MUTED PORN

Posted on Posted in Fiction

“Muted Porn” is one of the short stories published in Empty Rooms Lonely Countries. It was originally written in April of 1999 around the time America was still processing the shooting in Columbine. This story is how I processed it. I’m publishing it here today for a few different reasons, the main one being that America is once again trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy and it’s important to remember that no matter how you feel right now – whether you’re personally or peripherally connected to last week’s horrible event – life is going to get better again. We’ve been here before. More than likely, we’ll be here again one day. But better days are ahead, I promise.

Also, if you’re interested, I wrote a commentary about this piece during the original promotion of the book.

If you prefer to listen to this story rather than read it, go here.

 

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I was a year out of college when I decided to go a full day without drinking. Though such a task doesn’t seem like a big deal these days, as I can sometimes go up to thirty-one hours without drinking, back then it was something very serious. It was an Event, worthy of pay-per-view, a very special episode with a very special guest; that sort of thing.

    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.

    If you follow that lifestyle through and never give it up, you’ll get to a point when you don’t have a choice; you’re trapped in that life. It’s a momentum of alcohol and smoke and insomnia. However, if you decide to grow up and let it go, but change your mind down the road, you’ll learn that there’s no going back. You lost it. You’re fucked.

    Back then, I was living high. Life was simple and life was slow, but never simple or slow enough to where you couldn’t find a keg if need be. That’s one of the great bonuses of living around a campus: alcoholism isn’t considered a disease, it’s a hobby, more like a sport, and there’s always room to improve your game.

    Somewhere in all of this delight, I’m noticing that I need to take it easy, to step back from all of it. It’s more of an experiment really, like Green Lantern playing with yellow. And I wake up feeling good, like this experiment might not be just good, but it might change my life. I thought that maybe I could write a book or an epic haiku. There was a lot that had to be done. If I thought about it too hard, it would appear overwhelming, but it wasn’t so bad. It would all do.

    When I turned on the television around noon, Columbine was happening. There was simply too much madness going on not to be drunk. I picked up the phone and called the one person I knew I could count on in moments such as this, my drinking buddy, Melinda. I left a message. It was two in the afternoon when she called back. “I just woke up,” she said. “I was up all night practicing for today. Pick me up in an hour.”

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    I have always been in awe of Melinda’s devotion to drinking. She treated everyday as a dress rehearsal, waiting patiently for the Big Score: that one night when the Fates converge towards ecstasy and bliss, shifting effortlessly into eternal autopilot. Nights like those are far and between, and legend has it that few have managed to string along a dozen in succession without losing bladder control or going mad. But we are skeptics, and we like to learn these things firsthand.

      Melinda is still not ready when I arrive at her place. She lets me into her house in a towel. Her blonde hair is wet and her skin smells like soap. “Sorry,” she said as she ran up the stairs. “Won’t be long.”

    I find a beer in her fridge, which is a joke because there’s nothing but beer and hundreds of Jell-O shots in there. I open up her cupboards out of morbid curiosity and find nothing. She lives like she moved without packing. Amazing. I walk into the living room to find the television on, sitting on top of a coffee table.

    Porn is playing.

    This is another detail I’ve always admired about Melinda. She has this perpetual fascination with pornography, to the point where it’s always playing in her house. It’s one of those qualities that men love about her, until that is, they come to understand the depth of her interest. Like drinking, she takes her pornography very seriously, almost to an avant-garde level of perversity.

    I tried to turn the volume up. Nothing. “MELINDA! WHAT’S UP WITH THE TV? I CAN’T GET–”

    She screamed from her room upstairs. “SOMETHING’S UP WITH THE VOLUME, I DON’T KNOW. IT DOESN’T WORK!”

    “Well, that sucks.”

    “WHAT?”

    “NOTHING!” I sat down on the couch. “How the hell am I going to know what’s going on with any dialogue?”

