Part II: The Good Parts
I had to wait a few years until my next encounter with a naughty book. The opportunity was provided by another friend, Nicole, who had a Judy Blume novel stashed in her desk drawer at home.
Blume had a certain cachet. On one hand, she was sanctioned. Our school was progressive enough that at least one teacher read passages aloud at story time. We’d sit on the nappy rug like twenty-six small Indians, by turns dead silent or giggling furiously. In this way, our Ms. Fishman — the first teacher I ever knew to use a “Miz” — dispensed priceless information about getting your period (“Eww, gross,” muttered the boys) or having wet dreams (“Eww, gross,” whispered the girls).
I already owned all of Blume’s works, except Forever. For some mysterious reason, my mother would never buy it for me. “I think you’re a little young for this,” she’d say, and put the coveted tome back on the shelf at W.H. Smith’s.
But here was the chance to read it! And helpful Nicole had even paperclipped the good parts for me. I sat near her open desk drawer, ready to stash the offending matter if her mom (who had a disturbing habit of bursting in unannounced) was heard outside. Because of the impending danger, I skimmed where I wanted to linger. My legs were crossed throughout, muscles doing what I hadn’t yet learned to do with my hands, however, book wasn’t completely satisfying. By then I knew that sex was about kissing and moaning and putting mysterious things in forbidden places, but that was about it. I longed for hard data on anatomy and technique.
Romance novels promised to be helpful in this regard, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I got my hands on some. It was my friend Heather who generously lent them to me so that I could read them at home on my own lily-white bed. There I could pore over the risqué passages for as long as I liked.
There was stress involved here too, but I had a system. When my mom came in to kiss me goodnight, I’d drop the book into the tented area between my raised knees and catch up a healthy work of science fiction, always kept at the ready.
However, the books turned out to be enigmatic, if not downright disappointing. The authors would leave no facet of their doe-eyed, creamy-thighed heroines’ appearances or costumes to the imagination, but at crucial points the narrative became maddeningly vague. What was this strange business about exploding suns and pounding surf? I understood the idea of metaphor, but couldn’t anyone ever describe the sex scenes in plain English?
Other mysteries also began to assert themselves.
I was unaware of what John Norman’s novels contained until Ban-mei brought a copy of Slave Girl of Gor to a particularly edifying sleepover. She ensorcelled the other six of us camped out in that basement. We didn’t mind the cold seeping up through the unpadded carpet over bare concrete and nearly into our sleeping bags. We focused on her about an Earth girl, waking up on a strange planet. There followed a lurid sword and sandal fantasy in which beautiful chattel was herded from place to place to be bought and sold, collared, trained, and made to serve the will of heavily muscled men who understood the true order of the sexes.
It was the most erotic idea I’d ever heard.
For years afterwards, I would walk into nearly any bookstore and see John Norman’s work on the shelves, right there, in plain view, in the middle of the ever-so-innocent sci-fi novels that my parents let me browse to my hearts’ content. At any time I’d open nearly any book to any page and find the word “master” or “slave”. My heart would race. I’d feel that familiar prickle between my legs. And no one. Ever. Caught on.