In 1999, my ex-husband gave me a computer. I was pretty glad to get it. I had mastered emailing, and was ready to move on to the really exciting things, like AOL and internet porn.
Let’s get this clear right away: I’m not a huge porn fan. My porn experience at that point was limited to the following:
1. A couple of magazines unearthed by a 13-year-old me, in ~1985 in my mom’s friend’s attic. They were evidently from the 1970s. My suspicion was based largely on the unusual prevalence of mustaches and floppy boobies. (Throw in a headshot of Spiro Agnew and my argument is airtight.) They were disturbingly graphic and unaltered. Sans digital enhancement, the naked people all looked like slabs of pork tenderloin. With mustaches and floppy boobies.
2. A porn movie a boyfriend rented to watch with me. Everyone seemed really, really angry in it. With the volume down, their sexing faces all looked like they were watching Newt Gingrich pole dance in assless chaps and an American flag tank top. (He has bootstraps tattooed on his inner thighs, by the way. Interesting tidbit.)
3. My parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex, which was hidden under some sweaters in my dad’s closet. Finding that book in that spot was the single best abstinence education any parent could possibly provide. The idea of my disgusting parents contorting their old disgusting bodies into those disgusting and inexplicable configurations was enough to keep me from so much as holding hands until I was 16 years old.
So, my experience, such as it was, seemed anemic. But now I had a computer, so I needn’t remain so provincial. I was ready to be educated.
It took a long time. There’s a lot of porn. At first, me and a couple girlfriends searched for the basics: “boobs,” then “big boobs,” and eventually, “colossal boobs.” Rapidly boring ourselves with women hosting breasts as round and tight as giant tan boils posted on their chests, we started to search for things we’d always heard about but disbelieved: “Crazy fetishes,” “LITERAL horse lovers,” and “Diapered and 40-Plus.” All there. In plenitude! We had to choose which sites we looked at, there were so many results. So, we got even crazier. “Blindfolded sex with big nosed ladies on the hoods of Le Car, model years 1984-1986” and “llama mustard fetish.” Still there. The results got increasingly disturbing, and, in spite of the wine we’d consumed, less funny. There is a guy out there, pining away for one other soul who is only aroused by a woman riding a llama covered in spicy mustard. He wants to talk. He wants to relate. He made a webpage. And that is too much for me to worry about. So we wrapped up with high-fives (universal hand gesture of the morbidly uncomfortable) and the uneasy feelings that accompany a large-scale porn investigation.
It was like The X-Files, only instead of Area 51 we found a secret warehouse of sexual deviants so weird that Area 51 seemed like a Gap Outlet in comparison. Seriously, those people don’t want to know what genetic secrets the alien corpse is keeping. They want to have sex with it. And a donkey wearing fishnet stockings and a fez.
Well, over the course of the next few months, my computer starting behaving strangely — opening up windows full of gobbledygook, refusing to shut down, and generally acting like I had shoved a PB&J sandwich into its floppy drive (which existed, and was approximately the size of a carport — it was 1999). At about the same time, I began dating a man who specialized in computer coding. He was one of the HTML front runners, schooling himself in the dark recesses of his apartment, fascinated by ASCII. He came over one night during our initial courtship to watch movies. For the purposes of this narrative, let’s call him Stu.
At this point in our datinghood, we hadn’t even kissed each other. We were in preliminary nest-circling mode, evaluating what things the other found important enough to incorporate into the infrastructure. Stu was a quiet guy. He was not a particularly overt fellow, and generally preferred the company of computers to humans. But he thought I was nice, safe — a good person to joke around, listen to music, and discuss computer things with.
While we were watching our movie, I mentioned that my computer was behaving strangely. He offered to look at it, and I gratefully agreed.
If you were planning to stop reading before the story inevitably degenerated into me burning everyone and everything to the ground while standing in front of my eighth-grade English class naked and clutching a picture of Andrew McCarthy, this is your chance to jump off.
Stu started up my computer, brows furrowed and finger tapping as the initial “Safe Mode” message flashed on and off the screen. “Weird,” he said. “Yeah! It just started doing that!” I replied, enthusiastically. Stu hit “Escape” a number of times, and evaluated the resulting screen of green text carefully. “Something has corrupted your DOS kernel,” he said. “We might have to re-stage your machine.” Or something like that.
“Great!” I said. “You can do whatever you want to that kernel. Stage it, re-stage it, whatever.” Stu laughed. (Wasn’t I cute? And innocent? So uncultured I don’t even know what a DOS kernel is? Tee hee.)
Stu downloaded some things from a disk he had with him in his bag, and a black box with a large green progress bar began rapidly listing files, directories … and then it started. One after another, internet browser windows began popping up, filling the screen with a high-speed montage of the most disturbing pornographic images I had ever seen (which, at this point, was really saying something). Hundreds of screens, one after the other — a lady riding a donkey in a non-classical equestrian pose; a guy and a donkey, similarly engaged; two donkeys, a goat and a fat lady with a pinwheel, perhaps celebrating?; a lady with a stiletto shoe in a place which indicated a particularly vigorous disagreement with someone who had, until the disagreement, been wearing at least one stiletto shoe; two men in enormous diapers, hands on their hips, staring sultrily at the camera; and a bunch of guys in black leather porketta-roast-looking get-ups, eating what appeared to be, well, poo.
Stu sat, hands frozen over the keys like claws, his eyes wide, watching the seizure-inducing procession of horrors. I sat behind him, hand clamped over my mouth, cryogenically frozen somewhere between mortified and fascinated.
“Whoa.” I said.
Stu said 10,000 years of icy silence. A conversational glacier. He turned to look at me, and he was suddenly looking at me the same way he had been evaluating the computer. Did I expect … this?
There was no way to really explain. I could tell him that my porn exploration had been 90 percent ironic, or that I hadn’t been the only one at the helm when “donkey SEIKO farmer handjob” was typed into the search bar. Here are the things I thought of saying: “We were drunk!” = not better. “We were curious!” = the same could be said about the farmer. “We didn’t know it would do this!” = ditto. “Haven’t you ever looked at porn?” = inappropriate timing. Like asking the Ted Bundy investigators, “Haven’t you ever had that urge to just freak out on somebody?”
What I said was, “Can you fix my computer?”
“Not right now.” Stu said. “I need to figure some stuff out.” I’ll bet he did. I don’t blame him. That’s a whole lotta first date.
Now, I limit my porn exploration to what I accidentally read on my cable guide. Teaser: if you are looking for gooey encounters with human life preservers, get into plumbing or DJ-ing.