    Because of this, I’m forced to fuse together a story for what I’m seeing. I need some kind of logic to support the fact that two women are stripping down, rubbing whipped cream, carrots, and cauliflower all over each other’s bodies while a short, hairy man masturbates a few feet away from them.

    If I hadn’t recognized the actresses, I would’ve sworn this was just a live cooking show gone horribly wrong.

    To be honest, sex isn’t the same without the aural aspect. This is why deaf-mutes are always the last people chosen at an orgy; there’s only so much pleasure you can sign. While most of us tend to get by solely on the basis of friction and insertion, the rest of us gain momentum through the rhythm of the moans and the art of dirty talking.

    Without the sound, the sex looked empty, joyless, and left me feeling a bit lethargic.

    “ARE YOU READY YET?”

    “NO! HAVE A BEER!”

    “I AM!”

    “THEN WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?”

    “What’s the pro–NOTHING! I JUST WANT TO GET STARTED, THAT’S ALL!”

    “THERE’S PORN!”

    “WITHOUT SOUND!”

    “SO! YOU’RE PRACTICALLY DEAF ANYWAYS!”

    Good point. “CHEAP!”

    I downed my whole bottle of beer. I could hear her steps above me moving back and forth. I walked into the kitchen and by the time I returned, Melinda was dressed and ready in the living room. “I thought today was the day,” she said.

    “It was,” I said.

    “Is it because of what happened?”

    “Yeah, maybe, I don’t know. These are strange times. Ready?”

    “Let’s have one beer before we go.”

    “I like how they do the close up on the guy’s face before the money shot,” Melinda said from her side of the couch. “It’s the last thing anyone wants to see, yet they do it almost every time. I mean, look at him! He looks like a moron!”

    “It’s made worst because of the silence,” I said. “What’s up with your TV?”

    “I know, I know, it was like this yesterday too. Want me to put some music on or something?”

    “No, it’s fine.” I pointed to the television. “Do girls like that?”

    “What, that? Depends on the boy really. Do you like doing that?”

    “Depends on the girl.”

    “Another mystery solved.”

    “What’s next after this?”

    “A lesbian scene. Tame stuff. Lame really. After that there’s a DP that’s not too bad.”

    “Skip to that.”

    She started to fast-forward the tape. “Do you know that the average female pornstar’s career is like six years or something?”

    “I didn’t know that.”

    “It’s true. And here’s the kicker: the average male pornstar’s career is like twenty. Isn’t that amazing?”

    “Makes sense.”

    “I guess it does. Boys.” She hit play. “Here it is.”

    “Do you think she’s enjoying that?”

    “If we had sound, we’d know if she were screaming or moaning.”

    “Forget it,” I said. “Turn it off. I can’t handle it without sound. Let’s go to a bar.”

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    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.

    She didn’t acknowledge the question. Instead she threw one of her half smiles at me, as if to say that this was one of her magical places, and I’ve yet to understand the rules here. Melinda was still in college, riding out her last year, and she had spent most of the preceding years creating a tight world where everyone knew her name and everything was accessible. She was all about convenience and excess, and those were two things that came easy around campus. And Melinda, with her tanned skin and her brown eyes, always knew the wrong people for the right reasons, and that made things even easier for her.

    She had created a system so perfect, so flawless, that by the end of her freshman year, all she had to do was make three phone calls and the remainder of her tuition was completely paid for. If she liked you, she’d let you work the system too, but the last thing you wanted to do was piss her off. She could turn it against you, and you didn’t want that. Because the system worked like karma: no matter how many people profited from it, no matter how many people thrived off it, there was always someone who had to pay for it.

    We sat at a table in the corner by a window that was tinted from the years of smoke. Outside, it was green and blue, but inside, the place was all about shadows. There were televisions everywhere, muted, and each one of them showed images from Colorado.

    I focused on my beer.

    Melinda caught this. “This bothers you, doesn’t it? Because if it does, you need to keep drinking.”

    “So I can stop when I no longer care?”

    She smirked. “Stopping’s not part of the equation. Have you learned nothing from me?”

