Commentary #6 (of 28): MUTED PORN


Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.

“MUTED PORN”

By April of 1999, Spryte and I were still living in an apartment just outside of the University of South Florida, near Busch Gardens. By this point, we were enjoying our lives, but it was obvious that we were waiting for something to finally happen. In many ways, we were still living the university lifestyle, and this was compounded by hanging out with students still attending university:

I still lived right near campus, so life still had the tendency of being measured in semesters and summer. Life was simple, all things considered. I worked full-time, though it wasn’t daunting because I was really a writer in waiting. All I had to be was patient and I’d be writing for money in no time. In the meantime, I worked forty thoughtless hours a week, collected a steady paycheck, paid my bills, bought a bag of rice, and drank the rest of my time away.

I had been, like the past five years, working in a pharmacy to make ends meet. I took this job to pay my way through university with the plan to be well on my way to a writing job – whatever that meant – by graduation. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. I was almost two years out of university and I was still measuring my life in semesters and counting pills for patients who didn’t need them.

The end of City Style* also meant the end of my work being published regularly, which was depressing, because seeing my work in print at least once a month was like coming up for air. In many ways, the articles justified my lifestyle. And with the magazine being run into the ground by a new publisher, I was just another poorly paid person who drank too much, claiming to be a writer. And to be honest, almost every person with a backpack or a pen in his or her pocket in Ybor City on a Friday night was a writer who was this close to making it.

Either way, I was still writing, which was important. At least I wasn’t just saying I was a writer. Despite the long hours at work and the even longer hours drinking, I was always good about sitting down every day and writing. The stories I wrote in this time period included “Toothpaste in the Mouth of Madness”**, “Playing with the Dead”**, “Bigger Turtles”, “Such a Thing as Happiness”, “Becoming the Man”, “Compilations” and “The Fifth Ocean”; with only the last story being included in Empty Rooms Lonely Countries.

I believe “Muted Porn” is a good example of the kind of writing I was working on before I would take the next step in my life. While the story does spin the wheels on the usual themes, I can see some of the newer ideas beginning to emerge. Also of interest, because of the presence of Melinda in the story, it works as a part of a trilogy if read with “Bigger Turtles” and “Such a Thing as Happiness”***. Columbine puts a date to the story, so if you’re interested, the events in “Muted Porn” happened on Tuesday, April 20, 1999.

As stated in the story, Melinda was still at the University of South Florida. She was working part-time at the same pharmacy I was and we hit it off great together. She turned out to be a fantastic drinking buddy. Together, we hit pretty much every dive bar within a five mile radius of the university. And, of course, her unusual and blatant interest in pornography was a subject of interest to everyone I knew. It’s rare to find a woman who enjoys it, and even rarer to find a woman who admits it, and there is a one in a million chance you’ll find a woman who enjoys it, admits it, and literally has pornographic DVDs and magazines piled up all over her house for everyone to see. When you enter her house, it feels like she’s testing you. Does my overt interest in pornography upset you? Does it offend you? Does it frighten you? The absolute wrong answer would be to be turned on by it. Some people, like me, had their comic books all over the place. Others have their sport memorabilia for all to see. For Melinda, it was porn. It was as simple as that.

We arrived at a bar not far from Melinda’s place. The bartender not only knew her name but had her favorite beer poured for her before she even said hello. The bartender, a man in his late fifties with sharp lines on his forehead, smiled when he saw Melinda, but it fell away when he saw me. The smile doesn’t appear again until she informed him that I was with her. He handed me a beer, nodded, not once blinking, and walked away.

    “What was that all about?” I asked her. 

The bar in this story was the Greenery Pub, which I’m not sure is open anymore.

I’m not sure if it’s true for every story in the book, but “Muted Porn” apparently continues the trend of having a superhero reference.

I like how this one ends because the moment is so honest, and it took me a long time to understand that it was the moment where the story needed to end. Previously, it had ended with my thoughts on the events in Columbine – as if anyone cared what I thought – and it felt awkward to wedge in my opinion on the tragedy into this kind of story. This one needed to end on a positive note, especially in light of what had happened that week.

*As will be discussed in the commentary for “Defying Gravity”.
** These are Dr Patel stories.
*** Both stories work as one story, with “Such a Thing as Happiness” beginning moments after “Bigger Turtles” ends, and documenting one of the longest nights of my life. Sooner or later, I suspect the stories will be available here.

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About Christian A. Dumais

Christian A. Dumais is an American writer, humorist and public speaker living in Wrocław, Poland. He has published fiction, journalism, and academic articles in several magazines and journals such as GUD, Shock Totem and Ha!Art. His first collection of short stories, Empty Rooms Lonely Countries, was published in 2009. He also created, edited, and contributed to Cover Stories, a euphictional anthology of 100 stories inspired by songs, which was published in 2010. His most recent book is SMASHED: The Life and Tweets of Drunk Hulk.

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