Creative Nonfiction: How Not to Embrace Maternal Depravity

Stephanie B. spices, simmers, and serves her written entrees with a generous slathering of whimsy. She fostered her voice during creative writing courses as an English Literature undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley. Currently she’s working toward a master’s degree in magazine journalism in New York City. Originally from Sacramento, California, Stephanie hasn’t yet adapted to the confined spaces of New York and nostalgically dreams of roaming the double-wide supermarket aisles of the West Coast (at least until she can afford a decent sized apartment in the city)

How Not to Embrace Maternal Depravity

You could call my mother a prude, sure. You could assume that the only men she’s dated were ones she felt she could breed with. You could even hypothesize that she doesn’t realize her daughter is twenty-three years old and hasn’t been a virgin for six years. A few years ago, however, I learned that at twenty-three, my mother had lived in the Herpes Triangle in Sacramento, California, a region in the seedy Arden-Arcade neighborhood demarcated by its three hotspots: TGI Friday’s, Chevy’s, and El Torito. In the 70s, chain restaurants defined Sacramento nightlife and its young, horny residents trolled them years before the blue-hair specials labeled the diners officially bunk. Until recently, I never psycho-analyzed my single mother’s decision to take me to the local adult gift shop, How Tacky, as a four or five-year old. I remember putting on a pair of disguise glasses to which was attached a long plastic penis nose. “Look, mommy,” I said whacking at the appendage. My mother blushed and hurried us out for good, probably realizing that my memory was beginning to catalog such events.

As a young woman I discovered that I could extract tidbits of information from my mother’s secret stash of soft-core exploits, especially when she gets tipsy. Wine tasting in my family is an excuse for her to loosen up a degree or two; it’s also less likely that she will punch her hands over her ears when I taunt her with my own harmless secrets. Take for instance, when I told her that an ex-boyfriend and I had seen a play in Berkeley called “The Vibrator Musical” on Valentine’s Day–she merely screamed.

As a recent transplant from her and my stepfather’s house in Sacramento to my own apartment in New York, I know my mother resents the lack of control she has over her little girl’s behavior. It comforts her though, knowing that I’m in a committed long-distance relationship that links me and my chastity to California. Yet I love finding ways to smack her pretty little mind out of whack. When she visited here a few weeks ago, I dropped the detail that my boyfriend is thirty-one years old. She reacted with the customary exaggerated gasp that she knows I expect, but smiled because she approves of him and she loves playing this mock-prude game with me as if I still believed in it as much as Santa Claus’ jiggly ass.

The most recent of my ventures of which she would half-heartedly disapprove: the Museum of Sex. If I were ever to get my mother in there, I would have to introduce several components to the equation: 3 sweet tea vodka and lemonades, 2 juicy yet digestible confessions from me, and her confidante, my aunt A.T., who, if she were described as a greeting card, would be the one on the top shelf out of the reach of small, impressionable children.

From the outside, the Museum of Sex gift shop looked like an Apple store. The fluorescent lights backlit the quaint Christmas display in front, where I picked up a bright aluminum ornament of two reindeer humping. Red PVC leather stiletto heels replaced traditional felt stockings. My mother would have poked at them, wondering if she could find a place for the conversation pieces in her house, which no doubt, had already been vomited on by Rudolph.

Further back I spied Pocket Pussies, $50 glass stones that one can rub inside the pocket of his Dockers. I marveled at classy dishcloths labeled Cum Rags that, upon close inspection, pictured pinups with whips and paddles. I saw bullets, beads, clamps, manuals, puppets, spreads, lubes, syrups, rubbers, acrylics, glasses, props, apparatuses, masks, and greeting cards. Of the latter, I bought two. My mom would have bragged about everything she hadn’t bought.