    Her question made me feel stupid, so I paid more attention to the drinking.

    This was me talking seven beers later: “I think I want to leave America.”

    Melinda slammed her hand on the table. “Nonsense!”

    “It’s true. I don’t think I like it anymore.”

    “And where you gonna go, huh?” Her voice was slurred, but sweet.

    “I’m gonna go somewhere…that’s not America, I guess.” I tapped my finger on my glass. “I’m thinking, maybe…some tropical island far away. Yeah. You’re coming too. We’ll be nude, drunk people living it up, like Gilligan on acid.” The conversation turned sour. I was beginning to feel like I was pitching a series of desperate sitcom ideas to a television executive, and she hated every single one of them.

    “No, I don’t think that’ll work. I’m not ready to start over. Neither are you. Ride it out.”

    “Ride what out?”

    “This. All of it. Just ride it the fuck out.”

    “Did I ever tell you that the last time I was in London, I didn’t want to come back, that I almost didn’t?”

    She slides her hands around her glass. “You never did.”

    “It’s true. Sometimes I keep feeling that I wasn’t supposed to, that I should’ve ran off somewhere.”

    “But you didn’t.”

    “I didn’t.”

    “You came back. That should tell you something,” she said.

    “It tells me that I was too afraid not to.”

    “You were never really the fleeing sort, Christian. Shit, most guys know enough not to hang out with me as long as you have, yet you still keep coming back.”

    “Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.”

    “Maybe, yeah. Or maybe you won’t walk away from your responsibilities.”

    “What responsibilities?”

    “I don’t know. I just know that you can’t change the world if you’re running away from it. America sucks. World sucks. Life sucks. Right, whatever. You think enough when you’re sober, you have to go and do it while you’re drinking.” She stood up. “Come on, let’s go watch more porn.”

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     “That’s physically impossible,” I said.

    “Can’t be if they’re doing it that way,” said Melinda. “I’d be worried about all that blood rushing to the head.”

    “Among other things.”

    Melinda pressed the remote one last time before throwing it to the floor. “Stupid volume.”

    “It’s a shame, this muted porn – it’s just not right.”

    “It’s not natural,” she added.

    “Why do we do this?”

    “What?”

    “Sit around and watch all this porn.”

    “I have my own reasons for watching it alone, but when I’m with you, we watch it to keep you from thinking so much.”

    “I didn’t know it was such a serious problem.”

    “Can be. Check that out, will you? Amazing.”

    “Looks like there’s definite dirty talking action going on in this one. You a dirty talker?”

    “Never came up.”

    “Never came up? What’s that mean exactly?”

    “It means that if he asked I’d probably do it.” She shrugged. “No one’s ever asked.”

    “From all this porn you have, I’d say you’d have plenty to say.”

    “I guess,” she said. “Listen, it’s not like you thinking so much is an epidemic or anything like that. I’m just not used to people bringing up serious issues when I’m drinking, that’s all. I’m thinking of beer, you’re thinking about the fermentation of the hops. I’m thinking about fucking, you’re thinking about falling in love. You called me today because you didn’t like what was going on out there in the world and all you did was invite the world in. If you had a switch, I’d do you a favor and turn you off every now and then.”

    “Sounds like you’ve been doing just as much thinking as me.” I grinned.

    “Shut up, Christian, and watch the porn.”

    As soon as she said that, the television came alive with sound. The volume was at max. It was beyond loud. The clapping of flesh against flesh sounded like drums inside an orchestra of moans and grunts and fuck-me-harders. The orgy of music filled Melinda’s apartment. The windows shook.

    I looked over to Melinda who was laughing hysterically. Seeing her laugh brought out my laughter.

    We laughed until our stomachs ached, and even after that last orgasm thundered, we were laughing still.

    When she recovered, Melinda leaned over to me, put her hand on my arm, and said, “That was perfect.”

– This has been “Muted Porn,” written by Christian A. Dumais.

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