Adventures in Los Angeles 3.3 – Ode to a Handjob

June 21, 2008

I listened to Steve Almond read today.  Among his pieces (all of which I've already read, but still it was a totally different experience actually hearing him.  He's a wonderful reader) was an excerpt from his Vonnegut essay (which is really wonderful) and two stories from his childhood… about the first, awkward steps he took into sexuality.  Translation: he talked about jerking off… or, more specifically, how at the age of twelve he would romance the jets of his family's hot tub. 

He followed this piece with one about a girl he came to (or perhaps, on) in summer camp… a piece he deliciously titled, "Handjob". 

Allow me to sing of the singular joy that is to laugh among the outraged.  Most of Almond's audience laughed right along with his occasional crudeness… but there were some who stayed silent… the ones you'd expect… the smoldering little geysers of moral condemnation… the minions of PC who see the word "cunt" as a hate crime… or even worse… as an appropriated act of feminist defiance. 

Almond gets what I get, I think… we speak in the same tongue… we understand that the last thing one should ever do with a serious issue is to be serious about it.  One doesn't heal pain by causing more… you have to find its opposite.  You have to unmake it.

One doesn't study the shame of their sexual awakening by being respectful – there's nothing respectful about teaching yourself to whack off, or wiping the come from your chest after your orgasm came without notice.  Forgive the unintentional pun. 

It's through his vulgarity that Almond reveals his truth – that sexuality is an often ugly thing… uncomfortable and awkward… a prelude to a cringe.  But it's that quality that makes it so unassailably beautiful – the rawness of it, the exposure and the humiliation.  The vulnerability.  That one cannot learn to love himself without inevitably learning to hating himself as well… that masturbation is as much a rape as it is a romance.  And that, for all its hideousness, for all its absurdity, it is a profoundly beautiful thing.

Or, to quote a better writer than I'll ever be:

"Don't knock masturbation; It's sex with someone I love."

                                                        – Woody Allen

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