Ever the careful shopper, I brought my coupon and got 50% off my admission price to the museum. A winking attendant ushered me into the porno exhibit as if I were braving a haunted house. A bit of an agoraphobe, I tend to polarize myself from crowds, so I wandered to the least peopled corner: the beginnings of modern pornography. A heavily powdered flapper looked into the eyes of a man wearing a fedora. The film zoomed and the edges of the black-and-white picture turned foggy as she leaned forward and blew out the match poised to light his cigarette. The screen switched to a caption, “Don’t you know when a woman blows out your match, it’s an invitation to kiss?” Intoxicating.

I learned about King Kong’s voyeurism, sexual metaphor in Dracula, and Linda Lovelace’s porn chic. I laughed at the dribble of spit that lingered between Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair in the mainstream homosexuality exhibit. I scoffed at Tommy Lee who managed to keep his sunglasses perched on his forehead throughout coitus. I stumbled around floor platforms on which hard-core submission and humiliating urination scenes were projected.

My mother would have navigated the room like a magnet, unable to meet me due to our repellant force fields. Were A.T. there, the two would have bent their heads in stifled giggle attacks at every screen, commenting on girth and no doubt establishing a rating system. Yet if she saw me hovering near the lesbian scene that involved rubber medical gloves, she would have rushed past long enough to whisper, “At least they’re sanitary.”

I noticed hardly any mother/daughter pairs in the museum, but couples nonetheless: a boyfriend adjusted his waistband beside his girlfriend; two lesbians spooned in front of a screen; young Japanese men pushed their noses close to televised tits; middle-aged spouses teased each other for a photograph; BFFs glanced at me nervously as I took notes, perhaps wondering if they should too.

I followed a stout, eager man to the second floor where I found the permanent collection. There I noticed the irony between the 19th century male chastity belt that could only be likened to a miniature Iron Maiden and the modern-day Cyber S&M suit with wired nipple clamps and a belt that administers shocks. A video nearby demonstrated the proper way to whip a naughty human pony whose legs were pulling his rickshaw too slowly. A man unabashedly spanked his date’s ass as they watched. “Do people in Texas do that?” she teased.

“Cool” girlfriends smiled thinly as their boyfriends prodded and cupped the rubber breasts of a mannequin torso. My mother would have snapped a photograph of my A.T. copping a feel of the subway-grimy male protrusion. They would have erupted into hysterics and every guy in the room would have swiveled his head to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.

In the Rubbers exhibit, my mother and aunt would have pointed at the condom wrappers from the 1970s, reminiscing about a time when marriage was so gloriously and temporarily taboo.

My mother would have approached me at this point, asking if I anticipated being on the

West Coast next summer for the San Francisco AIDS Walk, a tradition that we enjoyed privately over the years. There we exchanged smiles at the dazzling drag queens who walked next to us, and shared views on our common investment in LGBT rights. She would have told me about the rally in front of Sacramento’s capitol building that charged the Court of Appeals to overturn Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage. We might have talked about Thomas, a friend of my mother’s who had just lost his life partner of twenty years to cancer.

We might have spoken about my first boyfriend and his penchant for getting drunk and pulling out butcher knives and threatening to slit his wrists if I ended our relationship. We might have side-stepped the awkwardness when I asked her to mail my birth control to my apartment in Madrid. I might have cried to her when a boyfriend asked me to choose him over my best friend. We might have laughed when a guy I’d just met in college unsuccessfully seduced me with a drawn bath, candles, and a bowl of berries. She might have consoled me when distance severed me from someone I love.

Instead we took girl’s trips to wine country, where her girlfriends and their daughters linked arms and joked about their conquests and mistakes. We would sit across the table from each other, avoiding eye contact during silly games of truth or dare. Both of us refused to answer half the questions for fear of offending the other with our numbers, tallies, or superlative sexual encounters.

The Museum of Sex would be just another outing for me and my friends, a Saturday afternoon excursion meant to pique and inform our twenty-something hormones. But my mother and I would have declined the field trip out of respect for the equation: the square- rooted, derivative factorial to the 78th degree that has always defined our relationship, one of many mathematical formulas that we can’t seem to master.

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