Sunday, February 01, 2004

I recently read the January 21st entry on Gravity Zero and one of the comments was that little girls aren't so curious. Phooey to that! All the little girls I knew when I was in elementary school were just as curious.

Crystal (grade three) lured a four-year-old boy behind a dumpster and they traded views of their privates. Maryanne (grade two) told me how she slept with Lena's brother. Misty (grade four) liked to expose herself to her teenage brothers so they would moon her back.

At seven I often went dumpster-diving (my family was poor). Mostly I was looking for blank sheets of paper so I could write and draw. I found nearly empty notebooks and agendas this way, as well as unused pencils and erasers in the school dumpster after classes finished in June. One day I came across a brown paper bag full of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler magazines. The bag was heavy but clean. In those days there was no recycling so people through away all the dry goods we now know we shouldn't send to the dump. You often came across dumpsters without dreaded garbage juice.

I had seen pornography before; my perverted uncle didn't care if anyone saw his collection. The allure of this treasure centred mostly around my certain social upgrade. Crystal, my co-finder, wanted to keep the porn for herself. We did find it in her neighbourhood, one of slightly more upscale townhouses. But her townhouse had no hiding places and her parents were strict Christians. My house had a cluttered garden shed. And, as the shed was just outside my bedroom window, I would hear intruders approaching the shed.

The following Monday word went around that I had porn available, without parental supervision. I was too shy to even say "hi" to anyone besides Maryanne or Crystal; the propagator of this gossip was Crystal. Suddenly even kids in other grades came up and talked to me.

Interestingly even at eight or nine years old, children know how to be diplomatic. No one actually said they wanted to have a peek at my magazines. The kids who approached me talked about our teachers or which were our favourite playground swings. The elementary school equivalent of small talk about the weather. And, even as the stupidest child in the whole school, I had the instinct to know what they were really after. So I invited everyone who talked to me over to my place for a view.

After school, my entourage followed me home, curious children of both sexes from kindergarten to grade six.

In my backyard we had a picnic table and everyone gathered around to peruse a copy. Every child studied their magazine in quiet. No one laughed, as I later saw teenage boys doing when they were looking at porn. For many kids this was the first time they saw a woman naked.

My family, being European, was much more open. Just as my parents kept their booze on the kitchen counter unlocked, so was awareness about the human body. Nakedness was something that wasn't hidden away in our house. I grew up with bawdy jokes (which is why I love Beth so much: I have nominated her to be an honourary Romanian) and my parents allowed me to watch all kinds of movies.*

Of course, my mother sensed that an army of kids had snuck into her backyard. And a giant group of very quiet kids is alarming. Add that to the fact that I was irrevocably shy and could not possibly have made so many friends in one day.

She didn't yell or hit me. She just told the children to give her the magazines and leave. She took the magazines inside and never said another word to me about them.

The next day at school all my new friends went back to not speaking to me.

A year later, when I was snooping in my grandmother's room, I found all the magazines. In a new plastic bag.

*Though I wish there were some that I hadn't seen. The truth is all this stuff is so misogynist that even a child under seven can understand and be affected by it.

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