor, I sat and listened to him recount the story. He said he was in a lawn chair next to the water heater, while flipping though a Playboy. The magazine was so engrossing that he didn’t notice his grandmother looking over his shoulder. She cleared her throat and he looked up. Shock made his legs to spring back, and collapse the lawn chair. Pants at his ankles, genitals exposed, he crawled from the chair’s aluminum jaws and tried to think of excuses. Eventually he pulled up his pants and said, “I’m sorry.”

Jim’s Grandmother grabbed the Playboy, rolled it, and shook it in his face. “These magazines are wrong,” she said. “Women shouldn’t showboat their bodies like they don’t have brains. It’s disgraceful.” Opening the magazine, she pointed to a playmate and said, “This is not a lady. This is a whore.” She told of her hatred for Playboy, and her hope that Jim would have had the good sense not to look. Then she said something that stuck, something Jim has mentioned several times since: “These magazines are for perverts like your grandfather.”

Jim and I stood in the basement. He placed his hand on the box and rolled his fingers across the tape. Soft and meek, his face appeared like a lost child’s.

“Do you think I’m a pervert?” he asked. And what I think he really meant was, do you think I’m like my grandfather?

He didn’t look at me, but focused on the box. And I could tell his desires were with those glossy, naked pages. He wanted to tear the tape away and surround himself in nudity, but he restrained himself. And for a moment, I sensed a familiar longing. He seemed to have an understanding of shame similar to the one I learned in Sunday school. Waiting for a response, he turned and looked at me, and I considered his question. He didn’t understand God well enough to fear his wrath, and his grandmother catching him with a Playboy was embarrassing, but after my own experience, I doubted it was enough to keep him from tearing open the box. I felt bad about looking at Playboys, but I felt bad before I got caught. My moral questions were answered before we started. But Jim appeared full of questions. Was he trying to comprehend this new dirty feeling? Or was he tracing the connection between his grandfather’s Playboys and becoming his grandfather?

We didn’t remove the tape, and I never answered his question. After a short silence, Jim took his hand from the box and we ventured upstairs to find something to eat. Jim’s grandmother was watching the Lawrence Welk Show, and Jim’s Grandfather told us to get the hell out of the fridge.


Heide said...

Great read, Clint. Ha! He was folded up in the lawn chair with his pants down!